Tracing the Journey: How Rescue Shelters Obtain Dogs in Need

Tracing the Journey: How Rescue Shelters Obtain Dogs in Need Image

Tracing the Journey: How Rescue Shelters Obtain Dogs in Need

By Lauren Lee, WeRescue

Look at the online data for adoptable dogs available in the U.S. on any given day, and you will find that many of them have traveled great distances to find their forever homes. It might surprise you to learn shelter and rescue organizations have been moving animals around the country since approximately the mid-2000s.

Some people point to Hurricane Katrina as the driving force behind the relocation of companion animals. At the time of the 2005 hurricane, there were no evacuation plans in place for animals, and approximately 250,000 animals were left behind in the devastation. Subsequently, Louisiana’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and other rescue organizations saved 15,000 of those animals by transporting them across the country. They planned to either reunite them with their owners or find them new homes.

Information About Shelter Statistics

It is important to note that the terms “humane society” and “SPCA” are generic; shelters using those names are not part of the ASPCA or The Humane Society of the United States. Currently, no government institution or animal organization is responsible for tabulating national statistics for the animal protection movement. Although these organizations provide national estimates, actual numbers may vary from state to state.

Following Hurricane Katrina, legislation was enacted to ensure that pets are planned for in the event of emergency evacuations. However, today, the transporting of animals extends far beyond emergency response. Today animals are transported from areas of the country that have a high homeless pet population to locations that have a higher demand for adoptable dogs.

States with Demand for Adoptable Dogs

Imports of dogs by state, based on data for adoptable dogs on September 20, 2019, give an idea of where demand for adoptable dogs is highest.

The following states have the highest demand for adoptable dogs:

  • New York - # of dogs imported - 390
  • Pennsylvania - # of dogs imported - 228
  • New Jersey - # of dogs imported - 270
  • Virginia - # of dogs imported - 183
  • Maryland - # of dogs imported - 123

These states were followed by:

  • Maine - # of dogs imported - 87
  • Wisconsin - # of dogs imported - 74
  • Colorado - # of dogs imported - 71
  • Minnesota - # of dogs imported - 67
  • Connecticut - # of dogs imported - 51
  • Delaware - # of dogs imported - 29
  • District of Columbia - # of dogs imported - 11

In 2018, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reported relocating more than 40,000 animals from areas of “high homeless pet overpopulation” to “areas with a higher demand for adoptable dogs.”

Where Do Adoptable Dogs Come From?

The data from September 2019 shows how the U.S. states with the highest homeless pet overpopulation stack up.

The following chart indicates the top 13 states in the U.S. from which adoptable dogs are relocated.

1 Texas 635
2 Alabama 268
3 North Carolina 158
4 South Carolina 139
5 Georgia 137
6 California 130
7 Tennessee 66
8 Kentucky 57
9 Mississippi 55
10 Louisiana 53
11 West Virginia 50
12 Florida 49
13 Arkansas 47
* The chart indicates the top 13 U.S. States (by rank) from which adoptable dogs are relocated. This is based on data from September 2019. It shows a snapshot in time but can be used to get a geographical sense of where animal overpopulation occurs.

In Starkville, Mississippi, the Oktibbeha County Humane Society shelter began sending dogs and puppies up north about 11 years ago. Before that, 50 percent of the shelter's animals were put down because of a lack of space and resources. In 2018, that humane society was able to transport 3,000 dogs to northern states. As a result of transferring so many dogs up north, 93 percent of the animals at the shelter left the shelter alive, drastically reducing its previous 50 percent “kill” rate.

“Here in Mississippi, we are in the heart of the struggle,” said Humane Society Board Member Michele Anderson. “We are always overcapacity.”

This is the case for many shelters in the south, particularly in the summer months. Shelter spaces fill up quickly and extra strain is placed on foster home networks that many shelters count on to free up space in shelter facilities.

Joe Elmore, CEO of Charleston Animal Society in South Carolina, said they have about 1,000 animals in their care, but their shelter only holds about 250 animals.

Reasons For Dog Overpopulation in the South

The south has more dogs than anywhere else in the country and their shelters and humane societies are clearly struggling to keep up with the constant influx of animals coming into their facilities.

Some of the reasons for dog overpopulation in southern states are:

  • The warmer weather makes for an extended mating season.
  • There are more rural areas, so there are more locations without accessible shelters.
  • Several areas lack access to low-cost spay and neuter services.
  • Poverty makes it difficult for some people to access spay/neuter services.
  • Most southern states have less stringent legal controls over loose/roaming dogs.
  • There is significant resistance to leash laws and spay/neuter laws.
  • Less municipal money is available for animal control and care compared with other regions.
  • The huge supply of dogs in shelters doesn’t come close to meeting the demand.

The Northeast faces the opposite problem. Many people in northern states want to adopt rescue dogs. The northeast has a large human population, stricter animal control laws, and there is a great demand for dogs. Unfortunately, there is less supply. There are state-of-the-art animal shelters, and people are coming in looking to adopt dogs that just aren’t there.

Relocation Programs Offer New Chance at Loving Homes

This is where relocation programs come in. Many dogs from shelters in Southern and Western states are transported up north where their chances of adoption are far greater. The ASPCA Relocation Program transports animals from shelters in areas of high homeless pet overpopulation (known as source shelters) to destination shelters, where there is a higher demand for adoptable animals. The ASPCA relocation program alone has increased pet shipments from the South from approximately 500 dogs in 2014 to more than 40,000 in 2018.

Thirteen states plus Los Angeles County, California, make up “donor” areas of shelter dogs, according to the ASPCA. Including California, donor states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

Cost of Adopting A Rescue Dog

Animal shelters and rescue facilities vary from city to city and state to state, making it challenging to come up with one average adoption price. However, shelters and rescues are highly motivated to find loving homes for the animals in their care, particularly those that are considered “less adoptable.” A less adoptable dog can be a dog with a medical condition, a senior dog, or a dog that has been with the shelter for a while. Often organizations will reduce the adoption fee on these dogs.

For a regular adoption, you should expect to pay anything from a donation to the rescue to a $250 adoption fee. Keep in mind that the adoption fee usually includes all vetting, initial shots, a transport fee (if the dog was transported from elsewhere), spay/neuter costs, and microchipping.

Many shelters also participate in special promotions sponsored by national corporations or national nonprofit animal organizations. For example, the PAWS Seniors for Seniors promotion allows people age 60 and over to adopt a senior dog for little or no money. Another program is the Pets for Patriots program, which pays part of the adoption fees at shelters around the country for active-duty members and veterans of the armed services.