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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35 thoughts on “Pet overpopulation myth”

  1. Nice article! I’ll definitely be sharing- I bought into the overpopulation myth as well.

    One thing though, you seem to imply that since 17 million people can be persuaded to adopt, and 3 million pets are killed, then there are more than enough homes for these pets. However, you don’t say how many pets are up for adoption in total. For example, if 17 million people can be persuaded to adopt but there are 20 million total pets in shelters then it seems like there are 3 million “extra” animals.

    I’m picking up what your are laying down, but knowing the total number of adoptable pets vs. adopters would make a stronger argument.

    Also, your apples example has a typo: 50 + 50 = 205 instead of 105 🙂

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for reading and sharing! Good points on the numbers. The agreed upon number of animals entering U.S. shelters each year is around 9 million, according to the No Kill Advocacy Center.

      Three million are killed due to a “lack of homes.” The other 6 million or so are adopted, transferred to rescues, reclaimed by their owners or euthanized due to terminal illness or serious aggression. Impounded feral cats are also included here.

    2. Lindsay Stordahl

      I didn’t see the math error you were referring too. It could be that I’m so bad at math I don’t even notice my error still! But I think I was just unclear on what I was saying, so I added my thought process to the post in parenthesis. (200 – 50 + 55 = 205)

  2. We have several no-kill shelters here in town. The larger one, I think it’s the Humane Society, charges 200 bucks a dog to adopt. I can’t do that. I just can’t afford that for an adoption. Not that I’m in a position to get a new dog …

    But last fall we went to the city run kill shelter because we thought they had our lost cat. It wasn’t our cat. Yet. It is now. And because it was already neutered, it was free. How backwards is that? But we love that cat.

    I don’t know from numbers. I do know that every day on Craigslist, in the free section (I monitor it for other purposes), I see between three and eight dogs and cats being given away. I almost always click to read why they’re giving them away. Some descriptions make me angry, while others break my heart.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m sorry to hear you lost your cat last fall. Did you ever find your cat?

      I won’t consider adopting from a rescue or shelter if the dogs are much over $200. I just think it’s unreasonable. I would be more likely to adopt a dog for $200 or less from another group and actually make a larger donation than the group asks for. For me, it’s about supporting groups that make adoptions reasonable to everyone.

      There are some sad stories on Craigslist. Some people are just idiots. There’s no way around it. On the other hand, some people are faced with unfortunate circumstances and I’m sure it’s so hard to admit the need to give up an animal. We don’t know the details based on a short Craigslist post.

  3. I totally get what you’re saying. The numbers align. The problem, though, is that looking at the numbers oversimplifies the issue. This isn’t a numbers problem. It’s an emotional problem. Those 17 million people aren’t just looking for a dog. They’re looking for “their” dog, the “right” dog. For some people, it’s a little dog. For others, it’s an older dog, a puppy, a poodle, a companion for their existing dog, a dog who can get along with their cat, a dog who likes to run, a dog who likes to lounge on the couch, and so on. If people who wanted a dog were willing to bring home any dog at all, then sure. But that’s just not how it is. When we were looking to adopt, we met a dog, Robbie, who was terrified of my husband. We weren’t the right family for him. Just because we were looking to adopt a dog, and here was an adoptable dog, did not mean it was the right fit. If it were a numbers issue, then sure. But it’s so much more than that. I think oversimplifying the bigger issues belittles the problem, Yes, I think no-kill can happen, but it takes so much more than just shuffling dogs into homes because they’re there and available.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hi Maggie.

      I’m glad we agree no kill is possible. I also agree that’s it’s more than just shuffling dogs into homes because the homes are available.

      However, I do think shelters and rescues can do a much better job promoting homeless animals as nice dogs. There is way too much emphasis on abused, sick or injured dogs when in reality quite a few shelter dogs are really good dogs. And some even have quite a bit of training.

      he general public seems to view shelter dogs as damaged goods, and that’s not going to help the dogs find homes. What do you think? Thanks for the discussion.

