Is your organization – and community – ready? 

You may not yet be ready for this if your organization – or other organizations in your community struggle to find homes for:

  • Puppies of many different breeds, including small breeds and small & furry types. 

  • Adult dogs of all breeds, including purebreds of the AKC top 30, and small & furry types.

  • Family friendly dogs – who can live with kids, other dogs, cats, and first time pet owners.

Here are some indicators your community is shifting – or has already shifted – away from a state of true dog overpopulation. 

  • People have a hard time finding the dogs they are looking for, even when looking at multiple organizations in your community. While dogs may be available, it is difficult if the adopter who prefers a particular kind of dog (eg small & fluffy), or has kids, other dogs, or other animals, or is a first time pet owner.   

  • Transports are also not meeting your community’s need for healthy, friendly family dogs. 

If you don’t think this is happening in your community, or aren’t sure (maybe your kennels are full, but not of the types of dogs above), here is more information about how to tell if your area is experiencing true overpopulation, or no longer is. It’s normal to feel like you are experiencing true overpopulation even when that’s no longer happening.  

Other considerations

  • Make sure you’ve checked in with all organizations in your area to see how they’re doing, and offer help if needed, before starting on this path. 

  • Organizations capable of receiving transports should continue that work with shelters needing help, whether locally or further afield – while participating at any level. 

  • Organizations can – and should – continue focusing on the needs of the animals and people already in their communities. This doesn’t mean you should slow or stop your work keeping existing pets happy and healthy in their homes and with their families. 

  • Summer is always difficult. If your community’s organizations struggle with population during the summer but not the rest of the year, your community is most likely past overpopulation. Overpopulation is all year long.

  • The shift away from overpopulation usually happens first for dogs/puppies; it commonly takes several more years for cats/kittens. You can move forward with changing how you manage dogs/puppies without making changes in how you manage cats/kittens! Their change will come.



Level 1

Shift From The Old Ways

– How many new dogs does your community need each year, for population replacement? Here’s how to figure that out. 

– Work with your internal stakeholders; staff, volunteers, board members. 

  • How many dogs are needed each year in your community?
  • What does your organization consider good/ethical ways to acquire a dog?
  • What good/ethical options are currently available for people seeking normal family dogs in your community? 
  • Is it reasonably easy for people to get puppies/dogs from ethical sources in your community? How long does it take? How much do they cost, and how many people in your community can’t access those pets due to cost?
  • How close is your community to meeting that need with ethical sources? 
  • What should you be telling people who are looking for dogs they can’t find at your organization, or others in your community? How can they get the dogs they are looking for, in a way that your organization considers ethical? 

– Evaluate internal policies to eliminate ones that no longer are needed now that your area has passed the time of overpopulation. Examples include;

  • not allowing intact animals to access services such as
    • vaccine clinics, or other medical care that your organization provides
    • pet food aid
    • training classes
  • not allowing people who have intact animals at home to adopt one of your neutered pets

-Are there any organizations in or near your community that need help who you haven’t reached out to yet? 

-What breeding is happening in your community now? Of that, what’s working and what’s not working? For example, in many communities, shelters are observing that private homes are selling puppies at well under 8 weeks of age, and that those pups grow up into dogs who don’t succeed as family pets. 


-Ensure you are actively referring to all other rescues & shelters in your area, if your organization doesn’t have what a potential adopter is looking for.

-Stop messaging that adoption is the only acceptable option for acquiring pets, such as “adopt, don’t shop”.


– Focus your SN efforts on animals who are still in true overpopulation, or at high risk in your community. This often includes;

  • feral/community cats
  • Specific dog breeds making up a high percentage of shelter intakes in your community.  

– Stop pushing spay/neuter for pediatric animals in the public

– Stop pushing universal spay/neuter for every animal without exception, and messaging that it’s irresponsible to have intact animals, or bad when any animal has a litter

-Consider no longer spaying pregnant animals that belong to your organization. 


