The State of Dog Homelessness

Sunday, January 20, 2013
Bad news, good news for homeless dogs

Owner holding daschundHomeless dogs face a bevy of problems. Shelters and rescue organizations work hard to find forever homes for adoptable dogs. In some areas, those efforts are paying off.

It’s difficult to find specifics about homeless pets because there isn’t one single, nationwide database that holds information from all pet shelters. A recent PetSmart Charities study, conducted by Ipsos Marketing, shed some light on serious issues related to dog homelessness.

Dog homelessness is becoming more regional

Overpopulation is the most serious problem facing homeless pets. It tends to be worse in warmer regions, where multiple breeding cycles can occur each year.

Temperate winters in the Southeast, Southwest, and parts of the West Coast enable the homeless dog population to grow year-round. This occurs especially in urban areas where food sources are more readily available.

Communities that have limited pet care resources, whether because of economic hardship or lack of pet care providers, may also struggle with dog overpopulation issues. Shelters in such areas often have more potentially adoptable pets than they can manage.

On the other hand, occasionally, some places don’t have enough dogs for all the people who want to adopt. The PetSmart Charities Rescue Waggin’ program helps transport homeless dogs from overpopulated communities to areas where there is greater demand to adopt them. For example, homeless dogs in Albuquerque, NM, have hitched a ride on our Rescue Waggin’ vehicles to the Boulder Valley Humane Society in Denver, Colo,, on the way to their forever homes.

When a house isn’t the right home, dogs suffer

Housing issues cause dog homelessness all over the country. Many landlords don’t allow dogs, while others might impose size, weight or breed restrictions. Another obstacle is the growing trend toward “pet rent,” in which a landlord charges a separate monthly fee for a pet. This fee is often higher for dogs than for cats—sometimes by as much as several hundred dollars.

In such cases, a pet parent might turn their dog over to a shelter, believing that their adorable pet will surely find a home. But they likely underestimate the overwhelming number of lovable dogs who already reside at adoption organizations.

Restrictions make life harder for blacklisted breeds

Based on the region in which they operate, shelters often see more pets from specific breeds.

Happy chihuahuaChihuahuas, for instance, are abundant in Southwestern shelters. But some breeds are overrepresented in shelters everywhere, especially pit-bull–type dogs. Often classified as “bully breeds,” these dogs encounter another housing-related issue.

Breed restrictions, where certain dog breeds are not allowed in an apartment, condominium, or other housing complex (and even in some cities and municipalities), are not uncommon. This list usually includes pit-bull–type dogs and other breeds deemed “aggressive.” Even if your community does not restrict blacklisted breeds, your renters’ or homeowners’ insurance very well may.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that bully breed dogs are more likely to face euthanasia than other breeds. With so many in shelters and potential pet parents facing housing restrictions, it may take a long time for a blacklisted breed dog to be adopted. And with a longer stay in the shelter than other breeds, they may be more susceptible to illnesses that can lead to euthanasia.

If you’re looking for an apartment with your adopted pet, here are a few tips to help prevent miscommunication or confusion that may keep your pet out of a shelter.

Breeders still a challenge for dogs in shelters

The 2011 Ipsos study on adoptions and spay/neuter trends showed that 17% of dog owners said they acquired their pet from a purebred breeder. The popularity of this method of getting a dog hasn’t grown in the last few years, but it hasn’t decreased, either.

Local shelters and breed-specific rescue organizations often have purebred dogs available for adoption, even though 35% of the study’s respondents thought they couldn’t get a purebred pet at a shelter. People’s tendency to seek out breeders when they decide to get a dog makes the plight of adoptable dogs waiting in shelters much more urgent.

Good news for adoptable dogs

Despite their challenges, dogs have enjoyed positive trends in adoption rates for several years, just as cats’ adoption rates have declined. We’ve seen this trend in our own PetSmart Charities in-store adoption centers and adoption events for the last five years.

Homeless dogs await their adopters in many different places. Local shelters, animal control agencies, dog rescue organizations, and breed-specific rescue groups are all chock-full of dogs waiting for a home. With the possible exception of bully breeds, the average length of stay in a shelter is typically shorter for a dog than a cat, especially in regions where demand for dogs is high.

What can you do to help?

The best answer is adoption—give a homeless dog a forever home.

But if that’s not the right way for you to help, you can donate too.

Or volunteer or become a foster caregiver—giving your time is a generous and vital way to help homeless animals.

Be creative too! Before you throw away old towels or blankets, for example, think about donating them to your nearest adoption organization. Many groups post their wishlists for donated items—which often include things like cleaning supplies, canned food, or kitten/puppy milk replacer—right on their website home pages.

And of course, spread the word. Sharing your concern and showing others how you help are great ways to get more people to turn their concern into action.

How have you helped homeless pets? Tell us your story.



I am trying to find the foundation that helps homeless pet owners provide food for their animals. Can you help?


Hi SJ, your best bet is to reach out to your local animal welfare agencies. They'll have the best knowledge of the resources available in your area. 


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