There are those that would encourage you to support bans on the breeding of pure breed dogs. They often argue that the professional breeder, and the desire to own a pure breed dog or cat, is the cause of pet over population. The following study demonstrates that their claims are not based upon the known facts.

The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) is a coalition of eleven of America's foremost animal organizations concerned with the issue of unwanted pets in the United States. It was established to gather and analyze reliable data that further characterize the number, origin, and disposition of companion animals (dogs and cats) in the United States; to promote responsible stewardship of these companion animals; and to then recommend programs to reduce the number of surplus/unwanted pets in the United States.

The Council is guided by five major goals:

  • To serve as a national collection point for gathering and evaluating pet population data and relevant materials;
  • To facilitate effective communication among organizations, associations, and institutions that share the Council's mission;
  • To provide expertise and resources for gathering and analyzing needed data pertinent to the control of pet populations;
  • To establish timetables and strategies for reducing the numbers of surplus dogs and cats in the U.S.;
  • To obtain funding to support the Council's mission;

The Council has undertaken several important studies to better understand the issue of unwanted companion animals. This problem cannot be solved unless we truly understand the problem. Without such data, individuals and organizations will continue to describe the atrocities of pet population issues, but will have no clear idea of how to approach those issues effectively.

The Council is composed of the following organizations:

  • American Animal Hospital Association
  • American Humane Association
  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
  • American Veterinary Medical Association
  • Association of Teachers of Veterinary Public Health and Preventive Medicine
  • Cat Fanciers Association, Inc.
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
  • National Animal Control Association
  • Society of Animal Welfare Administrators
Summary of the Projects of the National Council of Pet Population Study and Policy

Since the 1940's, "pet overpopulation" has been an important issue to the animal welfare community. This surplus of animals has resulted in millions of dogs and cats being euthanized annually in animal shelters across the country. The nature and scope of this problem have been notoriously difficult to characterize. The number of animal shelters in the U.S., the demographics of the population of animals passing through them and the characteristics of pet owners relinquishing animals are poorly understood. What portion of these animals are adopted or euthanized, why are they relinquished and their source of acquisition are all questions for which there have been little data.

In the 1970's, although no scientific research had been done to characterize the nature of the problem, many articles appeared in both scientific and popular press resulting in the efforts undertaken to resolve the overpopulation problem. The most prevalent belief at that time was that most of the animals coming to shelters and subsequently being euthanized were puppies and kittens, and that the solution to the problem was to decrease the birth rate by promoting aggressive spaying and neutering problems. Other promoted a more comprehensive approach, encouraging a combination of sterilization programs, enhanced pet owner education and strict animal control legislation and enforcement. While the number of sheltered animals being euthanized appears to have declined over the past twenty years, it is still unclear which, if any of these options has been most effective or whether other factors, unrelated to intervention strategies are responsible.

More data are clearly needed to characterize the pet surplus in the United States. Different groups have attempted to provide solutions, but have not coordinated their efforts or provided adequate evaluation of the success of implemented programs. The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) was created in 1993 to address these concerns and coordinate three epidemiologcal studies: A) The Shelter Statistics Survey-- developed to create and update a list of all shelters and impoundment facilities in the U.S. and collect statistics on the number of animals entering these facilities and the disposition of these animals; B) The Regional Shelter Relinquishment Survey-- designed to characterize the animals entering these shelters and the population of people relinquishing animals, and the reason for relinquishment; and C) The National Household Survey-- designed to characterize the population of pet owners and the acquisition, ownership and disposition of pets.

A) The Shelter Statistics Survey:

This Survey, initiated in 1994, by the NCPPSP gathered the names of shelters and organizations believed to be sheltering animals. Member organizations of the NCPPSP Board were each given existing shelter lists for five states for confirmation and to contribute the names of shelters, associations, groups, or agencies sheltering animals that were not on these lists. Only shelters that housed more than 100 dogs and/or cats each year were included. Approximately 4,700 shelters remained after duplicates were purged. Names were continually added and removed based on shelter response. The final list had 5,042 names. All responses were kept confidential.  Information linking the names of shelters with their responses was not released.

A survey card was constructed requesting shelter name, address, contact person and phone number. In addition, data were requested for the number of dogs and cats entering the shelters through animal control, owner relinquishment or other methods, and for the number of dogs and cats exiting the shelters through adoption, owner reclamation, euthanasia or other methods. Kittens and puppies were counted in the cat and dog categories, respectively. The data card was sent to the initial list of shelters in February 1995 requesting data for 1994. Reminder cards were sent out later that year. Changes to the mailing list were continuously made in response to shelter comments. The study has been repeated for 1995, 1996 and 1997. The following tabulated data were shared with the agencies on the shelter list as they became available. The collection of data by means of survey cards was halted due to the low percentage of response by animal shelters.

