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Pet Overpopulation

posted April 30th, 2016 by
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Pet Overpopulation – What is the Answer?

By Kim Schlittler

Each week we hear about cats and dogs needing homes. Every cage and kennel in the animal shelters has a pet or two (or more) in it. Rescue groups and foster homes are full, so it’s difficult for them to take in another pet until one is adopted.
Pets are adopted every day. Some shelters and groups are very creative with their promotions seeking adopters. Mega adoption events are held several times a year with rescue groups and shelters coming together to find homes for hundreds of pets in a few days.
Yet the pet overpopulation problem continues. Last year, the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter alone took in 25,000 cats and dogs. More than 14,000 pets were adopted, reclaimed by their owners or transferred to rescue groups. Sadly, 10,300 pets were euthanized for various reasons. Pet owners failed to look in the shelter for their lost pets or, tragically, waited too long to look. Pet owners surrendered their pets, thinking a behavior problem was a lost cause. Not enough potential adopters thought of the shelter as a place to adopt a pet. And some pets were too ill or too aggressive to be adopted.
Of the 10,300 pets euthanized, 3,800—more than one-third—were puppies and kittens whose only crime was being born into a community where not enough people wanted to adopt young pets. These numbers are repeated on a lesser scale at animal shelters throughout the state.
With so many companion animals and too few adopting homes, what is the answer? The best answer is spaying and neutering.
Every pet lover likes to know someone is helping homeless pets. Best Friends of Pets seeks to prevent pets from becoming homeless and part of these statistics. Its spay/neuter program, which offers two low-cost, high-quality opportunities for pet owners to have their pets spayed or neutered, helps keep pets in their homes and prevents unplanned births of puppies and kittens. More than 6,000 cats and dogs were spayed or neutered in 2014 through the program.
SpayWay of Oklahoma City offers spay/ neuter, vaccinations, canine and feline tests, and microchipping. Spay/neuter fees are $30 for cats and $40 for dogs. Rescue groups and pet owners with a gross household income of $50,000 or less can call SpayWay at (405) 414-8142 for an appointment. SpayWay also goes mobile during the year and spays or neuters pets in towns throughout the state.
Cost is often the biggest reason why pets are not spayed or neutered. “We find people are tired of their pet having litter after litter of puppies or kittens, and they are excited when they can afford our services. One dog had eight litters of puppies—all accidents—in four years. Even the neighbor was excited when they found out about our low-cost spaying and neutering.”
Low-income pet owners receiving Medicaid, OKDHS or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits, or meeting Best Friends of Pets’ income guidelines, can have cats spayed or neutered for $10 and dogs for $20 through its Spay/Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP).
General public assistance is also available based on income. Rabies vaccinations are $5 and are only offered when the pet is spayed or neutered. SNAP works with veterinary and nonprofit spay/neuter clinics throughout the Oklahoma City metro area. For more information about SNAP or to request a SNAP application, call (405) 418-8511 or visit www.bestfriendsofpets.org.
Puppies and kittens as young as 8 weeks or weighing at least 2 pounds can be spayed or neutered. In addition to preventing un-planned litters of puppies and kittens, spaying and neutering makes dogs less likely to roam or bite, ends yowling by cats in heat, and makes cats less likely to spray and mark their territory. Pet owners often find their pets are more calm and affectionate after being spayed or neutered.
Schlittler says now is a great time to have a pet spayed or neutered. Spring is just around the corner. With the flowers blooming, windy days and people enjoying outdoor activities also comes the arrival of stray and abandoned puppies and kittens.
Animal shelters and animal welfare groups refer to this as ‘puppy and kitten season,’ a heartbreaking time of year. Now is a great time to have a pet spayed or neutered to ensure that unplanned litter is avoided.
Best Friends of Pets is a local nonprofit organization that began in 1994 under a similar name to help increase pet adoptions and improve conditions for pets at the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter. In 2005, Best Friends of Pets started its Spay/Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP), the first year-round community spay/neuter program of its kind in the Oklahoma City area.
In 2006, Best Friends changed its adoption program to work with small groups and individuals who rescue and foster pets until they are adopted. Best Friends of Pets strives to reduce the pet overpopulation problem of too many homeless pets by helping pets, their owners and our community.

Spay/neuter Ordinances Should Be Adopted Nationwide

posted February 10th, 2013 by
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As it appeared in the 12/31/12 Huffington Post

by Ruth Steinberger

The hidden costs of pet overpopulation make the expansion of affordable spay/neuter services into an ethical and financial imperative. Sadly it is still lagging throughout much of the U.S.

