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13 Pet Adoption & Shelter Statistics in 2021

Quincy Miller

Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.


It’s something that none of us want to think about: hundreds of thousands of potential pets languishing, scared and alone, in animal shelters. Many of them will find loving forever homes. Others won’t be so lucky.

It’s easy to realize that there are too many unwanted cats and dogs out there, but it’s quite another thing to wrap your head around what that really means — both for us and for them.

Until we can come to grips with the enormity of the issue, we don’t have any hope of solving it. We’ve compiled a list of 13 pet adoption and shelter statistics to help you understand what these animals are dealing with.

The numbers may not be pretty. However, understanding the problem is the first step on the road toward solving it.


13 Pet Adoption & Shelter Statistics

  • Between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters every year. While this number is shockingly high, it’s actually down from 13 million every year in 1973.
  • Over 625,000 dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters every year. What’s worse, it’s estimated that 80% of them were healthy and capable of being adopted out as pets. The good news is that the 625,000 figure represents an all-time low, and the numbers keep dropping as the no-kill movement gains steam.
  • Even no-kill shelters only save about 90% of animals. Some animals that are brought to no-kill shelters are so sick or injured that euthanizing them is the humane thing to do. However, these shelters can become so overcrowded that they have to turn away new animals, and those animals are usually redirected to high-kill shelters.
  • 6% of animals in shelters are saved each year. That’s a high number, but it means that millions of animals still fall through the cracks.
  • Most of the animals euthanized are cats. It’s estimated that 27% of the cats in shelters will be euthanized, and cats often make up 50% of a shelter’s intake.
  • The vast majority of euthanized animals live in just five states. Texas, California, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia account for 50% of the animals killed in shelters every year.
  • Only 10% of animals entering shelters have been spayed or neutered. It’s difficult to find homes for all these animals when so many are out on the streets, making more unwanted animals. This is why the spay and neuter movement is such an important part of solving the animal overcrowding crisis.
  • Roughly 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year. While this number sounds good in a vacuum, it’s important to remember that several million more than that enter the shelter or rescue system every year.
  • Each year, about 710,000 lost animals are reunited with their owners via shelters. This number is overwhelmingly tilted toward dogs, as roughly 620,000 pups are reunited with their owners compared to 90,000 cats.
  • A third of all shelter animals are surrendered by their owners. These owner surrenders can be for a variety of reasons, from no longer being able to afford them to behavioral issues. However, 7-8% of all owner surrenders were due to moving (likely to a new place where pets weren’t welcome).
  • Gifted pets are most likely to be abandoned. It may seem like a good idea to give someone a pet as a gift, but unless you’re certain that they want it, you’re better off finding another present. These animals are most likely to be surrendered to shelters.
  • Breed and appearance matter. It’s estimated that 93% of all Pit Bulls in shelters will end up euthanized, whereas black cats take longer to get adopted than kitties of other colors.
  • Only about 20-30% of all pets are acquired from shelters. Dogs are more likely to be purchased from breeders than adopted from a shelter, whereas cats are often taken in as strays or adopted from friends and family.

Shelter cat


How Much Does It Cost to Adopt an Animal?

That depends on where you’re adopting them from. Government-run animal shelters are usually the cheapest, as they’re only interested in moving the animals out of their kennels — turning a profit isn’t on their radar.

Paying the adoption fees at the shelter will usually set you back between $50 and $150 (adopting younger animals is often more expensive than adopting adults). However, most shelters provide free medical care before the pet is adopted, and many will also neuter them, provide their initial vaccines, and possibly even microchip them for you. That can save you hundreds of dollars in veterinary fees.

Adopting from a rescue group is a bit different, and they all have their own fee structure. Again, though, these groups are more interested in finding suitable homes for the animals than anything else, and they usually only aim to break even or contain their losses with their adoption fees.

It’s important to understand that your costs don’t end here, however. Unless you already have a bunch of gear at home, you’ll need to pay for food, bedding, toys, training gear, and many other things. Owning a dog can cost anywhere from $1,400 to $4,300 per year, for example, so it’s important to remember that there are few things in life as expensive as a free (or cheap) pet.

Pros and Cons of Choosing Adoption

Adopting a pet isn’t all sunshine and roses, but it’s not all doom and gloom either. Here are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of bringing home an adopted pet:

  • You’ll save an animal from an early death.
  • Adopting is cheaper than buying from a breeder.
  • You can choose the age of the animal that you want to bring home (puppies and kittens aren’t for everyone).
  • Some animals come already trained.
  • Most shelter animals are mixed breeds, which live longer.
  • You’ll know less about the animal’s history.
  • It’s difficult to find purebred or very young animals.
  • It’s often hard to determine their breed.
  • They may have picked up diseases (like kennel cough or certain parasites) in the shelter.
  • Going to pounds can be a heartbreaking experience.

adopt a dog

If you’re adopting from a rescue group instead of a shelter, some of these pros and cons can change. For example, volunteers with the rescue group will likely know quite a bit about the animals, as they spend a ton of time with them during the fostering process.