Types of Responding Shelters (%)
1994 1995 1996
Local governmental animal care and control agency 53.1 46.1 38.3
Private, non-profit humane agency/shelter 21.9 24.7 23
Private, non-profit humane agency/shelter w/ housing contract 16 18.1 18.7
Other 9 4.3 4.4
Unknown NA 6.8 15.6
  -------- -------- --------
Total Number of responding shelters 1100 1054 1038

Sources of Dogs and Cats Entering Reporting Shelters

  Submitted by Animal Control %
  '94 '95 '96
Dogs 51.0 44.6 44.8
Cats 39.7 35.4 33.6
Unspecified 56.9 49.4 25.9
  -------- -------- --------
Overall 47.4 41.7 38.9

  Relinquished by Owner %
  '94 '95 '96
Dogs 27.7 21.3 26.5
Cats 35.1 34.9 32.2
Unspecified 18.2 20.2 18.3
  -------- -------- --------
Overall 29.3 29.3 28.9

  Other Sources %
  '94 '95 '96
Dogs 21.3 10.4 13.5
Cats 25.2 13.6 19.2
Unspecified 24.9 9.5 18.1
  -------- -------- --------
Overall 23.3 11.5 16.2

  Unknown Sources %
  '94 '95 '96
Dogs n/a 17.7 15.1
Cats n/a 16.2 15.1
Unspecified n/a 20.9 37.8
  -------- -------- --------
Overall n/a 17.5 16.0

  Total Number
  '94 '95 '96
Dogs 2,112,009 2,080,146 2,154,191
Cats 1,668,986 1,549,224 1,711,815
Unspecified 547,919 483,822 278,172
  -------- -------- --------
Overall 4,328,914 4,113,192 4,144,178


Denver- Everyday in communities across the US a bond is broken. It's the bond between people and their pets, resulting in millions of pets being surrendered to shelters each year. And little has been known about the reasons until now.

In a recent study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population and Policy (NCPPSP) and published in the July issue of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS), researchers went into 12 selected animal shelters in the United States for one year to find out why.

The results of the study show that the top seven reasons for relinquishment for both dogs and cats are the same. "These commonalties suggest that there may be similar ways to address relinquishment in dogs and cats," says Pam Burney, NCPPSP president. "For people who work in a shelter all day, there isn't always time to look at these issues. We have impressions of what's happening, but now we have objective data that will help develop specific programs to address the issues that have been identified."

The Top Ten Reasons for Pet Relinquishment to Shelters in the United States .


  1. Moving
  2. Landlord not allowing pet
  3. Too many animals in household
  4. Cost of pet maintenance
  5. Owner having personal problems
  6. Inadequate facilities
  7. No homes available for litter mates
  8. Having no time for pet
  9. Pet Illness(es)
  10. Biting


  1. Moving
  2. Too many animals in household
  3. Landlord not allowing pet
  4. Cost of pet maintenance
  5. Owner having personal problems
  6. Inadequate facilities
  7. No homes available for litter mates
  8. Allergies in family
  9. House soiling
  10. Incompatibility with other pets

Specially trained researchers completed confidential individual interviews with pet owners who were relinquishing their dogs and cats to animal shelters. Pet owners were allowed to give up to five reasons for relinquishment. Interviewers did not, however, prioritize the responses. They simply recorded them in the order stated.

Characteristics of Pets Being Relinquished

In addition to the reasons for relinquishment, the study collected data on the pets being relinquished. According to the study:

  • The majority of surrendered dogs (47.7%) and cats (40.3%) were between 5 months and 3 years of age.
  • The majority of dogs (37.1%) and cats (30.2%) had been owned from 7 month to 1 year.
  • Approximately half of the pets (42.8% of dogs; 50.8% of cats) surrendered were not neutered.
  • Many of the pets relinquished (33% of dogs; 46.9% of cats) had not been to a veterinarian.
  • Animals acquired from friends were relinquished on higher numbers (31.4% of dogs; 33.2% of cats) than from any other source.
  • Close to equal numbers of males and female dogs and cats were surrendered.
  • Most dogs (96%) had not received any obedience training.
  • Less than (6%) of the animals relinquished appeared to possibly be purebred.
  • Less than (3%) of the animals euthanized appeared to possibly be purebred.

Characteristics of Pets Owners Surrendering Pets

During the confidential interviews, researchers also gathered data on the people surrendering the pets. "Owners represented a broad range of age, ethnicity, education, and income level, indicating continued efforts will need to reach wide and far into communities across the country," say Dr. Mo Salman, he article's senior author.

The NCPPSP Regional Shelter Survey was designed, implemented, and analyzed by six members of the NCPPSP Scientific Advisory Committee. Regional investigators were encouraged to select shelters that were likely to be representative of those in their locations. The selection was also based on a shelter's ability to dedicate time and resources to the project.

The publication of this article represents the first such scientific and public release of relinquishment data from the NCPPSP's ongoing research into pet population issues. "The council has undertaken several important studies to better understand the issue of unwanted companion animals. This problem cannot be solved unless we truly understand it," says Burney. "Without this new data, individuals and organizations can have a clear idea of how to approach these issues most effectively."

As with all research, there are limitations. According to the authors, "the study was designed to describe the animals submitted to shelters. Thus, this set of data has no comparison data from the general pet-owning population. Many factors undoubtedly influence relinquishment, and some critical factors may have been omitted. This study represents a beginning of systematic data collection to examine this complex problem. The study is not designed to deal with animals other than those entering shelters, and influences cannot be drawn beyond this population."


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