21 Facts About Shelter Dogs – Why Adopt a Shelter Dog?

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Shelter dog behind fence

At Beyond The Treat, we are dedicated to ensuring the welfare of all animals by providing owners with the most accurate and helpful information. One of the most important aspects of dog ownership is actually how you get the dog in the first place.

Adopting a shelter dog is easily the best way that you can go about acquiring a new best friend. However, there are quite a few misconceptions about shelter dogs that may turn people away from giving these loving pups a second chance at life. So, this post will cover 21 facts about shelter dogs that will hopefully help you answer the question of:

Should I adopt a shelter dog?

Helpful Statistics

Myths & Facts

Benefits of Adoption

This comprehensive post will take a look at 3 main areas to help inform you about adopting from dog shelters. Those topics are helpful statistics, myths and facts, and more reasons why you should be adopting a dog.

Additionally, we've included a section providing more resources to further your education regarding shelters, how they work, and the benefits that they bring.


Helpful Dog Shelter Statistics

First thing's first -- let's cover some statistical information about dog shelters within the united states. Understanding these numbers may help to put things in perspective, such as how many people are helping dogs get a new chance at life and how many dogs are looking for a home.

You should note that shelters are decentralized entities, meaning that they aren't required to report to one organization and report information. Therefore, the statistics below may be slightly different from the real numbers.


1
1.6 Million Dogs Are Adopted Annually

To being the statistics, this is an extremely uplifting number. Even more uplifting is that adoption rates are going up at quite a significant rate. This is largely due to quite a few outreach programs being created to help shelters have more of a presence in their communities.

These programs do many different things to serve their community and ensure that pet owners are prepared to make the right decisions for their pets.

  • Shelter Outreach - Initiatives to move dogs from overpopulated shelters to shelters with more availability. This opens up more space to bring more dogs in and make them available for adoption.
  • Rehabilitation ServicesThese programs utilize training programs to help train dogs with behavioral issues that are a result of abuse and overall neglect. This helps dogs become fit for adoption and also educates people about the fact that training is what results in well-behaved dogs.
  • Disaster Preparedness - Programs to educate shelters about how to handle natural disasters in a way that's beneficial for existing and incoming shelter dogs.

2
3.3 Million Dogs Enter Shelters Annually

While it may be nice to see that 1.6 million dogs are being adopted every year, more than double that number is entering shelters yearly according to the ASPCA. Since 2011, the number of dogs has decreased from 3.9 million to 3.3 million, but there's still a long way to go to fill in the gap.

The percentage of shelter animals that are dogs varies quite a bit by region, but it's generally around 25-50%. Differences in population largely depend on the feral cat population in an area -- a factor that can overwhelm the capacity of a shelter.

Quite a few programs and initiatives are taking place to deal with the immense demand for shelter space, including relocation between shelters.

Group of dogs

3
There Are Around 3,500 Shelters in the U.S.

The Humane Society states that as of 2014, there were about 3,500 shelters and 10,000 rescue groups/sanctuaries in the U.S. It's logical to believe that those numbers have increased quite a bit in the years following 2014.

This massive amount of shelters does wonders in providing the necessary space to take in and find homes for the 3.3 million dogs entering shelters annually.

With this many shelters and rescue groups, there is a plethora of different locations you can go to to either find a dog for yourself or volunteer your time to help out. Supporting these shelters in any way that you can will potentially help dozens of dogs down the road.


4
3 Million Shelter Animals Are Euthanized Annually

Out of that amount, about 670,000 of them are dogs.

There are many reasons why an animal would be euthanized. Some of the most popular reasons are because of old age, serious medical conditions, or behavioral issues that make them not suitable for adoption. However, 2.4 of the 3 million euthanized animals were adoption-ready.

Fortunately, this number seems to be decreasing significantly since 2011. This decrease is due to many things, including the increasing frequency of microchipping, fewer surrenders, and an overall higher adoption rate. Websites that allow you to browse a shelter's available animals have also made the process of adopting a lot easier for many people.

Dog laying down

5
56% of Dogs in Shelters are Euthanized

There are quite a few different numbers when it comes to the frequency of euthanasia, but the American Humane Society has estimated the percentage to be around 56%.

This essentially means that when a dog enters a shelter, there's a higher probability that they'll never find another owner. This number is even higher for older dogs or breeds such as pit bulls.

