Reuters published a sad story about the high kill rate (70%) of shelter dogs in Japan, as opposed to countries like Britain (less than 10%). Oddly, no mention of the U.S.
Both of my dogs came from a county shelter 13-14 years ago, back when there were few private rescues, and no resource such as Petfinder online. Both would have died within days had I not taken them home. I would have been deprived of those two beautiful lives, and they would have been cheated out of their long, happy lives.
Nowadays, private rescues have popped up everywhere. Living in a metro area, I see new, local rescues all the time on Petfinder. I sometimes donate to these organizations because they are all volunteers contributing their time, and sometimes money, to a most worthy cause. The culture here in America is such that people value pets and place them at a similar level of importance as family, and so they give their time accordingly. In the past, the government, with its county and city shelters, did nothing more than cage the homeless animals for a few days, hoping someone might come by to adopt them, and if not, they were killed. Since governments were not going to ramp up a massive welfare state to care for animals and their needs, private efforts stepped in and took up the task. What has evolved over the last dozen years is a huge network of cooperating individuals and organizations donating their time and money to what has become a largely private (and efficient) animal welfare system that is effective in dealing with the welfare of unwanted pets.
Knowing that people do this makes you realize that America is still a place where people value private, voluntary effort in place of government-run welfare. If only people would comprehend that the welfare state, in terms of human lives, has replaced what also used to be the domain of private, voluntary charities.