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Why Adopt? 20 Shelter Dog Facts

By Colleen Williams
March 16, 2018 • 12 min. read
group of mixed breed dogs sitting

If you’re looking for a new furry friend, you may have already made up your mind to adopt or rescue a pet from a shelter. If not, you may be wondering – should I adopt a shelter dog?

Our comprehensive look will consider three main areas: statistical data, common myths, and the ethical considerations of adopting a dog from an animal shelter. If you decide that adopting is the right choice, you’ll find a section devoted to several great adoption alternatives that give you the pride of adopting a homeless pet without actually visiting a shelter. Need resources? Check out the original article at

By the Numbers: Helpful Statistics

  1. Millions of Companion Animals Enter U.S. Animal Shelters Nationwide Every Year 

Between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats combined enter the US animal shelter system every year. This number is actually lower than it was in 1973, when totals reached closer to 13 million. Note: about 3 million of these companion animals are adopted out of the shelter system annually.

  1. Three Million Dogs Enter US Shelters Annually

This statistic, provided by the ASPCA, includes both those canines that were later rehomed and those that were euthanized at the shelter. Depending on the region, 25 to 50% of all shelter animals are dogs. Variation is largely due to differences in feral cat populations that sometimes overwhelm regional shelter capacity. Recent research and pilot programs have tried to address regional supply and demand differences with dog relocation.

  1. Millions of Shelter Animals are Euthanized Annually

Although some animals are selected for euthanasia because of age, medical conditions, or behavioral issues that make them unsuitable for adoption, about 2.4 million of those euthanized were adoption ready.

The good news: this number appears to be significantly decreasing since 2011. Reasons for the downturn in euthanasia rates is likely due to better animal recovery because of microchip technology, fewer animals being surrendered, as well as higher overall adoption rates. Plus, online tools like Petfinder or Adopt-a-Pet have made it easier for people to search for dogs in their area that are available for adoption.

  1. 56% of Dogs in Shelters are Euthanized

Although estimates vary and are often determined by regional factors, this is the American Humane Society estimate for the percentage of pups who do not survive the shelter system. This unfortunate statistic supports one of the most powerful reasons to adopt a shelter dog – you are saving a dog’s life.

  1. Millions of Animals Are Adopted Annually

Adoption rates are going up (approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year; 1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats) thanks to successful outreach programs that help give shelters a stronger presence in their local communities. These programs include:

  • Relocation Initiatives – Designed to help move dogs from places with higher rates of shelter animals to those with lower rates, thus helping more surrendered animals find good homes.
  • Disaster Preparedness TrainingEducational support to help shelters during natural disasters, boosting effective adoption rates after such incidents like hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.
  • Rehabilitation Services – By taking advantage of modern behavioral training techniques to offer a second chance to dogs struggling with issues, these programs save the lives of dogs that may otherwise be euthanized.
  1. Adoption Statistics

Did you ever wonder where people get their dogs from? The American Pet Products Association has done some extensive research on just that question. Here is their data from 2016:

  • Friend or relative: 25%
  • Animal shelter: 22%
  • Breeder: 22%
  • Rescue group: 12%
  • Private seller (not specifically a breeder): 10%
  • Adopted from a pet store: 10%
  • Purchased from a pet store: 4%
  • Stray: 4%
  1. About 25% of Dogs in Shelters are Purebred

According to the Humane Society, nearly a quarter of the dog population in shelters are pure breeds rather than mixed breeds. Some of these dogs are rescued from inhumane breeding facilities or “puppy mills”, whereas others have been surrendered by their families.

It is a myth that you cannot find the breed that you are searching for if a purebred is your thing. Call your local rescue shelters to ask about the frequency they see the breed you are interested in. Many shelters also have Facebook pages which you can follow to get updates on new arrivals.

Visit sites such as The Shelter Pet Project, Petfinder, Adopt a Pet and All Paws to search for specific breeds. You can find the right adoptable pup at a shelter or rescue group in your region.

The Bigger Picture: Myth Versus Fact

Let’s look at several common myths about shelter dogs that keep well-meaning folks from adopting: 

  1. MYTH: The staff will try to push a problem dog on you.

FACT: Shelters want you to find a dog that is a good fit for your situation and needs.