In poverty, people and the companion animals around them suffer together. It’s a tragedy intertwined between dogs and cats and the people they depend on for their basic care. The lack of resources in poor communities is easily ignored, yet like other issues facing low-income communities, overlooking the impact of pet overpopulation has social, ethical and financial implications.

In the U.S. animal control costs are estimated at $2 billion a year or around $6 per person. The majority of animals entering shelters, especially litters, come from low-income communities. Additionally, poor pet care habits are tied to an excessive number of dog bites, a phenomenon that disproportionately affects low-income communities as well, adding another estimated billion dollars each year (in 2011, insurance companies paid $479 million for dog bite claims) or roughly another $3 per person. Nine dollars per person is spent annually to address largely preventable problems.

It’s complicated and sad; neither the animals nor the taxpayers come out ahead. Although statistics point overwhelmingly to the need to expand spay/neuter programs and mandate their use, public dollars for prevention based spay/neuter programs do not equal even 50 cents per person and mandatory spay/neuter remains controversial.

Addressing the issue of too many dogs and cats in poor communities is not simple; overall access to convenient, affordable spay/neuter services is disparate with some states having only a very few accessible, affordable programs to serve the state, and some statewide programs that do exist lack the funds to operate effectively. Additionally shelters that respond to homeless animals are generally operated by municipalities at taxpayer expense; spay/neuter programs that prevent unwanted litters usually are not; these services are opened by nonprofit organizations one at a time, and due to local costs (rent, etc.), some must charge rates that are out of range for many low-income homes to pay.

A 2009 study noted that annual family income was the strongest predictor of whether cats in the home were neutered. The household income that delineated the difference in pet care habits was $35,000 per year. The fact that poverty affects the animals in the home is also a matter of common sense.

“Affordable and accessible” means different things to different people. In the absence of a program to ensure affordability, those who live at minimum wage struggle to have a pet spayed or neutered.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour; this is roughly $15,000 per year, or around $53 per day after taxes. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that in 2011 roughly 2.2 million hourly workers earned below the minimum wage. Almost 25 percent of U.S. households earn under $25,000 per year, with close to 40 percent under $35,000 per year. Additionally, according to the Social Security Administration the average person on disability receives a benefitof $710 per month. In November 2012, 8,241,018 individuals received disability payments at an average of $518.80 per person.

Spending over a days’ earnings to spay the pet, driving hours to get to a spay/neuter program or waiting weeks to use an intermittent program places responsible pet care out of reach for low-income homes.

Stray, mangy dogs turning over trash cans to find food are a rarity in wealthy communities in the U.S.; they exist in communities in which the very fiber of people’s lives are also at risk. As a local resident of the low-income community, the financially at-risk person is often the one who reaches out to assist the at-risk pet. Indeed intake forms from thousands of surgeries performed at low-income spay/neuter programs in different parts of the U.S. reveal that over half of low-income homes “obtained” their pet by feeding or caring for a stray. Everyone’s life was fragile when the partnership started and without being able to take the first basic step in responsible pet care, it is unlikely that the newfound friendship will be a stable one. For a female dog or cat, the ability to be spayed may provide the only possibility for remaining in the home.

Not being neutered and remaining on a chain are tied to aggression and territorial behavior in male animals. Guarding litters is one of the top reasons for bites from female dogs. The failure to have pets spayed or neutered, combined with confining pets by a chain, statistically increase the likelihood of the pet facing neglect (including social neglect), producing an unwanted litter, or being involved in a dog bite incident.

Neglect, unwanted litters and dog bites are inextricably tied to an inability to access basic services that include spay/neuter. These issues are tragic, they overwhelmingly affect low-income communities and in large part, they are preventable through good pet care habits. These habits don’t just come about, they require adjusting our thinking and embracing a prevention based model.

An estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year. Of these around 800,000 Americans seek medical attention; around 386,000 of those require treatment in an emergency room at an average of about $5,000 each; approximately 16 bite victims will die each year. Intact male dogs are involved in 76 percent of cases and importantly, 25 percent of cases involve dogs that are kept on chains. While a complex set of circumstances are involved when a person is killed by dogs, approximately 92 percent of fatal dog attacks involve male dogs, 94 percent of which are not neutered at the time of the attack. Chaining as a means of confinement is significantly overrepresented in fatal attacks as well.

Remaining intact and chained to a dog house or tree (and not socialized) is a very poor life for a dog. It’s a lifestyle that often deteriorates into chronic neglect that also creates a danger for the community. This entire picture is over represented in low-income communities. The habits can be addressed through minimal resources; the outcomes are, to a large degree, preventable, and indeed worth preventing.

