'Fixing' the Problem
The question about a solution for pet overpopulation is closely related to the question why one should spay & neuter their pets.
The answer to both questions is:
Spaying/neutering pets will solve the pet overpopulation issue; and thus, to a point the astronomic euthanasia rates!
When looking up annual U.S. wide euthanasia rates on the Internet, one will hear many answers. But all answers have one thing in common: Their zeros would turn the average annual income of a working American into a gift of God! The numbers range from 6 MILLION to 9 MILLION often healthy and very adoptable animals euthanized in ONE AMERICAN YEAR! To a true animal lover this number sounds like a punch in the solar plexus!
The numbers have been used to determine monthly, weekly, hourly and minute rates. But the most devastating number is 1.5 seconds. Every 1.5 SECONDS a homeless animal dies in a American Animal Control Shelter!
How long did it take you to read this first paragraph?
There are many reasons why a pet owner should spay/neuter the family pet. But, again, the most pressing one is the growing threat of overpopulation and the hard to accept loss of precious life. How many of us know the euthanasia rate for the County we live in? Or what kind of horrible or not method is used to do the deed? When researching national statistics one seems to come to the conclusion that most States don't have to report those numbers. North Carolina seems to be one of the few States that actually does collect this type of data and reports it with public access every year.
Here are some hard facts:
When adding up the sometimes confusing, seemingly inaccurate or incomplete numbers given, the North Carolinian ends up with an average euthanasia rate of 78% for his/her home State. Some shelters take in as much 5,000 or more dogs in one year. Some shelters euthanize 100% of the cats and dogs taken in! Some shelters, after during further research on their programs, have managed impressively low euthanasia numbers and a great number of supporting programs to address the issue. But the inconsistency is apparent; and not only in just that one State.
Using some North Carolina shelters, let’s look at some numbers:
County/Shelter - Euthanasia Cats – Euthanasia Dogs – Cost per Animal
Harnett - 71% - 45% - $ 67.68
Bladen - 28% - 6% - $ 42.12
Montgomery - 100% - 97% - $ 0
Moore - 100% - 100% - $130.40
City of Rocky Mount - 84% - 54% - $ 73.93
Burlington - 86% - 60% - $ 82.23
Gaston - 84% - 38% - $102.12
Rutherford - 91% - 57% - $ 44.38
Wake County SPCA - 45% - 27% - $345.57
Wake County AC - 77% - 32% - $107.15
Average - 76.6% - 54.6% - $ 99.56
These numbers are what the shelter reported and don't always seem to add up!
Looking at these 10 shelters the numbers speak for or against the corresponding County's view of the subject. While these are just ten of many shelters/counties, the average is pretty close to the State average. And the cost seems to be a driving factor to consider solutions to the problem.
To take a closer look at what could be achieved when implementing spay/neuter programs, let’s assume that 2/3 of the animals in Animal Control shelters are puppies and kittens. Based on the number of 25,545 cats and 29,794 dogs taken in by these ten shelters in just one year, that leaves us with 17,030 cats and 19,863 dogs that would not have been taken in. The possible savings in the first year would be ~$1,695,506.80 for cats and ~$1,976,368.50 for dogs! Add that together and compare the best-case-scenario annual cost of ~$1,836,516.90 to the actual average cost of ~$5,509,550.80! (These numbers are rounded during the process!) And, again, this is just for ten shelters! And when looking at lives lost rather than money spend, 19,567 cats and 16,268 dogs were unnecessarily euthanized in those ten shelters due to the lack of good spay/neuter programs and some flaws in human nature!
For annual reports google "Public Animal Shelter Report" (it seems to be easier to find them that way).
But staying with the solution of spaying & neutering, let’s look at more selfish reasons:
Unfixed animals show, by nature and following their instincts and inherited behaviors of their wolf ancestors, a variety of behaviors that one may find more or less undesirable.
Yes, a fixed animal can sometimes gain a few pounds; easily solved with a good amount of daily exercise that may also solve other 'issues'. But unfixed animals also show hormone/testosterone driven behaviors that can make life with them a bit more... interesting.
A male dog or cat 'owns' a certain territory and desires to keep it. It does so by marking it to show its intentions to the intruder. The most common method of marking is the spraying of urine, a very smelly and messy 'issue'. In addition Nature will require that the dog or cat follows the rule of "The Survival of the Fittest"! To ensure the ownership of a territory and one's own survival, it can become necessary to use force (For the wolves owning a good sized and well stocked with prey territory meant the difference between death and survival!). Depending on the nature of the dogs/cats involved, this can lead to serious injuries. Male dogs and cats often carry the scars of their successful or unsuccessful quest to victory.
