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How to be responsible owners and reduce the number of unwanted animals in shelters
An amazing animal rescue story
Abandoned pets. Not again?
Indeed, this has been a topic of persistent discussion worldwide, and has been in the news in recent weeks in Singapore, where I live. After a few kittens were found in terrible states outside apartments and the perpetrators apprehended, there are now new considerations regarding the laws surrounding the treatment of pets.
As a general observation, the sad state of affairs is that it often takes unfortunate events to prompt needed action. This is especially so with pets, which tend to be further down on the list of priorities.
Many of us start with the good intentions of loving a pet, with some caving in when the responsibility of caring for them becomes a little tough to bear. If some things can be considered when getting a pet, unwanted animals in shelters can still be reduced.
Estimated statistics of unwanted animals per country
Number of abandoned dogs
5,000,000 to 7,000,000
Why there is a problem of unwanted pets
Sadly, shelters still struggle with huge numbers of unwanted pets needing care, and the problem is perpetuated by a few situations that are still all too prevalent.
The lack of neutering
Some owners fear the side effects of neutering their pets. They may also be unaware of the increased numbers of little Fifis, Fidos and Garfields that not sterilizing their pets can bring. Sterilizing a pet does have disadvantages, but does reduce the numbers of little dogs and cats that are in dire need of homes. This is especially so with cats, which tend to have more of a tendency to wander.
What I mean by this is that there are some breeders who are in the business of consistently breeding pets for monetary objectives. They are further encouraged to do so with more people buying pets from them.
This is not to say that breeding pets itself is an unhealthy practice, but irresponsible breeding, when the breeder does not properly socialize puppies and breeds them in poor conditions, is. This is worse if the breeder himself abandons any extra puppies that he cannot sell, which is an entirely plausible scenario. Potential owners who purchase pets from such breeders only put them in business longer, which perpetuates the problem of unwanted pets.
Limited space in shelters
There can only be a certain amount of space in animal shelters, which is all too often quickly used up by the many animals needing homes.
At a recent visit I paid to the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Singapore, I noticed all the pens for dogs taken up. There were also many rabbits, gerbils and cats that filled the limited space almost to capacity.
Not enough volunteers
There are not enough people volunteering to foster a pet for a short time while it waits for a new owner.
More foster homes for pets without them means easing the burden of spatial constraint on animal shelters.
Unconscious support of puppy mills
Some owners who happily buy their pets from a store may be unaware that their previous home was a puppy mill where animals are kept in deplorable conditions.
While they cannot be blamed for their ignorance, it perpetuates the problem of these mills existing, and hence the numbers of pets that will not easily find homes.
Many people buy that dog or cat for themselves or family members as gifts, with thoughts only of how cute that little kitten or puppy is. Many do not think of the costs of veterinary care or grooming, and if their pet might have future problems interacting with neighbors or their pets.
When these problems start cropping up, Fido or Fifi does not seem as cute, and hence makes his way to a shelter.
What causes owners to give up their pets
Owners are prompted to give up their pets for reasons that sadly should have been considered before they were bought.
Too much work.
Having a pet means having to make time to bathe it, feed it and take it out for daily walks. A pet also has emotional needs and some time must be allocated to play with it and give it needed attention.
Time must also be taken to clean its ears, brush its teeth and bring it for regular medical checks, which are daunting for some owners after a while.
Some owners cannot keep up with the expense of owning a pet and do not bother to think about finding someone who is responsible enough to take over its care. Many sadly take the short cut and easy solution of leaving it to the shelter to find it a home.
Some owners buy their pets without considering if they have enough time to spend taking care of it. Many have to spend long hours at work and have no time to do the necessary for their pets. Again, this should be factored in before the pet is bought to prevent the situation of overcrowded shelters.
Pets also have the same concerns that senior citizens may develop as they grow older, such as dementia or iimmobility. Some simply do not want their pet because it looks too old.
In cases of divorce, many pets are sadly left without homes when neither party wants to accommodate it.
