An online forum for rescue/shelter groups recently featured a debate about the future source of dogs and the need for shelters.

Since the South still transports dogs to northern states for adoption, this exchange intrigued me.

Other regions more fully have embraced spay/neuter, and a growing number of localities are banning sales of commercially bred puppies — the so-called puppy mill bans. California adopted the ban in 2017.

This context has divided some in the animal welfare field into two groups.

One still believes there is a surplus of dogs, since at least 1 million are killed in shelters annually.

The other believes there is no surplus, just a distribution issue. At some point in the future, they think the question will be where to obtain dogs.

Virginia’s numbers reflect the downward trend of dogs in shelters.

In 2011, Virginia sheltered 135,204 dogs. Of those, 31,990 were killed and 41,564 adopted. In 2017, the number of dogs sheltered decreased to 121,468, with 9,659 killed and 52,329 adopted.

In other regions, people ask: Will shelters merely be safety nets for the unfortunate few needing re-homing? Will shelters breed dogs to humanely provide puppies? Many readers opposed the latter, but one proponent countered the shelters would otherwise force consumers to the puppy mills after years of urging consumers to adopt, not shop.

What’s happening now in other parts of the country where dogs are scarcer?

A Washington Post story earlier this year highlighted the practice of some rescues attending auctions to buy puppies and adult dogs. The intent is to save puppy mill dogs and fill adoption needs; others see the practice as supporting the mills.

Some rescues/shelters import dogs from not only from the South but other countries’ shelters too.

Our nation is undergoing a transformation with the no-kill movement, which aims to make the U.S. a no-kill nation by 2025. That would mean no healthy, adoptable shelter animal will be killed, with the save rate being 90 percent or better. The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies and its members are steering the Commonwealth toward that goal.

What then? I see shelters always serving as re-homing options for those who cannot or will not keep their dogs, or cats. I don’t think puppy mills or backyard breeders are going extinct soon, though at some point pet stores may rely more on re-homing dogs or boosting sale of products and services.

Small nonprofit rescues may cease operation, with volunteers happily retiring.

Responsible breeders, who vet prospective buyers, will remain.

Consumers will access dogs and puppies from local sources or transports from across the nation, or sea, safely vetted.

I hope shelters don’t breed dogs. Globally, there are plenty of dogs needing good homes.

One day, the dog will catch the proverbial bus. That achievement will present challenges, but I believe dogs — and cats — will end up with a sweet ride.

If you want to track the national progress of the no-kill initiative, visit bestfriends.org/2025-goal. If you want to read more about Virginia’s efforts to reach no-kill status, visit www.vfhs.org/blank-page.

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