Everyone these days seems to have an opinion on how we can lower the numbers of homeless pets that are lingering in shelters, euthanized due to competition for space, and begging for forever homes from rescues. I truly believe there is no magic elixir, no one perfect potion that would end our pet overpopulation challenges. There is, however, a multi-pronged approach that would seriously cut our numbers of homeless pets and begin the path toward a kinder, gentler world for pets and their humans alike.
What doesn’t help
Most people have by now heard of Nathan Winograd’s No-Kill Nation. It’s a good idea, but I think his means to attain it are a bit narrow-minded and don’t cover all that is involved. It’s a catchy phrase, an “army” of believers to spew mistrust against the many shelter managers and workers across this country, and seemingly a way for Mr. Winograd to exact his personal revenge – but it does not solve the problem. It just hurtles epithets and accusations, and imbues a false simplistic sense of what is needed.
Then there are the legions of rescue folks who can be heard any day of the week muttering mantras about “save a life – spay/neuter!”. While there is much truth in this – many of the unwanted pets in this system came about because of an unneutered pet meeting up with another in the neighborhood, or amateurs breeding for kicks – eliminating our pets’ abilities to procreate will only affect a portion of the pet overpopulation epidemic.
The reason? Pet stores and online puppy sellers. Not only do these resellers of “family bred” cough puppy mill babies pump tens of thousands of additional pets into the system every year, they also do not require neutering. Pet store owners will proudly announce that they offer “free spay/neuter” by their participating veterinarian after purchase, but that doesn’t mean it gets done.
Breeders. In the scheme of things, a small portion of the pets in existence come from quality (read, “legit” and “responsible”) breeders. And although they definitely do not require neutering of the young’ens, they serve a valuable purpose in the world of pets, particularly dogs. We need someone keeping watch over the integrity of the breeds, and continuing solid, healthy bloodlines. Good breeders are not a problem.
So what would work?
To attain the end-goal of a no-kill nation, we need to do more than bash the shelters that are often strung up by political wrangling, hand-tied by shortages of funds that keep getting slashed, and buried up to their eyeballs in tidal waves of unwanted pets that never seem to ebb. Are there bad shelter directors? You bet. We should call them out, have them replaced. But there is so much more to these shelters that most of us never know about.
Stem the flow of pets going into these shelters. First and foremost, we can stop the flow from the unnecessary and inhumane pet stores and website retailers. It should be illegal across the country for these unscrupulous, greedy business people to sell pets. If we can’t get federal legislation – then we keep chipping away at it through the local governments, and educating the public.
Currently, many municipalities across the US are either passing legislation to restrict or outlaw pet stores selling pets from mills, or are hamstrung by lawsuits – brought about by the owners of said stores with the backing of the likes of the breeding industry. We must contact our local, state, and federal representatives, and let them know we solidly approve of such legislation, regardless of the big-money threats. Our votes can speak for the animals.
By stopping any flow of pets from those sources, it would also free up most of the homes that would have bought from them – for pets from the shelters and rescues instead. Right there is a great reduction in the numbers of homeless.
Spay and Neuter. Yes, we should continue to encourage people to spay or neuter their pets, and if possible have the procedure already performed prior to adoption. However, I don’t believe harping about it over and over will affect the outcome. What is needed is real education, so that people can comprehend the reason this is so important. Facts, not myths and falsehoods or empty platitudes, should be provided for people who must decide for themselves.
Support for our local rescue organizations. Rescue organizations play a huge role in caring for and rehoming our homeless pets. They not only take in the strays from our neighborhoods, they also often take in as many as they can from the shelters. Rescues ease the burdens of shelters. They work hard to find homes for the pets, encourage or require spay/neuter, and often do it all with an entirely volunteer base.
Finally, and this one is intrinsic in our throwaway society – we desperately need to encourage a healthier, more humane and responsible attitude towards animals. Too many people give up their pets too easily or quickly; too many do not understand the impact they have on their pets and just how much the animals suffer. And there is undoubtedly a large percentage of our society that doesn’t realize the futility of relinquishing their pet to a high-kill shelter.
In tandem with this, those who are well-versed in the challenges of pet overpopulation would do well to save a bit of the compassion they extend toward animals – for their fellow human beings. Many people are not as attuned to the issues, some are overwhelmed with personal challenges and are simply unable to be responsible for their pet. And some were never taught as children to have compassion for animals.
Empathy is a learned discipline, we are not born with it. But those of us who have had the privilege of learning this important trait hold the responsibility to use it wisely – and in an understanding, compassionate way help to educate the masses on the importance of these animals in our lives, in our world.
Additionally: Ensuring tax dollars are allocated toward the local shelters to provide for our homeless pets, understanding the importance and cost of such care, and working toward solutions that help people keep their pets in their homes can all help tremendously.
A kinder world begins with a more understanding, open heart – towards all living beings, including fellow humans we sometimes wish would behave differently. Focusing on the needs of the animals, though, and the ways we can decrease the number of homeless pets and increase love and understanding in humans as our pets have taught us — that would surely make a difference for animals.
There are so many ways we can affect a positive impact on pet overpopulation, but no one issue is a panacea – do you agree? What are your suggestions?
Today we are participating in Be the Change for Animals‘ quarterly Blog the Change for Animals. Please visit the sites below for more ways we can be the change for animals!