– Ensure that your organization is not using generalized “breeders kill shelter animals” type messaging. This doesn’t mean puppy mills are okay – but most breeders are not puppy mills. 

Level 2

Support What’s Already Happening

Evaluate & understand:

How does your organization interact with different segments of your community? 

  • Donor communications
  • Your social media
  • Adopters
  • Surrenders
  • People using your spay/neuter program, vaccine clinics, other public medical care and programming

How should new efforts and messaging be applied to different segments of your community?

Breeding is happening in your community, and you’ve identified what issues you’re seeing with the results of that community breeding. How can your organization provide resources to people who are breeding, and people who are buying puppies/dogs locally, to prevent or reduce these issues? How can you support what’s already happening, to create better outcomes?

If it’s been a while since you did an assessment of how many dogs are needed each year in your community and where they are coming from, now’s a good time to take another look. How good is your understanding of where people are currently acquiring dogs in your community? Are those sources ethical? Are they sustainable? 

What options does your organization see for ethically providing the number of pets needed in your community?  Are those options currently providing the needed number of dogs? What steps should your organization be taking to ensure that future dogs are coming from ethical sources? 

Get gritty with the numbers, whatever answer your organization has decided on for what are acceptable/ethical sources for your community’s dogs. 

If your organization decides the best ethical source for family dogs in the future is “responsible breeders” – do the math to see how much of the need that will fill.  

  • How many responsible breeders would it take to produce population replacement for your community? 
  • How many responsible breeders currently exist in your community? How many dogs are they producing currently?
  • How big is the gap between what they’re producing and what’s needed?
  • If the current responsible breeders can’t produce population replacement, how many more would be needed? How will those get started? Who gets them started? What time frame is needed to do that? 

If your organization’s approved ethical sources aren’t able to fill the need for population replacement, you will need to expand your options. 

Either animal welfare participates in creating the solution, or the free market will do it alone. . The free market will create solutions that we don’t consider humane; puppy mills are a very effective, and profitable, way to fill the desire to have dogs. 

The gap will be filled, whether we participate in the solution or not. Our only choice is whether animal welfare participates in the solution, or if we’re willing to accept whatever the free market does. 


-Give prospective adopters realistic understanding of whether what they are looking for can be found through shelter/rescue – yorkie puppy? Going to need to find a breeder. 

– Provide information for people in your community about what to look for when seeking a breeder; ( Karina King: This all needs to be easy to read/understand; pictures, graphics, not a lot of words. )

  • platinum level breeder (the usual list for responsible breeders)
  • Things to do at a minimum (eg, you visit the mom)
  • Things to absolutely stay away from and why (eg under 8 weeks old)
  • If they are looking for a specific type of pet and can’t find that with rescue/shelter, you want them to get it from an ethical source – not a puppy mill. 

-Provide information for people in your community whose pets are having litters

  • Include what’s the absolute basics/minimum, with bonus levels for those interested/able. For example, at a minimum, puppies and kittens must stay with mom until 8 weeks of age, selling them at younger ages often means they will have problems with other animals and people when they are grown up. Bonus; positive socialization information
  • Medical care; minimum and then bonus
    • For example, minimum would include mom is current on vaccines and receives thorough parasite control (intestinal and external parasites)
    • Bonus would include things like pre-breeding evaluation by a veterinarian, hip or eye evaluations, etc. 


-Continue focusing spay/neuter efforts on at-risk animals, not all animals. 

  • Ensure you have eliminated all messaging and story telling saying or implying that having intact animals is irresponsible/bad. 

-Send all pregnant animals belonging to your organization to foster to have their litters, rather than spaying them (unless there are significant medical or behavioral concerns for the specific pet). 


– Begin outreach to check in with local breeders & breed clubs to strengthen relationships

-Tell prospective adopters that it’s okay to use a good breeder, if what they are looking for is rarely found in shelter/rescue in your community. 

  • If they are looking for a specific type and can’t find that with rescue/shelter, you don’t want them ending up with a puppy mill puppy.  