Getting to the heart of an overpopulation issue that exploded in the news when a fatality occurred, in January 2006, San Francisco passed a mandatory pit bull sterilization ordinance. At the time pit bulls filled three quarters of the shelter. Eighteen months after the passage of the ordinance, pit bull impoundments declined by 21 percent; shelter occupancy rates fell and pit bulls euthanized dropped by 24 percent. A 2010 report noted that bites had significantly decreased as well. A spay/neuter ordinance accomplished what adoption efforts had not. Former Animal Care and Control Director Carl Friedman said, “Fewer pit bulls are being abandoned to the pound because fewer are being born, thanks to the spay and neuter requirement.” At the time he added, “I wouldn’t bet the house it’s all because of the ordinance, but nothing else has really changed.”

In 2007 the City of Lawton, Okla., passed an ordinance mandating that pets be spayed or neutered, or that the owner purchase a breeders permit. The ordinance also outlaws tethering. City of Lawton Animal Welfare Superintendent Rose Wilson lobbied heavily for the ordinance which has saved thousands of lives. Wilson said, “If you want to breed animals you must buy a permit and treat it as a business.” She acknowledged that a bit of money is saved by reducing the numbers, but the biggest outcome is in the lives that are spared. The city has gone from euthanizing 1283 of adoptable pets in 2006, to 49 in 2012. The city shelter receives unwanted animals that are turned in by individuals from surrounding towns that are not covered under the ordinance, and Wilson would like to see Fort Sill Military Base mandate responsible pet care since many animals are abandoned when residents of the base move on. When she was 12 years old, Lawson found a dog that was huddled in tall grass in a field near her home. It was snowing out and she brought the dog home. She said, “Then I grew up and realized that dog is everywhere. The problem remains the numbers that are born.” She said, “Limiting intakes to certain localities, or closing our doors to the pets to make numbers look like they’re going down, is the wrong thing to do. If we can save endangered species through action that is across international borders, we can stop the number of pets being born right here.”

Considering the costs of responding to the failure to have dogs and cats spayed and neutered, and the fact that these programs are effective when reaching the homes that produce the majority of unwanted litters, it is time to start the discussion of publicly operated and/or supported programs that make spay/neuter services affordable and accessible for low-income homes to use. Many effective and financially self-sustaining models, including partnerships with private practitioners, exist. It is humane and it is cost-effective.

Mandatory spay/neuter and anti-tethering ordinances support humane initiatives while supporting public health and safety. Most homes pay a portion of the cost of spaying their pet; it is arguably one of the few times in which an at-risk animal is not a taxpayer burden. It is time to prevent tragedies instead of reacting to them.

 
 
 

 

Follow Ruth Steinberger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/spayfirstorg

Making the Case for Municipal Spay/Neuter Programs

posted December 3rd, 2012 by
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By Ruth Steinberger, Huffington Post Article, 12/3/12

You’ve heard the expression “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Well, in many communities throughout the U.S., that rain is a continual flood of tragedy that holds devastating economic and social costs. The problem of too many dogs and cats, commonly called pet overpopulation, overwhelmingly occurs in, and takes its toll on, poor communities. The problem affects the animals and the people around them as well.

Internationally, 75 percent of all dogs, that’s around 375 million of them, along with a similar number of cats, are unwanted. Estimates on the numbers of dogs worldwide varies widely from 9 billion to only 75 million, however, according to WSPA there are about a half billion and three quarters (375,000,000) are unwanted.

The vast majority of unwanted dogs and cats are born in nations without animal welfare laws. Gruesome elimination campaigns occur worldwide. Of the millions of unwanted pets born each year in the U.S., 7-8 million ultimately enter shelters and roughly half do not come out alive.

The growing movement to address animal welfare in areas of chronic poverty reminds us that many people no longer view homeless animals as a tragedy they must simply ignore. While organizations in developing nations create prevention-based animal welfare programs, much of the U.S. still relies solely on collection facilities called shelters. In the U.S., publically supported animal shelters exist in all states (and some states have full geographic access to shelters), but fewer than 10 states have statewide access to low-income spay/neuter programs. The need is clear and low-income families flock to these services where and when they do exist.

People started sheltering homeless dogs and cats in the U.S. in the 1800s. The ability to readily have a dog or cat spayed evolved in the 1960s, and by 1985 high volume spay/neuter programs were on the horizon.

