Euthanasia in Animal Shelters (by Janie Atwood)


Thank you for taking the time to read my essay and showing your interest in animal welfare. I chose this theme because I have always had a love for animals and believe they need to be treated with love and respect. I enjoyed every minute of volunteering at Animal Aid. It felt so good to spend time with such loving animals.

I never realized that so many animals were euthanized in animal shelters each year. I was inspired to write this proposal argument after working with the cats at Animal Aid, and after my sister adopted a dog from Family Dogs New Life Shelter here in Portland. I watched my sister’s love for her new dog, Quorra, grow more and more each day and Quorra’s love for her new owners grew even quicker. To see this dog go from timid and scared to happy and loving made my heart melt. I then realized that it was time to talk about the subject of euthanasia in animal shelters due to pet overpopulation. Animal shelters need our full support. By supporting animal shelters alone and not the industry that feeds into them more animals will be adopted and less will be euthanized. It is important for the public to spay and neuter their pets and to adopt from animal shelters only. My proposal argument addresses the issue of euthanasia due to overpopulation and introduces ways to fix the problem.

The Research

Approximately 1.5 million animals are euthanized at animal shelters annually–that is 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats (ASPCA). Many argue that euthanasia is the only humane option for unadopted animals. After all, there is an estimated amount of 6.5 million animals that enter animal shelters each year (ASPCA). With the amount of needy animals many shelters do not have the living capacity to hold them all. Those euthanized are typically unwanted by the public, i.e. too aggressive, handicapped, too old. I believe that every animal deserves the best treatment. No animal deserves to die simply because they do not meet the criteria for being a proper pet. Realistically, animal euthanasia in shelters cannot be fixed by animal shelters alone. We as a people need to do our part by no longer supporting pet stores and breeders and by spaying and neutering our pets. By supporting animal shelters alone, and not the industry that feeds into them, more animals will be adopted and less will be euthanized.

Puppy mills are a primary contributing factor that leads to the existence of animal shelters. “Puppy mill” does not have a formal definition; however, attorney Krysten Kenny defines the term as, “high volume breeding operations populated by poorly treated dogs that are bred at every opportunity, caged their entire life, and that receive minimal health care” (Kenny 379). Puppy mills only care about maximizing their profit. The wellbeing of the dogs is not one of their concerns. That being said, many puppies purchased from puppy mills are unhealthy. In 2011 it was estimated that over 78 million dogs were owned in the United States. Only 21% were adopted from animal shelters (Kenny 379). This means that the majority of dogs owned were bought from puppy mills and/or pet stores. The reason for euthanizing animals in shelters is due to overcrowding. Puppy mills are a major contributing factor. Many of the animals purchased from puppy mills are surrendered to animal shelters because the owners cannot handle the pets. If we were to stop supporting puppy mills and adopt from shelters less animals would be euthanized.

Pet stores are another contributing factor in animal euthanasia. Many pet stores support puppy mills by selling their dogs. In 2009 the Humane Society of the U.S. estimated that, “one-third of the nine thousand pet stores across the country sold puppy mill born puppies and that between two and four million puppies produced by puppy mills are sold each year” (Kenny 379). Pet stores will typically not disclose the origin of their puppies to the buyer. Instead they will tell them that the puppies were bread by “professional” breeders or throw around words like “USDA licensed” (The Humane Society). In 2011 a New Jersey pet store owner, Karen Alexander was found guilty of animal cruelty after an investigation on her store “Puppy Palace Pet Shop.” A German Shephard puppy was found very sick in a back room without medical attention. The puppy later died of Parvo (a contagious virus mainly found in unvaccinated dogs) after being transported to veterinary care. The investigation by the New Jersey SPCA found that many of the sick and dying puppies at this store came directly from puppy mills (States News Service). Pet stores along with puppy mills are a major contribution to pet overpopulation, which results in unwanted dogs euthanized at shelters each year.

Some argue that no-kill shelters are crueler than those that euthanize to provide more space. No-kill shelters are not exactly more humane. Either they have to turn away animals in need or they take them in and have little space to provide for everyone. This leads to animal suffering. A no-kill shelter in Idaho visited by humane officials kept 400 cats (most of them sick) in nine unsanitary trailers. The director of the humane society, Dr. Jeff Rosenthal described, “It was like a concentration camp […] We have to realize that sometimes the no-kill philosophy runs into problems when you have animals suffering” (Hewitt 99). The idea of no-kill shelters sounds more humane but the majority of the shelters actually have more suffering animals.

Pet stores and puppy mills have given animal shelters not much choice but to euthanize their animals. If they are not being adopted there is not much to do with them. As animals keep coming to the shelters there is insufficient space to care for all, so one might ask, “What is the humane option?” To euthanize so that the other needy animals can be cared for properly? Or to keep all animals alive and deal with overpopulation? It is a tricky situation that does not provide much of an alternative. If more people would support animal shelters there would be no question as to whether or not an animal should be euthanized.

Supporting an animal shelter does not necessarily mean that one must adopt. Fostering programs are available as well and help with pet overpopulation. Becoming a foster parent is a great option for those who are not able to make a life long commitment but who want to help support shelters with overpopulation, and who love animals of course.  At Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center there is a continuous struggle to keep animals at capacity. That is why they came up with the 60-day foster program. This program allows foster parents to learn about the animal they are supporting for the time being and let the shelter know of any personal characteristics the dog or cat may have. It also helps get the animals out of the shelter and into a temporary or permanent home (ABC Action News). Most of us know someone who is interested in adopting a pet. By fostering we can spread the information to our friends and family and that leads to more dogs being adopted or fostered.

