IA Engagement: The True Cost Behind Animal Shelters

Griffin Chen, Guest Writer

The heartbreaking stories of each pet in a shelter brings tears to everyone’s eye every so often when we hear about them. You may have heard about how they were abused by their previous owners or left behind in their empty homes when their owners moved. Situations like this take a mental toll on the pets, often causing aggression and other dangerous behaviors that ends with their euthanization for the safety of others. You may have also heard about the poor and crowded conditions that they have to live in even after being “rescued,” before eventually being euthanized to let even more pets into the shelter. But what about the resources that this process consumes?

To connect with topics that we often learn in class, an unsustainable consumption of resources can lead to a hindrance in the development of a society. In this case, a lot of resources are invested into the system without producing much results as evident from collected data. According to Do Something and Top Dogs, homeless animals outnumber homeless people in a whopping ratio of 5 to 1 (Petmate.com, 2018). Around 6.5 million pets enter shelters annually and yet less than half of that number is adopted (Covington, 2022). With that many pets being left in the care of shelters, it shouldn’t be surprising that it costs an estimated amount of $2 billion USD per year (Better Meets Reality, 2021) to take care of these poor souls. $2 billion dollars that could have been spent addressing other issues are instead being poured into providing a depressing and inefficient system. $2 billion dollars that are paid for by the money of taxpayers and NGOs, not by those who have directly participated in worsening this issue.

Within that huge amount of money, roughly $150 is spent per stray pet from their capture to euthanizing (Better Meets Reality, 2021). That number may mean many different things to different people: $150 is not enough to provide a satisfactory living condition for these pets; $150 is spending too much on providing care for them. However, this amount is only the case when the pet does get euthanized within a short time period of staying at the shelter, which occurs almost all of the time. Suppose that a dog with the life expectancy of 16 years is left in the care of the shelter until the end of its natural lifespan. This could require approximately $34,000 (Bernete, 2021) from the shelter to provide the minimal care that they receive. In addition to this, shelters rely heavily on the time and skills of volunteers and veterinarians, which may cause delays in other areas where they are required.

When it comes to resources being expended to address pet abandonment, what goes on outside of shelters is just as worrisome. The effects of abandoned pets on the environment that they live in can be detrimental, especially since they can become invasive species and disrupt native ecosystems. Furthermore, animals in the wild are more susceptible to diseases such as rabies. The estimated annual cost of rabies disease diagnostics, prevention, and control in the US is $245 to $510 million (CDC, 2019). Paired with the high possibility of contracting other diseases, treatment may cost up to $100 or more and requires skilled professionals to administer it. Additionally, many other factors may result in traffic accidents happening, in which costs can add up to £14.6 million annually in the UK (Bernete, 2021). 

All evidence points to an even larger impact than most people had previously known about. Billions of dollars are being used per year in attempts to take care of these stray pets, though most of the population eventually end up being euthanized and mistreated. The staggering dollar bill only gets worse when factoring in the need to address the additional troubles that are caused during their time on the streets. Moreover, the human resources necessary to maintain the system yet again highlights the demanding nature of this issue. 

So, how can you help? Here are a few links to explore!



This article serves as an engagement for the author’s Global Politics Internal Assessment. It has been edited for length and clarity and to uphold Inkwell’s standards for published content.