Property that does not allow pets
In the course of time, some owners move to properties or apartment complexes that do not allow pets.
In this case, many will put their needs above their pets, leaving them to fill animal shelters. In some cases, the owner may be evicted from his property, causing him to abandon his pet.
Lack of education
This pertains to both owners and pets. Owners sometimes abandon their pets because they pose a problem to neighbors when they destroy their property or become aggressive.
With particular reference to dogs, skills in basic obedience - sitting, coming to heel and learning how to stay - are necessary things to teach that will help them and humans relate to each other. When pets are given the proper training, they can become more functional members of a household and this lessens the problem of abandonment.
Other owner difficulties
When an owner that has no relatives or kin to look after a pet suddenly passes away, it sometimes creates a situation where the pet is left alone with no one to care for it. When it is found, it goes to the shelter.
The same problem occurs when an owner, who does not live with others suddenly becomes immobile and can no longer care for a pet.
How to spot a responsible dog breeder
- He or she allows you to visit and willingly lets you see that the premises where she keeps her pets are well maintained.
- The bred animals are healthy
- The area in which they are kept is spacious and suit the needs of the animals
- Breeds only one or a few types of dog and is knowledgeable about the breeds. He or she can explain any breed related problems in detail
- Meets the psychological and social needs of animals by giving it toys and exercise
- Encourages you to spend time with the puppy’s parents to understand the nature of the puppy better
- Offers guidance in training and housebreaking your new puppy
- Has strong relationships with veterinarians and has already brought the puppies for veterinary visits
- Provides references for people who have bought puppies
- Active in clubs that specialize in the breed of puppies for sale, eg. schnauzers or golden retrievers. They may compete with the dogs themselves.
- Asks relevant questions, like why you want a dog and requires proof that your apartment complex allows dogs.
- Requires you to sign a contract saying that you will return the dog to him if it cannot be taken care of
How to reduce the numbers of unwanted pets in shelters
It is quite clear that the problem of unwanted pets can easily be solved if owners, and potential owners have in mind a few considerations.
Consider your own situation.
If you have a job that takes you away for long hours or requires some traveling, it may not be wise to own a pet. It will be unfair to the pet to keep it when its owner is hardly around to help it meet its psychological and even physical needs.
Further, consider the expense of pet care. A pet, like ourselves will mean the cost of feeding and medical care that can sometimes be more expensive than our own. If this poses a problem, it is better not to get yourself a pet.
Choose your pet with care.
Choose a pet that can easily adapt to your lifestyle. If you have family members who are allergic to pet hair or asthmatic, it might be a good idea to keep pets like fish or terrapins rather than dogs or cats.
If you have a more sedentary lifestyle, try not to keep a dog which is too active because it will pose a challenge, in such cases, to care for.
Obedience classes for pets and owners are readily available, and to better understand how to take care of pets, it is good to put ourselves through a course.
Previously not so available in Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised to find more and more owners signing up for obedience classes when I went to the Nex Dog Park in Serangoon, Singapore, a few weeks ago. It is heartening to find increased awareness and owners taking the time to learn how to care for their pets responsibly.
Find a responsible breeder.
A responsible breeder will sell puppies that have been properly socialized and looked after in comfortable conditions. The pets will not have alarming health concerns and a healthy dog will mean a lesser likelihood of it being unwanted. There are some indicators of a responsible dog breeder in the text at the side of the article.
If your situation allows, there are other ways that you can help to ease the problem of animals in shelters.
If you have the time and the space, foster an animal that needs a home before it finds one. This will help to ease the burden on shelters.
Adopt an animal from a shelter. This can help to discourage unethical mills and also create more space in shelters for other animals.
Donate to animals shelters that will need money for the animals food, medical care and other expenses.
The problem of unwanted pets can be tackled with some considerations on the parts of owners and those considering getting a pet. Play your part to ease the problem!
I would also like to thank the hubbers who answered the question "What are some solutions to the problem of unwanted pets in shelters?" Do take the time to read their articles!
Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin All Rights Reserved
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