When you adopt a dog from a shelter, you're saving them from a lonely fate that no dog deserves to be subjected to.


6
Around 25% of Shelter Dogs Are Purebred

The Humane Society estimates that around a quarter of all dogs in shelters are purebred as opposed to mixed-breed. These purebred pups are frequently rescued from puppy mills or surrendered by families that purchased a pure-bred dog for whatever reason.

Therefore, this dispels the myth that it's not possible to find a purebred dog if that's what you're looking for.

We can't recommend enough that you give mixed-breed dogs a shot, though. These dogs are just as capable at providing you with unconditional love and affection; they just combine several breeds into one pup.

Havanese purebred

7
Most Dogs Entering Shelters Are Still Young

A very common myth about shelter dogs is that they're all old and on their last legs. This couldn't be further from the case! The MSPCA stated that an overwhelming portion of the dogs that they take in every year are 1 year old or younger, and this is a case for most other shelters.

Shelters get a large amount of young dogs because of accidental puppies, and also because of families that purchase puppies and don't realize what they're getting into.

When you go to a shelter, you're able to have your pick of a large amount of young dogs that are ready to live out the rest of their very long lives with you


8
Statistics About Where Dogs Are Obtained as Pets

Everyone gets their dog from somewhere... Have you every wondered where that is, exactly? Fortunately, the APPA has researched where it is that people obtain their dogs from.

The information below was gathered from a multi-response question, resulting in a total percentage over 100%

23%
Animal Shelter / Humane Society
20%
Friends / Family
34%
Breeder
6%
Stray
12%
Private Party
32%
Other

Dog Shelter Myths Debunked

There is an absurd amount of myths regarding dog shelters that are absolutely harming adoption rates and the dogs looking for forever homes.

Because of this, we're going to look at and debunk several of the most prominent myths regarding shelter dogs.


MYTH:

9. Shelters are made up of mostly problematic dogs

FACT:

"Problematic" dogs are mostly caused by irresponsible owners

There have been many studies that show that people that don't take the time to properly train their dogs are more likely to surrender their dog to a shelter.

Of all of the dogs that have found themselves in shelters for behavioral issues, a good portion of those dogs were likely just living with an owner that didn't know how to properly train their dog. This issue has spawned a lot of in-house training programs for shelters to help housetrain dogs and give them the abilities they lack due to a negligent owner.

Additionally, some shelters offer training classes to help new dog owners gain the skills necessary to properly train and care for their dog.

So, if a dog comes into a shelter as a "problem" dog, there's a very good chance that they were subject to a problem owner.

Contact your local shelter to learn more about their training process or about training resources near you.

Dogs playing

MYTH:

10. Dogs that come from shelters tend to have aggression issues

FACT:

Socialization and behavioral testing is a done before adoption

Most, if not all shelters perform several tests with their dogs before making them available for adoption. These tests will help the staff learn if a dog has behavioral problems that need to be dealt with before they are given to a family.

The tests that are performed focus on things such as fear and aggression -- both characteristics that would need to be dealt with before adoption.

Dogs are also socialized with humans and other dogs to get a feeling for their personality and to also get them affiliated with a much more welcoming and friendly environment than where they came from. This process takes some time, but its very effective in getting dogs ready for adoption.

It is important to note that bad behaviors may only be present in the presence of a kennel. Kennels can be a stressful place for a dog, making them show aggression or fear that may not be present in a calm and safe home.

If you want to make sure that your next potential dog has been checked for aggression issues, contact your local shelter and ask about their pre-adoption tests and observations that they make.


MYTH:

11. You have to jump through hoops to bring home a shelter dog

FACT:

Precautionary measures and checks are taken, but it's not complex

A shelter's #1 objective is finding a forever home for every single one of their animals. One of their worst fears is placing a dog in a home and then having that dog come back to them in the future. Therefore, they do everything that they can to avoid that from happening.

To avoid bad placement, shelters will want to know information regarding you and the environment that your potential dog will be living in. They may also perform a home visit to ensure everything is in order and safe for a dog.

That's the extent of the "hoops" for the most part, though. Shelter dogs have already been spayed, neutered, medicated, and microchipped, so the hoops have already been jumped through for you. Just remember that shelters care for their dogs and will take action to ensure that they're given a great home.

Also note that every shelter has different screening processes. If the shelter that you're working with isn't treating you properly, try another shelter.

