Animal rescue organizations do everything within their means to find homes for each and every animal in their care; however, there simply aren’t enough homes to go around. All over the United States, healthy, loving companion animals are humanely euthanized by the millions each year due to lack of homes. And countless others are neglected, abused or abandoned—all victims of a tremendous overpopulation problem. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), close to 3 million healthy, adoptable cats and dogs were put down in U.S. shelters in 2013. That’s one pet every 11 seconds.
The United States has come a long way over the last few decades in terms of reducing the number of animals euthanized. The number of dogs and cats euthanized each year in shelters has decreased, from 12–20 million to an estimated 3–4 million. Unfortunately though, spaying and neutering has yet to become conventional wisdom. According to a national survey published in the USA Today, nearly half of people who have acquired unsterilized pets in the last year haven’t had them spayed or neutered. Surprisingly, those under 35 are the least likely to sterilize their pets. PetSmart Charities conducted the survey, in an effort to understand what factors are contributing to pet overpopulation. Obviously, lack of knowledge is part of the problem as 62 percent of the 18-34 year old surveyed thought less than one million shelter animals were euthanized each year and a surprising 28 percent thought 100,000 or less were euthanized. If you think getting your pet spayed or neutered isn’t a priority, there are millions of homeless shelter animals who are no longer around to respectfully disagree with you.
Every single puppy and kitten born contributes to the overpopulation problem. Even when pet owners have “found homes” for an entire litter, each of those animals deprives a dog or cat waiting patiently in a shelter from finding a loving home. Purebreds are no exception. Studies have shown that close to 25 percent of animals in shelters are purebred dogs and cats.
Consider these statistics: According to the Humane Society of the United States, a single unspayed female cat, her mate and their offspring are capable of producing a total of 420,000 kittens in just 7 years. In six years, one unspayed female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies. This results in the euthanasia of millions of homeless pets.
If these facts and figures are difficult to comprehend, I have a personal anecdote to help illustrate the severity of the problem. I once helped rescue over 300 cats from an 800 square foot home in Detroit. The owner had one un-spayed female cat and had taken in a non-neutered male cat he found wandering around his home. A few years later, his house was completely over run by hundreds of inbred cats. Most of these cats were wild and suffering from illnesses and had to be humanely euthanized. This situation was filmed and televised on Animal Planet in an episode of Animal Cops Detroit entitled “House of Cats”. This situation may seem extreme, but had the pet owner spayed and neutered his two cats, this unfortunate situation would never have taken place.
I’ve heard people ask: “Won’t we run out of pets if all animals are spayed and neutered?” And here’s the answer: according to experts, each day in the U.S., 70,000 puppies and kittens are born – six times the number of humans born. As long as these birth rates exist, there will never be enough homes for all the animals. Given the fact we can’t spay and neuter all animals, there’s no chance of running out of pets anytime soon.
Aside from spaying or neutering your pet to help with the overpopulation crisis, spaying and neutering has both medical and behavioral benefits for your dog and cat. Neutering male dogs and cats make them less likely to fight with other males or mark their territory and it virtually eliminates the risk of testicular tumors or prostate problems. Spaying female dogs and cats greatly reduces their chances of developing mammary, ovarian or uterine cancers. Spayed and neutered pets are also less likely to try to get out of the yard to find mates. Each year, thousands of roaming animals in search of mates become lost or are hit by cars, resulting in needless suffering or death.
Spaying and neutering isn’t just for dogs and cats. Rabbits reproduce faster than dogs or cats and often end up in shelters where they must be euthanized. Spaying or neutering rabbits can reduce hormone-driven behavior such as lunging, mounting and spraying. Spaying female rabbits can also prevent ovarian, mammary and uterine cancers, which can be common in mature females.
As overwhelming as the pet overpopulation problem seems, a solution is possible. It starts with pet owners taking one small step and getting their own pets spayed or neutered. To further reduce overpopulation, consider adopting your next pet from an animal shelter. Recommend adoption to your friends and family who are considering bringing a loving animal into their homes. Sadly, only 30 percent of pets in homes come from shelters or rescues. If you don’t know where to look, visit petfinder.com for a shelter in your area.
Lisa Acho Remorenko is executive director of Animal Adoption Solutions, www.animaladoptionsolutions.com