Is Pet Overpopulation Really Killing Our Cats and Dogs?
An Animal Rights Article from


Sharon Seltzer on
March 2010

To summarize, the No Kill Advocacy Center dispels the myth that pet overpopulation is the cause for the euthanasia of 4.4 million animals in shelters annually. They claim 17 million Americans add a new pet to their family every year, but 80 percent do not adopt from a shelter.

Part 1

An estimated 6 - 8 million homeless animals, primarily cats and dogs, enter animal shelters across the U.S. every year. Approximately 4.4 million of these innocent creatures are euthanized. But the rate of euthanasia is not the same in every community. While one city saves the lives of 90 percent of its homeless cats and dogs another town euthanizes 60 percent of their abandoned pets. Have you ever wondered why some communities are more successful than others? The No Kill Advocacy Center says they have the formula to save every healthy and treatable pet languishing in every animal shelter in the country and they want to share it with you.

I’ve always had a gut feeling that putting a stop to the euthanasia of homeless animals was possible. And after interviewing Nathan Winograd, director and founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center, I am certain the goal is achievable.

In the first part of this story, I hope to share the basic concept of the No Kill program and the simple changes shelters and rescue groups can make to drop their euthanasia rate. In the second part of the story I will discuss the infrastructure changes that must be made for communities to bring their adoption rates to 90 percent or more. Cities such as Reno Nevada, Richmond Virginia, San Francisco California and Charlottesville Virginia have already achieved this goal and Kansas City is well on its way.

Winograd is a graduate of Stanford Law School and the author of two books on the animal shelter system: Redemption and Irreconcilable Differences. He left law to write animal protection legislation and in 2001 he became the Executive Director of the Tompkins County SPCA. When he left that job in 2004, Ithaca “was the safest community in the nation to be a homeless dog or cat.” In 2004 he started the No Kill Advocacy Center, dedicated to the concept of a No Kill nation for healthy and treatable pets.

Winograd wasted no time getting to the point of the No Kill movement. His first sentence was to dispel the myth that pet overpopulation is responsible for the killing of 4.4 million cats and dogs. He said instead it’s a combination of municipal animal shelters that do not have a primary goal of re-homing pets and a lack of marketing skills. Winograd said, “Shelters must get their share of people looking to adopt a pet.”

Winograd: “It’s kind of a numbers game and most animal shelters and rescue groups are not getting their ‘market share’ of the large number of people looking for a new pet. There are 17 million people that add a new pet, or replace a deceased pet each year. There are 8 million animals that enter the shelter system. This should translate into a home for every healthy animal. But 80 percent of the people do not get their cat or dog from a shelter or rescue group.”

Winograd: “Shelters must focus on marketing and adoption. If they increased their adoption rates by only 3 percent, all of the savable, healthy and treatable pets would find a new home. This is why HSUS and Maddie’s Fund have started the Shelter Pet Project. They understand how important it is to increase awareness and get homeless pets adopted.”

How does a shelter begin to attract more potential adopters?

Winograd: “They need to be more customer-friendly. They have to make it easier for people to adopt new pets and reclaim lost pets. The shelter in Reno used to close its doors at 4:30p.m. Then they did a study and found that most people worked until 5:00p.m. Now they stay open until 5:30p.m. and their adoption and reclaim of lost pets skyrocketed to 93 percent.”

Reuniting lost pets is a big part of the No Kill movement, isn’t it?

Winograd: “When Reno decided to stay open for an extra hour a day, they found that many of the animals believed to be strays were actually lost. They currently reunite 60 percent of the pets in the shelter with their owners.”

Winograd: “Lost cats are an even bigger problem. Missing Pet says that it takes two-weeks for most lost cats to get caught and sent to a shelter. They hide until they are practically starving and when they are finally caught by Animal Control; most owners have stopped looking for their pet. And to make matters worse, many frightened pet cats act like wild feral cats and are euthanized before they ever get near the adoption area.”

What other concrete things can shelters do to increase adoptions?

Winograd: “They can do two specific things: bring adoptable animals closer to where people shop and live and simplify the adoption process. Most shelters are on the outskirts of town. It’s hard for people to get to them. People are more apt to adopt if the pets are in retail areas that are easy to find and pleasant to be around. That’s why stores like Petsmart and Petco are great. They let shelters adopt from their stores.”

