Florida Shelter Animal Census
A snapshot of statewide intake and disposition

The Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida is frequently asked, “How many cats and dogs are admitted to shelters each year and what happens to them?” To answer this question, the program periodically conducts a statewide census of animals that pass through more than 150 animal shelters across the state.

Florida Animal Shelters Struggle to Maintain Lifesaving Gains Amid COVID Challenges

A new study by the University of Florida revealed that the state’s animal shelters struggled to hang on to years of lifesaving progress since the Covid pandemic. Shelter admissions of free-roaming animals and former pets surged by more than 8,000 cats and dogs in 2023 compared to the previous year. Euthanasia of both cats and dogs crept higher, but not to the pre-pandemic levels reported in 2019.

Shelters collectively saved 82% of the 354,301 animals they took in throughout the year, down from 84% the year before. Despite a difficult year, the euthanasia of 14% of animals entering shelters was still markedly reduced from the euthanasia rate of 42% in 2013 when UF first tracked statewide statistics.

The challenges faced by Florida shelters during the pandemic reflect those of shelters across most of the country, including pressure to take in more animals, insufficient local adoptions, and decreased transports to regions of the country with more adoption capacity. As a result, animals are staying in shelters longer, leading to crowding, stressful conditions, more risk of disease, and higher euthanasia.

— Dr. Julie Levy, Fran Marino Professor of Shelter Medicine Education and lead researcher.

As a state, Florida’s shelter trends have long tracked with the rest of the South, with higher animal intake per capita and higher euthanasia rates than other parts of the country. Warm climate, high poverty rates, large rural communities, and veterinary care deserts all contribute to a pet overpopulation problem that overwhelms the capacity of many shelters. However, in recent years, aggressive spay/neuter campaigns, community engagement, and state-wide collaboration among shelters and rescue groups have brought down shelter intake and euthanasia rates. In 2023, shelter animal intake was 15.7 animals per 1,000 residents in Florida. Florida shelter euthanasia was 2.1 animals per 1,000 residents.

However, even within the state, there is marked regional variation. Rural shelters tended to have lower per capita funding, while also experiencing higher per capita animal intake than shelters located in more populous areas. Rural areas can also be impacted by more severe veterinary shortages. As a result, the highest euthanasia rates were found in the state’s rural counties. Increasingly, rural shelters are partnering with their urban counterparts to move homeless pets into shelters where there is more demand for adoptable pets and to provide more essential veterinary services to rural residents. These partnerships help to eliminate regional lifesaving disparities and support a statewide safety net for pets and families in crisis.

Florida map showing shelter animal intake and euthanasia by county.

Some of the positive changes can be attributed to the work of the Shelter Medicine Program, which provides pro bono consultation services to Florida shelters and community cat management programs throughout the year. Expert faculty and veterinary students visit shelters to provide a fresh set of eyes on operations and to assist in the implementation of best practices and innovative programs emerging at shelters across the country. The shelter consultations are part of an intensive training program for veterinary students who plan for futures as shelter veterinarians and animal welfare leaders. Shelters can request consultations through UF’s Maddie’s Million Pet Challenge program.

The researchers defined a shelter as a continuously occupied “brick and mortar” physical facility that houses cats and dogs temporarily for the purposes of animal control and protection. Common examples include shelters operated by municipalities, humane societies, and SPCAs, but can also include private businesses. Foster-based animal rescue organizations and sanctuaries with a permanent population were not included in the Florida Shelter Animal Census.

The Florida legislature passed a transparency statute in 2013 requiring shelters to provide data about their animal intake and outcomes upon request, and most have complied with UF’s data collection since then. A total of 155 animal shelters were known to be operating in Florida in 2023. Of these, 150 submitted data for the Florida Shelter Animal Census. This represents an estimated 97% of all shelters, 98% of all sheltered animals in the state, and 63 of Florida’s 67 counties. Five shelters did not submit statutorily required data, either because they transferred records of animals cared for, or because they did not respond to public records requests yet. This format of data collection has limitations. Self-reported data is subject to errors or differences in data definitions. Not all shelters use shelter software to tally animal intakes and outcomes, and some keep no records at all. Transfers between shelters can result in double-counting some animals, whereas transfers to foster-based rescue groups obscure the ultimate outcomes.

2023 Florida Shelter Census Highlights

Pie chart of 2023 shelter dog and cat intake
A total of 354,301 cats and dogs were admitted to Florida shelters in 2023, up 8,459 since 2022.

Live outcome rates have steadily decreased since the peak in 2020, the year shelters implemented pandemic shutdown-related reductions in nonemergent animal intakes. Shelters across the country recorded peak numbers of adoptions and foster placements that year, resulting in record increases in live outcome rates.

In 2023, shelter intake of cats remains stubbornly high compared to dog intake. The live outcome rate for cats (82%) is now similar to that for dogs (83%), largely due to the falling live outcome rate for dogs. Live outcome rate is calculated as total live outcomes divided by total live intakes.

Live outcome rates by year in Florida shelters.
Live outcomes were achieved for 82% of animals brought into Florida shelters, down 2% from 2022.
Chart of euthanasia rates by year in Florida shelters
Dog euthanasia has decreased 66% and cat euthanasia has decreased 81% since 2013. Despite similar live outcome rates as a percentage of intake, 3,384 more cats were euthanized than dogs in 2023.

Adoptions still topped the list of live outcome pathways (61%). Transfers of animals between organizations within Florida and to other regions with more adoption opportunities was the second most common live outcome type (16%), but this lifesaving activity decreased compared to previous years as shelters across the country filled up and adoptions lagged. The practice of spaying and neutering cats and returning them to their neighborhoods in Return to Field Programs was the third most common pathway to live outcomes (12%), followed by returning animals to their owners (10%).

Click on the links below to review historical data aggregated by county.