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How To Reduce the Number of Unwanted Pets in our Shelters
Unwanted pets often just need one more chance.
But I'm just one person. What could I possibly do to help reduce the number of unwanted and abandoned animals?
Animal control officers see it every day: pets that have been abandoned. Some are left by the side of the road, others are dropped off at the veterinarian and never picked up. Brenda Hogue, owner of Fido and Friends, a pet supply store and grooming shop in my hometown of Aledo, Texas, has arrived at work to find dogs tied to the front door of her business. Nita Farris, office manager of Aledo Vet Clinic, also in Aledo, Texas, once found herself dealing with a litter of 13 abandoned puppies two days before Christmas.
This scene plays out over and over again in cities all across the United States. Every day, pets are surrendered to shelters, and every day pets are otherwise abandoned all across the country. It’s a huge problem. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 6-8 million pets enter shelters each year, and while 3-4 million are adopted, another 3-4 million are euthanized. Whether dumped by the side of the road, surrendered to the shelter or left behind when owners move away, abandoned animals need our help. But what can the average citizen do to reduce the number of animals that find themselves in our shelters?
Unless you are a breeder, do not allow your pets to reproduce.
Spay and Neuter Your Pets
Reducing the animal population is key to reducing the number of abandoned animals in our shelters, and spaying and neutering your dogs and cats is the single most important step a pet owner can take toward this goal.
However, not all pet owners act responsibly. According to Christine Birkbeck of Parker Paws, an all-volunteer pet adoption group in Weatherford, Texas, some pet owners think it might be fun to have a litter of puppies around the house and allow their female dog to breed. Unfortunately, these owners are often unprepared, especially when the litter turns out to be quite large. “It can be very difficult to find homes for six or eight or ten puppies,” Birkbeck said. “You might have success finding two or three homes, but then the rest end up at the shelter or on the side of the road.”
Farris agrees. “Every pet owner should be responsible, do their part and get their pets spayed or neutered,” she said. Although Aledo Vet Clinic is a veterinary office and is not in the pet adoption business, Farris often finds herself with the task of placing abandoned animals with permanent homes. “Not a single pet that we find a home for leaves here without first being spayed or neutered,” she said.
If your pets have not been sterilized, make an appointment for them TODAY. If the expense of the surgery is holding you back, call around to shelters, veterinary offices and your local government agencies and ask what sort of low-cost or free spay and neuter programs are in your area, and how to go about qualifying for them.
Consider adopting an older pet.
Choose Your Pets Carefully
According to Dianne Tawater, assistant director of the Weatherford/Parker County Animal Shelter in Weatherford, Texas, people unwittingly contribute to the unwanted pet population when they hastily make pet ownership decisions. “Often people don’t think about the long term,” said Tawater. “If you add a pet to your family, you should assume that you’ll have it for 15 to 18 years. Lots of people don’t think that far ahead,” Tawater said.
If you are in the market for a pet, take some time to consider your personality, your family, your budget and your living arrangements rather than bringing home the first cute puppy or kitten that melts your heart. Are you a cat person, a dog person or neither? Perhaps you’d be better suited to own a hamster, a canary or an aquarium full of fish.
Whether you have a small yard, large yard, fenced yard or no yard at all should also be taken into consideration before you choose a pet. While cats can live their entire lives indoors, a large, active dog needs plenty of room to exercise. When you choose a pet that fits your living situation, the animal is less likely to become a nuisance or a burden.
For a happy, successful owner/pet relationship, choose a pet that is compatible with your temperament and lifestyle. Consider your family members as well. A dog or cat that is brought into a home to live with people who are allergic to or fearful of them has a high likelihood of becoming an unwanted pet. Additionally, different pet breeds have different temperaments, just as people do. An active dog that needs lots of exercise and attention, such as a Jack Russell terrier or a Labrador retriever, is more likely to have a successful relationship with owners who have plenty of time and energy to devote to it.
Properly caring for a pet requires money.