Today, in the U.S. a shocking two billion taxpayer dollars are spent each year to collect, house and then either adopt out, or euthanize and cremate, dogs and cats. But while shelters are publically funded, spay/neuter programs for low-income homes are generally opened and run by local, privately funded animal welfare organizations.

To illustrate the absurdity of our current model, just imagine if the 1952 emergence of the Salk vaccine had been greeted by a lukewarm shrug and a decision to build more hospital wards for polio victims while asking volunteers to hold bake sales to support vaccination drives.

Dogs and cats are born in litters of five to 10 at a time and are adopted one at a time. Open-access shelters are vital; however relying on them to address unplanned litters is a short sighted tragedy. A recent American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) study revealed an overall drop in pet ownership spanning the last five years.

Spay/neuter organizations do an amazing job, providing over 500,000 surgeries annually. However, as privately run organizations spay/neuter clinics open one at a time; they are geographically spotty and their operating costs vary based on local rents, etc.

Public hesitation to support affordable spay/neuter services may stem from the belief that if people cannot afford to care for pets they should not have them. However, thousands of client intake forms at Midwestern spay/neuter programs reveal that over 60 percent of low-income owners obtained the pet as a ‘stray.’ Pet ownership was a matter of compassion, not irresponsibility. Life is precarious for a stray dog or cat; they are unlikely to have a permanent home if there is a risk of ongoing litters.

Since sheltering costs include salaries, utilities, supplies and more, even small “outdoor” shelters normally cost at least one hundred dollars per animal. When a pet enters a shelter it immediately becomes a taxpayer burden. High volume spay/neuter models bring the costs down to as little as $40 per surgery, a price that many low-income pet owners currently pay in existing (and self-sustaining) programs. This breaks the cycle before an unwanted litter enters a shelter as a public expense. Everyone wins.

Cost is generally the driving factor in the failure to get pets altered. A 2009 Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) article noted that “annual family income was the strongest predictor of whether cats in the household were neutered.” Researchers determined that cats in homes under $35,000 per year are roughly half as likely to be neutered as are cats in homes with higher incomes. According to Census.gov 2011, nearly 40 percent of U.S. households earn under $35,000 per year, and 24.9 percent of households earn under $25,000 annually.

In counties without shelters, generally found in the South and Midwest, the inability to get pets altered often results in chronic neglect: the unfortunate female cat or dog that becomes pregnant is ‘put out’ of the home. Homeless pets are routinely abandoned roadside, and a plethora of home-based rescue programs have turned into nightmarish criminal “hoarding” situations that were overloaded with animals they intended to ‘rehome.’

Former director of Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Howard Hendrick, wrote a letter in support of increased spay/neuter services for low-income pet owners. He focused on the impact of animal overpopulation on low-income families, particularly on children. Hendrick wrote, “The value of the human/companion animal bond has been demonstrated in hospital and therapeutic settings, particularly [for] children… The inability to have a pet sterilized almost always results in the termination of the human/companion animal bond. Indeed, less than 20 percent of unsterilized pets remain in the home.” He concluded, “… children in marginalized households become aware that ‘normal’ methods of disposing of unwanted animals include abandonment of the pet(s) in a remote location, shooting or drowning. These are poor lessons for children whose lives are already at risk. In addition to breaking the bonds between children and the pets they value, the outcome is a poor lesson in responsibility and commitment for children.”

The incinerators used to cremate euthanized pets cost more than the basic equipment needed for a spay/neuter surgery room, and a “euthanasia room” is not cheaper to build than a room destined for use for spay/neuter. While it’s not as easy as swapping one piece of equipment for another, financially self-sustaining low-income spay/neuter programs exist and can be readily duplicated.

Restricting reduced cost services to income qualified homes (similar to legal aid) supports effective outcomes while avoiding competition with private veterinary practices. Any number of service models from high volume clinics, to mobile spay/neuter units, to regularly scheduled “spay days” in private veterinary clinics, can change the equation if they are accessible to all homes that need them, and pro-active ordinances encourage people to use them.

The fundamental obstacle to stopping the flood of unwanted cats and dogs is not the money, the space or the know-how… the obstacle is the paradigm that prioritizes collection over prevention. We simply must shift our thinking — and our practice. addressing this issue on behalf of the animals, impoverished communities Widespread access to spay/neuter services for low-income homes is vital to everywhere and taxpayers across the U.S.

 

Ruth Steinberger

Founder, SpayFIRST!

 

 

 

Ruth Steinberger is a regular contributor to TulsaPets Magazine

Articles by Ruth Steinberger in TulsaPets Magazine