Animal shelters are changing. As the number of pets adopted from shelters goes up, animal intake numbers go down, and euthanasia rates decrease, the duties of the animal shelter begin to shift. With successful spay and neuter programs taking place all over the country, many shelters are seeing a slow, but steady, improvement in the issue of animal overpopulation. With the “No-Kill” shelter movement expanding faster than ever, the rehabilitation of animals that previously would have been considered “unadoptable” is becoming the norm. Animal shelters nationwide are making significant progress on overwhelming animal populations. So, as the light at the end of the tunnel of overpopulation nears, the question becomes: what’s next for animal sheltering?

Here in the Northeast, we are lucky enough to see the effects of successful spay and neuter initiatives more explicitly than other parts of the country. It’s not very often that we see stray dogs or cats roaming the streets, especially here in New Hampshire. Many of the stray animals that are being taken in by shelters are feral animals, rather than friendly neighborhood strays. More than ever, shelters are experiencing a rise in the intake of surrendered animals. Several of these animals have behavioral or health issues that proved to be too much for their previous owner.

This rising intake of “unadoptable” animals, partnered with the rapid expansion of “No-Kill” shelter policies means that animals that would have been euthanized in previous decades for being behaviorally difficult or medically challenging are staying in shelters for rehabilitation. With the need for simply re-homing the excess animal population becoming obsolete, many shelters are effectively becoming rehabilitation centers. In other words, they are turning “unadoptable” animals into adoptable ones.

Another role shelters are taking on is that of transporting animals from other parts of the country that still struggle with extreme overpopulation. Countless animal shelters in the South and Midwest are struggling with overpopulation and stray animals to an extent we no longer see in many parts of the Northeast. This is due to numerous factors, but some of these include less widespread and/or effective spay and neuter initiatives, less progressive animal legislation, thinner concentration of physical shelters, and climates that make it easier for animal populations to grow.

Because of this influx of excess animals, shelters in other parts of the country are often faced with the sad prospect of euthanizing healthy and otherwise adoptable animals for space purposes. This is where shelters in the Northeast step in. Several Northeastern shelters lack easily adoptable animals, and are willing to transport animals from other shelters and adopt them out to their own communities. Significant decreases in surplus animal populations allow shelters in the North to help fellow shelters all over the country that continue to experience hefty overpopulation. It’s a win-win scenario. Transporting allows some shelters to have a variety of adoptable animals for their communities that would otherwise be unavailable, and other shelters to euthanize less healthy animals for space concerns.

At CVHS, we are very fortunate to be experiencing the decline of animal overpopulation in the communities we serve. This change has allowed us to rehabilitate more challenging cases than ever before, and aid shelters in need around the country with the intake of transport animals. The lack of an overbearing animal population hasn’t made our jobs any easier. In fact, it has probably made them more challenging. However, we feel lucky to be on the forefront of the future of animal sheltering. We look forward to the day when no animal shelter must euthanize animals for space purposes or for reasons that would have previously made them “unadoptable.” Until that day, we will continue to do everything in our power to help every animal that comes into our care find their forever home, no matter where they come from or what challenges they pose.

Fun Fact: Did you know New Hampshire was the first in the nation to launch a statewide spay and neuter campaign in 1994? Progressive legislation like this has allowed us to experience the benefits of a significant decrease in overpopulation, as well as lower shelter euthanasia rates. The average number of cats and dogs euthanized in NH shelters per year from 1980 to 1993 was 11,309. Only six years after the statewide initiative, just 2,575 dogs and cats were euthanized in NH shelters. In 2013, that number decreased to about 1,153 dogs and cats euthanized.

Note: Currently, there are no comprehensive data compilations for animal shelters in the U.S. Nationwide rates of animal intake, adoption, and euthanasia are largely estimated by organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA. The numbers that we do have indicate that overpopulation is decreasing, euthanasia rates of shelter animals is decreasing, and the number of animals adopted from shelters is increasing. Any figures included in this post or its links are estimates. Additionally, CVHS never euthanizes for space issues, but there are many shelters around the country that are still forced to do so. To help eliminate the need for space-based euthanasia, support low-cost or free spay/neuter initiatives and progressive animal legislation that enacts community or statewide spay/neuter programs, prohibits puppy mills, and eliminates breed-specific bans.