Statistically refuting the animal rights overpopulation myth created to serve the purpose of generating donations and mandatory spay-neuter regulations!
AND THE MYTH OF PET OVERPOPULATION
by Donna Noland
Do you embrace the view that if we sterilized every animal in the country, there would be no “pet overpopulation” and shelters wouldn’t be full and killing animals?
Let’s look at that. In January 2010, there was a politically correct piece in USA Today regarding the issues of sterilizing pets, “overpopulation”, and shelters.(ref 1) I don’t give a rat’s ass about being “politically correct”. So, here are my thoughts as I was reading this particular piece of party rhetoric and the ones that came thereafter.
First of all, I couldn’t help but be conflicted. On the one hand, I understand totally the need for voluntary spay/neuter programs, especially in certain areas of the country. The author stated “Southerners and the under-35 set are the least likely to sterilize their pets”. As much as I hate to admit it – dyed-in-the-wool Southerner that I am – this is true.
Responsibility for one’s animals hasn’t always been a high priority, particularly in the most rural outposts where we have a higher percentage of farm dogs and cats and, of course, hog dogs, coon dogs, and some world-famous Foxhound packs.
However, in urban areas of the South, that is changing and pretty quickly too, as more and more pet owners are buying a ticket on the Spay Train for their dogs and cats. Most people, Southerners included, don’t want to breed their pets. They don’t want to have to put up with all that goes along with keeping an intact animal.
Not only do they NOT want to breed their pet, they want to “do the right thing”. They are becoming more and more educated about responsibly owning an animal. This shows a certain level of caring and commitment that wasn’t very evident not so many years ago anywhere in the country. All I can say to that is “HURRAY!” Responsibility is directly related to less restrictive animal ordinances and laws. More responsibility is also directly related to lower shelter figures.
But embedded in this article were some things that made the fillings in my teeth sing! For example, there is a chart showing that 68% of owners acquire animals from family members, adopt from rescues and shelters, or pick up strays. Only 12% are acquired from purebred breeders. TWELVE PERCENT Yet, purebred breeders are always the ones catching hell for swelling the numbers of homeless, abandoned, or callously bred animals entering the shelter system. I’m sorry, but something just doesn’t add up here. Purebred breeders are used as a scapegoat to push mandatory spay/neuter laws onto everyone when proportionately, breeders of purebred dogs and cats contribute hardly a thimbleful to the gallon bucket called “overpopulation”.
The second thing that makes my eyebrows arch quizzically was this statement: “PetSmart Charities commissioned the survey by Ipsos Marketing, released today, in an effort to understand factors contributing to continued pet overpopulation, which results in an estimated 4 million to 6 million shelter animals being euthanized each year”.
OOPS. These figures aren’t quite right. According to the latest statistics from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, there are 74.8 million dogs owned in the United States. In 2009, shelter statistics were widely quoted as 6 to 8 million dogs and cats entering the shelter system, with 3-4 million being euthanized and the same number being adopted. Roughly, these numbers are equally divided between dogs and cats. The well-respected Maddie’s Fund quotes a figure of “around 3 million healthy or treatable dogs and cats put to death in shelters every year”(ref 2). To be sure, that is still way too high a figure, but remember that these are national figures. Of the estimated number of dogs owned and with the number of dogs given as being in shelters added together, the total number of dogs in the United States would be about 78.8 million (using the higher figure of 4 million in shelters).
This would mean that approximately .05 percent of all dogs in the country are in shelters at any point in time. Ridiculous! Not only that, but experts tell us that shelter numbers have been dropping for the last several years. And why is that? Again, according to Maddie’s Fund: “There are 14 million people who have adopted shelter pets already, and another 41 million who’ve indicated they’re considering doing so – we call those the “swing voters”, and of them, 17 million will bring a pet into their family in the next year.” (2009)
All of this just doesn’t add up to an “overpopulation crisis” although I can understand that when you’re the one doing the hands-on rescuing (as I did at one time), it can certainly seem like billions. People are realizing that good shelter or rescue dogs make good pets. But purpose-bred, purebred dogs from reputable breeders make good pets and it’s time people quit feeling guilty or ashamed because they want one of those instead of a mixed breed with questionable characteristics from a shelter or rescue. The bottom line is that people want pets and it should be their choice as to where they get them. Bogus shelter figures should not influence that decision or make them feel bad for wanting a purebred pet.
There were several other tidbits of information in the USA Today article, such as “17% said they have no idea of the proper age to spay/neuter” and “42% of people who recently got a pet did no prior research, formal or informal”. What this tells me is that the crux of the matter is still owner education, or rather the lack thereof. For example, for the 17% that didn’t know when to spay or neuter, ask your vet or do some research. When you Google “should I neuter my dog?” or “at what age do I spay my dog?” there are literally thousands of entries that pop up. Learn what “to spay” or “neuter” actually means and what long-term health effects it might have on your pet, especially if performed too early. Pediatric spay/neuter isn’t necessarily a good thing. A case in point, there is new research that suggests that spaying females shortens their lifespan(ref 3).
Teaching people how to responsibly acquire and own their animals is the answer to today’s animal issues. Let’s quit pointing fingers and calling names and generally making jackasses out of ourselves. I say if we’re going to throw money and resources at the problem, let’s throw it where it will have the most long-lasting and positive effect.
PETA and other animal rights’ groups are out there in our school systems and in our parks and on our street corners with personal visits and “teaching materials” to shape children and even adults into their way of thinking. Where are the breed clubs? Where are the breed rescues? Where are the great shelters? What about designing foster care programs and helping people overcome the behavior problems that lead them to relinquish their pets? Why aren’t we ALL working together on educational programs to enhance pet ownership? We all want the same exact thing: animals safe and loved in a caring home. If you want a pet, we want you to have one and to love it and care for it responsibly throughout its whole life.
Why aren’t we demanding that our community leaders appropriate funds to educate and support owners? The American College of Theriogenologists suggests “Support programs to expand the public awareness of acceptable breeding standards and responsibilities of ownership.” And “low cost spay/neuter facilities for economically disadvantaged persons and communities.”
There are lots of creative animal people with good ideas out there. Let’s put them to work running publicly supported dog training classes or low cost community educational clinics on proper pet care. I’ll say it one more time: people want pets, whether they are purpose-bred purebreds, shelter or rescue dogs or cats.
Flawed shelter statistics and politically correct fluff is not the answer. Public education and community assistance is the KEY. Have you hugged your dog today?
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