Canine Euthanasia Risks

Canine Euthanasia Risks

Purebred dogs most likely to be saved. Adult dogs at highest risk of dying in shelters

By: Patti Strand  Date: 03/27/1997 Category: | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |


A three-year study of euthanasia risks in a Philadelphia-area animal shelter concluded that adult dogs are most likely to die, purebred dogs are more likely to be reclaimed by owners, and that compilation of such information is necessary for the design of community intervention programs to reduce euthanasia of dogs and cats.

The study examined the records of all incoming dogs at the Chester County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals from May 1990-October 1993. It was conducted by Gary J. Petronek DVM and Larry T. Glickman DVM, faculty at the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, and Michael R. Moyer DVM of Bridgewater Veterinary Hospital in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Petronek was director of the shelter from 1988-92; Moyer was director from 1992-1994.


Major Finding

  • More than 47 percent of the 4582 stray dogs were purebred, but they were reclaimed at a higher rate and with fewer days in the shelter than mixed breed dogs.
  • More than 67 percent of purebreds were returned to their owners;
  • 41 percent of mixed breeds were reclaimed.

"This suggests that owners of purebred dogs were more aware that their dog was missing, were more concerned with getting their dog back promptly, or that they expended greater effort in attempting to locate their dog," the authors wrote. "This is consistent with a national survey that indicated length of ownership was related to the initial cost of the animal."

  • Purebreds comprised a lower percentage (32.7) of surrendered dogs, and their adoption rate (49.9) was slightly less than the 51.4 percent rate for mixed breeds.
  • A bit more than 19 percent of the purebred dogs were placed with a breed rescue group.

". . . the CCSPCA worked closely with a well-organized network of local purebred rescue groups, the All Breed Rescue Alliance, which represented 72 breeds, in addition to 66 independent breed rescue groups," the authors wrote.

  • Among purebreds, older dogs were far more likely to be reclaimed than younger dogs. About 22 percent of puppies less than four months old were returned to owners, along with 55 percent of juvenile dogs (four-11 months); 65 percent of young adults (13-35 months); 71 percent of adults (3-10 years); and 75 percent of aged dogs (10 years or older).
  • Mixed breed dogs were 1.8 times more likely to be euthanized as purebred dogs, and the risk of euthanasia increased with age for mixed breeds but not purebreds.
  • Puppies and young adults were more likely to be adopted in both purebreds and mixed breeds.
  • Numbers of dogs entering the shelter and number of reclaimed dogs and adoption varied by month. More dogs were reclaimed in April, May, August, and October.
  • The six most common breeds of stray dogs were Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Beagle, Siberian Husky, and Rottweiler.
  • More than 18 percent of the dogs adopted out came back, but this shelter offers a high incentive to return any dog that doesn't work out instead of giving it away or taking it to another shelter - they refund all adoption fees except the $10 processing fee.


"These findings confirm the anecdotal reports that dogs euthanized in some animal shelters are generally adult and young adults rather than puppies," the authors wrote. "Adult stray dogs were responsible for a large proportion (48 percent) of incoming dogs at CCSPCA suggesting that more effective deterrents to dogs running at large could substantially reduce the seasonal burden on this shelter."


The percentage of purebred dogs in the shelter population (41.2 percent) is far higher than the number of purebreds found in shelters nationally (7.3 percent, reported by Nassar, Talboy, and Moulton, 1992, American Humane Association). However, in the absence of data about the number of purebred dogs in the county, it is not clear whether this higher number reflects the representation of purebred vs mixed breed dogs in the county. It may reflect, according to the authors, a greater tendency for purebred dogs to stray, a propensity for underground confinement systems among purebred dog owners, an ease in capturing purebred dogs, or a willingness of people to catch or report stray purebreds more than mixed breed purebreds.

The study had its limits. Breed identification was determined by shelter staff for stray dogs, and owners were not required to submit registration papers as proof that a surrendered dog was indeed purebred. Therefore, although all the dogs listed as purebred fit the general description of the breed, it is possible that some were mixed breeds.

The biggest drawbacks to the study were the lack of information on the reason for surrender of the dog and the reason for euthanasia, two bits of data that could help focus prevention programs.

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