For the past few years, we have been taking a closer look at shelter data to learn more about intake and outcomes based on breed type. As certain breeds and breed mixes gain popularity, this may impact their outcomes—so remaining nimble through analysis will allow us to better adapt to the shifting risk and speak directly to any potential dangers. While we may not know what a dog’s actual breed is in some cases, having a sense of the type and level of risk can be very useful in developing strategies and solutions—inside and outside of the shelter walls.
The data we used for this analysis is from shelters that submit their data to our ASPCA database. In 2015, that encompassed 60 agencies; in 2016, 68 agencies submitted their data. We focused on determining the top five primary breeds (these could be breed mixes or a single breed) with the greatest intake, adoption and euthanasia rates for each year. According to our 2016 data, the 5 top breeds account for 54% of the total intake, 53% of adoptions and 67% of euthanasia.
The top 5 breeds of highest intake
Looking at our latest data, we again find that dogs labeled as “pit type” continue to be the breed or breed mix of highest intake. Chihuahuas were once again the second highest intake type, followed by Labrador retriever as primary breed, then German shepherd dogs, followed by the global term “terrier” in the fifth spot. Most fascinating is that the ratios are unchanged from 2016 compared to 2015, with dogs labeled as “pit type” holding steady at 19% of total intake, and Chihuahuas at 15%.
“While we may not always know what a dog’s actual breed is, having a sense of the type and level of risk can be very useful in developing strategies and solutions—inside and outside of the shelter walls.”
Which breeds had the highest adoption rates?
When we peek at the adoptions, pit-type dogs remain ranked as the second most common breed type adopted, and make up 15% of the total dog adoptions, a slight uptick of 1% from the year previous. This, to me, remains an important point, just as it was last year. There are clearly adopters who want to adopt dogs labeled as pit-type—and yet there are many barriers to adoption! With such challenges as unfair breed restrictions in housing and breed-specific legislation, our work is far from done. And just a brief look at what’s in the final column on our chart really drives that point home.
Looking at euthanasia rates, we see an incredibly sharp contrast, with 40% of all canine euthanasia being of pit-type. The sharp, and I mean sharp, drop for the next breed type of 9% for Labradors is compelling, and points to an urgent need for continued innovation and live outcome opportunities for those pit-type dogs who simply need rehoming. There is a hint of potential improvement, with the rate decreasing from 2015 by 2 percentage points.
The movement to remove breed labels
I write this blog post and wonder if we will be able to do the same comparison next year. I am very excited by the innovation in the field and the movement to remove breed labels for adopters in their initial view of a pet. When I developed Meet Your Match® Canine-ality, it was with this very idea in mind—let’s not first think about him as a Pomeranian, Jack Russell or Am Staff; let’s start with “Is he a couch potato or a go-getter?” Once the person sees the particular dog as an individual, we can then weave in the conversation of what the dog’s breed or breeds may be (or are, when known).
Here’s where I worry about the shift to fully remove breed labels: We then can potentially lose proper tracking on the back end to help ensure that we can identify what types are most at risk and then support them. We don’t want to miss the opportunity to track and identify a sudden increase of intake of a particular breed type (which may hint at a community shift or potential mill activity), a shift in the euthanasia of breed types, or the ability to illustrate the inherent risks individual dogs have simply because of what they look like.
I am encouraged by the overall trends we are seeing across the country in shelter data and am motivated to seek change in that euthanasia category. How about you?
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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