Rudy Leyva/ Staff writer
“Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.” – Milan Kundera (Czech writer)
The statistics of pet overpopulation issues clearly illustrate the enormity of the problem faced on both a local and national level. Figures released by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimate that between 4-5 million cats and dogs – many healthy, young and adoptable – will be killed each year in the nation’s shelters unless action is taken to remedy the situation.
Additionally, the process of impounding, sheltering, euthanizing and then disposing of these animals costs taxpayers $2 billion annually. There are public health concerns as well, including bites from stray animals and zoonotic disease related to black-market trafficking of pets that may be in poor health.
Humanitarian aspects are no small matter to many who fight for changes in the way the pet industry functions in the nation. Americans spend billions of dollars on their pets’ food, clothing and travel paraphernalia but Erin E. Williams and Margo DeMello note in their book Why Animals Matter (2007), “For many millions of other dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals, life as pets or as animals involved in the pet industry is far from a life of luxury. From the factory-like conditions of many animal mills, to the horrors of unregulated transportation across the country and living in a pet store at the mercy of untrained store employees until their eventual sale to unscreened customers, young animals are at the mercy of people whose only concern is profit.”
Awareness about the causes of pet overpopulation is crucial in finding appropriate solutions to reducing the numbers of stray, abandoned and neglected animals. Resolving the issue would help shelters give attention to those areas for which they were originally designed to operate.
According to the National Humane Society, “Governmental agencies and humane societies are forced to devote their resources to processing and killing animals, while education, investigation and prosecution go without funding.”
Many organizations focus on a few specific reasons for the shelters having no vacancies, some of which are: failure of pet owners to take responsibility and have their pets spayed or neutered, irresponsible breeding and choosing not to adopt from legitimate shelters or rescues.
American Humane Society (AHS) officials say that even while acquiring a pet from a friend, neighbor or Internet ad might seem innocent enough, “in reality you are contributing to the pet overpopulation problem by creating a demand for irresponsible breeding or enabling owners to have a convenient guilt-free and often profitable outlet for disposing of unwanted pets.”
For spaying and neutering of pets to become a more accepted and routine procedure, education is what most organizations and individuals involved with pet overpopulation say is needed.
Myths that surround these procedures are often the lone obstacle keeping pet owners from making the decision to have their pet spayed or neutered, and generally these myths can be dispelled.
For those who find the cost too high, many communities offer low-cost spaying and neutering. These services can be located by calling various shelters or going to Internet sites like SpayTexas.org or asking other pet owners in order to find an affordable option.
One supporter of low-cost spaying and neutering is Ernie Cochran, shelter director and a founder of Peewee’s Pet Adoption World & Sanctuary, a no-kill charity animal shelter in Corpus Christi. “The only solution is spaying and neutering – reversing the supply and demand.
The city should get federal or state grants. They should provide spaying and neutering for free, offer transportation to those who need it to bring the pets in; get veterinarians to all work together.
Animals are low on the totem pole, not a high priority. We need to shrink the supply of pets; then the appreciation of life increases. Things that there are few of are precious,” Cochran said.
NHS lists several benefits of spaying: “Spaying eliminates reproductive cycling. Therefore, a spayed dog or cat will not attract packs of male animals; spaying eliminates false pregnancies, uterine infections and certain cancers. Spayed animals are less likely to bark or howl excessively and spaying also prevents personality changes caused by hormonal differences.”
Pet owners may also consider other approaches to population control methods that are non-surgical. The Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs, a program of Auburn University founded in 2000 and supported by dozens of major animal welfare organizations, envisions “a world where wide use of non-surgical sterilants are effectively used to reduce the number of unwanted cats and dogs.”
Their website lists priorities for non-surgical products for pet population control: approved by regulatory agencies as safe (for animals and for humans administering) and effective; deliverable in a single injection or treatment; available for effective use in both male and female, dogs and cats; documented effects on behavior and health. Additionally noted is that the procedures “can be provided at affordable rates for use in indigent or low-income client populations.”
While spaying is viewed as an essential tool in the fight against pet overpopulation, education in the area of adopting a pet can also be beneficial. Cody Rice, Education/Media & Public Relations manager for the Gulf Coast Humane Society (GCHS), a private not-for-profit no-kill shelter, believes that reducing pet homelessness in the area depends first and foremost on education. “People need to understand the importance of adoption and not fall victim to the myths surrounding shelters,” Rice said.
She continues; “Myths such as ‘they are diseased, they have issues, they are vicious or aggressive’ are a few of the many things people believe about shelter animals. Spaying and neutering animals is one of the main focuses; however, encouraging adoption is the highlight. For one adopted, one can be saved.”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) supports Rice’s view of moving past myths, and emphasizes that pets bought from backyard breeders, puppy mills and pet stores that sell pets from those mills very often pose more of a potential threat of buyers getting a sickly pet than choosing to adopt from reputable shelters and rescues.
Shelters regularly house animals that are young, healthy and in some cases have been in foster homes, allowing them to adjust to human contact and interaction. Shelters can also provide many purebred pets to potential owners; HSUS estimates that purebred dogs make up 25 percent of dogs in shelters.
The ASPCA urges people who are considering a new pet for the family to educate themselves on what is involved with their decision. The ASPCA Web site provides a series of questions that pertain to choosing appropriate pets for households, suitable for the lifestyle of the owners, provisions and costs for their particular choice of pet plus more helpful information aimed at the best match for pet and owner.
Education, adoption, spaying and neutering are all essential parts of the overall solution to pet overpopulation, and according to at least one small town in Texas, community effort was the driving force that tied it all together.
Taylor, near Austin, is a small city that had its own pet overpopulation problem in the past. Through researching the problem, working collectively and taking agreed-upon actions, they turned the corner and gained control of the issue.
Taylor Police Department Captain Don Georgens was “tasked with oversight of the Animal Control Unit.” He describes how the community worked together to achieve their success: “Our small shelter was always overpopulated; we’d pick up pets and they were not claimed. We decided to use research to do better. We began to think outside the box. We began getting volunteers involved with contacts through Petfinders and Facebook. We took a look at our fees and found a way to lower them.”
Georgens has no shortage of kudos to extend to the volunteers who took part in the projects to help save animals’ lives. “We had a wealth of people who took care of animals, grooming them, providing one-to-one human contact with them and contacting rescue groups throughout the state with other cities often coming to pick up animals.
At social events, we would set up a booth with pictures of available pets posted on it. We had a great photographer whose pictures attracted many visitors who opted to adopt many of those pets.” Georgens said success was achieved by “not one special thing, but a combination of things, a community effort.”
The Corpus Christi community’s significant pet overpopulation problem was highlighted recently when the city requested that residents not bring any more animals to the city shelter because the shelter was full. At the same time, most of the other shelters in the area were at capacity as well.
Corpus Christi has talented volunteers on the frontlines at this time who are working as diligently as those in Taylor. What is needed is an increase in the number of volunteers in this community who desire to reduce the number of homeless animals here.
The President of the Board of Directors of the GCHS, Denny Bales, a strong proponent of spaying and neutering programs and an inveterate devotee to finding pets a place to live, agrees that community involvement is badly needed: “After 15 years of being involved with the GCHS, I see only one answer to spaying and neutering; the sooner the city as a whole wakes up, the quicker the problem will be resolved.”