An estimated 3.7 million animals are euthanized in shelter across the U.S. every single year, and that’s a conservative estimate because many shelters do not keep track of their numbers for statistical purposes. Not a day goes by that I do not think about this number and let out a silent roar at this injustice. While someone’s little Pebbles, Trixie, Fluffy, Jasper, Cooper, or Buddy are happy at home getting the love, food, water, and play time they deserve, many others are on death row simply because they do not have a place to call home. Every single one of these precious creatures has a history, and nearly all of them experience similar feelings as we do. Anyone who denies that fact is not likely someone who has every paid close attention to an animal! Excitement, confusion, curiosity, abandonment issues, separation anxiety, longing for love and affection, fear, unadulterated joy, sadness – just a short list of emotions we share in common with our animal companions. Naturally I ask why so many beautiful beings deserving of a forever home are instead dying in shelters at such alarming rates.
According to the American Humane Association, only 25% of dogs and 24% of cats that enter animal shelters are adopted. The issue of pet overpopulation is multifaceted and encompasses a wide array of issues, such as accepted socio-cultural norms, economic hardship, ignorance, access to low-cost spay/neuter, commodity fetishism (as related to breeding animals for profit), and misconceptions about the requirements for responsible pet ownership. I was recently asked by someone if I knew of a local Tonkinese breeder, since I am logically the person to ask being as I work at an animal shelter. In a non-confrontational manner, we proceeded to have a long conversation about buying a pure bred cat vs. adopting from a shelter. In response to my pitch about the advantages of adopting from a shelter, he explained that it was actually his wife who wanted a Tonkinese cat because, “she’s into brand name stuff, you know, like Gucci and Prada.” I fell silent for a moment, and though he understood the implication of their choice, he was not willing to challenge his wife’s desire for a brand name cat. The conversation ended and we parted ways with an awkward goodbye.
There is the argument about responsible breeders wanting to preserve the breed and not being in it for the money but, let’s face the facts – the majority of animals being bred for the multi-billion dollar pet industry are NOT being bred responsibly! Others argue that buying pure bred animals is the only sure way to predict an animal’s temperament and health. While there certainly are aspects of temperament that are hereditary, temperament is also modified by a variety of factors, such as the environment the animal is in and the owner’s influence in shaping the animal’s behavior. These are both moot points for those of us who work in shelters and know how many beautiful, well behaved, eager to please, smart, loving, spunky, happy, curious, sweet animals there are waiting for homes. All animals have intrinsic value and should not be overlooked because of trivial desires.
I want to pay homage to the dedicated shelter veterinarians, our unsung heroes, who bear the brunt of the pet overpopulation issue. They have committed their lives to spaying and neutering every adoptable animal with the goal of drastically reducing the numbers of unwanted pets entering shelters and, ultimately, ending unnecessary euthanasia. They carry the weight of this tragedy every day, and their commitment is unwavering. We are fortunate at BEBHS to have the luxury of the “Adoption Guarantee” model. Unfortunately the majority of animal shelters aren’t financially or spatially equipped to do the same. I have worked with many amazing shelter veterinarians and if I had the power to anoint them to sainthood, I would! Thank you Dr. Bela Kisamov (BEBHS). Thank you Dr. Jean Goh (BEBHS). Thank you Dr. Hayden Nevill (IBRRC). Thank you Dr. Barbara Jones (Placer SPCA). Thank you to all the angels who work in animal shelters. You are life savers!