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Pet overpopulation myth

The pet overpopulation myth and how it’s hurting the animals

Summary of this post:


  • Why pet overpopulation is a myth
  • A review of the real math with real numbers
  • Additional hints that show pet overpopulation is a myth
  • Reasons shelters are still killing pets
  • What you can do to send pets home


Pet overpopulation myth

Why pet overpopulation is a myth

Pet overpopulation is a myth because there are more people seeking out pets than there are pets without homes. I’ll get to the actual numbers in the next section.

First, here’s another example using something less emotional than dogs and cats – apples.

Let’s say I’m trying to sell 200 apples. On the first day I sell 50 apples. My apple trees also drop 55 more apples that day so at the end of the day I have 205 apples total – five more than what I started with. (200 -50 + 55 = 205)

Now, does this mean I have “too many” apples? Does it mean I have to throw some away? Does it mean there are not enough “homes” seeking out my apples?


It probably means I suck at marketing. Or I haven’t asked for any help. It could also be that I’m just not a nice person and people would rather buy apples from someone else. Or maybe my apple stand is run down and depressing. I might even be too picky about who can buy my apples.

It doesn’t mean there are “too many” apples. It doesn’t mean I am forced to “save some and destroy the rest.” It doesn’t mean we have an apple-overpopulation problem.

I just need to get more creative on how to sell my apples.

A review of the real math with real numbers

The following statistics are taken from a study by the Humane Society of the United States and Maddie’s Fund. The No Kill Advocacy Center, a group with the mission to end the killing of healthy U.S. shelter pets, commonly cites these statistics.

I used to be like everyone else and never thought to question pet overpopulation (thank you Jan for being the first to teach me otherwise). All my life I heard “help control the pet population” or “no one wants to kill animals, but we have too many.”

Journalists report pet overpopulation as a fact in their stories – “simple math says there aren’t enough homes” – without even questioning it.

Where are the copy editors?

Here are the real numbers:

Roughly 23 million people obtain a new dog or cat annually in the United States. Of those, about 17 million are undecided about where they will get that pet and can be convinced to adopt. Meanwhile, U.S. shelters kill 3 million healthy dogs and cats annually due to a “lack of homes.”


  • 17 million available homes
  • 3 million homeless pets killed


Simple math says there are more than enough homes. A lot more.

Do you think more of those 17 million would adopt if they knew shelter dogs are nice dogs? Or if adopting a dog were just slightly easier?

Additional hints that ‘pet overpopulation’ is a myth

If pet overpopulation were real:


  • no-kill communities would not exist (there are currently more than 162 documented no-kill communities in the United States)
  • pet shops would not be able to sell puppies because there would not be enough homes
  • breeders would not be able to sell puppies because there would not be enough homes
  • rescue groups would not be able to accept dogs from other communities, states or countries because there would be no one to adopt these dogs


So why are shelters killing so many pets?

There are a couple reasons:


  • Some shelter directors simply don’t realize there is a better way. They may be working hard, but they have not realized there are better options, so they continue killing.
  • Some shelter directors are aware of the no-kill movement, but they believe their community is somehow unique and that no kill is impossible – so they continue killing.
  • Some shelters are in the process of becoming no kill. Let’s support them! They are doing everything they can, and in the meantime they are still killing some pets.
  • Some shelter directors simply don’t care. They refuse to get with the times. They might not care about animals. They may be so used to killing that it doesn’t bother them. They have hired uncaring employees, and they have no interest in change. Volunteers may be fired if they speak out. So the killing continues with no end in site.


What can you do to send pets home?

The No Kill Advocacy Center promotes what it calls “The No Kill Equation.” These are the steps successful no-kill communities follow, and you can support these types of programs in your own community:


  • the trap/neuter/release of feral cats instead of the trap-and-kill model
  • low-cost spaying/neutering
  • allowing rescue groups to take in shelter and pound animals whenever possible
  • extensive foster care programs
  • always looking for ways to increase pet adoptions – make it easy to adopt!
  • helping pet owners work through problems so they can keep their pets
  • rehabilitation for medical and behavior problems
  • working with the public and with the media for positve promotions
  • extensive volunteer programs
  • making it easier for owners to reclaim lost pets
  • making sure the shelter director is compassionate to animals and people


Learn more:



Still think pet overpopulation is real?

I have yet to see a single statistic or study proving pet overpopulation exists, but if you can prove me wrong, please do.

And even if pet overpopulation were real, is that really an excuse for killing?

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Terry Ward

Saturday 10th of January 2015

Yet another idiot spouting made-up numbers they read in the Internet. i fear for our educational system. Shame on you.

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 10th of January 2015

Sorry to read such a rude comment from you. I am sure you love animals and that you're doing good work for them.

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Nancy's Point

Friday 19th of July 2013

Interesting piece with good sound information.

Remember Bob Barker on the Price Is RIght and how he always ended the show with his statement about pet overpopulation?

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 19th of July 2013

Sure do!

Chris Trail

Thursday 18th of July 2013

I used to work for a local No kill Humane society. It always flabbergasts me when people freak out over $200 adoption fees. NK shelters/rescues usually run on adoption fees and donations. You are getting a dog that is healthy (no risk of parvo, mange etc like you would from a lot of county run shelters), up to date on vaccines, dewormed, spay/neutered or a voucher if they are to young. the animals have been fed, loved and cared for , in some cases for years. I guess it also depends on the economy where you live. The people here in the southeast will complain about the price but when we transport dogs to the northeast the people think they are getting a deal because dogs up there run $400+.