One of the most important ways one can support an animal shelter and its overpopulation is to spay and neuter pets. A spayed and neutered dog or cat will not be able to reproduce. This will reduce the amount of homeless pets which will result in less euthanized animals. At the For the Love of Dogs animal shelter in Wilson County, NC owners Max and Della Fitz-Gerald offer an affordable spay and neuter program to encourage the public to be responsible pet owners and spay and neuter their pets. This is to take action against pet overpopulation. In 2016, this program had spayed and neutered nearly 1000 dogs and cats (Handgraaf). Though, this program has helped reduce the amount of euthanized animals in shelters it is still not enough. According to statistics in 2016 from Times writer Brie Handgraaf, “From January to May of last year, the department brought in 489 dogs — 270 of which were adopted and 102 that were euthanized — and 296 cats, including 98 that were adopted and 118 that were euthanized. Animal enforcement officers brought in 415 dogs since January — 196 that were adopted and 67 that were euthanized — and 216 cats, which included 94 that were adopted and 80 that were euthanized” (Handgraaf). This is just in Wilson County. There are animals being euthanized everywhere on a daily basis. Spaying and neutering an animal is extremely important.

Being aware of animal euthanasia in animal shelters is crucial. Knowing what leads to euthanasia in shelters is even more important. We can prevent the killing of innocent animals by giving our full support to animal shelters. Puppy mills and pet stores are unnecessary and contribute to pet overpopulation. The most important thing to remember is to spay and neuter our pets. Spaying and neutering equals less homeless animals. If we as a people can put all of our support toward animal shelters we will save the thousands of dogs and cats euthanized each year due to overpopulation. Animals need our love and support. The time to make a change is now. Let us look toward a future where euthanasia is not necessary, where all pets are treated with the love and respect that they deserve.


American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Pet Statistics.” ASPCA, 2017. Accessed 30 May 2017.

Handgraaf, Brie. “No Easy Solution for Strays: City, County Reluctant to Consider Spay/Neuter Partnership.” The Wilson Times, 2017. solution-for-strays,85819. Accessed 1 Jun 2017.

Hewitt, Bill. “Should Strays Be Killed?” People, vol. 66, no. 19, 06. Nov 2006, pp. 99-100. Ebscohost. Accessed 30 May 2017.

Humane Society of the United States. “Fact Sheet: Puppy Mills and Pet Stores.” Humane Society of the United States, 2013. Accessed 30 May 2017.

Kenny, Krysten. “A local approach to a national problem: local ordinances as a means of curbing puppy mill production and pet overpopulation.” Albany Law Review, 2011, p. 379.Academic OneFile. Accessed 30 May 2017.

“NEW JERSEY PET STORE OWNER GUILTY OF ANIMAL CRUELTY.” States News Service, 6 May 2011. Academic OneFile, Accessed 30 May 2017.

“Pet Patrol – June.” ABC Action News, 2017. patrol-june. Accessed 1 June 2017.

Annotated Bibliography:

Handgraaf, Brie. “No Easy Solution for Strays: City, County Reluctant to Consider Spay/Neuter Partnership.” The Wilson Times, 2017. solution-for-strays,85819. This source talks about an animal shelter in Wilson County, NC owned by a couple who is trying to help with pet overpopulation by offering discounted spaying and neutering for pets to encourage the public to spay and neuter. They have put a dent in pet overpopulation but there is much more to be done. This source was very helpful in my argument.

Hewitt, Bill. “Should Strays Be Killed?” People, vol. 66, no. 19, 06. Nov 2006, pp. 99-100. Ebscohost. I felt that this source was really important to use in my essay. There are both positive and negative insights provided into the reality of no-kill shelters. The main point in this article is that no-kill shelters are not exactly more humane.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Pet Statistics.” ASPCA, 2017. source was crucial for my essay because of all of the facts that it provides. The ASPCA gives statistics on how many animals are euthanized at animal shelters each year and how many pets enter animal shelters annually.



  1. Janie,

    WOW! I cannot tell how much new information I just learned from your post! Thank you for clarifying and opening my eyes that no kill shelters are not the solution. I did not know this in fact before reading you article I thought it was the answer!

    Thank you for informing me about possible dangers when adopting a pet I had no idea so many components come into play. I will make sure I spread the word out to multiple people about some of the tricks they use to think the pet that people are adopting is healthy when they labeled pets as you said “USDA Licensed” that seemed a little odd and not right.

    Beautiful post, thank you


  2. Amelia Kathryn Ebaugh

    Hi Janie, I totally agree with you. Animals would not need to be euthanized as much if horrible places like puppy mills didn’t exist. I only learned about puppy mills a few years ago and it puts a completely different perspective on pet stores for me. I love going to the pet store and saying hi to all the animals, it’s a shame that most of the animals there are the result of such an ugly truth. The cute little puppies from pet stores don’t come from loving family homes, but instead they come from concentration camps for dogs. Your article was so informative and inspiring. I am a huge animal person and never wish suffering upon any creature. How do you get people who have such disregard for animals to stop doing what their doing? I will never buy a puppy at a pet store and when I am ready for a dog, I will be supporting my local shelter.
    I always thought that no-kill shelters were more humane than shelters that euthanize because I thought all animals got a second chance. I never considered that a lot of animals needing help get turned away or the over crowding of these places. I guess there’s never an easy decision when it comes to euthanizing, but it seems that the most simple solution is cutting off puppy mills at the source. Adopt, don’t shop. Great article!

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