Monday, March 18, 2013

Stopping Breeders is Not the Way to End Shelter Overpopulation

Let's try explaining one more time in a different way why eliminating breeders is not the way to solve the "shelter overpopulation problem."

First, a quick look at some animal population statistics. No two sources seem to agree completely, so these are rough--consider them for illustration purposes here. They are largely drawn from various shelter and rescue websites such as the ASPCA, as well as from several published surveys and research papers.

Approximately 57% of American households will obtain a dog or cat, for a pool of 17 million available homes. Of that 17 million, approximately 20% will adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue. Another 15% or so will get animals from breeders or pet stores, while the remaining 65% obtain their cats or dogs from other sources, mostly cheap or free such as finding a stray, having a friend or aquaintance give them one, having a litter of babies, etc.

Somewhere between 5 and 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters, with about half being owner surrenders and half coming in through animal control as strays, confiscated animals, etc. Approximately 10% of those are unadoptable, with some being animals that were brought in by their owners to be euthanized for health/age/behavior issues. Another 10% or so are lost animals that are reunited with their owners. About 20% of them are actually animals that previously came from a shelter and are being returned to the shelter system. At most 25% are estimated to possibly be purebreds, based on their appearance--but this number is probably overinflated, since many animals that look like a given breed are not actually purebred. Even of the ones that are, not all of them will come from actual breeders and intentional breedings. The vast majority of animals that enter the rescue and shelter system are feral animals and/or the result of unplanned breedings.

About half of animals that enter shelters are euthanized, for a total of 3 to 4 million that leave alive and 3 to 4 million that are euthanized. That 3 to 4 million, minus the unadoptable ones, are what is generally referred to as shelter overpopulation.

OK, now for our illustration.

Say you're part of a group of companies that makes an operating system for computers. We'll call it Windows.

57% of the population buys an operating system, for a total of 17 million.

You make enough Windows operating systems to sell somewhere between 5 and 8 million of them, but people only buy 3 to 4 million of them from you, leaving you with another 3 to 4 million unsold.

Of that 17 million, 15% of the operating systems sold are from one of your smaller but still significant competitors, which we'll refer to as Linux.

You hold 20% of the market, and Linux holds 15% of the market. The other 65% of the market goes to people who buy other operating systems, including Macintosh, Android, BSD, iOS, Mac OS X, IBM z/OS, etc.

Now, if you want to reduce your amount of unsold product, there are many ways to approach this.

You can, for example:

A. Increase the percentage of people that buy an operating system. Since only 57% of the population currently gets a cat or dog, there is plenty of room for growth there.

B. Increase the average number of operating sytems each person owns. While there are some natural limits here, there is room for growth.

C. Find ways to reduce your oversupply--making less product in the first place, to adjust to the market share you have with the current level of demand. A comparable approach to that with the animal population issue would be making sure that all animals adopted out of shelters and rescues are altered, and also community programs that reduce the number of animals surrendered to rescues and shelters, seized by animal control, lost or released, etc. Many educational programs, voluntary spay and neuter programs, etc. have been shown to very effectively reduce the supply.

D. Destroy some of your product to reduce your supply of excess, unsold product. This would be equivalent to euthanizing animals.

E. Get more of the existing market share. If you can convince enough of the existing pool of customers to buy your product instead of the competitors' product, your excess supply will be taken care of and instead your competitors will have to do A, B, C or D to deal with THEIR oversupply.

Now, there are several ethical and reasonable ways increase your market share. These we'll call Group 1 methods, and they could include lowering your prices, advertising to reach more potential customers, improving the quality of your product, improving your customer service, making it easier for people to buy and use your product, etc.

There are also a number of unethical ways to attempt to increase your share of the market that are not appropriate in a free-market economy. We'll call those Group 2 methods. These would include sabotaging your competitor, making it illegal for people to buy Linux operating systems, trying to pass laws that would give you a monopoly on the market so that nobody was allowed to buy any operating system except yours, lying about your product and/or your competitors' products, etc.

