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In the Doghouse

To the Editors of American Demographics:

I'm hoping you might be able to help me with some research for a book I'm writing. I'm looking for a statistical portrait of dogs, including information on the total number of dogs in the United States, how people acquire their dogs, how many dogs are euthanized, how many are in shelters and so on. I'm also interested in any studies that might shed some light on the emotional relationship between dogs and their owners. Thanks so much.

Kim Goldstein

Wynnewood, Pa.

Dear Kim:

We'll begin by first assuring our readers that they're not experiencing déjà vu. Last year, in this section of the magazine, we disclosed the demographics of dog owners (“Who Let the Dogs Out,� February 2001.) This time, however, we'll be focusing strictly on our four-legged friends.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that in 1996 (the latest year for which data is available), there were an estimated 53 billion dogs in the U.S. — compared with 59 million cats, for those who demand equal time for felines — up about 1 percent over the number of dogs counted in 1987. As minute as this increase may seem, it is actually quite significant, since the number of American homes that these canines inhabit declined from 35 million in 1987 to 31 million in 1996. Pooches were able to keep their population high partly because between 1987 and 1996, the number of dogs per household increased from 1.5 to 1.7.

According to a survey of 1,000 pet owners by St. Louis-based Ralston Purina, 39 percent of dogs are obtained from family, friends or neighbors, another 25 percent come from a breeder and 15 percent from an animal shelter. Eight percent of Americans buy their pups from a pet store, 5 percent are picked up as strays and 2 percent come from a local rescue group.

But not all dogs find nice homes. According to research conducted by Animal People newspaper, at any given time, an estimated 5,000 dog pounds nationwide house roughly 87,000 dogs. About one-third of dogs at shelters will be euthanized (1.5 million hounds are put to sleep at shelters each year), another third will be reclaimed by their original owners and the remaining third will find homes with new families — families that we hope will not dress them in clothes!

John Fetto

Research Editor

Dog Gone

Top 10 reasons people give up their dogs:


Landlord issues

Cost of pet maintenance

No time for pet

Inadequate facilities

Too many pets at home

Pet illness

Personal problems


No homes for littermates

Source: National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy

Man's Best Friend

Dog owners' lives are intertwined with those of their pets.

Pet and hug your dog daily 95%
Play with your dog daily 92%
Taken your dog on vacation 45%
Celebrated your dog's birthday 43%
Taken your dog shopping or to a pet store 35%
Visited health care facilities or schools with your dog 28%
Taken your dog to work 19%
Taken your dog to a store/restaurant/bar 16%
Source: Ralston Purina


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