Research offers new estimates for shelter dog population

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Many previous estimates regarding the population of dogs in U.S. animal shelters underestimated the number of dogs taken in every year and overestimated the number euthanized, according to a new study by faculty at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Woodruff
Dr. Kimberly Woodruff (Photos by Tom Thompson)
Dr. Smith
Dr. David R. Smith

Drs. Kimberly Woodruff and David R. Smith found that shelters take in 5.5 million dogs every year, with 2.6 million being adopted, 969,000 returned to an owner, 778,000 transferred, and 776,000 euthanized. The researchers presented their results at the 2017 North American Veterinary Community Conference in February in Orlando, Florida.

Dr. Woodruff, who leads the college’s shelter medicine program, said the study’s goal was to put quality science behind shelter population estimates. The researchers surveyed 413 brick-and-mortar animal shelters across the country that adopt out dogs, then extrapolated to create a nationwide picture of the movement of dogs into and out of shelters.

The researchers also examined region, size, and funding sources to determine which variables might lead to different outcomes for dogs. Dr. Smith noted that regions that have high shelter populations are transporting more dogs than before to areas of the country where there are fewer shelter dogs available for adoption.

Dr. Smith said baseline data from the study and possible future studies could help with developing animal health policy by providing trend data over a number of years through a replicable process.

The Pet Leadership Council, whose members include the AVMA, provided funding for the study. Drs. Woodruff and Smith hope to publish the full results.