Too Many Dogs? Managing Pet Overpopulation

When I adopted Ollie from a rescue, I started to read a lot about dog rescues. Why are we doing this? (Other than the obvious joy of saving a life and having another tail wagging at home.)

Pet overpopulation is a huge problem that you may know nothing about. Its not like there are packs of wild dogs and cats roaming the streets and scaring your kids, right? I have lived in countries where that is the case. I don’t suggest jogging along the Moskva River in Moscow. Even if the poor air quality doesn’t kill you, you will find yourself chased by a pack of homeless dogs. In the U.S., we have a pretty efficient system of Animal Control, catching strays and taking them to shelters. Such a nice word, shelter, it means to protect or shield from something harmful, to give sanctuary. The words animal shelter don’t give the full truth. Perhaps we should call them temporary animal shelters. They do give sanctuary, but there is a ticking timer.

How many homeless animals are there? Aren’t there enough shelters? I know someone who adopted their dog from a shelter. Are there really so many pets being put down? People love their cats and dogs, right? 

Ouachita Parish Animal Shelter, Louisiana 1 May 2017

There are more than 13,000 shelters in the United States. In a study undertaken by Best Friends Animal Society half of those surveyed believed that approximately 500 dogs and cats are euthanized every day in American animal shelters. In fact, the estimated number is closer to 9,000 per day. The numbers are staggering, and unexpected. The ASPCA estimates just under 4 million dogs and 3 and half million cats enter American shelters each year. Of these, some are adopted and go on to live wonderful lives, yay! Nearly half of those surveyed believed that most shelter animals are either reclaimed by their owners, adopted, or rescued and waiting for their forever homes. Another prevailing misconception. In fact, more than half of these animals won’t make it out of the shelter alive. 2.4 to 2.7 million healthy, adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized every year due to lack of space. Those numbers are so big that they feel meaningless. Think about it this way, one cat or dog is euthanized about every 13 seconds in America. Now do you agree that we have a problem? Okay, there are no exact, official statistics. These are all estimations. That means, it very well might be worse. Too many healthy, playful dogs and puppies, cats and kittens are being euthanized every day because animal shelters can’t care for all of the accidental litters, strays and unwanted family pets that are brought to them. Yes, unwanted family pets. People abandon them because they can’t afford to care for them, because they “don’t have time” or don’t have enough space, or they are moving, or they are having a baby. You name the reason, its been given…It doesn’t get along with the cat, the new boyfriend, the expensive furniture…so many sad excuses.

We can’t rescue/foster/adopt them all. If we could, we would. Those of us that do are trying. So what can be done? Simple. Spay and neuter your pets to reduce pet overpopulation. That is the simple solution. So why aren’t people doing it? Perhaps the biggest reasons are cost and ignorance. People are not aware that humane societies and municipal animal control departments offer low-cost spay/neuter services. I had a foster lab spayed this morning for $60, which is a lot cheaper than caring for a pregnant female and then a litter of her puppies. Some places offer free spay/neuter. You just have to look.

Like the people surveyed by the Best Friends Animal Society, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the problem. Over its lifetime, an un-spayed female dog can have more than 100 puppies and a non-neutered male can father thousands. The problem is exponential. According to Spay USA, over a 6 year period, a single un-spayed female dog and her offspring can reproduce 67,000 dogs. Cats are even more prolific. A single un-spayed female cat and her offspring, producing 2 litters a year, with 2.8 surviving kittens per year, could add up to 11,606,077 cats over 9 years.

Even if you don’t care about the big picture of overpopulation, and not everyone does, there are excellent reasons to spay and neuter your beloved pet. Neutered males have fewer problem behaviors related to dominance and aggression (possessiveness and food guarding, lifting their leg on everything to mark territory, and the dreaded humping). I have had two unaltered male fosters come into my home and neither stayed more than 24 hours before I had to move them to another foster home. They were lifting their legs all over the house to mark and they both showed aggression toward the largest male in the house. If you’ve never seen a chihuahua or a beagle pick a fight with an 80 lbs. lab-bloodhound mix…well, it wasn’t going to end well.

Altered animals are simply more docile and easier to train. They are also much less likely to roam and get lost or hurt. Pets roaming to breed are a huge part of the overpopulation problem. Bailey was one of an unexpected, unwanted litter of five and the momma dog was already pregnant again when I rescued him. The owner barely had the money to feed them and was unable to pay for the existing puppies to have their vaccinations.

Sophie came to us from the shelter in heat, and even the altered males at the hotel were humping away at her, poor thing. You could see that she was agitated and that they were ready to fight for the right to be her puppy-daddy. We had her spayed as quickly as we could. There is no telling how many litters she has already had.

Ollie, Lila, and Willa all came to us from unwanted litters of puppies that were dropped off at a shelter. Eliza was dumped over the fence at a daycare center with another unwanted puppy.

Ginger was a stray that came to us after her uterus burst in labor. She was lucky to survive, her puppies were not so lucky.

Bella came to us after the man that used her as a breeder brought her to the shelter because she couldn’t have any more litters. He is well known at the shelter. Any of his dogs that can’t breed are trained to hunt ducks, if they don’t pass their training, they get dumped at the shelter. He can’t use them anymore.

There will be more. A lot more. I will save those that I can, but I can’t save them all. I have to say no to quite a few.

Be responsible, spay and neuter, ensure that every pet has a family to love them.

Spay USA provides referrals to low cost sterilization programs, call 1-800-248-SPAY

We say neuter is cuter!