Study Finds Low Numbers of Purebred Dogs in U.S. Shelters

Nala, a dog listed for adoption by the Northeast Animal Shelter in MA, is one of the dogs whose listings were screencapped for the NAIA study.
Nala, listed for adoption last year by the Northeast Animal Shelter in MA, is one of the dogs whose listings were screencapped for the NAIA study.

The National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) has just published a study regarding the number of purebred dogs in U.S. shelters.  The study aimed to determine the total number of purebred shelter dogs available to the public for adoption by counting the animals listed online each week at eighteen shelters over a one year period.  (The project originally included more than eighteen shelters but those that didn’t update their listings regularly were eliminated.) I am assuming that some purebred dogs never made the online listings, and therefore were not counted, because they were reclaimed by owners, pulled by rescues, or shipped to other areas for adoption.

While the study acknowledges that some dogs listed as purebreds by shelters are actually mixed breeds, the group did not have the resources to send breed identification experts to eighteen shelters every week for a year and therefore agreed to accept the shelter’s listings as accurate.   However, in reviewing several of the screenshots taken of the available weekly listings of dogs and the number of purebreds who were counted that week, it appears the study excluded dogs who were listed as purebred but had no photo (see example).  On the flip side, there were presumably some purebred dogs who were incorrectly listed as mixed breeds.

Among the conclusions:

According to this study, the number of purebreds in US animal shelters is closer to 5% (5.04%) than to the 25% so commonly cited by national animal organizations and quoted by the media. It is interesting to observe that the number of purebreds in shelters would be 3.3% were it not for two breeds that are overrepresented, Chihuahuas and dogs described as Pit Bulls. Together, these two breeds account for 35% of all purebreds listed by shelters in this study. The public seems to be aware that dogs described as Pit Bulls are overrepresented in American shelters. What is not well known is that Chihuahuas are the single most numerous purebred found in shelters today.

Shelters who regularly import large numbers of dogs from other areas had the highest number of purebreds, as might be expected.

Portion of the NAIA study showing data on purebred dogs in shelters.
Portion of the NAIA study showing data on purebred dogs in shelters.

In a press release regarding the study, NAIA is calling for changes to federal and state laws:

  1. Prohibit the importation of rescue dogs from foreign countries immediately
  2. Impose the same oversight requirements on animal rescues and shelters as those imposed on other animal dealers
  3. Require animal shelters to report the source and number of the dogs they take in and the disposition of those dogs

There is a lot to digest here. I hope readers will weigh in with their thoughts.

12 thoughts on “Study Finds Low Numbers of Purebred Dogs in U.S. Shelters

  1. I will say that I agree with recommendation number 3, BUT … I am always immediately skeptical of anything that comes from NAIA, considering that it’s a lobbying group for the protection of the interests of large-scale breeders, agribusiness concerns, vivisectionists and the like. The well-being or protection of shelter pets is not part of the NAIA agenda, and they are vehemently anti-rescue. Here are a few links: (scroll down a bit for info about NAIA).
    (Interesting how rescue groups who transport dogs are “trafficking” but where’s the outrage about breeders who traffic dogs all over the country to pet stores or folks who bought them via websites? I’m not all for mass rescue transports because they just displace the problem, but NAIA is against them because they have absolutely no problem with the killing of shelter pets.)

    1. I didn’t know who they were until now but the article sounded like it was trying to protect breeders. I know that from my experience, many purebreds are mis-labeled and just about everything at the shelters I follow are “mixes” unless they came with papers. I have seen 3 lb Chihuahua “mixes”.

      I think that breeders are seeing their profits eroded and are trying harder to protect their market. They see that their little cash buckets being displaced and replaced by rescues, so they will mislead in attempt to save what they can. It means that the tide is turning. No one I’ve met has ever been happy about change that has resulted in lost money. But like slavery, we as a society are better than that. We now know what puppy mills are, what shelters are and the associated cruelty.

