Most of you have visited an animal shelter at some point in your lives; many of you may even have a beloved companion animal whom you adopted from a shelter. But how much do you really know about the day-to-day functioning of animal shelters: how many animals come through their doors, and how do they deal with difficult issues like pet overpopulation and euthanasia? Take this quiz to find out more!
(Many of the questions on this quiz use statistics from U.S. animal shelters; however, they should be interesting and informative for animal aficionados from all countries.)
Question #1: True or False: The term “dog pound” originally got its name based on the cost of maintaining such a facility in 18th-century Britain.
“Dog pound” actually has its origin in a usage from agricultural communities in England and colonial America. During that time period, livestock were largely allowed to roam free; local authorities would round up stray cattle and keep (or “impound”) them in an enclosure called a pound, until their owners paid a fee to claim them.
Question #2: How many animals enter animal shelters in the U.S. each year?
A. 1-4 million animals
B. 5-7 million animals
C. 8-10 million animals
D. More than 11 million animals
Answer: B. 5-7 million animals.
According to the ASPCA, 5 to 7 million companion animals per year enter shelters. About half of these are animals relinquished by their owners, while the other half are animals picked up by animal control.
Question #3: In which of the following countries is euthanasia of healthy companion animals in shelters banned? (Choose two.)
A. United Kingdom
Answer: B. and D., Italy and India.
Italy has outlawed healthy companion animal euthanasia in animal shelters since 1991. In 1998, the Indian government announced that the whole country would become no-kill by 2005 (although it’s unclear if this is universally enforced). India also banned the killing of stray dogs, back in 1994.
Question #4: In government-run shelters in the U.S., what percentage of incoming animals are euthanized?
Answer: C. 64%.
If an owner leaves their pet at a government animal shelter, that gives the animal a mere 36% chance of survival.
Question #5: In the U.S., how many total animals are euthanized in shelters per year?
A. Less than 1 million animals
B. 1-2 million animals
C. 3-4 million animals
D. 5-6 million animals
Answer: C. 3-4 million animals.
The ASPCA estimates that 3 million to 4 million companion animals are euthanized every year — that’s 60% of all dogs who enter shelters, and 70% of all cats.
Question #6: True or False: No-kill animal shelters take in every animal they receive.
There are two main types of shelters: open-admission and limited-admission. Many no-kill shelters are limited-admission, which means they do not accept every animal that comes their way. The benefit of this is that they can choose to focus their resources on additional rehabilitation or health treatments for their animals, or on animals they are more certain of being able to find homes for (depending on the shelter). However, some organizations criticize them for shifting the burden of companion animal overpopulation to other shelters and potentially endangering the safety of any animals they turn away.
Open-admission (or “open-door”) shelters do take in every animal they receive. Many standard animal shelters are open-admission, with the goal of providing responsible care to every animal in need; however, this may mean that more animals are euthanized, because of the high, unfiltered volume of animals they accept into their care. The Humane Society of South Mississippi, an open-admission shelter, describes the difference: “To become a shelter in which no healthy or treatable pets are euthanized, we must become a community in which no healthy or treatable pets are euthanizedâ€¦ And that is up to you.”
Open-admission no-kill shelters are harder to achieve and thus much rarer, but about 30 do exist in the U.S., including in Austin, TX, Berkeley, CA, Duluth, MN, and Williamsburg, VA. (Some of these choose not to describe themselves as “no-kill,” out of mutual respect for other open-door shelters in their community that have different constraints on space or time.)
Question #7: True or False: Animal shelters are required to spay or neuter all pets before adopting them out.
Regulations vary by country, state, and sometimes even county. In the U.S., five states (including Arizona and California) require spay/neuter of some/all animals before adoption. About 30 other states (like Colorado and Pennsylvania) require the adopter to agree to spay or neuter their new pet; 19 of these states also require the adopter to pay a deposit, which is returned once the adopter provides documentation of spay/neuter. If you’re not sure what your area’s rules are, check with your local shelter.
Question #8: True or False: No-kill animal shelters sometimes euthanize animals.
No-kill shelters may euthanize animals that are terminally ill or considered dangerous. However, to be defined as no-kill, at least 90% of all animals received by the shelter must not be euthanized, which is still significantly lower than government shelters’ euthanization rates.
Question #9: What percentage of cats in animal shelters are reunited with their original owners?
Answer: A. 2%.
Less than 2 percent of cats in shelters are ever returned to their owners. Dogs fare a little better, with 15-20% of shelter dogs going back to their old home. Of these lucky few, many of them were identified through their tags or microchips.
Question #10: What’s the best way for you to help prevent shelter overpopulation?
A. Always spay or neuter your pets
B. Adopt pets from shelters or rescue groups, not breeders
C. Make sure you can make a lifetime commitment to any animal before getting it
D. All of the above
Answer: D. All of the above.
If everyone in the world followed these three guidelines — spay/neuter, adopt from shelters, and make a lifetime commitment — then many more animal shelters could be both open-admission and no-kill. Shelters can take responsibility for the animals for a while, but it’s up to us to do the rest.