Why So Many Dogs Wind Up in Shelters Every Year

Trainer Sam Ivy

Written by master trainer Sam Ivy

Overpopulation in shelters is a big problem.

Half of all animals that go into a shelter do not come out alive. To make matters worse, their last days spent in the shelter are hours filled with fear, loneliness, and depression.

It’s a situation that most of us would rather not see happen.

In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the statistics, what a dog’s life in the shelter looks like, why so many animals wind up in the shelter, and what you can do to prevent more dogs from dying alone and scared.

How Many Animals Wind Up in Shelters Every Year?

It’s estimated that 6.5 million animals enter shelters in the U.S. every year.

That’s 17,808 animals every single day.

Or, 742 animals every hour.

In the time it takes you to read this article, more than 20 animals will enter shelters somewhere in the United States.

How Many Animals Who Arrive in Shelters are Put Down Every Year?

Of the 6.5 million animals that enter U.S. shelters every year, only 3.2 million are adopted.

That means that more than half don’t make it out alive.

That leaves 3.3 million that are euthanized every year.

That’s 9,041 per day.

Or, 376 animals put down every hour.

In the time it takes you to read this article, roughly 12 animals will be killed in the U.S. alone.


Sam Ivy

Owner & Master Trainer
“No matter how frustrated you may be at the moment - you can re-build your relationship with your dog.”

How Long do Dogs Usually Stay in Shelters?

You might be shocked to learn just how little time animals might spend in shelters before being put down.

Different factors play a major role in how long an animal in a shelter has until they’re euthanized.

  • What kind of shelter it is.
  • The temperament of the animal.
  • Whether or not the animal gets sick.
  • How much money the shelter has.

If a shelter doesn’t have enough money, it may literally not be able to feed all the animals it has. Or, it may not have the staff needed to be able to provide them a clean kennel.

In these cases, a shelter may have no other choice but to put the animals down.

There are times when putting them down may be more humane than keeping them in horrible conditions.

The Humane Society of the United States has issued a suggestion that animals be held in shelters for at least five days. But this is only a suggestion.

Many shelters that are tight on money have a 3-day rule. That means that on the fourth day an animal is in the shelter without being adopted, they’re put down.

If it’s a no-kill shelter, the goal is to keep the animal indefinitely unless they’re overly aggressive or too sick to be treated. No-kill shelters are allowed to euthanize up to 10% of the animals that come through their doors and still keep the “no-kill” designation.

What Will Your Dog’s Life Look Like After You Give Them Up?

It all depends on the shelter.

The people who choose to work at animal shelters are typically people who love animals. They really want the best for them.

Unfortunately, these shelters can often become so crowded, there isn’t much the people working there can do to offer them a decent life while they’re there.

Ideally, dogs are taken out of their kennels for potty breaks at regular intervals and taken outside to get exercise for at least 20 minutes a day.

There are some shelters, however, that are so inundated with new pets that some owners wind up leaving them tied to the gate outside. There are so many animals, there aren’t enough workers to process intake on them all.

If they’re not even able to process the paperwork for all these animals, just imagine what happens when they get behind the scenes.

Some shelters report that they’re so short-staffed that some dogs will never be able to get their outside play time.

That means the animal is confined to a tiny kennel with no friends, no room to move around, and a chaotic amount of low-quality stimulation for days or even weeks.

For some dogs, those terrifying and lonely days in the shelter will be their last.

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The Two Main Reasons Dogs Wind Up in Shelters

There are a couple reasons why so many animals, including dogs, wind up in these shelters in the first place.

Over-population. In some areas of the country, as many as 88% of dogs are not spayed or neutered. This can lead to explosions in their population. In these cases, there are simply too many dogs to be taken in.

To make matters worse, these tend to be in areas with lower income. The people in these areas are not always in the best position to feed and shelter a dog. They may also have fewer housing options and not be able to live somewhere that allows dogs or other animals.

Poor training. Dogs don’t always understand the rules of a human family right away. They might be more resistant to the way you want things to go or have a harder time learning.

Almost all dogs are trainable, but it can be a frustrating process if you don’t have the right help.

Many people will read articles or watch videos online to try to learn how to train their dog. Or, they might take them to a board and train facility to have someone else train the dog for them.

Both of these strategies have their problems and can lead to the dog’s behavior not having any permanent resolution.

For instance, with learning how to train your dog online, the problem can be that each dog is different. These trainings are put together in a very general way. The people making them aren’t able to create a curriculum that caters to your unique dog and the individual ways they learn.

These trainings also might not have the material needed to address your dog’s specific issue.

When it comes to train and board situations, people often place a lot of faith in this business, only to be disappointed with the results.


Well, while most of these trainers are competent and know what they’re doing, the problem is that it’s someone else training your dog.

The dog learns to behave a certain way around that person. Those behaviors usually don’t transfer when they’re around a different person - such as you, and the other members of your family.

Really what needs to happen is you need to be trained on how to act around your dog so that you’ll get the desired behaviors from her. That doesn’t happen when you hire someone else to do all the training for you.

So, what happens to the dogs?

They wind up in shelters.

The owners of these dogs feel that they have “tried everything.” They come to believe that it’s the dog that’s the problem and that there’s just nothing that can be done to help them.

So, they put the dog up for adoption, not realizing that this is going to cause a cascade of events that could lead to that dog’s death when the reality is that dog could have been saved with the right training.

Dogs with behavior problems are already at a disadvantage when they arrive at the shelter. Then, simply being at the shelter compounds the problem.

They’ve just been abandoned.

They’re alone. Their family has left them. They’re not getting enough attention. They’re left in a kennel all day. There are people in and out and an overpopulation of dogs all around them causing chaos.

In this situation, dogs often become detached. They can be scared or too intense.

They can’t rely on a family to stick around, so they don’t form those strong bonds that are necessary to keep them in line.

This makes them harder and harder to adopt.

If they do get adopted and their new family also doesn’t know how to properly train the dog, they could wind up back in the shelter.

They could wind up being put down.

Not only will they be put to sleep, but it will be after they had a short, tumultuous life.

What Can You Do to Prevent the Problem?

There are two big things you can do to help prevent this problem and give more dogs a good life.

Have your dog spayed or neutered. Having your dog spayed or neutered can go a long way to solving the overpopulation problem in shelters. It keeps the human to dog ratio within manageable levels. It allows for there to be a family for every dog.

If you don’t have the means to have your dog spayed or neutered, there may be programs in your area that can do it for free.

Train your dog well. As we mentioned earlier, almost all dogs are trainable. It’s much rarer than you might believe to find one that isn’t. Even if you feel like your dog is an exception and just absolutely cannot be controlled, they probably can. They just need the right guidance.

The best thing you can do is find an individual to train you on how to train your dog.

This is because the leadership needed to show your dog the way needs to come from you. It needs to come from everyone in your family.

An individual trainer works best because they can get to know you and your dog and provide specialized training that applies to your situation, specifically.

If you don’t have a trainer available in your area, or you would like to get individual lessons tailored to you without having someone physically come into your home, video training may be the best option for you and your dog’s future.

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