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animal shelter homelessness

UK, USA, and wider pet sheltering and homelessness statistics

Without a doubt, one of the most satisfying experiences in the world stems from owning a pet. Having a pet in our lives can be incredibly enjoyable. It can give us an infusion of life, optimism, and general happiness that is almost impossible to forget. However, when you spend your time around an animal, you start to realise how fragile their domestic lives are. When we bring an animal into our homes, it is our duty to care for them. Because an animal who is bred for domestic life needs to be given the care they need to thrive. Sadly, many people – in Britain, America, and worldwide – tend to give up on their pets too early.

This leaves many gorgeous animals left stuffed into shelters, unable to live the quality of life that they truly deserve. Not sure how serious the pet homelessness and sheltering statistics are? Then read on. We are going to open up exactly what you need to look out for in the modern world. Because, if you happen to choose to take on a pet, you don’t want to contribute to these already-shocking figures from around the world.

Animal shelters in the United States of America

As a nation that is seen as one of the most influential and powerful in the world, the United States of America has a great reputation. However, it has a serious problem when it comes to animals. Indeed, according to the ASPCA, the United States sees an incredible 6.5 million animals entering shelter every year – that is simply too many.

Typically, though, just 300,000 of these animals are not cats and dogs. Many people choose to bring a cat or a dog into their life, only to give up at the first sign of trouble or effort. That is a major problem and something that we really need to focus on heavily. It is a serious problem – and shows us how many people bring in a pet to their home without really being ready for the commitment that this entails.

The good news, though, is that the ASPCA does believe that the numbers are declining over the last decade. In 2011, they noted that some 7.2m animals were being put in shelters. Still, these numbers should terrify any animal lover.

Even more depressingly, though, is the number of euthanised animals. On average, 1.5m shelter animals are euthanised on a yearly basis. While down from the 2.6m rate in 2011, this is a staggering number of beautiful lives that are being put to rest far too early. While the ASPCA believes that the levels are down due to increased returning of stray animals and/or increased adoptions, this is still a huge number of lives that are not seeing a happy, fulfilling life in front of them.

Some animals that enter the system, too, are returned to their previous owners: the charity estimates around 710,000 animals return to the owners who have ‘lost’ them.

Why are animal sheltering numbers so high in the United States?

There are numerous reasons why these figures might be so high. However, the main issue stems from economics. In a study by the APPA, the ASPCA found that some 40% of dog owners and 46% of cat owners learned about their cat via word of mouth. When we learn of something in this way, it can often be an impulse decision: ooh, that sounds good! I want one!

However, the old adage that a dog or cat is for life, not just for Christmas, truly applies here.

Many people rush into the decision to take on a pet, without truly assessing their situation. This can lead to finding their household is not pet-suitable, or that they cannot afford to have a pet. Instead of finding a more humane solution, some owners choose to either abandon their pets or simply drop them off at a shelter. Ignoring the mental anguish of just being left behind like this, the damage this can do to a pet can be extreme.

Today, we see far too many pet owners decide to simply give up at the first hurdle. While owning a pet is a large expense in both time and money, it is a conscious decision. Very rarely is someone ‘forced’ into having a pet in their life. It is a choice. And if you make that choice, you should be ready to go through the rough with the smooth.

With that in mind, it is vital that we look to find a better way of removing impulse buys for pets in the USA. Though a fantastic place to be, the reality of life and economics in America makes owning a pet a real challenge for many. And when an owner cannot live up to their end of the bargain, it is the pet who suffers.

Also, the pure scale of the numbers involved is astonishing, for example over 5 million households in the U.S. alone have a bird as a pet, yes you read that correctly, over 5 million homes have a pet bird which is nothing short of amazing since birds are not by any stretch of the imagination the most popular pet in terms of numbers, with cats, dogs, fish, rodents being significantly more popular!

Knowing what you can handle

As part of their National Rehoming Survey, the ASPCA found that ‘pet problems’ resulted in around 47% of dog rehoming’s, and 42% of cat rehoming’s. This can be classified as anything such as problematic pet behaviour, aggressive behaviour, exponential growth, or health problems that the owner cannot/isn’t willing to deal with.

Sadly, many people see the ability to get rid of a pet with the same level of empathy provided to get a new car or computer. If a problem persists, get rid of the old ‘model’, and replace it with something less problematic. People tend to forget that there is an animal, a life, at the end of that decision. In those cases, animals being put into shelters become extremely common – and it is easy to see why.

With many Americans either unable or unwilling to invest in the time and funding needed to raise a pet accordingly, it is common for a pet to become collateral damage. Thankfully, charities like the ASPCA do a great job of raising awareness of the issues at hand and also helping the pets impacted by the decisions made on their behalf.

The challenge with numbers

Of course, the numbers above that come from the US alone paint an illuminating picture. The problem is that properly and accurately building and gaining this kind of data is a huge undertaking. The vast majority of pet statistics in the United States and beyond tend to come from surveys – and even then, two competing surveys can paint broadly contrasting imagery.

Thanks to charities like The Humane Society of the United States, though, more is being done to try and tackle the problem. At present, the two primary studies in the USA stem from the APPA National Pet Owners Survey, carried out bi-annually, and the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, which is managed every five years.

These provide useful insights and data, but they are unable to paint the entire picture with regard to pet ownership. As such, it is vital that people understand that all of the information out there regarding pet shelters and homelessness are based on estimation.

As such, the figures and the situation could be even worse than it might appear at this moment. Also, studies tend to focus on dogs and cats primarily.

Also, as noted in this Humane Society study, just 11% of cats and dogs end up back in the hands of their owners. Depressingly, some 23% are euthanised. This is horrific. Even if the numbers are going down, as noted by the ASPCA, it’s still not a good sign for ownership.