Dog playing with hoop

MYTH:

12. If you're looking for a specific breed or type, you're out of luck

FACT:

Mixed breeds are a great option, and there's also breed-specific rescues

Before anything else, it's important to say that many adopters don't necessarily find exactly what they're looking for, but they still end up happy at the end of the day. Frequently, people will walk into a shelter looking for a particular dog, but they end up leaving with a totally different dog that makes them extremely happy.

Mixed breeds are just as capable of providing a loving companion as a purebred dog -- they just look a little different. Also, if you can't choose between two breeds, a mixed breed dog will be the best of both worlds!

However, if you absolutely have your heart set on a particular breed, there are many different breed-specific rescues out there for greyhounds, put bulls, dachshunds, and any other breed you can think of.


MYTH:

13. Shelter dogs come with a lot of health problems

FACT:

Shelter dogs go through quite a few tests by veterinarians

75% of shelter dogs are mixed-breed, and these dogs have quite a bit of genetic diversity. This diversity helps shelter dogs to stay much healthier throughout their lives as they avoid serious genetic problems present in purebreds.

Additionally, when you adopt from a shelter, there's a very good chance that the dog you're adopting has been seen and thoroughly checked out by a veterinarian. If a problem is identified in a dog, it will either be dealt with at the shelter or will be made very known by the shelter itself.

All dogs will develop illnesses or problems during their lifetimes. However, adopting a dog from a shelter is actually one of the safest ways to get a dog since they've been inspected -- not just raised and sold like puppy mill dogs.

Dog at vet

MYTH:

14. Adoption fees are too expensive

FACT:

Adoption fees are extremely small for the value that you're getting

When you're paying the adoption fee for a dog, you're actually getting quite an amazing deal! The fact that the shelter acquired the dog for free and is then charging you to take it may be a bit concerning, but it makes total sense.

Animal shelters are mostly run by volunteers, meaning that they're able to get services for much cheaper than you'd be able to get them at a local veterinarian. Highlighting benefits that your adoption fee brings usually puts things into a good perspective.

  • Spay / neuter
  • Medications for existing problems
  • Necessary medications
  • Microchipping
  • Housing, food, and the volunteer's time

Adoption fees are a mutually-beneficial thing. You're helping keep the shelter running, and they're giving you a dog that's fully cared for. In fact, adopting a dog from a shelter is the smart financial decision to make!


MYTH:

15. Purebreds are more of a "sure-fire" thing -- shelter dogs are a gamble

FACT:

Training mostly determines a dog's temperament regardless of breed

This point has already been mentioned a few times in this post already, but it's worth addressing this myth again. This idea can be summed up by saying that well-behaved dogs are created, not born.

The breed of a dog does partially play into several characteristics of a dog, such as their energy levels and pack drive, but it's absolutely not a certain thing. Properly training your dog is the only way to guarantee that you'll have a good companion.

When you're at a shelter looking for a dog, don't rush through it. Spend some time getting to know the dogs, playing with them, and seeing what they're truly like. You can only learn so much about a dog from a glance through a chain-link fence.

Also note that there is a little bit of chance when it comes to bringing home a new dog, as dogs will act differently once they're out of a shelter environment.

Regardless, once you find a dog that you must adopt, take it to training classes and spend time getting to know it so that it has the best chance of behaving well.

Dogs playing

MYTH:

16. Shelter dogs will require extensive rehabilitation and training

FACT:

Many shelter dogs are already decently trained from their previous home

One of the benefits of adopting a shelter dog is that they've already had experience with people! Many shelter dogs come with basic housetraining from their previous home, laying a very good groundwork for further training that you pursue.

As mentioned in a previous myth, some dogs that enter shelters are given special training to ensure that they're ready for adoption.

Both of these scenarios put shelter dogs way above puppy mill dogs in terms of training and behavior as they've actually had exposure to people and real world training before.

If you absolutely don't want to spend time training a dog on the basics, you can make this known to shelter staff so that they can point you in the direction of dogs that are very well-behaved and trained.


5 More Benefits Of Shelter Dogs

When you bring a dog into your life from a shelter, there are quite a few things that are happening beyond the basic concept of "acquiring a new companion".

It's important to think about these other benefits that come with shelter adoption as it may push you more in the direction of supporting shelters.


