As a nation, we claim to love cats and dogs. Millions of households have pets, and billions of dollars are spent yearly on pet supplies and food. But as a nation, we should take a hard, sobering look at a different annual statistic: the millions of dogs and cats given up to shelters or left to die on the streets. And the numbers tell only half the story. Every cat or dog who dies as a result of pet overpopulation—whether humanely in a shelter or by injury, disease, or neglect—is an animal who, more often than not, would have made a wonderful companion, if given the chance. Tremendous as the problem of pet overpopulation is, it can be solved if each of us takes just one small step, starting with not allowing our animals to breed. Here’s information about this crisis and why spaying and neutering is the first step to a solution
HSUS Pet Overpopulation Estimates
Number of cats and dogs entering shelters each year: 6–8 million (HSUS estimate)
Number of cats and dogs euthanized by shelters each year: 3–4 million (HSUS estimate)
Number of cats and dogs adopted from shelters each year: 3–4 million (HSUS estimate)
Number of cats and dogs reclaimed by owners from shelters each year: Between 600,000 and 750,000—15–30% of dogs and 2–5% of cats entering shelters (HSUS estimate)
Number of animal shelters in the United States: Between 4,000 and 6,000 (HSUS estimate)
Percentage of dogs in shelters who are purebred: 25% (HSUS estimate)
Average number of litters a fertile cat can produce in one year: 3
Average number of kittens in a feline litter: 4–6
In seven years, one female cat and her offspring can theoretically produce 420,000 cats.
Average number of litters a fertile dog can produce in one year: 2
Average number of puppies in a canine litter: 6–10
In six years, one female dog and her offspring can theoretically produce 67,000 dogs
Solving the Pet Overpopulation Problem
The solution can be simply stated. Its implementation, however, requires sweeping efforts from a variety of organizations and people, including you.
The solution is this: Only by implementing widespread sterilization programs, only by spaying and neutering all companion animals, will we get a handle on pet overpopulation. Consider the fact that in six short years, one female dog and her offspring can give birth to 67,000 puppies. In seven years, one cat and her young can produce 420,000 kittens.
Given these high reproductive rates, it stands to reason that, in only a few years, carefully planned and implemented sterilization programs could produce a dramatic reduction in the number of unwanted companion animals born. In fact, in those towns and cities that have implemented such programs, we’ve already seen the number of companion animals who had to be euthanized decline by 30 to 60 percent—even in those communities where human populations have been steadily increasing.
But these programs don’t create themselves. They require the planning and coordination of many people. Successful pet population control programs range from subsidized sterilization clinics to cooperative efforts involving local veterinarians to mass media educational campaigns. Only through the continued nationwide establishment of such programs will we bring an end to the tragedy of pet overpopulation.
Legislation can have the most direct impact simply by requiring that every pet adopted from a municipal or county shelter be sterilized within a certain period of time. Similarly, differential-licensing laws—laws that substantially increase license fees for pets who have not been spayed or neutered—give owners an incentive to sterilize their pets.
Education, too, is an essential part of solving this problem. Unless people know the facts about pet overpopulation and sterilization, they are virtually helpless to do anything about the problem.
Reduced spay/neuter fees play an important role as well. Subsidized spay/neuter clinics and programs in some communities have already helped bring down the cost of sterilization. In areas where veterinarians have agreed to reduce their spay/neuter fees, we’ve seen a significant decline in the number of animals euthanized.
Finally, pet owners can do their part by having their companion animals spayed or neutered. This is the single most important step you can take. Have your pet sterilized so that he or she does not contribute to the pet overpopulation problem, and adopt your next pet from an animal shelter
The Crisis of Pet Overpopulation
Every day in the United States thousands upon thousands of puppies and kittens are born because of the uncontrolled breeding of pets. Add to that number the offspring of stray and abandoned companion animals, and the total becomes even more staggering. Every year, between six and eight million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters; some three to four million of these animals are euthanized because there are not enough homes for them
Too many companion animals competing for too few good homes is the most obvious consequence of uncontrolled breeding. However, there are other equally tragic problems that result from pet overpopulation: the transformation of some animal shelters into “warehouses,” the acceptance of cruelty to animals as a way of life in our society, and the stress that caring shelter workers suffer when they are forced to euthanize one animal after another. Living creatures have become throwaway items to be cuddled when cute and abandoned when inconvenient. Such disregard for animal life pervades and erodes our culture.
Abandoned and stray companion animals who survive in the streets and alleys of cities and suburbs pose a health threat to humans and other animals. Homeless companion animals get into trash containers, defecate in public areas or on private lawns, and anger citizens who have no understanding of their misery or their needs. Some of these animals scare away or prey upon wildlife—such as birds—or frighten small children.
The public health epidemic of dog bites—which number more than 4.5 million each year—is due in part to uncontrolled breeding of pets. Bites by so-called dangerous dogs have drawn an enormous amount of media attention, and fatalities caused by dangerous dogs are a serious concern. Often, the vicious tendencies found in some dog breeds can be attributed to irresponsible breeding without regard for temperament. Neutering can help reduce this aggressive behavior.
Clearly, pet overpopulation is not just a problem for the animals or for the shelters involved. Each year communities are forced to spend millions of taxpayer dollars trying to cope with the consequences of this surplus of pets. These public costs include services such as investigating animal cruelty, humanely capturing stray animals, and sheltering lost and homeless animals.
U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics
- There are approximately 68 million owned dogs in the United States.
- Four in ten (or 40 million) U.S. households own at least one dog
- Most owners own one dog (63%).
- About one-fourth (24%) of owners own two dogs.
- Thirteen percent of owners own three or more dogs.
- On average, owners have almost two dogs (1.7).
- There are an equal number of male and female dogs owned in the United States.
- Twenty percent of owned dogs were adopted from an animal shelter.
- On average, dog owners spent $196 on veterinary related expenses in the past 12 months.
- Seven of ten owned dogs are spayed or neutered.
- There are approximately 73 million owned cats in the United States.
- Three in ten (or 34.7 million) U.S. households own at least one cat.
- One half of cat-owning households (49%) own one cat; the remaining own two or more.
- On average, owners have two (2.1) cats.
- There are a similar number of owned female and male cats in the U.S. (a slightly greater percentage—51%—of owned cats are female).
- Twenty percent of owned cats were adopted from an animal shelter.
- Cat owners spent an average of $104 on veterinary related expenses in the past 12 months.
- Eight of ten owned cats are spayed or neutered.
Source - HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States