Three to Four Million Too Many

Ghandi once said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Using that measure, the US has some work to do. We may be a super power, but our treatment of animals isn’t progressing as fast as is our production of weapons to destroy one another. Think about that the next time some one says we’re the greatest nation in the world.

Yes, we love our animals and many of us consider them to be part of our family. We take them with us on vacations or find them a wonderful place to stay with daytime activities, tasty treats, and nice cozy beds for their night-time comfort. We make sure they are in good health, and we pay for preventative care and medical services when needed. In 2011, estimates are that Americans spent in excess $50 billion dollars (on food, supplies/OTC medications, veterinary care, grooming, boarding, and pet sitting). Clearly much-loved animals in America have a pretty good life.

But what about the animals who don’t have anyone to care for them? Although many of us support animal charities, help create no kill shelters, volunteer to walk and interact with animals in shelters, an estimated  3-4 million shelter animals are euthanized each year. Some have serious behavioral problems and some are terribly ill, but many are euthanized because the system deems their time is up. When shelters have no room, animals die. It’s that simple, and it’s unacceptable. We need to do better by the animals we’ve domesticated, the animals who rely on us for food, shelter, and love.

Many of my fellow Americans agree. A recent Associated Press poll found that over seven out of 10 Americans say “No,” to euthanizing the animals who populate our shelters unless the animal is physically suffering.  Yet approximately 30-60% of all animals brought into animal shelters are euthanized nationwide. These numbers do not include the number of animals killed by their abusers; that’s something I cannot yet write about. Perhaps in time, but right now, I can’t bring myself to do so.

I know that shelters and organizations are overwhelmed. Although we’ve made a dent in the problem of overpopulation, there are still millions of “surplus” cats, dogs and other domesticated animals who have no place to call home. New strays and discarded family companions arrive continuously, and there is not nearly enough space for them. But I cannot accept euthanizing domesticated animals as a response to the problems humans have created. (BTW, I am well aware of the fact that I am only addressing a small part of the animal population here.)

Euthanizing healthy animals is not a solution(*). Instead, need to fully and completely embrace No Kill shelters and animal sanctuaries as our future.

Obviously, ensuring every pet has a home is the ideal, but that isn’t something we can accomplish quickly. We can, however, begin to move in that direction on a number of different fronts.

First, we can work to establish more no kill dog and cat shelters so the US Humane Society and ASPCA can focus their attentions on other domestic animals. This would also mean they no longer rationalized euthanizing healthy animals to make space for others as a humane act.

Second, we can continue to address the problem of overpopulation by

  • insisting that all dogs and cats adopted from public or private animal care and control agencies be sterilized before being allowed to leave the shelter;
  • supporting the creation and passage of state laws mandating this practice;
  • establishing and operating low-cost spay/neuter clinics throughout the country;
  •  eliminating commercial breeding. Animals are not status symbols, and there are too many mixed breed animals that need homes. Unless someone needs a specific breed for specific purposes–law enforcement or herding cattle, for example– they should be forced to pay the price of caring for the animal they are not adopting if they insist on a pure bred;
  • pushing for a nation-wide ban on pet stores that sell animals;
  • requiring licensing and strict regulations for everyone who breeds animals for profit;
  • instituting tax fees for purchasing purebred dogs and cats–fees that go directly to no kill shelters and animal sanctuaries.

Third, we can work to reduce the numbers of pets in shelters by doing more to ensure lost pets are reunited with their people. The number of found pets would greatly increase if more pets were properly identified by:

  • microchipping all companion animals–both indoor and outdoor;
  • wearing an identification tag, rabies license, and city license;
  • including  name, address, phone number and pet’s name on tags;
  • keeping licenses current, as they help shelters locate pet owners;
  • offering comprehensive hands-on assistance for people who have a lost, while volunteers or staff conduct an aggressive physical search to help them recover their missing pet;
  • changing shelter’s policies of waiting for pet owners to show up at the shelter; instead shelter volunteers need to go out into the community to look for the rightful owner of found strays.

Finally, we can work to educate people about domestic animals. Perhaps if people understood that their dog or cat depends upon them, loves them, experience feelings of loss and fear, and a range of other emotions, they would be less likely to abandon them because they chew the furniture or crap on the floor. We can work to help people understand they can’t abandon a pet just because they are moving or their life style has changed. Animals can learn to adapt to new settings and new situation. We need to become a society that rejects the notion that animals can be “surrendered” to shelters.

These steps are important, but what we ultimately need is a paradigm shift in they way we think about domestic animals. I think we are moving in the right direction, but we have quite a way to go before the way we treat animals  demonstrates the “greatness” of our nation and “our moral progress.”

It’s time we all





*I want to make clear here I am not arguing to eliminate the practice of euthanizing an animal. I fully support the decision to euthanize an animal who is suffering. I believe that is a humane act. While we can never know for certain if we are making the decision to end our loved one’s suffering at the right time, the majority of us do so only after a tremendous amount of soul searching and indescision. I know many will disagree with me and argue we should never euthanize an animal. I understand that argument, I respectfully disagree.

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2 Responses to Three to Four Million Too Many

  1. Doc says:

    With you all the way on this–particularly on the last point about euthanizing a sick animal, as we’ve both had to do, often, in the last few years.
    And after lots of agonizing I’ve made my decision. Next week, I’m off the the local shelter to adopt.

  2. desertdem says:

    Recently I’ve read a number folk who argue we should manage an animal’s pain in the ways hospice does, but I disagree. I believe ending the life of someone–domestic or human animal–is the most humane act. That society does not readily recognize this where humans are concerned, concerns me a great deal. We either have to off ourselves or ask our friends and loved ones to risk prosecution. I so hope Singer was right when he asserted on 2005 that “during the next 35 years, the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological, and demographic developments.

    I know how difficult deciding whether or when to adopt has been, but I think you will be happy to have cat(s) in your life once again. I’m sure the house has seemed empty.

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