      1. I absolutely agree that shelters need to market their animals better. Focusing on sad stories isn’t successful – there are PR case studies that effectively prove otherwise. Unfortunately, I think the problem runs much deeper than that. Marketing is only successful if you have an engaged audience, and – sadly – I think that audience isn’t there. Have you come across this recent study:,0,2043071.story. The marketing of adoptable animals isn’t going to make a significant dent unless there’s some massive awareness building first – to build a foundation of trust in animal shelters. If people think shelters are scary, the dogs are sick/injured/abused/poorly behaved, if people have no understanding (or don’t care) of what a puppy mill actually is, or they get turned away from a rescue, or if they just want a dog that will live on a chain in their backyard, or if it’s just easier to pop into the shop in the mall because they’re already at the Gap, so why not? I just think there are so many deeper issues involved than simply saying the numbers align. If it were just a numbers issue, marketing animals would absolutely help… I just don’t think we’re there yet.

        1. Lindsay Stordahl

          Hi Maggie. I appreciate the discussion. I haven’t read the actual study but I have heard bits and pieces about it in other articles and I just read the Chicago Tribune article you shared. Thanks for the link. To me, all of those things are related to marketing – showing people that shelters are not depressing, showing them that the dogs are normal dogs, etc. There are lots of challenges ahead, though, I agree. And it’s so overwhelming.

  4. good article, i do somewhat agree with Maggie though, but then do believe there are a ton of rescues that are too picky so its probably a bit of everything.

    Also on an unrelated note when you foster a dog do you let it sleep with your current dog if it gets along.

    I have had a foster for 3 days and have been leaving the dogs together and they sleep together and everything. And spend all day together whilst im at work.
    Im wondering if you think this could create a problem when the dog is adopted and my dog is alone again.
    I asked the rescue and they thought my dog would easily adjust to being left alone again.

    1. Great to hear your dog and your foster are getting along! Can’t say the same for my current foster -_-

      I had the same experience with my last 2 fosters. My own dog got along famously with them and even allowed them to snuggle him. He missed them a bit I think when they left, but he adapted back. If your dog has lived alone for some time prior then he’ll adjust back I would say 🙂

      1. thanks for the info

        yeah he has lived as the only dog for his whole life until now (his 2 and a half) so he should be good 🙂 He seems very happy now.

        Though the rescue knew it was my first foster and gave me a dog with next to no issues, untrained and pulls like crazy but no fear agression or shyness etc.

    2. Lindsay Stordahl

      For your question about fostering, no I don’t worry about my dog developing separation anxiety but that’s because of his personality. He does not get attached to other dogs. He could care less.

      I agree with the rescue group that your dog will probably adjust OK once the foster dog gets adopted. It also depends on how long you end up having the foster dog. If they seem overly attached, you could occasionally leave them home alone in their crates so they have some separation. You could also make a point to do things separately with the dogs such as walking them individually or taking the foster dog to daycare once a week to see how your dog does home alone.

      Overall though, I think your dog will be fine.

  5. Great article Lindsay! I’d love to see what the stats are in Australia. Probably the same story though – otherwise how do we keep selling pets!

  6. Thank you so much for saying this! I believe that we can find dogs and cats homes, but I think that many groups have gotten so wrapped up in their own bureaucracy that they’ve lost their way; I hear stories that make me want to scream just about local rescue groups.

    But then I don’t judge them, because I truly believe that I would stall on adoptions, heavily concerned about where the animals were going. The idea of someone adopting a pet and then neglecting it OR just not caring for it the way I think they should would be too tempting for me and it’s something that I would definitely need to work on were I to get into animal rescue.

    It’ll be interested to see where we go as more and more people speak up for animals and educate people about the human-animal bond.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Great points, Kim. It’s easy to judge both rescue groups and potential adopters. I think we all need to meet somewhere in the middle and have realistic expectations about adoptions.

