“The question is not ‘Can they count?’, but ‘Can they reason with the data?'”
ATLANTA, Georgia––Since Shelter Animals Count was formed in 2011 largely out of denial by several national animal advocacy organizations that pit bull overpopulation cannot be successfully addressed in a non-breed-specific manner, it is no surprise that the Shelter Animals Count data report for 2023 makes no specific mention of pit bulls whatever.
Nonetheless, ANIMALS 24-7 in reviewing the 2023 Shelter Animals Count data pertaining to cats, along with the history of Shelter Animals Count itself, pledged to separately examine the Shelter Animals Count dog data.
“Wake up & smell the kennels!”
Most of it is bad news concerning pit bulls, whether or not Shelter Animals Count or any of the 28 sponsoring organizations choose to wake up and smell the kennels, as the late advice columnist Ann Landers might have put it, but did not, in her five syndicated warnings of a looming pit bull crisis, published between 1987 and 1989.
What the 2023 Shelter Animals Count does point out pertaining to dogs begins by observing that, “While non-live outcomes are on the rise for both cats and dogs, the number of dogs euthanized (359,000 dogs) surpassed the number of cats euthanized (330,000 cats).”
“Non-live outcomes,” incidentally, means “dead,” whether euthanized; killed by another dog in fights inevitably resulting from overcrowding, and even more inevitably resulting when one or more of the multiple dogs crammed into a cage is a pit bull; or dying from disease in a shelter, also an inevitable consequence of overcrowding.
How bad has overcrowding become?
“A total of 900,000 animals have entered and lingered in our nation’s shelters and rescues since January 2021,” says Shelter Animals Count. “This surplus is on top of the population already residing within organizations, resulting in an ongoing capacity crisis.”
What dogs are lingering?
Shelter Animals Count does not say what the current U.S. animal shelter and rescue dog inventory might be, but by inference from the numbers it does report, it might be as high as 960,000, or about 11% of the total U.S. dog population.
This is approximately twice as high a percentage of the U.S. dog population as a variety of studies suggested were passing through animal shelters between 20 and 30 years ago, but as Shelter Animals Count admits, many of the dogs today are not just passing through, both dead and alive.
Many, perhaps 30% of the dogs arriving at animal shelters, are lingering in shelter or rescue custody, and not just by choice.
What dogs are those lingering? Shelter Animals Count does not say.
Dog intakes up. Running-at-large up. Impounds up.
What Shelter Animals Count does say is that dog intakes in 2023 were 3% higher than in 2022, and 10% higher than in 2021, albeit 6% fewer than in 2019, before COVID-19 hit, encouraging more semi-housebound people to socialize with dogs instead of other humans.
Dogs found running at large were 46% of intakes in 2023, the same as in 2019, and relatively consistent with the trends going back 50 years or more, as far back as shelter entry data exists.
Animal care-and-control agency impounds are up.
“Owner surrenders for dogs have remained steady since 2021,” Shelter Animals Count says, “while still reflecting a 10% decrease compared to 2019,” the last pre-COVID-19 year.
“Notable rise in non-live outcomes for dogs”
The bottom line?
“In recent years, there has been a notable rise in non-live outcomes for dogs,” Shelter Animals Count admits.
Among other contributing factors, “Return to owner rates (of total dog intakes) have decreased from 18% in 2019 to 16% in 2023.)”
In 2023, Shelter Animals Count concludes, “242,000 fewer dogs exited shelters via a live outcome than in 2019, while total shelter killing of dogs came to 359,000, despite 561,000 dogs having been transferred among organizations.
Such transfers chiefly involve dogs being “pulled” from professionally managed animal care-and-control shelters to amateur-run shelterless rescues, most of which operate beyond any reach of community accountability.
What screams “pit bull” between the lines?
What screams “pit bull” between the lines of the 2023 Shelter Animals Count data?
Consider the Shelter Animals Count starting point.
Before Shelter Animals Count debuted in 2011, ANIMALS 24-7, producing annual estimates of animal shelter intake and exits from 1997 to 2014, estimated that pit bulls made up about a third of dog intake and two-thirds of dog euthanasias.