On the other hand, many rescue groups have strict requirements that you have to meet in order to adopt from them. You may be asked personal questions, home visits are often required, and it’s entirely possible that you might be rejected.


What to Expect in the Adoption Process

Adopting a pet for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. We’ll walk you through what to expect at various stages.

Before You Adopt

You’ll need to pick out the animal that you want. Nowadays, you can do your shopping on the internet, and many shelters and rescue groups even let you place holds on an animal online.

Still, you’ll want to see the animal in person before making a decision, so you’ll need to head to their facilities sooner or later.

At shelters, you’ll ask a worker to take you to the animal that you’ve selected, and they’ll guide you to their cage. Many shelters let you interact with the animal one-on-one in a larger cage as well, so you can see how they respond to you.

With rescue groups, you can either meet the animal at one of the organization’s designated meet-and-greets or arrange to visit their foster home. The foster parent will fill you in on the animal’s habits and history while letting you introduce yourself to your potential pet.

Be forewarned, though: It’s usually first come, first served with both shelters and rescue groups, so if you dawdle, someone else might swoop in and adopt your little buddy first.

adopt a cat

The Adoption Process

If you decide to take the animal, you’ll have to fill out adoption paperwork and pay the necessary fees. This usually happens same-day at shelters, but rescue groups may have more extensive requirements.

You’ll have to fill out basic paperwork to get a license, and you may even have to pass an interview with an animal control specialist if you’re adopting a breed that’s prone to being abused (like a Pit Bull). When you’re done, you should leave the shelter with adoption papers and a license, if licensing is required for that animal.

The process with rescue groups will vary. They may require multiple meetings and a home inspection, and you’ll have to fill out paperwork with them as well. If you pass (and you can pay the cost of the animal), you should have a new pet.

After the Animal Comes Home

It’s important to understand that moving into a new home is a momentous change in an animal’s life, so don’t be surprised if they’re trepidatious for the first few days (or even months). They’ve likely had a rough life, after all, so it will take time to earn their trust.

You’ll want to have everything that you need for the animal before you bring them home, as that will ease their transition. Also, you should start training and socializing them immediately; not only will this make them more well-behaved, but it will also teach them that there’s nothing to fear from their new surroundings.

Then again, some animals walk right in the door and make themselves at home, so you never know.


How to Avoid Returning or Surrendering a Pet to a Shelter

happy shelter dog

If you don’t want to end up returning your pet to the shelter, the most important thing is to understand what you’re getting into ahead of time. If you’ve never owned one of these animals before, you might want to start small; volunteering with a rescue group or shelter (or even fostering an animal) is a good way to dip your toes in the water without jumping in entirely.

Don’t make rushed, emotional decisions either. Yes, it’s heartbreaking to leave an animal at the shelter, but if you know in your heart that they’ll be a poor fit for you, you’re only delaying the inevitable. It’s far kinder to find a different animal and give the original one another chance to find a more suitable family before they get used to yours.

Most animals are returned because of behavioral problems. To avoid this, you should get as much information about them as possible from shelter workers or rescue volunteers so you know what you’re getting into. This is also why it’s important to start training right away; many of these behavioral problems can be solved with a little effort and knowledge.

However, if the animal just won’t work in your home, don’t be afraid to take them back. We hate to hear of animals being returned for easily solvable problems, like peeing on the carpet or problematic barking, but if the animal is aggressive toward other pets or children, you may have no choice but to return them.



Animal shelters fulfill a vital role in our society, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make us sad too. No one wants to think about all those sweet, adorable animals cooped up in cages, waiting for someone to love them, but wishing the problem away won’t do any good.

It’s our hope that the statistics shown here will help you understand the issue a bit better, as well as get an idea of why issues like spaying/neutering pets or adopting instead of shopping are important.

These animals don’t deserve to spend their lives locked in cages. Getting them out of there will require us looking at the problem head-on, and the stats here are a great place to start.

Featured Image: tonyfortku, Pixabay

Quincy Miller

Quincy has been around mutts his entire life and has been writing about them for the past nine years and now consists of sharing a house with three spoiled pups who couldn’t hold down a job to save their lives. Quincy never intended to be a cat person. When his wife brought home a kitten one day, he told her she had one week to find it a new home. That week turned into 10 years (his wife moves very slowly), and that kitten turned into three (they got two more, the kitten didn't self-replicate). After a decade of sharing his home with the dogs and three cats, one horrifying realization finally set in: oh God, he's a cat person now too, isn't he???