17
Supporting shelters fights against animal cruelty

Many animal shelters do so much more than just finding homes for lost and abandoned animals. Different rescue organizations have worked to pass legislation to stop people from profiting off of horrible practices such as dog fighting and puppy mills.

Lots of shelter work with local animal control to take in and rehabilitate the animals that are rescued from these operations. They also take tips that people may have regarding animal abuse and help get the correct people involved.

By supporting shelters, you're not only giving your new adopted dog a second chance at life, but you're indirectly supporting the lives of hundreds of other dogs that the shelter will assist with.

Dog looking under fence

18
Shelter dogs are grateful for you

Although it's not possible to read a dog's mind (although we'd absolutely love to), it's clear that rescue dogs are aware of what their new adoptive owners have done for them. If you ask any home with a rescue dog, they'll likely say the same thing.

Dogs are social animals that, in the wild, would thrive in packs. Domesticated dogs have a new pack, and that's you. You provide your dog with food, water, shelter, and security -- all things that they recognize the importance of.

Although there are many shelters out there that are spacious, clean, and provide a great atmosphere for the dogs in them, they don't come without issues for dogs. Being taken from their home and being placed into a shelter with other confused dogs is a very stressful experience for any dog.

Taking a dog out of that environment and bringing them into your home where things are calm, safe, and loving will instantly transform their lives for the better, and they recognize that.

As someone that's owned rescue dogs for his entire life, I haven't owned a dog that hasn't shown this kind of gratitude and affection.


19
You're helping to prevent pet overpopulation

Pet overpopulation is one of the major issues that communities face, and it isn't always due to negligence. Many lower-income families want to have a pet, but they simply don't have the means to get them spayed or neutered, resulting in an overpopulation problem that arises quite quickly.

Fortunately, many shelters partner with vets and other organizations to fight this problem by providing free or low-cost spaying and neutering for low-income households. They also work to provide basic vaccinations and even supply people with pet food and supplies.

When you pay your adoption fee to a shelter, you're helping helping them provide these services to many different people. This allows them to keep their pet, ensures the health of that pet, and prevents new animals from being born and entering the shelter system.

Shelters always spay and neuter their dogs before putting them up for adoption, too. So, when you adopt a shelter dog, you're ensuring that you yourself never contribute to the overpopulation problem.

Litter of puppies

20
Decreasing demand from puppy mills

Puppy mills are a rampant problem in the pet world that need to be stopped as soon as possible. The most effective way of getting rid of these puppy mills is by simply not purchasing their dogs.

When the process of raising and selling puppies is no longer a profitable venture, only those that truly love dogs will remain in the business. These are the people that you want to be supporting.

If you're not getting a dog from a shelter or responsible breeder, you really have no idea where the dog came from. Avoid pet store dogs, puppy stores, and buying a dog online to avoid the possibility of supporting puppy mills.


21
You're giving a dog a second chance at life

Whether you're moved by the information above or not, there's one thing that's absolutely for certain when you adopt a shelter dog: You're directly saving a life.

Even if the shelter that you're adopting from is a no-kill shelter, you're still providing that dog with a second chance of finding a loving and safe home and making room for one more dog to be saved at that shelter.

Purchasing a dog from a breeder doesn't have this benefit because those dogs essentially have no chance that they'll end up without a home.

Every dog is capable of unconditional love and affection when brought into the right house, so why not make that dog one that hasn't had the best luck up until meeting you?

Dog licking girl's face

Additional Resources

One issue regarding the information in this post is that the information is gathered from many different sources and is governed by different standards. This can result in some discrepancies between statistics.

We tried to provide the most accurate information regarding shelter animals in this post, but even the most accurate information can be slightly off from the real data.

An organization that puts a large amount of effort into data collection and analysis regarding shelter animals is Shelter Animals Count. Their studies provide very diverse and accurate statistics including geographical differences and changes over time.

Additionally, the Center for Shelter Dogs at Tufts University recognizes the importance of shelters in dog behavior and well-being, putting a lot of effort into ensuring shelters are fully-equipped to house, train, and rehabilitate the dogs that come through their doors.

Rescue organizations such as the ASPCA and The Humane Society provided most of the information in this post and are great resources if you wish to further your education.

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Zach David
Zach David
Zach is a life-long pet owner and enthusiast. He was born into a family with a dog named Murphy, and since then has owned several other dogs, mice, ferrets, fish, geckos, and a cat. This experience has given him the knowledge necessary to help others become excellent pet owners.

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