Many of the initial Shelter Animals Count funders vehemently denied that the pit bull numbers could be so high, especially since to that point pit bulls had never amounted to even 5% of the total U.S. dog population and are still only 5.5% of the U.S. dog population now.
But the lower numbers that the Shelter Animals Count funders favored were themselves notably high relative to pit bull population.
PetSmart Charities & the ASPCA
Before Shelter Animals Count published any data at all, in 2016, one of the “platinum sponsors” of the project, PetSmart Charities, had already produced an estimate that pit bulls occupied 40% to 45% of U.S. animal shelter kennel space.
American SPCA data analyst Emily Weiss in 2017 wrote that, “Looking at euthanasia rates,” drawn from 68 shelters participating in her survey, “we see an incredibly sharp contrast, with 40% of all canine euthanasia being of pit-type. The sharp, and I mean sharp, drop for the next breed type of 9% for Labradors,” Weiss said, “is compelling.”
In other words, even if pit bull overpopulation in animal shelters was no worse in 2023 than when Shelter Animals Count started, 40% plus of the huge “lingering” dog inventory and the rising “non-live outcomes” would be pit bulls, a grossly disproportionally high number.
77% of shelter dogs are pit bulls?
But the problem is worse.
Observed Los Angeles Animal Watch blogger Phyllis M. Daugherty on September 4, 2023, “On the Los Angeles Animal Services’ website today, 18 of 24 photos on the first page of adoptable dogs are adult pit bulls. The first is over seven years old and has been in a kennel since December 2020.
“The second page is similar, except 19 of the 24 dogs are pit bulls.”
Those numbers amount to 77% pit bulls.
Spot-checking other major animal shelter web sites around the country, ANIMALS 24-7 has often seen similar, albeit that many pit bulls are mislabeled as other breeds, or as mixes with other breeds.
40% or 80%, the longterm result is the same
But whether the percentage of pit bulls entering animal shelters and rescues each year is 40% of dog intake or close to 80%, and whether 40% or 80% of shelter dog killing is of pit bulls, an inescapable conclusion is that vastly more pit bulls come to occupy shelter and rescue kennel space than the percentage chosen by Americans as pets.
Inevitably pit bulls linger longer before adoption, if adopted at all. The cumulative consequence is that pit bulls are an ever greater percentage of shelter inventory.
ANIMALS 24-7 has for 14 years in a row conducted an annual electronic survey of online advertisements offering dogs for sale or adoption, estimating breed populations from the breeds stated by the advertisers, whether breeders, shelters, or rescues.
Calling pit bulls something else disguises the problem, but does not solve it
Of the total advertised pit bull inventory, 36% were offered by shelters or rescues: six times as many as the norm for all other breeds combined.
This inescapably translates into the reality that more than a third of the pit bull inventory available during the three-day survey interval had already flunked out of one or more homes.
But the whole truth of that may be much worse, because of the tendency of shelters and rescues to try to make pit bulls more adoptable by calling them something else, or by simply not identifying dogs by breed at all.
Only way out is to stop the breeding
Of the 752,000 total shelter and rescue dogs offered for adoption during the 2023 ANIMALS 24-7 survey, only 234,996 dogs were identified by breed: 31%.
More than two-thirds of the shelter and rescue dogs available, 69% to be precise, were not identified by breed.
If even half of these unidentified dogs were pit bulls, pit bulls occupied more than 70% of all available shelter and rescue kennel space; if all of them are pit bulls, a breed representing only 5.5% of the total U.S. dog population occupied 80% of all shelter and rescue kennel space.
ANIMALS 24-7 has discovered similar numbers every year since 2010.
What that suggests is that every negative finding by Shelter Animals Count about the trends in “non-alive outcomes” for dogs, growing shelter dog inventory, increased dog impoundment, and decreased returns-to-owner can be explained as an obvious consequence of the ever-growing pit bull glut.
The pit bull glut is in turn at least in part an obvious consequence of animal shelters and rescues energetically promoting pit bulls to try to adopt their way out of the glut, instead of promoting sterilization, including through enforced breed-specific sterilization mandates, to stop pit bull overpopulation at the source.