dogs playing in water

Shelter Messaging and Policies

Ethical Dog Replacement Options for Communities

Shelters and rescues in most areas of the country have experienced, over time, a significant decrease in the number of puppies and adult dogs entering their care. This trend is expected to continue. Some organizations seek to change their language, policies, and programming around how dogs are acquired by their community.

Why should your shelter or rescue be involved in where puppies come from?

  • People in your community will be getting new dogs. The number of households in the USA grows annually by around 1 to 1.5 million. 38-40% of these “new” households will acquire a dog. so the overall number of pet dogs will grow as the number of households increases.
  • With an average dog lifespan of about 11 years, a community with a constant rate of dogs will replace about 9% of their dogs annually. In addition, there’s concurrent recirculation of dogs from one home to another in any community, some of whom pass through shelters and rescues.
  • That means there is a significant opportunity for early intervention to help people make good choices about the dogs they acquire, and for better welfare of puppies to help set those dogs up for success in their new home.
  • Puppy mills are often the most economically sustainable and easiest way to provide a community’s need for replacement dogs, and for people in most communities to get a new puppy of the type they desire. Without an active effort to encourage and provide other sources for family pets, puppy mills will continue to provide replacement dogs.
  • Puppies are already being produced in your community. Many organizations are seeing problems such as puppies sold far too young — who may later end up at your organization with significant behavior issues; or unvaccinated puppies getting preventable diseases. You can help local puppy seekers find, or sellers do a better job at producing, healthy family pets that will be successful in your community
    • ones who won’t need your help when they’re sick, or behaviorally challenged.
  • If it’s important to you that your community’s replacement pets come from humane sources, then you should be involved in where they come from.

You may not yet be ready for this if your organization, or other animal welfare organizations in your community, struggle to find homes for the following:

  • Puppies of many different types, including small breeds and small & furry types.
  • Adult dogs of all breeds, including purebreds of the AKC top 30, and small and furry types.
  • Family friendly dogs who can live with kids, other dogs, cats, and first-time companion animal owners.

If your community does NOT struggle to place the above pets, but instead often doesn’t have the dogs your community members are looking for, it’s time to look at changing.

Indicators that 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 and over time.
  • While in general, dogs may be available for adoption, many of them may not be appropriate for people who prefer a particular kind of dog (i.e., small & fluffy; first-time pet owners; or adopters with small kids or other pets in the household).
  • Transports do not meet your community’s need for behaviorally sound, 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 still experiencing true overpopulation. It’s normal to feel like you are experiencing true overpopulation even when it is 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, working to keep pets happy and healthy in their homes..
  • 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.

The shift away from overpopulation usually happens first for dogs/puppies; it commonly takes several more years for cats/kittens. You can change your messaging and policies for dogs/puppies now, and hold off on those changes for cats/kittens until you see changes in their population



We recognize that communities around the US experience different levels of overpopulation. On the following pages,we have outlined a series of questions to examine in your own community, along with recommendations for messaging and programmatic changes around ethical dog replacement options. Your organization can use any of this information from any stage, at any time! These stages are just suggestions.