What Happens to Dogs That Don’t Get Adopted?

There’s nothing quite as joyous as seeing a freshly adopted dog walk out of a shelter with their new family in tow. These dogs seem to appreciate the fact that they have a new lease on life, and it shows — their tails couldn’t possibly wag any harder.

But what about all the other dogs that get left behind? What happens to the ones that never find a forever home?

We’ll walk you through what happens to these poor pups, but beware: This isn’t a happy article, so you might want to keep some tissues handy.Divider 8

Most Shelters Can’t Refuse to Take an Animal

If you want to drop a dog off at most shelters, they’ll take it — because they have to. Many aren’t allowed to refuse any drop-offs, regardless of the reason given (or lack thereof) for abandoning the dog.

As a result, many shelters are stuffed to the gills. When you combine all the owner surrenders with the strays that animal control takes in, you’ll have a shelter with more dogs than places to put them.

They have to clear them out somehow, which hopefully means adopting them out to a loving family. That’s not always the case, however.

The alternative is to euthanize the animal, and that’s something many shelters do at a depressingly high rate.

dog in shelter
Credit: VILevi, Shutterstock

What Kind of Odds Does a Dog Face at a Shelter?

Any dog at a shelter faces long odds of getting adopted. According to the ASPCA, 6.5 million pets enter shelters every year — and only 3.2 million leave.

They don’t all face the same odds, either. Puppies have the best chance of leaving, while senior dogs have a much bleaker outlook.

Also, breed matters — Chihuahuas and Pit Bull-type dogs have the hardest time getting adopted (even though shelters often miscategorize breeds). Color can also play a factor, as black pets are 50% less likely to get adopted.

Animals with any visible injuries or illnesses are unlikely to find a home as well. Most prospective owners simply aren’t willing to take a chance on a dog that could run up a fortune in vet bills.

Does It Matter How Well-Behaved the Dog Is?

Not really. Most dogs are sweet, after all, so that’s not enough of a reason to spare them when the entire shelter is filled to the brim.

Sometimes a volunteer or other shelter worker will become especially attached to a certain animal. They may then try to encourage people to adopt it, or even bring it home themselves. That’s an exception, though, not the rule.

It should also be noted that dogs are given temperament tests when they arrive at a shelter, and any animal that shows signs of aggression is often euthanized without being given a chance to find a home. If the dog is allowed to live, the shelter will likely only allow a rescue group to adopt it.

Those temperament tests are often rushed and rudimentary, though, and the shelter is a terrifying place for dogs, so many might show uncharacteristic aggression while being evaluated.

dog in shelter
Credit: marcinm111, Shutterstock

How Long Does a Dog Have to Find a Home?

That depends on how crowded the shelter is. If there’s room, many shelters will house dogs as long as they can, giving them every opportunity to find a loving family. There’s seldom much room in most shelters, though.

If the shelter is at max capacity, the dog won’t have long at all. Most shelters commit to keeping the dog for five days; beyond that, it’s a crapshoot.

Strays won’t be given much extra time at all, while dogs with families will last longer as the shelter tries to track down their owners.

If plenty of people have expressed interest in adopting a particular dog, it will likely be kept around longer. Pups who score higher on the temperament test may also be given a little extra time.

At some point, however, every dog has to go, one way or another.

dog in shelter
Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

What Happens When a Dog Is Euthanized?

When a dog’s time is up, they’re led out of their kennel into the euthanization chamber. Once there, euthanization techs inject a dose of lethal chemicals into their leg. It takes a few moments for the chemicals to take effect, and then the dog is gone.

What About No-Kill Shelters?

Some shelters have no-kill policies, which means they don’t euthanize dogs for anything other than medical reasons. While this is obviously more desirable than high-kill shelters, it doesn’t do as much to solve the issue as you might think.

The problem is space. No-kill shelters fill up just as quickly as high-kill ones — often even faster, as they can only get rid of dogs by adopting them out.

So, what happens when a no-kill shelter runs out of room? While it’s true that they won’t euthanize any dogs, they will stop accepting new animals. The ones they refuse are often shipped to kill shelters. However, some no-kill shelters try to find other no-kill facilities that have room before sending a dog to a traditional shelter.

This has led to fierce debate between many animal rights advocates, some of whom claim that until all shelters are no-kill, none of them should be. That’s because many people prefer to adopt from no-kill shelters, leaving the dogs in traditional shelters to die.

Is There Any Way to Solve the Problem?

The best way to end the use of kill shelters is to reduce the population of stray and unwanted animals. That generally means spaying and neutering as many dogs as possible, and there are many programs currently underway that aim to do just that.

Another way to reduce the number of animals euthanized is to ensure that each lost pet is reunited with their owners. Microchipping is a great way to ensure that the proper families are contacted before it’s too late.

Law enforcement is focusing on eliminating puppy mills and dogfighting rings as well, as these are often the source of stray dogs. Whenever a dog loses its value to those running these operations, they’ll often turn them loose, making them some shelter’s problem.

Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of encouraging people to adopt dogs from shelters rather than buying from breeders. Every dog adopted saves two lives: the one of the animal being adopted, and the life of the dog who gets to take their place at the shelter.

dog in adoption happy pets

This Is So Depressing, Is There Any Good News?

Yes! The number of pets being euthanized has dropped dramatically in recent years.

In the past decade, the number of euthanized animals has dropped from 2.6 million per year to 1.5 million. That’s still a large amount, but it means that over a million animals are being spared every year.

Also, adoptions are up as well, from 2.7 million to 3.2 million. That’s half a million pets who have found a forever home rather than languishing in shelters.

Even better, many states and municipalities are showing a commitment to transitioning to no-kill shelters in the future. Hopefully, a mixture of improved education, more comprehensive sterilization practices and no-kill sheltering will mean that virtually no pets will be euthanized in the years to come.Divider 7

Adopt, Don’t Shop

If learning about what happens to unadopted dogs has left you feeling depressed, you should commit to adopting your next pet from a shelter and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Most of the dogs in shelters are every bit as good as their purebred counterparts, and they’re quite a bit cheaper. Plus, you can be certain that your money is going to support other dogs, rather than possibly helping a puppy mill stay in business.

Most of all, though, by adopting, you can make some poor dog’s dream come true.


Featured image credit: tonyfortku, Pixabay