The staff at your local shelter is not interested in sending you home with a dog who won’t work for your family or lifestyle. In fact, the opposite is true. The staff wants to help you find the right dog for you, even if that means there are no good suiters on the day you happen to show up. They are well aware that the return rates for dogs adopted from a shelter are already too high. Sending a dog out to multiple homes is not ideal for the dog who may already be unsettled by their experience with homelessness.

Programs such as the ASPCA’s Meet Your Match, that train staff to help folks identify the dog of their dreams, have become popular employee training protocols in national shelters. This program has been shown to reduce returns by 35.7% and increase adoptions by 14.7%.

You can expect to engage with folks at the shelter that are invested in the success of your adoption when you visit your local shelter.

  1. MYTH: The shelter is full of “bad” dogs.

FACT: “Problem” dogs can indicate ignorant or irresponsible owners.

Studies have shown that among the many reasons why people relinquish dogs to shelters, the knowledge of the owner is one important predictor. That is, people who take the time to learn basic training techniques are less likely to find themselves rehoming a dog.

Among the dogs in the shelter system that were given up for “behavioral problems”, we don’t know how many were simply living with an inexperienced person who, later blamed the dog for behavioral issues. The people-problem aspect of successfully rehoming dogs has become a focus of many in-house training programs that help dogs pick up vital housetraining and basic manners before leaving the shelter.

In other cases, some local shelters have basic training classes  available for free or at a very low cost to help new pet owners gain the skills to best serve their new companion. Contact your local shelter to find out if there are community training resources available to you!

  1. MYTH: Dogs adopted from the pound are aggressive.

FACT: Behavioral testing is common before releasing pets for adoption.

Many shelters perform behavioral testing before releasing the dogs in their care for adoption. Such programs help the staff become aware of potential problems, particularly those that might result in an unsuccessful adoption. These assessments typically focus on factors such as fear, reactivity and potential for resource guarding or aggression.

You can ask your local shelter if they perform such testing. If they do, then you can find out the results for any potential adoptee before you make the decision to take them home.

Keep in mind that the findings may be triggered by the stressful conditions of the shelter itself. For example, many dogs show food guarding behaviors while in a kennel full of stressed out dogs, but then may show no such behavior when they feel safe in their own home.

More often than not, such tests might identify areas for work that are not necessarily deal breakers for you. For instance, some dogs display sensitivity to new environments, but that does not necessarily translate to an aggressive or problem dog.

  1. MYTH: Shelter dogs are more likely to have health problems than purebred dogs.

FACT: Purebred dogs are more likely to suffer from difficult to treat genetic conditions.

There is a misconception out there that shelter dogs are more prone to be sick or have more medical problems than purebred dogs. This is just not true!

While responsible breeding can mitigate purebred medical issues to a degree, you must do your research, and be prepared that these pups can be very expensive. Make sure you are not buying from a profit-motivated seller less concerned with the long-term health of their puppies’ bloodline.

Second, you could buy a purebred puppy that was born in a puppy mill with little to no regard to health problems or safe conditions, which the puppies require to thrive. Puppy mills have been routinely proven to have much lower standards of care, resulting in preventable sickness and injury, among a myriad of other abuses.

Third, although there is not a ton of data either way on the subject, there is some evidence to suggest that mixed breed dogs have some health advantages, particularly concerning several congenital health problems that often do not show up until 2 years of age or more.

Fourth, although regulation is often left to individual shelters, the fact is that due to pet overpopulation, shelters are sometimes forced to select animals for euthanasia. Known medical problems make dogs much less adoptable. Often out of a need to make room or due to budgetary restraints, such special needs dogs are the first selected for euthanasia.

If a dog was relinquished for health problems by their owner, and the shelter decides to give that dog a chance, then they will share that information with you to make sure that you are prepared to handle the time and cost investment of a known medical problem. Once again, shelter staff are concerned with finding the right forever home for the dogs in their care.

  1. MYTH: Purebred dogs are more well-behaved than mutts.

FACT: All dogs need training, support, and guidance to learn to be appropriate in human spaces.

There is a misconception out there that if you get a shelter dog, it may have some behavioral issues. The fact is, any dog that is not receiving basic training will have behavioral issues, including purebreds.