Consider the Expense of Pet Ownership Before Adopting
Pet ownership can be expensive. Although a neighbor or friend may give you a “free” puppy or kitten, spaying, neutering, vaccinations, food, supplies and expenses for illnesses or medical emergencies can add up quickly. With the troubled economy, Tawater sees more people surrendering their pets than ever. “We are especially seeing more large animals. At the moment we have quite a few horses and donkeys we need to find homes for,” she said.
Educate Yourself, Train Your Pet, and Give it a Chance to Improve
While some animals are naturally laid back and cooperative, others give their owners a run for their money. Tawater often sees owners who surrender their animals due to behavioral issues. “We get lots of Labrador retrievers in here when they’re about 12 to 18 months old,” she said. “That’s when they tend to really dig and chew a lot.” However, Tawater points out that you can train your pets to stop undesirable behaviors, or sometimes just wait it out. “Lots of dogs have a sort of ‘terrible two’ stage and if you work through it and wait, the behaviors will stop,” she said.
If you've never owned a dog or cat before or have unsuccessfully owned pets in the past, get yourself a good book and read up on your pet's typical behaviors and psychology. If you can understand where your pet is "coming from" and the basics of pet training, you're much more likely to build a successful pet/owner relationship. As the human, it is your responsibility to build a successful relationship. Your animal has no control over the situation it has been placed in and is merely reacting to your actions. If you and your new pet get off on the wrong foot, don't give up. Seek advice from your vet, animal trainers and friends who are successful pet owners.
Full-blooded pets are often available for adoption at shelters.
Mixed breeds make wonderful pets, too.
Adopt a Pet
Parker County, Texas is home to approximately 117,000 people in its 910 square miles. It is just one county out of many in one state out of 50. Tawater estimates that the Weatherford/Parker County Animal Shelter takes in about 100 animals per week. “Unfortunately we are not a no-kill shelter,” she said, pointing out that many of the dogs and cats who enter the shelter do not find homes. “My hope is that everyone looking for a pet will make adoption their first choice,” she said.
Most shelter pets are not "flawed" in some way that caused them to be surrendered by their original owners. Just about any shelter employee or rescue group volunteer can steer you toward well socialized, adoptable animals that would make wonderful additions to your family. Additionally, most shelters keep lists of prospective pet owners who are looking for a particular breed of dog or cat. “There are plenty of mixed breeds in shelters, but if you want a certain type, we do get full-blooded breeds often,” Tawater said. “You just might need to be a bit patient to get the breed you want.” There are also rescue groups devoted to specific breeds, and these wonderful folks would be happy to introduce you to their foster animals.
Adoptions fees differ from state to state and from shelter to shelter, but are often very reasonable compared to breeders, pet stores and puppy mills. Additionally, most shelters and animal adoption groups include the cost of spaying or neutering and vaccinations in their adoption fees.
Foster a Pet
Pet adoption and rescue groups are always looking for people to foster pets they have up for adoption. Obviously, foster situations differ from organization to organization, but the basic premise is to bring a pet to live in your own home until the animal is adopted. Fostering not only saves that particular animal's life, but also opens up a spot within the shelter or rescue group for another homeless animal, possibly saving its life as well.
Adopt a black dog.
Animal rescue groups, adoption groups and shelters are always in need of volunteers to help out with their animals. Volunteers perform a variety of tasks to help pets find homes, including walking, socializing and bathing animals and helping prospective pet owners choose a new friend. If you're a skilled laborer or skilled professional, consider volunteering your services to your local shelter or animal rescue group.
It's safe to say that the shelters, adoption centers and rescue groups in your area operate on small budgets. Donations of supplies such as pet food, cat litter, leashes, blankets, old newspapers and towels are always appreciated. Monetary donations, no matter how big or small, are always happily accepted, and can be put toward overhead or the spaying and neutering of animals up for adoption.
"Help the Pets" Parties
Several children in my area have generously asked the guests at their birthday parties to bring pet food in lieu of birthday gifts. Mom, dad and the birthday child then load up the food and drop it off at their local shelter once the party is over. It's a great way to help the unwanted animals in your area, while at the same time demonstrating to children the joys of being a helpful, responsible community member.