Female dogs are not less driven about their own 'world'. A female dog in heat or that has/had puppies, can suddenly show aggression to other dogs (especially other females) who it may have gotten along with before just fine. And their reproduction period is, as the British would put it, 'bloody' messy. Not to talk about the frequent visits of the male dogs in the area that will find such female attractive. Their visits, numbers and territorial marking may make the owner of a unfixed female see the issue in a different light. The owner of a unfixed male may also find the female's condition disturbing when attempting to keep the dog at home; considering the dog's drive to go out and 'visit' the female in heat.
And there is the noise! Dogs may not howl as much, but cats are also very vocal about their intentions and during the 'act'!
There are also health reasons to consider! Spaying/neutering a pet can reduce certain cancers and diseases. According to the ASPCA "Spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast cancer, which is fatal in about 50 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats. Spaying your pet before her first heat offers the best protection from these diseases... Besides preventing unwanted litters, neutering your male companion prevents testicular cancer, if done before six months of age (http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/spayneuter/spay-neuter-top-ten.aspx)." A brochure of Best Friends Animal Society also underlines the health problems that can be caused by the behaviors of an unfixed animal: "Because spay/neuter often reduces the tendency to fight with other animals, it also protects your pet from fight-related injuries and from dangerous viruses spread through bite wounds. Spayed/neutered animals wander less and stay closer to home. As a result, they are less likely to be lost or hit by cars (http://www.bestfriends.org/nomorehomelesspets/pdf/SpayNeuterBrochure.pdf)." And if the family decides that it would be beneficial to the children to experience the birth of puppies or kittens, or raising them, most rescues and shelters are always in desperate need of foster parents and would welcome new volunteers.
But what about the commercial side?
There have been many discussions about the benefit of unfixed animals; including mixed breeds. One theory is that it will affect the gene pool if the dog and cat population in America would be spayed/neutered. But at this time there are millions of homeless highly adoptable animals euthanized every year in the U.S. And the methods range from questionable and possible cruel such as Heart-Sticking and Gassing to more humane sounding Lethal Injections. There have also been instances where Animal Control officials were caught shooting animals to make room in their shelters. But taking a closer look at those methods and comparing them to the standards used for humans seriously questions how 'humane' they are. Methods such as Heart-Sticking and Gassing clearly remind of articles read about Adolf Hitler's war on Jews. And when looking at the different views on the Death Penalty for humans, the voices against 'euthanizing' convicted killers, rapists, mass murderers and the like are often stronger than those supporting it.
But the problem will remain until methods to control the 'production' successfully are found!
Breeders can be separated in three different categories:
- The accidental breeder failed or lacked the options to spay/neuter a pet and ended up with unwanted 'additions'. He/she has to find easy ways to 'get rid of' what wasn't supposed to be there. This breeder most likely will advertise for the 'must go asap' litter on questionable classified websites or supermarket parking lots; giving the puppies/kittens away as fast (and sometimes too early) away to the first person coming along. This breeder is the perfect source for the dog fighter looking for bait for his fighting dogs.
- The backyard breeder sees the easy money made on his/her dog. Dogs are bred until they drop and kept in often very questionable conditions. The main purpose is to make a quick and tax-free dollar. These dogs receive no medical care and are often born with issues that come from over breeding, inbreeding or lack of medical care. The prices are cheap enough to attract a buyer looking for a 'steal' and high enough to bring the maximum benefit for the 'breeder'! This breeder is also a good source for dog fighters. The 'bait' may not be cheap, but some backyard breeders are willing producers of it; despite knowing the faith of the litter! Any customer will do and the concern, if applicable, ends in the moment the money is handed over.
- A puppy/kitten from a respectable breeder may come at a high price. But a good breeder will limit litters to a reasonable number, provide all the necessary medical care, use healthy parents kept in clean and benefiting conditions and apply a very selective eye to the application process. Potential new owners are carefully screened, back-ground and -vet checks performed and support rendered long after the puppy/kitten left the 'building'. A breeder will consider the success and reputation gained from providing a healthy puppy or kitten and ensuring that a new owner will be able to 'make it work'.
So what can be done to take the benefit out of uncontrolled breeding based on human flaws?
Some countries such as Germany have made attempts to find ways to control overpopulation, abuse & neglect and the dangers of attacks by miss-handled animals. But while ideas such as leash-laws, breed-restrictions, competency test towards ownership and handling of a dog, mandatory micro-chipping and "Hundesteuer (dog-tax)" (examples at http://hunde-gesetz.de/) sound promising, they come with questionable side-effects.
- A leash-law provides a challenge for a dog owner that calls a working dog a family member. Exercising such a high energy dog to a satisfying extend can become a obstacle of great proportions. And a well-trained dog off-leash is less of a threat than a untrained dog on a leash.
A great tool to approach some issues coming from stray or unrestrained dogs is affordable training and the options found in German Dog Clubs.
