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Pet euthanasia rates are at a 3-year high, but experts say there are ways to help besides adoption

A volunteer petting a dog at an animal shelter.
Volunteering is one way you can help pets in animal shelters without having to adopt.Camille Tokerud / Getty Images
  • So far this year, 8.5% of animals that enter the shelter system have been euthanized.

  • That's nearly 2% more than compared to 2021.

  • Adoption is the best way to help but you can also volunteer, foster, donate, and more.

When stray dog Scout scaled two fences and crossed a highway to escape a Michigan animal shelter, he always went to the same place: the nursing home up the road.

The first two times staff returned Scout to the shelter. But the third time was the charm for the mutt: the nursing home staff decided to adopt Scout, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Now, Scout spends his days visiting residents, getting belly scratches, and snacking on biscuits.

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But Scout's happy ending is out of reach for too many shelter animals, as national euthanasia rates for shelter pets have climbed to a three-year high, according to Shelter Animals Count.

Shelters are "having to make tough decisions that they hadn't had to make in many years," Stephanie Filer, executive director of SAC, told Insider.

Luckily, there are ways the public can help — beyond just adopting pets.

More animals are going into shelters than coming out

The animal shelter system in the US is very complex, Filer said, but it boils down to basic math: for the system to be balanced, the number of animals leaving a shelter needs to be higher than the number of animals coming in.

Right now, that's not the case. The total number of cats and dogs coming into shelters is up 7.6% so far this year compared to 2021, while the number of animals leaving shelters has only increased 4.6%.

When animals can't be adopted out or held in the shelter because of health concerns or available space and resources, they may need to be euthanized, Filer said, although euthanasia can also happen because the animal has a health issue.

More animals have been euthanized this year compared to 2021

So far this year, 8.5% of animals that enter the shelter system have been euthanized, up nearly 2% from 2021, according to SAC.

While the percentages may seem small, with an estimated 6.3 million animals moving through the shelter system each year, they add up.

There's no precise data on the exact number of euthanasias.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates more than 920,000 shelter animals are euthanized each year, whereas the Best Friends Animal Society, which works toward no-kill policies, estimated the number was closer to 378,000 dogs and cats in 2022.

SAC is working on a more scientific approach to tracking euthanasia rates to help clarify the large range, Filer said.

You don't have to adopt, you can volunteer or donate

Of course, the best way to support animal shelters is to adopt a pet, which opens space and resources for new animals, Filer said.

But there are other ways to help shelter pets:

Foster: Temporarily fostering a pet in your home not only opens space in shelters, it also gives animals the chance to learn how to live in a house with humans, again — which in turn decreases their risk of being returned to a shelter, Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, told Insider by email.

Transport: About half of euthanasia occurs in five states: Texas, California, North Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, Castle said. Oftentimes, shelter animals in those states are transported to organizations with availability — that's happened to more than 11% of pets that have entered shelters this year. Volunteers help transport animals relatively short distances, in order to get them to shelters or foster homes where they're more likely to be adopted.

Volunteer: Volunteering can help alleviate the strain of staff shortages that have hit shelters just like other industries, Castle said. "When staff delegate tasks to volunteers, it allows them to dedicate more time to facilitating adoptions, managing intakes, and advocating for their resident animals," she said.

Donate: More resources help shelters save more lives, so donations are always appreciated, Castle said. Monetary donations are always needed and so are supplies — although it's best to check with your local shelter before dropping off items. "Find out what your shelter or rescue needs most — it might be something obvious like pet food, but it also might include less expected items like towels and cleaning supplies," Christa Chadwick, vice president of shelter services at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told Insider by email.

Share on social media: When you volunteer, visit shelters, or foster, document the animals and share them on social media, Aliza Eliazarov, humane education manager at the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and author of "The Best Dog," told Insider by email. "Word of mouth through friends and family members is a powerful tool in helping animals get adopted," she said. Focus on details that make the pet unique — like large paws or a distinct jawline — and add touches like a blanket or toy that can help people envision this animal out of the shelter and in their homes, Eliazarov said.

Reach out for help: If you can't afford your pets' food or veterinary care, local programs can help provide subsidized care and supplies. Always reach out to your local shelter early, Filer said, before you think you might need to surrender your pet.

After being adopted, Scout was named resident of the month at his nursing home

The rates of euthanasia at shelters have dropped by more than half since 2011. While the uptick this year is concerning, experts say that it doesn't undo that progress.

With a little extra attention, they say more pets can have a happy ending like Scout, who was voted "Resident of The Month" at Meadow Brook Medical Care Center earlier this year.

"We really need people to come out and adopt, foster, volunteer and donate," Filer said. "Those are the four crucial pillars" to saving lives.

Read the original article on Business Insider