Has COVID-19 impacted pet ownership?

Depressingly so, Many people believed that a year of isolation might make us more likely to see pets as allies, assets, and friends. Sadly, statistics show that dog adoptions alone raised as high as 10 to 13 per day during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is a terrifying showcase of just how hard it is to keep a pet in a pandemic. With money short and the inability to properly care for a pet, many had to give up their connections and relationships to canines, felines, and various other pets around the world.

Sadly, 2021 does not paint a good picture with regards to pet ownership. It’s not something that is improving any. With around 14,000 animal shelters and rescue groups across the US, per the HSUS, more has to be done to try and stop this exponential growth of animals who are simply being left behind.

Despite more than half of US households having a cat or a dog, it is clear that not enough households make the pet a permanent resident of their home. Indeed, a study by Petsecure found that 9 in 10 Americans say they consider their pet to be part of the family…why, then, are so many pets given away with such abandon?

It’s a tough problem to solve for society, and it will take a huge amount of effort and work to solve this problem. Awareness is one thing, but there are more considerations to think about, including globally.

Is the problem as bad elsewhere? What about pet sheltering in the UK?

You might assume that this problem comes down to the unique situations that unfold across American society. If only that were the case!

Sadly, pet sheltering and homeless numbers across the United Kingdom, another similarly powerful and developed nation, is not much better. On average, the RSCPA, which runs over 40 animal centres across England and Wales, helps to adopt and rehome pets more than any other UK organisation. They estimate there is some 17m cats and dogs across the United Kingdom, according to numbers from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association. And around 850k horses.

Around 12m British households – 44% – have a pet. There are over 12.5 million dogs and over 10.8 million cats residing in the UK. However, stats from 2019 show that the RSPCA was taking in as many as 17,500 animals to wildlife centres, and investigated over 90,000 animal cruelty complaints. While they did find homes for over 39,000 new animals, the numbers coming in are simply staggering.

Indeed, UK charitable body Battersea posted an interesting message in March 2020: pet rehoming figures were soaring. While their story of over 150 cats and dogs being rehomed across the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic, showed that there was already a paucity of ownership.

The British problem – raining cats and dogs

The problem for Britain is that despite being a much smaller nation than the US population-wise, its numbers are equally worrying. Indeed, charitable organisation PETA found that some 100,000 homeless dogs in the UK at any given time – and ‘countless’ numbers of cats. They note that many of these animals wind up in destitution, or even wind up dead, due to the poor living conditions outside. Many stray animals are attacked, killed, or otherwise left to live a life that is nothing like the quality that a dog or cat should.

The report above provides a harrowing story of two dogs found in London that were dumped. As well as stories about dogs being purposely left outside on New Years’ Day with fireworks going off all night – imagine the terror. As PETA notes, animal shelters in the UK do as much as they can – but many are unable to handle the demand, leading to early death for animals all across the country. Indeed, they suggest that as many as 21 dogs per day are euthanised in the UK across its various animal shelters.

Like many other nations, supply exceeds demand. Breeding groups will simply continue to produce kittens and puppies, hoping they can find a way to sell them on for money in the future. Not enough good homes exist – this means that will become homeless or they will simply wait in the shelters until someone comes along to pick them out from the collection.

The vast majority become socially upset animals who are removed from family at birth, leading to issues with their behaviour and their mood long into their lives. Thanks to excessive breeding, we are creating generations of pets that simply have little chance of happiness or success in life.

What is being done to solve this UK pet problem?

Really? Not much. An illuminating parliament debate raised the spectre that some 1,000 shelters exist across England for taking in pets. However, large groups such as Dogs Trust in the past have spoken of how many are put down in shelters, with thousands euthanised each year as the UK simply cannot find homes for all of these pets.

The problem in Britain is not an exclusively British issue, but it is an issue that is not getting any better. It is a problem that stems from societal factors, but also down to the fact that many people simply jump into the decision. Impulse purchases of pets without clear consideration for the facilities and the quality of life happen all the time. Just as soon as the animals are brought home, they are removed from the household for not being suitable.

This is a serious problem – and one that needs to be addressed. The problem, though, cannot be held as specific to America or to Britain. Animal shelters and homelessness are problems that many nations around the world face – and not enough is done to try to find a balance to this issue.

70 million homeless – and rising

Another study by PETA found that an estimated 70 million cats and dogs exist in America alone. Extrapolate that to the wider world – where numbers on pet studies are typically far less specific – and the numbers can be mind-boggling. Indeed, figures suggest that well over half a billion households have a pet at home. They also note that shelters are refusing animals due to simply not having the space to cope with the sheer volume of animals that are looking for help, support, and a home.

This is a worldwide problem and one that is only getting worse. Thanks to the ease with which we can import animals from abroad now, many other nations are happy to breed ‘exotic’ cat, dog, and miscellaneous animals to try and appeal to a wide audience. Indeed, with the FEDIAF suggesting that some 85m households in Europe have at least one pet, there is a growing number of people in Europe and beyond who want to have the pros of owning a pet.

Yet when the first cons and problems come around the corner, many choose to give up and move on. France has a really poor record on this, with reports in France suggesting as many as 200,000 pets are abandoned across the year. This makes the UK figure of around 16,000 seem somewhat conservative by nature.

However, this is not a competition. So much more can be done to make pets feel a welcome part of society. For one, slowing down the supply-demand breeding processes globally could go some way to ensuring we don’t produce animal lives without having the ability to properly care for them and give them the life they deserve.

Animal sheltering and homelessness is not a British, American, or European problem – it’s a global one. To change that problem, we have to focus on changing and adjusting society