How to Avoid Unnecessary Death

by Lee E. Heller, PhD, JD, who fosters homeless cats and
dogs in Summerland and volunteers for Santa Barbara County Animal

Okay, so it’s not exactly a national holiday, but in my book,
it’s a day of celebration anyway: February 27, Spay Day U.S.A.
Bring on the noisemakers and champagne.

Some statistics, courtesy the Humane Society of the U.S., on the
not-so-festive subject of pet overpopulation in U.S. shelters: Six
to eight million cats and dogs enter shelters each year; 3-4
million of those are adopted, and 3-4 million euthanized, while
only 25-30 percent are redeemed by their owners. For anyone who
believes in avoiding unnecessary pain and death, those figures are
appalling: Three to four million companion animals killed annually
because there aren’t enough people out there to adopt them all. If
you aren’t moved by the specter of all that needless suffering,
then think about the resources expended to house, kill, and then
dispose of all those animals. Whether funded by private donation or
by taxpayer dollars, that’s millions of dollars that could have
been better used.

The solution is a no-brainer: mandatory spay/neuter, motivated
by the stick of significantly higher licensing fees and penalties
for those who opt out. About the only people in need of an
unaltered dog or cat are breeders, who make money on the litters
they sell, and who impose a direct cost on the community as they
add animals to the already excessive population. (The other group
is those who participate in dog or cat shows — and they might pay a
reduced fee if they demonstrate they do not intend to breed.) Other
businesses pay taxes to offset the costs to the community of their
activities; why should breeders be any different?

As for those who want to breed their own pets as an amateur
enterprise — oh, don’t even get me started. Apparently there are
still idiots out there who speak of teaching their children about
“the miracle of birth”; do they also plan to teach the miracle of
death, when some of those excess puppies or kittens end up
euthanized at a shelter later on? Is there any chance they’ve done
the research to ensure their breeding plan won’t result in later
disease or deformity, and an animal dumped at a shelter as a
result? What’s the likelihood the breeder will guarantee that every
puppy or kitten born will be placed in a life-long loving home, or
taken back if the new owners can’t keep it? (There are a few
breeders who do this, and I worship at the feet of their decency,
but they are few and far between.)

If I seem agitated on the subject, it’s because I’m one of the
people out there wading against the flood, raising dozens of
orphaned kittens each year, rehabilitating unwanted dogs. My work
is a drop in the bucket, and I see firsthand what for most people
is out of sight and thus out of mind: many more companion animals
languishing in cages because, as the bumper sticker reads, “There
Aren’t Enough Homes for Them All.”

So, celebrate Spay Day U.S.A. the best way you can: Alter your
unfixed dog or cat. It’s a small act, with great and wonderful
consequen­ces. And if yours is already spayed or neutered, donate
to a local shelter, or better yet, adopt. Now that’s something
worth celebrating.


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