The only way to be absolutely sure that you won’t end up with a dog that has severe behavioral issues is to get a puppy (note, this includes both shelter and pure-bred puppies) and train it yourself utilizing positive reinforcement training techniques. With hard work and patience, most dogs that are up for adoption (regardless of age) want to please you, and can be successfully trained!

  1. MYTH: All shelter dogs need professional rehabilitation.

FACT: Many dogs at the shelter come with basic housetraining and doggy manners that they learned in a previous home.

In fact, one of the great benefits of adopting an adult shelter dog is that many already have the groundwork training for life with people. Since many dogs are surrendered due to factors like sudden loss in the family, moving, financial hardship and other reasons completely unrelated to behavior, you may find that a shelter dog is much less work than starting with a puppy.

Senior dogs are also often overlooked, but many older dogs rank lowest on the scale of maintenance. They already know the ropes, they have lower exercise needs, and often just want to enjoy your company and affection more than anything else!

If your primary concern is finding a dog that is house-ready, then make that priority clear with shelter staff who will make sure you find a good fit!

  1. MYTH: Adoption fees are too high at shelters.

FACT: Adoption fees offer an extraordinary value.

People are sometimes shocked to find out that you will have to pay a fee at most animal shelters before taking your new dog home. Sometimes they might think “Wait a minute! You got this dog for free so why are you charging me to take it off your hands?” This way of thinking ignores both the costs of housing animals as well as their medical care.

Here are some of the things your adoption fee usually covers:

  • Spay/neuter for dogs of age
  • Vouchers for spay/neuter for puppies too young to be altered
  • Deworming and parasite medication
  • Core vaccines
  • Microchipping (at some shelters)

All of these services are recouped in the standard adoption fee, but at a fraction of what you would have to pay most veterinarians. In fact, adopting a dog at a shelter is a net financial gain for most responsible dog owners in terms of the cost of care.

  1. MYTH: You know what you are getting with a purebred. Adopting a dog from the shelter is a crapshoot.

FACT: How we train and socialize our canine companions has a huge effect on overall temperament – purebred or not.

Remember that while breed type can be a predictor of certain tendencies (ball drive, prey drive, pack drive), it won’t guarantee you a balanced dog. Only love, proper training, and care can give you the best odds of that.

Take your time at the shelter and ask to play with or walk the dog you are most interested in. Give them a chance to show you who they are and see if you build a connection. If you need to, go home and think about the choice, then return the next day.

The fact is that every animal we bring into our lives brings an element of chance, with little advantage going to those that are knowledgeable about the emotional signals that dogs use to communicate. When you find a good fit, invest in some basic training classes to give yourselves the best shot at a happy fur-ever home!

5 More Reasons Why to Adopt a Shelter Dog

The human-animal bond is complex and not entirely rational. Emotion and morality play a role in the choices we make in life and impact our reasoning about family, friends and even our pets.

Thinking through why rescuing a dog from a shelter may be the right choice for you includes taking an inventory of what aspects of the human-animal bond you are most interested in exploring with your dog.

  1. Shelter dogs know that you rescued them.

This is not a fact-based reason; after all, we can’t read a dog’s mind. However, it is a perspective many people with a beloved rescue in their home will confirm. In my experience with adopting several dogs from animal shelters, every single one seemed to sense that they were being given a second chance to find the pack that would accept them.

Whether or not canines understand being rescued in the same way that we humans do, what we do know is that they are social animals, dependent upon others to validate and make them feel secure and happy. For domesticated pets, humans are the ones that provide the essential components of a pack: food, shelter, companionship and security.

Even though animal shelters have come a long way in the last few decades towards building more spacious facilities with more opportunities for exercise and decreased stress levels, it can still be traumatic for many dogs to be removed from their home and thrown into a place where they are surrounded by the sounds and smells of other stressed out dogs.

When you take a dog out of homelessness and provide for their needs, there is a sense of gratitude that comes with that. Plus, you get to play the hero – who doesn’t love that?

