Animals In Print
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February 28, 2012

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Pet Overpopulation

Each year, approximately 8 million stray and unwanted animals are taken in by shelters across the country. Tragically, about 3.7 million -- nearly half -- of these animals must be euthanized because good homes cannot be found for them. In fact, shelter euthanasia is the leading cause of death for both dogs and cats in the United States.

overpopulation spay neuter

What are the causes of pet overpopulation?

Irresponsible Breeding

Despite increased public awareness over the past 40 years about the need to spay and neuter pets, 35 percent of pet owners in the U.S. still choose not to do so. Many among this group intentionally choose to breed their pets, either for profit or for what they mistakenly believe to be a “fun” experience. Others choose not to spay or neuter out of ignorance, believing that their pets won’t breed accidentally.

overpopulation spay neuter

However, the urge to breed is extremely powerful and it is very frustrating for pets when humans try to put up barriers. Both males and females will run out the door, break through screens, chew through leashes, and jump, climb or dig under 6-foot fences to get to a potential mate. Dogs can even mate through a chain link fence.
Simply put, there is no such thing as “accidental” breeding. Spaying and neutering is a conscious choice. Puppies and kittens can be safely spayed or neutered at 8 weeks of age, well before they reach sexual maturity -- so there is simply no excuse for an “accidental” litter.

Many people who breed their pets believe they aren't adding to the pet overpopulation problem if they find homes for all their puppies or kittens. But consider this: Every puppy or kitten sold by an irresponsible breeder means there is one more shelter animal that will not find a home. And many of those same kittens and puppies will end up in shelters themselves at some point in their life. There are currently about 163 million pet cats and dogs in the U.S., and about one out of every 20 ends up in a shelter each year.

overpopulation spay neuter

Choosing Not to Adopt

It is a common myth that pet overpopulation means there are “not enough” homes for all the shelter animals. In reality, there are more than enough homes, but not enough people are choosing to adopt from a shelter. Seventeen million Americans acquire a new pet each year -- that is more than double the number of shelter animals! Sadly, only 3.5 million people, or about 20 percent, choose to adopt their new pet. The rest choose to buy their pets from pet stores or breeders, or they choose a variety of other cheap or free sources, such as friends, neighbors or Internet ads.

Virtually all puppies sold at pets stores come from puppy mills, where dogs live miserably in tiny cages with little or no opportunity to exercise, play or socialize. Although there are many responsible breeders, there are far more irresponsible ones who are breeding for profit without regard for good health and temperament or the pet overpopulation problem.

While acquiring a puppy, kitten or adult animal from a friend, neighbor or Internet ad might seem innocent enough, in reality you are contributing to the pet overpopulation problem by creating demand for irresponsible breeding or enabling owners to have a convenient, guilt-free and often profitable outlet for disposing of unwanted pets. In many cases, these people will go on to become repeat offenders, engaging in a continuous cycle of irresponsible breeding or pet acquisition and disposal because they know they can easily find a new home for the animal(s).The majority of pets acquired this way are not spayed or neutered, which also perpetuates the cycle of overpopulation. The only way to break this cycle is to choose not to participate in it.
By choosing to adopt, you will not only save a life, but you will also ensure that your adoption fee is going to help the next unwanted pet that comes in the door of that shelter. The adoption fees at most shelters include spaying or neutering, vaccinations, microchipping, worming, and heartworm or feline leukemia testing, and they are typically hundreds of dollars less than what you would spend to have all of these services performed at a veterinarian’s office.

Disposable Pets

The continuous flow of animals into shelters across the country is not just made up of litters of puppies and kittens. In fact, most shelters receive a greater number of stray and owner-relinquished adult pets. The majority of stray pets arrive at shelters without any identification, and most are never reclaimed by their owners. Average owner reclaim rates for stray dogs are less than 50 percent and for cats they are less than 10 percent.

While there are some situations when it may be absolutely necessary for an owner to relinquish a pet, hundreds of thousands of pets are relinquished to shelters each year simply because they have become an inconvenience or because the owner did not consider the time and financial commitment required to properly train and care for them.

The number-one reason for pet relinquishment is “moving,” despite the fact that the vast majority of rental properties in the United States are now pet-friendly. For example, in the Denver metro area, 97 percent of managed rental properties allow cats, 93 percent allow small dogs, and 66 percent allow large dogs.

The other top reasons given for pet relinquishment include “behavior problems,” “not enough time,” “cannot afford care,” “allergic” and “new baby.”

So why do so many people consider pets to be disposable, and what can we do to change this way of thinking? This is a question that most shelter professionals ask themselves every day, and unfortunately, there is no simple answer. To solve this problem, we would need to effect a cultural change in which every individual fully considers all of the responsibilities and consequences of pet ownership before adopting, and then makes a lifetime commitment to their pet. That perfect world may not be realized anytime soon, but you can do your part by thinking carefully about pet ownership before you adopt.

What you can do to combat pet overpopulation:

Always spay and neuter your pets.

Always adopt your pets from a legitimate shelter or nonprofit rescue group. 

Consider all the responsibilities and consequences of pet ownership before deciding to get a pet and always make a lifetime commitment to your pet.

Educate your children, friends, family members and co-workers about pet overpopulation, adoption and the importance of spaying and neutering.

You can help stop generations of suffering. Have your female pet spayed and your male pet neutered. Don't allow them. 

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