      Laws are getting tougher on animal cruelty which these mills are. As things are going, they soon will be faced with eroding profits and displaced market share from rescue pets, if not already.

      The government focuses on revenue and minimizing costs. We all know that rescues and shelters do not have money. If the government can afford enforcement, going after dogfighting and breeders is what they should and will go after. It’s where the public’s sentiment it and it’s where the money is.

  2. Eighteen shelters is WAY too small a sample size. Many people working in shelters don’t know how to identify what breed a dog might be, and if the dog is even slightly rare, such as the many different hounds, spaniels, and herding breeds, the chances go down. I’ve seen honest-to-dog Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers called Golden mixes, a Swedish Valhund called a miniature smooth collie mix, a Spinoni Italiano listed as a ladradoodle and an Irish water spaniel listed as a poodle. There seems to be about a dozen or so breeds that most shelter workers – even the good, caring ones – know and picking the closest one is what happens. And, on the other hand, mixes are listed in even more bizarre ways. The likelihood that there are really 235 Affenpinscher mixes for me to choose from on Petfinder that are REALLY any Affenpinscher mixes is so ridiculously small, it boggles my mind why anyone would put them on the site that way. Go ahead, try it yourself and see what comes up – it’s funny (almost).

    If the shelter tries to work with breed-specific rescues at all, I’d bet that most of the dogs they identify as purebreds would be sent on to those rescues, so therefore wouldn’t stay in ‘general population’ very long – or, they would be marketed quickly to people known to staff as looking for a certain breed and therefore kept out of the numbers anyway. So I think this study is … unreliable,

  3. If a student had come to me with this study plan way back when I was a TA at uni, I would’ve told them, ‘this isn’t junior high.’ Because that’s about the level this is.

    The study is fundamentally flawed. The data they’ve used are unreliable at best, something they themselves acknowledge, and they chose not to make any attempt to double-check it. The sample size is much too small to provide data of actual statistical significance. There’s no historical data available on the numbers of purebreds in shelters, something they also acknowledge, yet they nonetheless make the claim that this demonstrates that the number of purebreds in shelters in general has declined.

    From this, the press-release then makes the leap to a purported looming puppy shortage, the terrible dangers of importing rescue dogs from ‘foreign’ sources, the dangers of eliminating ‘rather than improving’ American breeders, and the recommendation to legally regulate shelters and rescues like ‘other animal dealers.’

    All in all … this looks like a study designed to provide some nifty charts to provide an excuse for some press-releases. Basically, it’s like a pair of tighty-whiteys run up a flagpole.

  4. The main problems I have with the study:

    1. The decision to accept the shelters’ identification of purebreds *except when there is no photo provided* and the failure to disclose that. It strikes me as dishonest. I really try to keep an open mind when looking at ANY shelter study since there are so few and the data is so desperately needed but once something occupies that “dishonest” spot in the back of my mind, it’s hard to let that go.

    2. The sample size is small, the selection is based on census regions and some of the shelters are not open admission – in fact, some of them aren’t even shelters (Saving Grace in AL for example has no physical facility but uses a network of fosters according to the website.) Again, this should have been disclosed up front IMO because it affects the data and the context in which it must be considered.

    3. The press release seems almost unrelated to the study – at least that’s how it came across to me. The PR left me with the impression that the study was just a thing being used to prop up the group’s demands which weren’t particularly related to the number of purebreds in shelters.

    In the end I was disappointed because as I said, shelter studies are rare and the information is very much needed. But I wanted to share it here to at least let people know it’s available for review. Everyone can make up their own minds on the value of it.

  5. Regardless of the agenda behind the “study”….

    I don’t completely agree with 1. I don’t want to see a complete ban on importation for rescue. But I’d like to see stricter regulation in force. The regulations for importation for dealers is stricter, and I see zero reason why rescues can’t be expected to meet those same requirements. If you’re going to spend the funds to import do so in a way thats safe.