“The next part is something rescue groups could change. They need to rethink their adoption policies. Some groups make it so tough to adopt that they scare people away.”

Part II

In Part I of this story I shared excerpts from an interview with Nathan Winograd, director of the No Kill Advocacy Center about his equation to end the senseless killing of an estimated 4.4 million cats and dogs in our country’s animal shelters every year. The interview included some simple changes shelters and rescue groups could make to increase adoptions and drop euthanasia rates. Part II of this story will discuss the “mandatory programs” a community must implement to raise adoption rates to 90 percent and higher.

One of the main principles of the No Kill equation is that animal shelters reject “kill-oriented” ways of doing business and implement innovative programs. Too many shelters refuse to try new ideas. They don’t see themselves as a service to re-home pets. They get accustomed to the idea that euthanasia is part of their job and lose sight that every life is precious. Animal shelters are needed to lead the way to get a community excited and energized.

The No Kill website states, “The decision to end an animal’s life is an extremely serious one, and should always be treated as such. No matter how many animals a shelter kills, each and every animal is an individual, and each deserves individual consideration.”

Currently there are No Kill communities in California, Utah, Virginia, Nevada, Kentucky and Indiana. Each has achieved a 90 percent or higher rate of adopting homeless pets and reuniting lost animals with their owners. These are the two key principles of the No Kill equation.

Here are the mandatory programs and services prescribed by the No Kill Advocacy Center:

Feral Cat TNR Program

A comprehensive trap-neuter-release program is needed to stop feral cat colonies from multiplying.

High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay and Neuter Clinics

Sterilizing pets is crucial to the program. Spay/neuter clinics must be located in areas that are easy for the public to reach.

Rescue Groups

Animal rescue groups are needed to take hard to adopt pets from municipal shelters in order to free up space for incoming cats and dogs.

Foster Care

Volunteer foster families are critical to the success of a No Kill city. They rehabilitate pets that are sick, injured, have behavioral challenges or are too young to be in a shelter.

Comprehensive Adoption Program

Animal shelters must meet the needs of the community so the highest number of pets gets placed into new homes. This may mean being open more hours, having offsite adoption centers, offering incentives, making adoption policies more flexible and improving overall marketing of homeless pets.

Pet Retention

Shelters must take an active role in keeping animals with their human families. They need to be a resource center that can solve behavior problems, give advice and do whatever it takes to keep companion animals in their homes.

Medical and Behavior Programs

Animal shelters need to implement policies for vaccinating, handling, cleaning, socializing and sterilizing pets. They must also provide for the veterinary care of sick and injured animals.

Public Relations/Community Involvement

This boils down to educating the public through ongoing marketing that there are lots of pets to adopt. Community involvement encourages partnership with local agencies that can assist a shelter meet their goals.


Volunteers are needed in every department of an animal shelter. Their expertise can make the difference between the success and failure of a program.

Proactive Redemptions

One of the most overlooked areas for reducing euthanasia rates is reuniting lost animals with their families. Shelters that actively work to return pets have seen the most dramatic change to their lifesaving numbers.

A Compassionate Director

To complete the No Kill equation a humane shelter director is needed. That person must be willing to lead a community and implement new policies and programs in order to save lives.

If your community would like to adopt the No Kill equation, the organization offers seminars to show you how to get started. Currently seminars are planned for: Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and Washington. Click here for details.

To summarize, the No Kill Advocacy Center dispels the myth that pet overpopulation is the cause for the euthanasia of 4.4 million animals in shelters annually. They claim 17 million Americans add a new pet to their family every year, but 80 percent do not adopt from a shelter. If shelters put more effort into marketing the cats and dogs in their care, they could get a larger portion of the public to adopt from them, instead of buying animals from places like retail pet shops. This would dramatically drop the number of animals euthanized.

As a result it would also decrease the demand for puppies and kittens that are purchased from pet shops and ultimately lower the number of animals born in large-scale breeding facilities such as puppy mills.

If you live in a community like mine, the No Kill concept may seem like a fairytale. But there are cities that have achieved this goal and I hope you will be inspired to start the program in your area, as well.

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