Some part (thankfully, not all) of the rescue/shelter world unfortunately tends to use almost exclusively approach D and Group 2 methods. This is not only unethical, but also ineffective.

For instance, eliminating the existence of Linux operating systems  (breeders) may seem like it should theoretically give you an extra 15% of the market, since they held 15%, reducing your excess to 5% instead of the current 20%.

However, in the real world it doesn't work that way.

Many customers, when they are unable to purchase Linux systems, will purchase Macintosh or any of the other myriad operating systems instead. Some, if they can't have Linux, which is what they really wanted, will buy no operating system at all. If reputable breeders were eliminated, some people wouldn't get a cat or dog at all, or would switch to another source that wasn't a rescue or shelter.

So the end result would not only be highly unethical, but it would ultimately be very unlikely to actually eliminate all of your excess unsold merchandise.

With only 57% of households getting a cat or dog, for a pool of 17 million homes looking to obtain an animal, it makes no sense for the shelter/rescue industry to focus on using approach D and Group 2 methods to eliminate breeders and increase the shelter/rescue market share. Using a combination of A, B, C and E methods, with D primarily for unadoptable animals, and focusing on Group 1 ethical methods should be plenty. And, in fact, there are quite a number of rescues and shelters that have very successfully done this, drastically reducing or even virtually eliminating the number of healthy and adoptable animals killed in their facilities.

When only about 57% of households are buying cats and dogs and the shelter/rescue industry is only getting 20% of that existing market share, focusing on breeders and their 15% market share as the problem and trying to use a combination of Group 2 and Approach D methods as the primary way to address shelter overpopulation is myopic and ineffective--and also unethical, especially when it comes to the use of Group 2 methods. It's also unnecessary.


  1. Thank you…this is a terrific and easily understood analogy. The question remains if there actually IS an overpopulation of shelter dogs. Data/facts about the importation of animals (interstate and international) conflict with this statement and skew the numbers.

  2. I am a rescuer who works with breeders which makes me the bane of shelters & other rescues. Now when I say I "work" with breeders I mean, sometimes when they have retired dogs, or they have found out that a dog is not breed worthy they give me the dog, but most times they fix & fully vet the animal for me. There are a few hobby breeders or larger ones who get in over their heads or are moving out of breeding that will turn to me to help them find homes on occasion because they can't turn to other sources without fear of retribution BUT the way I work the most with breeders is that if I get a breed (even a mixed breed) of dog they breed they usually take the dog from me & pay for the vetting & get them homes because (and this is brilliant) they usually already have a waiting list of potential adopters, they have more knowledge about how & with whom to place the dog.

    Breeders were the original rescuer before it became big time business & a way to garner money in donations. I don't get the statistics but I do personally go to shelters & 95% of what I see in there are "Oops puppies" careless owners or owners who couldn't afford the outrageous vet fees to get their dogs fixed. When I do see a purebred I pick them up if possible or atleast try to research where they came from. I have had a breeder of a Nova Scotia Trolling Dog come from the midwest to the northwest to retrieve a senior dog & another breeder from Maryland come over here to get her dog back & she ended up having to rent a car to drive back because the dog was in such bad shape.

    As for shelter over populations that is far more sinister then anyone can imagine. There is far more money in killing then there is in saving: If a shelter takes in 5000 dogs & it adopts out or sends to rescue 4900 dogs: not a big problem BUT if a shelter takes in 5000 dogs euthanizes 4500 of those they can go to the city or county council & say we have a BIG problem, we need more money, more pay more employees, sick & twisted job security but it works. Then there is the matter of the money they make off of the meat of the dead animals who are sold to rendering plants: Guess where they end up? In dog & cat food, (meat & bone meal OR animal by products). We need more spay & neuter resources, or a cap on vet fees & we will see a very dramatic drop in shelter numbers but so far vets are skirting around the issue because no one has pointed the finger in the right direction.