    2: Absolutely. Waive the license/inspection/whatever fees for rescues and shelters, but require them to meet the same minimum requirements that are considered a minimum for animal care. It’d still be to small cages and kennels and the like, but it’d be 100 times better than what many shelters and even some rescues are doing now.

    3: Why aren’t they now. They should be, we harp education on every other point (or so it seems), so this sort of education and knowledge ought to be required to.

    I’ll note that when I scan the pictures of dogs up for adoption at my local shelters I rarely see dogs that appear to be purebred, even when labeled as “Lab” rather than cross.

    1. I agree that there needs to be meaningful oversight for shelters however throwing them into an already broken system of regulation – the USDA inspection system for large scale breeders – doesn’t seem like a fix to me.

      1. Me neither. Rather, USDA regulations, inspection (or non-inspection) and licensing has mainly provided legal cover for institutional animal abuse.

  6. These findings are inaccurate as to the number of purebreds in the shelter system. She used small rural shelters combined with 1 large one, that isnt a true study, just one to make he rlook like she knows what she is talking about and goes with her agenda that there are very few purebreds in shelters……Its WRONG, there are many….Why doesnt Patti use the use South’s Shelter system, Midwest as well as CA which includes Southern California LA City and County and the inland Shelters like San Bernandino, Riverside, Devore. These shelter intakes and euthanasia if purebred dogs, would put her article to shame, with the accurate amount of purebreds in shelters, which is at least 50%. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to know this just real research and involvement within the people actually on the ground and networking the safety of the purebreds…….

  7. I have no clue if 5, 25 or 50 percent of dogs in animal control facilities etc. are purebred or not, and I seriously doubt anyone else does either given the absence of any sold data. I’ve seen a lot of off-the-cuff estimates, but the thing is, it’s precisely when we attempt to guess, when we rely on intuition and what we think we know, that we’re most likely to be relying on our biases. In animal welfare/rights circles, the tendency I’ve observed is to give very high estimates for the numbers of purebred pets. This sorry excuse for a study gives a very low one.

    My own feeling is that ‘How many purebred pets are in the shelter system?’ is the wrong question and even if we knew wouldn’t provide much in the way of information useful to shelter reform. I don’t think it’s all that useful from a general welfare perspective either, given that many purpose-bred pets don’t fit within the conventional category of ‘purebred’ – either they’re cross-bred, or they’re vernacular breeds backed by no formal consensus or official recognition, or they’re bred and sold as purebreds but are not, or they’re of species which aren’t so much sold by ‘breed’ as by color or body type variant (like domestically bred fishes and reptiles). So, I’d much rather see asked, what are the sources of pets who enter the shelter system, what are the reasons they come into the system, where do they go within it, and what their outcomes are – irrespective of whether or not they are or look as if they might be ‘purebred.’

    1. I guess I’d disagree that this information wouldn’t be useful. I’ll note that I’m extremely skeptical of the NAIA “Study”, but I’d also note that I’ve long thought that the trumpeting that 25-50% of shelter dogs are purebred is way too high and is harmful because I think it gives people a false expectation of the type of animals that need “rescue” in this country. So while open admission shelters are generally full of large dogs and mixed breeds, they generally don’t have a large enough supply of small dogs and purebreds to meet demand. This has led to many shelters to ship in animals to meet this demand — in a practice that in many cases more closely resembles puppy brokering than “rescue” — which I think is the NAIA’s point. But I think telling people that shelters in this country are full of purebred Yorkies and Shih Tzus is providing a misleading representation of the shelter challenges in this country, and thus, not terribly helpful.

  8. The NAIA Shelter Project has serious flaws. First, there is no way to determine if the person determining the breed of dog was qualified to do so. No DNA was collected. No dog breed expert was present. Second, the shelters that participated were, for the most part, not open intake shelters. This means that they were picking and choosing the animals. Third, and I think this bothers me the most, the NAIA took credit, YES,took credit, for their low bogus numbers. This study will impact funding of purebred rescues, especially those that rely upon AKC affiliated purebred dog club members for support.

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