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 during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shelter admissions of free-roaming animals and former pets surged by more than 36,000 cats and dogs in 2021, an increase of 11% over the previous year. Euthanasia of cats increased for the first time since the Shelter Medicine Program at the College of Veterinary Medicine began reporting statewide data in 2013.
Shelters collectively saved 85% of the 357,418 animals they took in throughout the year, down from 87% the year before. Despite a difficult year, the euthanasia of 12% of animals entering shelters was still markedly reduced from the euthanasia rate of 42% in 2013.
“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 has brought down shelter intake and euthanasia rates. In 2021, shelter animal intake was 16.3 animals per 1,000 residents in Florida, compared to 14.0 for the US as a whole. Florida shelter euthanasia was 2.2 animals per 1,000 residents, compared to 2.4 nationally.
Adoptions still topped the list of of live outcome pathways. Transfers of animals between organizations within Florida to other regions with more adoption opportunities was the second most common live outcome type, but this lifesaving activity deceased 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 increased 33%, accounting for 11% of all live outcomes for cats.
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.
Dr. Levy attributes some of the positive changes 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.
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 154 animal shelters were known to be operating in Florida in 2021. Of these, 151 submitted data for the Florida Shelter Animal Census. This represents an estimated 98% of all shelters, 99% of all sheltered animals in the state, and 64 of Florida’s 67 counties. Three shelters did not submit statutorily required data, either because they did not keep records of animals cared for or because they did not respond to public records requests.
2021 Florida Shelter Census Highlights
Disparities between cats and dogs identified in the first statewide Shelter Animal Census in 2013 persisted in 2021.
- Free-roaming/stray cats and dogs comprised more than half of all intakes.
- Shelter intake of cats remains stubbornly high, whereas intake for dogs has steadily decreased.
Adoptions (61%) were the main avenue for live outcomes, followed by transfers to other groups (16%), return to owner (10%), and return to field of community cats (11%).
- Live outcomes for cats (84%) still lag behind that for dogs (87%), but the gap is narrowing.
- Only 3% of cats are returned to their owners compared to 38% dogs.
Click here to download the 2021 Florida Shelter Census charts.
Click on the links below to review data aggregated for all reporting shelters in each county.
- 2021 Florida Shelter Animal Census Summary
- 2020 Florida Shelter Animal Census Summary
- 2019 Florida Shelter Animal Census Summary
- 2018 Florida Shelter Animal Census Summary
- 2016 Florida Shelter Animal Census Summary
- 2013 Florida Shelter Animal Census Summary
Frequently Asked Questions
Would my organization be considered a shelter?
- The Florida Shelter Animal Census defines 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 are not included in the Florida Shelter Animal Census.
Are Florida animal shelters required to release shelter data upon request?
- Yes. Florida State Statute 823.15 requires the release of shelter animal data upon request.
What shelter data is required for the Florida Animal Shelter Census?
- The census includes canine and feline intake and outcome data for the previous Calendar Year (January 1 through December 31) using the Shelter Animals Count Basic Data Matrix.
Can I run a shelter software report to provide shelter data?
- Yes! Shelters with Chameleon, PetPoint, Shelterluv, Shelter Buddy, or Petstablished can easily run a report based on the Basic Animal Data Matrix. Information on how to configure this data report
I already report data in Shelter Animals Count. Do I need to complete the census as well?
- If your shelter is enrolled in Shelter Animals Count (SAC) and a member of the Florida Shelter Data Coalition—University of Florida, your data entered in SAC will be carried over to the Florida Shelter Animal Census automatically. You will still need to complete some basic information about your shelter budget, staffing, and operations since this information is not available in SAC.
How do I enroll my shelter in the Shelter Animals Count Florida Shelter Data Coalition?
- We encourage your shelter to join the data coalition if it is not already a member. First, enroll your shelter in SAC at https://shelteranimalscount.org/register. Then join the data coalition.
What if I don’t have data, or what if it is incomplete?
- We can help! Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Is there a deadline for submitting shelter data?
- The deadline for completing the census is February 22, 2022. Contact Keegan Spera if you missed the deadline or have data corrections to make.
Submit 2021 Data for Your Shelter
What’s in the Census:
Part 1: Shelter Description
- Download the Shelter Description form to help gather your shelter’s information before submission.
- A few questions to identify your shelter (name, etc.).
- Some basic information about your shelter budget, staffing, and operations.
Thank you for contributing to the Florida Shelter Animal Census. This census consists of two parts that will be used to record an accurate snapshot of shelter animal dynamics during 2021 in the state of Florida. Contact Keegan Spera if you missed the deadline or have data corrections to make.
Part 2: Basic Data Matrix
- Download the Basic Data Matrix. This worksheet will help you gather your shelter animal data before submission.
- Shelter Intake and Outcome Data for calendar year 2021 (January 1-December 31, 2021).
Ways to submit:
The Shelter Description and Basic Data Matrix forms may be submitted in the following ways:
All in oneSubmit both Part 1: Shelter Description and Part 2: Basic Data Matrix together using the 2021 Florida Animal Shelter Census online form.
- Online – click the “Complete Part 1: Shelter Information” button below. Part 2: The Basic Data Matrix will need to be submitted separately.
- Email directly to email@example.com
- Please make sure to save your Basic Data Matrix in this format “Shelter Name 2020 Basic Data Matrix”.
- Fax (352) 392-6125
- Text (843) 452-2612
- After filling in your worksheets, you may take pictures with your phone and text them to us. Please remember to label all sheets with your shelter’s name.
- Postal mail:
UF College of Veterinary Medicine
Shelter Medicine Program
2015 SW 16th Ave
Gainesville, Fl 32608