  1. Supporting shelters means you are helping to combat animal cruelty and neglect.

Rescue organizations help pass legislation to root out, prosecute and punish people that profit from inhumane conditions of puppy mills and even illegal dog fighting. Shelters often work with local animal control officers in the day to day work of dealing with such offenders and the animals they neglect. They also maintain phone and online hotlines for folks to report animal abuse in their local communities.

Once you have experienced a dog’s love, the suffering of other canines is likely something that can break your heart into pieces. By rescuing a dog from a shelter, you can make a choice that contributes to the well-being of dogs everywhere.

  1. Supporting shelters helps cut down on pet overpopulation.

Your adoption fee at the shelter is not making anyone rich; in fact, it is helping to make sure stray and surrendered animals are not contributing to more neglected domestic pets. Animals that are old enough are always spayed or neutered before being released for adoption, usually at a fraction of the cost of private veterinary care available to the public. Plus, most shelters partner with local vets or organizations that offer low or no cost spay and neutering services and in many cases, basic vaccines are also available.

  1. Putting puppy mills out of business.

The most effective way to stop inhumane puppy mills is to raise awareness of the problem, and encourage people not to financially support such practices. When breeding is no longer profitable, only those dedicated to the love and well-being of the breed will go out of their way to bring new puppies into the world.

The problem is that, unless you adopt from a shelter or purchase from a known friend or responsible breeder, you just don’t know where your money is going. Never buy a dog online! It is the easiest way for puppy mills to sell their pups without you knowing the truth of their abusive practices. Unfortunately, puppy scams run rampant online.

  1. Save a dog’s life.

This is the most critical point: No matter how you cut it, choosing to adopt from a shelter is saving a life. Even if your chosen dog is not at risk of euthanasia, either because you are supporting a no-kill shelter or because of other reasons like high adoptability, you are still making room for another dog to find their forever home in that shelter.

When you purchase from a breeder, you are obtaining a dog that basically has little to no chance of experiencing homelessness. Responsible breeders charge exorbitant fees for their dogs and for good reason. They are committed to each puppy in their care, including their long-term health and safety.

Preserving quality breeding stock for purebreds does have value, and many responsible breeders are fighting the good fight with excellent breeding and care policies. However, the vast majority of people want to adopt a dog for the unconditional love, loyalty and dedication that they bring into our lives.

Saving a dog from a shelter gives you the best of both worlds: The knowledge that you saved a dog’s life, and a caring companion that loves you just the way you are!

Adoption Alternatives to a Shelter

For some folks, visiting a shelter can be a traumatic experience – it can be overwhelming in sound, smells, and especially emotion. Sensitive folks can visit potential dogs in less chaotic environments where it’s much easier to walk away if isn’t a good fit.

Breed Rescue 

Many purebreds have regional rescue operations devoted to them that are in touch with shelters and will facilitate finding forever homes for abandoned dogs. These groups help keep dogs out of the shelter system by both intervening before a dog is placed, and by working with local shelters to move canines out of the shelter to private foster care. The foster system is composed of volunteers who have special breed-specific knowledge and are more than willing to share their wisdom with new pet owners.  They also engage in training such skills as basic manners so that dogs in their care have the best chance for long-term placement in their new homes.

Foster Care

Purebreds are not the only pets that have foster care programs! Many rescued animals of all shapes and sizes have been placed in private foster homes. Similar to breed rescues, these volunteers understand the needs of a dog, and often have training expertise.

Become A Foster

Finally, becoming a foster home for a rescue organization gives you the benefit of screening potential dogs for a place in your own home. Along the way, you can better refine your own expectations for the perfect companion. You would also have a chance become well acquainted with different breeds and ages of canines so that you will be more confident when you meet the rescued dog that is just right for you.

After Adoption – Consider Pet Insurance

Once you’ve found and adopted your new companion, consider enrolling in pet insurance. Whether it’s a pure breed or a mix-breed, accidents and illnesses are common, and an unexpected trip to the vet can really put a dent in your wallet. With pet insurance, you can save up to 90% on vet bills. And with every free quote for pet insurance, Healthy Paws Foundation donates towards a homeless pet’s medical care. Get your free quote today.

This article originally ran on WileyPup. At WileyPup, they are committed to providing well researched informational articles to help dog lovers make important decisions about their beloved canine companions. Find out more at and be sure to check out their Best Ball Launcher too!

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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