It's been years since I've seen this "statistic" -- but apparently it's been making a resurfacing of late....and a google search shows a cool 2.8 million references to the "statistic". I can't completely trace the origination of the source of the number -- but it seems to be yet another one of those urban legends of shelter that continues to exist in shelters.
The statistic, which you've likely heard before, is that "1 in 600 pit bulls finds a home".
If you are one of the people who has parrotted this popular phrase -- please stop.
Now, let me say, I don't know what the real number is --- I doubt anyone really does. But I know 1 in 600 is not the right number. Some simple math makes this comment seem so outrageous that it doesn't even come close to passing the sniff test.
So let's talk a bit about the numbers -- and why this number cannot even be remotely close to true. Keep in mind that all numbers are estimates -- because no "real" number exists. But I've tried to provide a fair representation of the numbers.
For this "1 in 600 pit bulls finds a home" statement to be true, then the assumptive correlary is also true -- that 599 out of every 600 pit bulls is eventually killed by a shelter somewhere.
In this country, it is generally agreed upon that somewhere between 4 -4.5 million animals are killed in shelters every year. The majority of these are cats -- leaving roughly 2 million dogs killed in shelters each year.
Of those 2 million, based on the percentages from a lot of the data from urban shelters around the country, about 40% or so of the dogs killed in the shelters are "pit bull" type dogs. This number could be debated -- and can be wildly influenced by how widely you cast the net for the term 'pit bull" --but I think 40% sounds like a somewhat fair number to use. There are some shelters where the number is higher than that -- but a large number that have very few pit bulls in them. But this number gets us to about 800,000 'pit bulls' killed in shelters each year.
If only 1 pit bull finds a home for every 599 that is killed, for the "1 in 600" data point to be true, that would leave only 1,333 pit bulls that are adopted from shelters or rescues (800,000 divided by 600). Given that in the Kansas City metro alone we adopt out more than 150 each year (which is 12% of that number) 1,333 seems REALLY low.
But let's check it a separate way.
Current dog population estimates have the total number of dogs in this country at around 78 million. Most estimates for the number of "pit bull" type dogs is between 5-10 million -- again, depending on how narrow or wide your definition is. Again, based on the percent of dogs in shelters and in ownership, I think splitting the middle here will work, and let's, for the sake of argument, say there are 7.5 million owned pit bulls in this country.
If a 'pit bull' lives on average to be 12 years old -- that would mean that each year, 625,000 (7.5 million divided by 12) pit bulls are aquired by people each year (this number is probably a little higher than that since for a variety of health/accidental reasons dogs (of all breeds) die before the age of their life expectancy).
So, if 625,000 pit bulls are brought into homes each year, but supposedly only 1,333 are adopted from a shelter or rescue, that would mean that only.2% of all pit bulls that go into homes come through adoption.
A fairly recent research study from GfK Roper indicates that 30% of all pets are gotten from shelters or rescues (this is for dogs and cats -- cat numbers tend to be lower because people have a higher tendency to "take in" cats). A similar study from PetSmart Charities indicated that 24% of people got their pet from a shelter or rescue. It seems statistically improbable that 24% of all dogs are adopted from shelters, but only .2% of all 'pit bulls' (a type of dog that makes up roughly 10% of all dogs) are adopted from shelters.
If 24% of all 'pit bulls' were adopted from shelters, that would mean that each year, roughly 150,000 of the 625,000 new 'pit bulls' taken into homes would be adopted from shelters (not 1,333 - which would be the number if the "1 in 600" were true). This would make the number of pit bulls that enters the shelter finding a forever home as closer to 1 in 6 -- not 1 in 600.
Let's try one more way.
If we base our assumption that there are about 7.5 million owned pit bulls in this country - and let's say, for arguments sake, 20% are gotten through adoptions (the national number is probably somewhere between 24% and 30% based on the studies above). That means 1.4 million of the owned pit bulls out here were aquired via adoption. If the 1 in 600 number were to be true, this would mean for each of these adopted pit bulls, there would be 599 that was killed at a shelter. That would mean that over the past decade, there would have been over 838 MILLION pit bulls killed in shelters -- even though the total number of all DOGS killed at shelters is generally agreed to be around 20 million.
Now I realize that most of these numbers are approximations -- but even if you adjust them to a different reasonable number, it is impossible to get anywhere near the "1 in 600" number. Not even close. Unfortunately it seems that many think sharing a "shocking" number will startle people into spaying or neutering, or adopting, or whatever the intended goal is. But I'm a bigger fan of being honest about the problems and trying to address them appropriately. Using an outlandish number like "1 in 600" only makes the dogs seem unwanted -- adding to a stigma that already exists.
Yes, there are still too many 'pit bulls' being killed in shelters. Yes, we need to overcome stigmas that prevent them from being adopted, prevent them from ever making it onto the adoption floor or prevent them from being spayed or neutered. But we need to be honest -- and not use outlandish statements that make the stigma worse, not better.