Dog training can cost the owner hundreds of dollars and thus become unavailable for a low-income owner (who's quality of ownership can be as good or better than that of a 'well-funded' owner). In Abilene, TX a concerned dog trainer named Evelyn Guitar offered several very affordable training classes for puppies and adult dogs in a local gym in a low-income area. Another trainer in that area, who's information could no longer be found at the time of this article, was providing $35 training courses that resulted, if successfully completed, in the awarding of the Canine Good Citizen certification.
Many dog clubs in Germany are free or have low fees. But they offer a wide variety of programs such as socialization, training in obedience and agility and even one-on-one training and assessment. Owners can meet with like-minded individuals, address their problems and find solutions from experienced trainers and owners or those having encountered similar problems.
- Breed restriction is meant well, but it restricts the tool (and often victim) and not the cause of the issue. A gun is of no direct danger until it is loaded and used by the one intending to use it. The history of those breeds misused by human hands in illegal ways or to perform illegal actions seldom included any trace of the intention to misuse the carefully 'designed' and bred dog as such. The fault for the action should lie in the hands of the owner and/or handler, not the 'tool'!
- While requiring every potential dog owner to complete a competency test before allowing him/her ownership of a dog may be considered overkill and an attack on human rights, there are aspects of the idea that result in some things to consider.
A backyard breeder bases his/her decision to breed on the possible flow of money. When forced to submit to quarterly inspections (let's say if a limit of unfixed animals is set) to ensure the health and care of such animals, it may make it harder to continue breeding. These inspections could possibly include a type of competency test when certain breeds requiring more knowledgeable handlers than others are used for breeding. Quarterly inspections and stricter regulations would also hinder the often ruthless owners of puppy mills to gain maximum income with minimum care. Most puppy mills recently viewed within the news world would be shut down in a matter of days.
- Micro-chipping doesn't necessarily influence the overpopulation much, but every true pet owner can appreciate the chance to be reunited with a lost pet!
- Dog-tax is a two-sided and controversial tool. A lot of independent rescuers would be negatively affected if forced to pay taxes on animals in their care. And in the case of German Dog Tax, were owners of 'fighting breeds' are paying much higher taxes than others, it likens the tax to a canine form of racism. Once again, the fault should lie with the handler, not the tool!
But by forcing a backyard breeder to pay taxes on the income made off of the mass-produced litters will reduce such income and make the breeding less attractive.
Breeding itself should also be subjected to stricter regulations. Some breeders concern themselves more with certain looks or abilities than the health of the 'stock'. A few years ago a handler and breeder of show-dogs stated that a lot of breeders will use often questionable methods to 'get rid of' undesirable offspring that either doesn't meet the standard or failed to perform adequately in the show ring. Breeding simply for visual standards and disposing of a living creature simply because of not meeting those standards sounds like a vain thing. And allowing medical conditions to occur and continue through the next generations for the sake of beauty should be considered neglect. How many dogs are prone to hip-dysplasia and other orthopedically issues due to the look they were bred to acquire?
So how can overpopulation and high euthanasia rates be fixed? ...Consider this:
- Well-planned/organized and Government funded, supported and implemented spay/neuter program would be the first step to reduce the number of animals euthanized. Special consideration should be placed on the affordability of such necessary measure.
- Adding stricter rules to owning and handling living creatures (for example: Requiring an owner/handler who's dog has shown disturbing or possibly dangerous behavior to attend specialized training similar to a Defensive Driving class for traffic offenders!)
- Addressing/punishing animal cruelty and neglect fiercely; rather than leaving it practically unpunished with low fines, parole or too short prison sentences.
The punishment should fit the crime!
- Providing programs to ensure quality care rather than carelessly watching the sky-rocking of vet-care prices influenced by the economy (Programs such as low-cost shot clinics, heartworm- or Fiv/Felv clinics, etc), thus preventing wide-spread and deadly diseases that can take a entire shelter population out.
- Implementing inspection procedures for irresponsible breeders and owners; and providing better training to Animal Control Officers, providing them with the necessary tools to inspect and, with the nature of the shelter, to more successfully find and select potential adopters.
- Apply carefully planned taxes on commercial breeders; thus providing a possibly financial support for the implementation of Government funded spay/neuter programs.
- The extension of programs such as the prison training programs for homeless animals.
- Extending, overhauling and standardizing animal related laws and regulations; and implementing better and more education programs for future pet owners (such as school programs).
- A nationwide registration of convicted animal abusers and neglecters to ensure that moving to another city or State will not enable them to continue unnoticed. (Reports about some of the high-school shooters have stated that several of those shooters had histories of animal cruelty!)
A great selection of tools and resources to implement different spay/neuter programs can be found on the corresponding website of the Best Friends Animal Society: