Thursday, January 14, 2010

To Sterilize or Not

In yesterday's edition of the USA Today, there was an article written by Sharon L. Peters entitled "Sterilizing pets isn't a priority for new owners" (  As I was reading it this morning, I couldn't help but be conflicted.

On the one hand, I understand the need for voluntary spay/neuter programs, especially in certain areas of the country.  As Ms. Peters stated "Southerners and the under-35 set are the least likely to sterilize their pets."  As much as I hate to admit it -- dyed-in-the-wool Southerner that I am -- this is true.  Responsibility for one's animals here hasn't always been a very high priority.  Slowly but surely that is changing though.  More and more often I see and hear of pet owners buying a ticket on the Spay Train for their dogs and cats.  This is a good thing because it shows a certain level of caring and commitment to responsible ownership of pets.  People are becoming more educated about the role of responsibility and exactly what that entails  in having animals in their lives.  All I can say to that is "HURRAY!"  More responsibility is directly related to less restrictive animal ordinances and laws for everyone.  More responsibility is also directly related to lower shelter figures.

But embedded in this article are some things that just grate on my nerves and make the fillings in my teeth sing.  For example, there is a pie chart showing where owners get their pets.  According to it, 68% of owners acquire animals from family members, adoption organizations & shelters and pickup of strays.  12% are acquired by purebred breeders.  TWELVE PERCENT.  Yet, purebred breeders are always the ones fingered and catching hell for swelling the numbers of the homeless/abandoned/callously bred THOUSANDS of animals entering the shelter system.  I'm sorry.  Something just doesn't add up here.  Purebred breeders are the ones used as the scapegoat to push mandatory spay/neuter laws on to an animal-loving population (that is already well on its way to "doing the right thing" without the big stick) when proportionately they contribute hardly a thimbleful to the gallon bucket called "overpopulation".

The second thing that makes my eyebrows get that quizzical look is this statement:  "PetSmart Charities commissioned the survey by Ipsos Marketing, released today, in an effort to understand factors contributing to continued pet overpopulation, which results in an estimated 4 millon to 6 million shelter animals being euthanized each year."  Ms. Peters needs to get her facts straight.  According to the latest statistics, there are 74.8 million owned dogs in the United States (the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association).  In 2009, shelter statistics were widely quoted as 6-8 million dogs and cats entering the shelter system, with 3-4 million being euthanized and the same number being adopted.  Roughly, half are dogs and half are cats, although in some areas there are many more cats than dogs entering the shelter system.  This is still way too high a figure, but remember that these are national figures.  Nationally, of the estimated total number of dogs (owned and sheltered added together,the figure would be estimated at 78.8 million), only .05 percent are in shelter environments at any point in time.  Not only that, but experts tell us that shelter numbers have been dropping for the last several years.  All of this just doesn't seem to add up to a true "overpopulation crisis" scenario to me.  Although I can understand that when you're the one doing the hands-on rescuing (as I did at one time), it can certainly seem like billions.

Other tidbits of information in the article, such as "17% said they have no idea of the proper age to spay/neuter" and "42% of people who recently got a pet did no prior research, formal or informal" tell me that the crux of the matter is still education.  Teaching people how to responsibly acquire and own their animals is the answer to today's animal issues.  I say if we're going to throw money and resources at the problem, let's throw it there where it will have the most longlasting positive impact for both animals and people.

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