Pit Bulls & Cats: Overflowing in Shelters


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Visit any animal shelter and you’ll see there are plenty of options for anyone looking for a new pet. Even if you’re looking for a specific breed of cat or dog, chances are you can find what you’re looking for during your visit. Among the plethora of options for anyone looking to adopt are “pit bull” type dogs and cats, which make up the largest percentage of shelter populations—and that makes these two the most vulnerable for euthanization.

Pit bull type dogs and cats make up the largest percentage of shelter populations—and that makes these two the most vulnerable for euthanization.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®), “Approximately 6.5 companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters per year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.” An ASPCA 2017 study found an estimated 3.2 million animals are adopted each year, but that still leaves over one million animals languishing in shelters.

What is a Pit Bull?

The term pit bull typically encompasses four breeds of dog: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Bulldog. Because of this broad categorization and the negative perception of dogs labeled a pit bull, advocates and educational organizations like Animal Farm Foundation work diligently to change the language and perception around these dogs by describing them with a more general term: pit bull type dogs.

Identifying dogs with this phrase is a more compassionate way to categorize all large, blocky-headed dogs, otherwise known as pit bulls. This is in no way meant to deceive anyone; instead, it is meant to lift the harsh and negative cloud from over these animal’s heads, serve as an open door to owner education, and let a dog’s personality be the deciding factor for any potential adopter.

Why Do Pit Bull Type Dogs End Up in Shelters?

It is difficult for anyone to imagine turning your dog in the shelter, but unfortunately, some people face challenges that make it seem like the only option. Here are the most common reasons pit bull type dogs are surrendered:

■ City ordinances that discriminate against the breed

■ Behavior issues due to lack of training

■ Unwanted litters resulting from lack of spay/neuter

■ High cost of care

■ Owners moving

Slowing the Numbers

Combating the rate of pit bull type dogs entering shelters is a multi-pronged approach rooted in community assistance and support. Major initiatives include:

■ Education around responsible pet ownership

■ More programs offering low-cost or free training

■ Positive marketing and advocacy campaigns

■ Low-cost/no-cost spay and neuter resources

Pit bull type dogs are smart, loving, and like any other large breed, require a responsible guardian who will invest in proper training, adhere to a regular exercise routine appropriate for their dog, and provide regular veterinary care. Before adopting any breed of pet, it is important to do your research on the breed and the steps you will need to take to ensure a healthy and safe lifestyle for you and your new pet.


Just one unspayed female cat can lead to the birth of 370,000 kittens per year, according to Alley Cat Allies, so it is no surprise that cats enter shelters at an alarming rate, putting them at high risk for euthanasia. According to American Humane, only 2 percent of cats that enter shelters have owner identification. In addition, many shelters are operating on an outdated model that focuses on “making space” through euthanasia.

No-Kill Efforts

No-kill programming at public, private, and municipal shelters is essential to saving the lives of homeless animals, especially cats. Transitioning to a lifesaving model can seem like a huge undertaking, but the models that are successful include:

■ TNR (Trap – Neuter – Return)

■ Cat/kitten foster programs

■ Adoption promotions

■ Humane education and community outreach

■ Low-cost/no-cost spay and neuter resources

How Can I Protect My Cat?

As a cat guardian, you can safeguard your favorite feline with these tips from American Humane:

■ Be sure your pet wears an identification tag, rabies license, and city license. Include your name, address, phone number, and pet’s name.

■ Keep licenses current, as they help shelters locate pet owners.

■ When moving, put a temporary tag on your pet. Include a phone number of someone who will know how to reach you and/or your cell number.

■ Don’t assume that your indoor pet doesn’t need tags. Many strays in shelters are indoor pets that escaped.

■ Purchase special cat collars with elastic bands to protect your cat from being caught in trees or on fences.

■ In addition to ID tags, consider getting your pet microchipped. Always remember to keep this information current and provide an emergency contact.

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Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey is a writer specializing in animal welfare topics and issues. Prior to writing full time she spent 13+ years working in rescue and animal sheltering, holding leadership roles in both. She has worked with numerous local and national non-profit organizations including Best Friends Animal Society, NKLA, The Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Coachella Valley Animal Campus, and many others. Alicia is mom to 3 uniquely abled dogs, including @LittleBoogieShoes & @Bust.A.Moves.


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