      As you know, I foster dogs and cats a few times per year, and it is hard to see them get adopted. I always wonder, is this really the best home? But the truth is, we can never really know, and all we can do is try our best. I believe all my fosters have gone to live in great homes that were a much better option than shelter life or worse. While these homes are not identical to the way I would treat a dog or a cat, I have to remind myself that this is OK! The pets are not that picky 🙂

  7. Thoughtful article. I agree that the numbers matter, but I also agree there is a big emotional element to it. Many people think shelters have only the dogs that can’t find a home – they don’t realize how many great dogs are there. They also are not fully aware of the extensive network various rescues have and the fact that many of them are breed specific. You want a chocolate lab, but your local lab rescue doesn’t have one – bet they can find one at the rescue in the next county or state. I agree 100% that no-kill is a goal for us all to aspire to and it’s certainly attainable. Marketing the message is key.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      You’re sure right about the emotional element. I really try to promote shelter and rescue dogs as good dogs. No, they are not perfect, but they are not all bad dogs either.

      Great point about the ability rescue groups have about working together to match adopters up with the right dogs. I hope more rescue groups learn to work together in that way.

  8. 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+.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        And of course, spaying and neutering is important for decreasing the number of unwanted dogs and cats. Having fewer would certainly make the problem easier.

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

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

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

      1. Rude is preferable to foolishness.
        Especially foolishness which has an adverse effect on animals.
        Why in the name of God would you repeat something about which you are clueless?
        Where do those numbers come from?
        Obviously you have no idea because if you did you would not repeat such nonsense.
        But then you read it on the internet so it must be true.

      2. Nathan Winograd and others who should know better base what is called the ‘pet ‘overpopulation myth’ on a single industry ‘survey’.

        This survey was conducted in 2007 by Draftfcb , an in -agency consumer opinion gathering entity attached to the ad agency FooteConeBelding.

        It was massive consumer-opinion evaluation conducted for the benefit of corporate pet-products clients’ future marketing campaigns.

        It was NEVER intended to be anything else. It was consumer-product market data. It certainly was not intended to be used as shelter data. And it will NEVER be made available to the public.

        Many steps down the ladder later FootCone incorporated bits and pieces of the survey data into a public-service project via the Ad Council called the Shelter Pet Project. All ad agencies do this sort of thing periodically.

        Bits and pieces of that data were cherry-picked by the HSUS/Maddie’s /Shelter-Pet Project..a public service campaign facilitated with donated creative input from the Ad Council.

        THAT data was then cherry-picked by Nathan Winograd who interpolated the out-of-context and completely out-of-date data into ‘proof’ that pet-overpopulation was a myth.

        This is both ridiculous and supremely dishonest.

        The ’17 million people looking for a pet’ figure was, specifically: ‘ The number of polled consumers considering the acquisition of a PET’. ALL types of pets. The 17 million NEVER specified dogs and cats only.

        From the original survey: “- American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) Releases 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey (NPOS), the Most Comprehensive Consumer Research Examining Demographics, Buying Habits, and Other Traits of U.S. Owners of Dogs, Cats, Fish, Birds, Horses, Reptiles, and Small Animals ” “The 2007 National Pet Owners Survey, conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturer’s Association, broke down the pet preferences of Americans. In the United States, people own:

        142 million freshwater fish 88.3 million cats 74.8 million dogs 16 million birds 24.3 million small animals 13.8 million horses 13.4 million reptiles 9.6 million saltwater fish”

        The 2007 survey data DID NOT specify cats and dogs only.

        It specified and quantified all types of pets .

        Someone inflated the total number of people looking to acquire a PET into the total number of people seeking only to acquire a cat or dog. And did so in order to fabricate an equality between the number of people looking to acquire a cat or dog with the number of adoptable cats and dogs in shelters.
        200 people answered the question “Would you consider getting your next pet from a shelter’
        The percentage of these 200 people who answered ‘Possibly I would’ was then twisted into the ’17. million’ number.
        What unspeakable thoughtless nonsense.

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