Many Shelter Animals?
by Cheryl Andrews
Number of animals brought into shelters: 6-8
Number of animals “humanely euthanized” by shelters: 3-4 million
Number of pets killed on U.S. highways: 6.6 million
Number of pets owned in the U.S: 142.7 million
When gathering these 2008 statistics, I included only dogs and cats, and
numbers are based on annual totals. Since dogs and cats are
closest to us and the animals most likely to inspire emotion and provoke
legislation, I only included them. I relied on the most obvious
sources; the Humane Society of the United States, local shelter
publications, and a few on-line sites devoted to such topics.
I included the number
of animals killed on highways (again, dogs and cats only) to point out
just one of the alternative methods for disposal of unwanted, neglected,
lost and abandoned pets. There are also the uncounted numbers of
animals not included in census figures; they are part of widely varying
estimates of feral animals that never make it to shelters, homes, or
do the numbers mean? As we all know, numbers don’t lie. Or
do they? Like an obedient child, maybe they just say what we want
them to say. Should they be accepted at face value, or should they
be questioned and investigated? Should they be relied on at all?
How important are numbers anyway?
Of the 6-8 million animals brought into shelters, how many are owner
surrenders? How many of those are “we’re moving”-“he growled at my
kid”-“she’s too big/barks too much/chews the furniture/can’t housebreak
her”. How many are brought in because the owner can’t afford to
take a sick, injured, or elderly animal to a vet and they hope that by
taking it to a “shelter”, their beloved pet will receive proper vet care
or a peaceful death?
How many are brought into the shelter by animal control?
Of those, how many
are homeless strays, how many are owned strays later returned to
relieved families, how many are rescued from abusive and neglectful
owners, and how many are seized in questionable raids instigated by
spiteful neighbors, jealous competitors, and ill-informed
What about the lucky few who are returned to owners or are adopted out
to new homes; how many remain in the home and how many are brought back
to take their chances again? Should stray and feral animals be
rounded up and destroyed or are limited resources better spent caring
for “adoptable” animals only? How much should be allocated to
rehabilitate borderline adoptable animals? Should we raise taxes
on the general public, or just raise fines and fees for those who are
responsible enough to register their animals – or are caught and forced
into compliance? Should breeders, pet shops, puppy mills and the
guy next door each bear more responsibility or less?
These questions are just a few from a long list
which result from any serious discussion of animal control vs. owner
rights vs. animal rights vs. business interests vs. ...well, you get the
No matter how simple and clear-cut the topic appears to be, there will
always be those troublesome, nagging, irritating questions which smudge
up the plan. So is there any way to clean up the mess?
No. At least not in the foreseeable future. The problem of
too many animals is not going away, any more than the human tendency to
offer advice yet resist opinion, oppose restrictions without allowing
accountability, and distrust motives while denying responsibility.
We can accept that we have a problem and we all want it fixed, but we
don’t want to take a chance of getting trapped in the solution.
Any suggestion, however well-meant, is viewed with suspicion. And
rightly so. As in any large group of people, there are always
those who have ulterior motives sprinkled amongst the majority who are
led by honorable intention tainted by righteous emotion.
people accept the need for spay/neuter regulations
but even this brings up issues of enforcement, differential licensing,
privacy concerns, ethics, motives and more. There are too many
land mines and hidden traps scattered in this swamp. There are so
many volatile topics being debated by so many passionate people while
the body count rises. There is no safe topic and no easy answer.
But there is hope; there are viable solutions being tested throughout
the country and time alone will bring the final answers. What
looks good on paper may not work in practice, what works in one
community may not work in another, and there are always those who will
adamantly insist that there is no hope after all. We can stand by
and watch these other programs flourish or fail, we can tackle this
massive beast on our own and beat it into submission, or we can take the
best of what works, allow the possibility that it might work here, and
get a running start on ending animal overpopulation and the resultant
crisis in our neighborhoods.
Only when rhetoric is stripped away and we are left with the bare bones
of harsh reality can we see the face of our enemy. It has often
been pointed out that we live in a disposable society and as long as
this is accepted as the norm we will continue to see too many animals,
not enough homes, and too many disposed-of pets. The ultimate
solution lies in changing how we as a society view animals, and how much
we are willing to give up to insure that every animal born is welcomed
into a responsible home.
We need to begin with ourselves; how much do I care? What is it
worth? One More Statistic: "A total of about 1.3 million died in
all of America's wars from the Revolutionary War to the present-day
Global War on Terrorism."
Having spent the past
few days living with statistics, that kind'a helps to put those other
numbers into perspective. Every American feels saddened and
appalled by the numbers of soldiers who die for a cause, but because I
used the most conservative numbers for my article, it emphasizes the
need for immediate attention to another numerically big problem.
How many shelter pets
must be euthanized before we declare ourselves inhumane?
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