How many more animals will be killed needlessly? (Part 1)

Stacie Kyle, Reform Breeders VP of Fundraising

Despite all the advances in the world today, we are still needlessly euthanizing animals from over-crowded shelters. The good news is that the numbers have decreased significantly over the last 30 years. Thirty years ago, the number of unwanted animals that were killed in the United States was 17 million.  Year after year, that number stayed about the same.

The nationwide movement toward “no-kill” shelters and sanctuaries has made a dramatic difference. Today, the number of animals euthanized in overcrowded shelters in the United States is about 4 million.

To me, the loss of one animal that could have lived out its life in a loving home is too many.

Today in the United States, there are approximately 10,000 puppy mills, 2000 of which are USDA-licensed, that collectively produce approximately 2,000,000 puppies per year (BF Sept 2014).  Six years ago, there were more than 6000 USDA-licensed puppy mills operating in the United States.

Public awareness of puppy mills is greater today than it ever has been. In response, 55 jurisdictions across North America have banned pet stores from selling dogs, unless those dogs come from a shelter or a rescue.

Increased public awareness of puppy mills is progress, but we still have a long way to go. For example, even though 75% of Americans have heard of puppy mills, 43% do not know that virtually all pet store puppies come from them. Seventeen percent of Americans looking to buy a dog or cat would rather get one from a pet store than from a rescue or a shelter.

We, on the other hand, know what goes on in the worst puppy mills. The dogs that sire and give birth to puppies in mills are given the absolute minimum of care, just enough to keep them alive to breed.

When their bodies break down, and they can no longer produce cute puppies, they are killed, often by being shot in the head. The worst millers see discarding these dogs as just another cost of doing business (HSUS 2014 – 12).

The animals in overcrowded shelters, the parents of mill puppies, all of them need a voice. They need people committed to educating others about the value of no-kill and the realities of the worst puppy mills.

Yes, we should celebrate that the kill rate has gone from 17M to 4M per year. That’s huge, but the would would be better if we could make the number zero.

I chose to be optimistic. I realize that thousands upon thousands of us are doing something to improve the situation. We rescue. We foster. We transport. We sew toys. We donate coats. We give money. We fundraise. We are making a huge difference, one dog at a time.

Let’s celebrate some of the victories made this year that are helping to move the “no-kill” needle toward zero. Much progress was made on the state and local level in 2014. I have compiled some of the changes by state/county that will improve the treatment of animals.

  • Because of its state motto “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, Minnesota is sometimes derisively referred to as the Land of 10,000 puppy mills. National and local animal welfare groups have helped to pass a law that will regulate Minnesota’s commercial dog breeders. The new law will require licensing and inspections by the Minnesota Board of Animal health and will not grant a license to anyone convicted of animal cruelty. (
  • South Dakota’s legislature passed a law that outlaws breed discrimination.
  • Virginia’s legislature passed a new law that requires pet stores to disclose where the dogs they sell come from.
  • Ordinances were passed to ban the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores in Chicago and Cook County in Illinois.
  • In 2013-2014 Los Angeles Animal Services recorded the fewest animals euthanized in its history. Animal welfare groups are working with 70 partners to get pets out of LA city shelters alive (BF Nov/Dec 2014).
  • Utah is working on its goal to get 90% of the state’s animal shelters to be no-kill. Today, more than 92% of the dogs in Utah animal shelters are saved. The state is working with 40 shelters and rescue groups to get to the 90% no-kill shelter goal.
  • Louisville, Kentucky has an abundance of pit bulls and pit bull mixes that are being surrendered because owners have fallen on hard times. The city has a new program to get owners free help so that they can keep their dogs. Every month, a community outreach program offers free supplies, spay/neuter, dog food, pet training, harnesses, vaccinations, id tags, and collars. The goal is to reduce the number of dog’s entering shelters and increase the overall save rate and to keep dogs and owners together.
  • In New York, Best Friends Organization kicked off a large foster program, which could save thousands of shelter pets and push NYC closer to a 90% save-rate. If the city were to achieve the goal, it would be designated a no-kill city. The program has produced many new volunteers interested in fostering pets.
  • Animal welfare organizations have spearheaded the passage of a bill in Delaware that ensures dogs and puppies seized in dogfighting cases will be evaluated individually, rather than being automatically destroyed (BF Dec 2014).
  • On Jan 2014, California began implementing proposition 2, the 2008 landmark ballot initiative that ends restrictive confinement of farm animals.
  • Loudoun County, Virginia overturned a ban on owning and adopting pit bulls and pit bull mixes.
  • Missouri – Because its legislature passed Prop B four years ago, Missouri has the strongest anti-puppy-mill statues in the nation. In 4 years, more than 1300 dogs have been rescued, 37 businesses or individuals were referred to the Missouri Attorney General’s office for prosecution. Heavy fines have been assessed and nine licenses have been revoked. The number of commercial breeders licensed in Missouri’s animal care program has dropped from 1400 to less than 800, a decline of more than 40% (HS legislative fund news)

This year also included some encouraging developments on the federal level:

  • In September, the USDA brought Internet puppy sellers under the federal Animal Welfare Act’s regulations; requiring licensing, inspection, and basic standard of care for the first time (HS legislative fund news).
  • The USDA has issued a new federal rule that regulates puppy imports. Breeders from outside the US are now required to certify that pups brought into the US for resale are healthy, vaccinated, and at least 6 months old.
  • The FBI has added a new category for reporting animal cruelty crimes. Previously, such offenses were labeled as “other”; now, they are considered a top-tier felony. Maybe this new classification will help prosecution of these crimes.
  • For the first time, an animal welfare organization was invited to speak at The National Animal Care and Control Association’s national conference about the value of spay/neuter return.
  • Three decades ago, just four US states had felony penalties for malicious animal cruelty and only a dozen had laws making dog fighting a felony. Today, malicious animal cruelty and dog fighting are felonies in all 50 states. In addition, it is a federal felony to engage in animal fighting or to sell videos depicting animal cruelty (HSL Nov/Dec 2014).
  • Across the US, 50 cities and counties have banned pet store sales of commercially bred puppies.
  • The Pet Safety and Protection Act, now before Congress, addresses sales of dogs to laboratories by class B dealers (internet, auctions, etc.) selling dogs to laboratories. This legislation is part of the broader campaign to build support for the passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act.

This year brought some encouraging progress on animal welfare issues across the globe:

  • Because of an online petition with 678,000 signatures, the National Assembly’s Legal Committee in France voted to amend its 210-year-old Napoleonic Code, changing the status of pets from personal property to sentient, living beings. The change now needs Senate approval to become law.
  • Acts of Kindness – In Turkey, a company called Pugedon has created a vending machine that allows people to recycle plastic bottles and buy dog kibble for strays. The service is at no charge to the city, and funds come from recycling the plastic.
  • In Spain, the ruling party is presenting a draft law to prohibit the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores.
  • The European Union forbids selling any cosmetics products tested on animals.
  • In China, animal welfare groups are waging an increasingly successful public relations campaign against the practice of eating dog meat.

The work you are doing is making a difference, especially to your local and regional political authorities.  Thank them if you live in a state or county that has passed a law to improve an animal’s life. Let them know you care and let’s keep working until we can say none when someone asks us how many more animals must be killed needlessly


Best Friends News/Sept/Oct 2014, Jan/Feb 2015

Humane Society – All Animals – Sept/Oct, 2014, Jan/Feb 2015

North shore Animal League – Paw prints Issue 3 & 4, 2014

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