– Have a list of “approved” breeders in your area for people looking for animals  

Level 3

Encourage Ethical Community Production to Meet the Need

Evaluate & understand:

– It’s time to start actively supporting ethical production of dogs for your community, if you aren’t already. 

– For most communities, the only source that can fill the needed numbers will be for families to produce litters of proven family dogs at home. If your community finds a different way, that fills the needed population replacement numbers, and is sustainable in the long term – please share your community evaluation and solutions with us! 


-Reinforce the importance of providing local dogs, locally. Change messaging to actively encourage and support breed local/buy local. 

– Actively message your community that good family dogs having some puppies is how we ensure that people can have dogs from an ethical source

  • Help your community understand which animals should have some litters before being spayed or neutered (what to look for, which pets should not be breeding due to behavior or medical issues). Not all dogs should be reproducing! Help people identify which ones should and which shouldn’t. 
  • Help your community understand how to provide great care for dogs having litters
    • Medical care for mom & litter pre-breeding, during pregnancy and until rehoming age
    • Puppy behavior needs – a good head start contributes much to their development 
    • How long they need to stay with mom
    • etc

**Shift from “your dog having babies is irresponsible and kills other dogs” to “your successful family dog having babies is a neighborly service to ensure your friends and family and neighbors can get good dogs for their family”

– Include specific outreach to private practice veterinarians in your community in your messaging


Consider, for your public (in-house or voucher) Spay/Neuter programs;

  • not offering pediatric sterilization for large breed dogs, or for all dogs
  • Not offering pregnant spays, unless specific circumstances require it. 
    • If the owner can’t manage the litter, can your organization offer temporary foster care until she’s raised the babies, then mom goes back to her family? 
    • Offer to place the puppies in homes (organizations in areas which are past overpopulation report that when this offer is made, puppies are rarely brought in; they are rehomed by the mom’s person before arriving back at the shelter)
  • Actively counsel people asking about scheduling spay neuter with your organization about whether their dog should be passing on their great genes and having a litter or two before surgery! Where’s the bar for who should be reproducing? At a minimum, animals who have been successfully living with a family, are demonstrating good behavior as a family pet, and are not experiencing known health issues. 
    • Screen them so dogs who are not great family pets/should not be passing on those genes can still access spay neuter quickly.  
    • Continue to offer spay neuter where the client is uninterested or unable to support breeding their dog, and where that’s just not a good idea. 
    • Screening can be done with an online tool to save staff time, ensure consistency of responses, and address DEI concerns. 


-Offer referrals to good breeders in your community who you have approved/checked out 

Level 4

Actively Work on Supply Solutions

Evaluate & understand:

Is everyone in your community currently able to get population replacement dogs from ethical sources? Does pricing exclude some parts of the community?

Is your organization fully supporting the ethical breeding of replacement family dogs within your own community? How else can you support those efforts? 


Continue messaging that producing healthy, friendly dogs within your community is both responsible and desirable


Encourage people with healthy, behaviorally sound dogs to have a litter or two before bringing the dog in for spay/neuter.

Provide information & guidance on best practices


Can your organization work with people breeding in your community (not just ‘breeders’, but all whose dogs are breeding) to help provide support?

  • Routine vaccinations & parasite control for breeding animals & litters
  • Classes on best practices for breeding and raising litters
  • Socialization opportunities…they don’t have kids at home, people in wheelchairs, men with beards…it’s provided under the expertise of your behavior department

More, when applicable:

-Some organizations may choose to explore ethical breeding of shelter owned dogs. 

-Consider joining the Functional Dog Collaborative as a partner in a breeding cooperative or other project to mentor guardian homes with dogs having occasional litters.

-Is there a certification like “certified humane” that community breeders can apply for, and get certified through orgs?

-Is there an opportunity to partner with local veterinarians and 4H or other organizations on this, for standards and continuing education and mentoring on humane breeding?