Here are some sobering statistics about pet overpopulation:
- An estimated five million dogs and cats are killed in shelters every year. That is about one every six and a half seconds.
- Seven dogs and cats are born every day for each person born in the U.S. Of these, only one in five stay in their original home for their lifetime.
- 14% of pets are acquired from shelters. 48% are from friends, family, rescuers, or are found as strays. 38% come from pet stores and breeders.
- It costs an estimated $2 billion every year to catch, house, kill, and dispose of stray animals.
- (As a matter of disclosure) According to the Humane Society, the number of animals euthanized yearly has decreased since the 1970’s. At that time 12-20 million animals were euthanized annually.
- 56% of dogs and 71% of cats that enter shelters are euthanized.
- 25% of animals in shelters are purebreds.
The decline in the number of unwanted pets may be due to several factors. Some city councils are voting to prohibit the sale of dogs and cats at pet stores. More than 500 pet shops in the U.S. have signed a pledge to stop selling pets. Another reason is mandatory spay/neuter laws. People feel very passionately about this, both for and against. The AKC believes that it is wrong to take the decision away from pet owners. They also don’t believe backyard breeders will comply. They say that spaying/neutering is only one part of the problem, and these laws don’t address any of the other reasons such as owner surrender, or feral cats. Nonetheless, Santa Cruz has had an ordinance in place since 2006, and the SPCA says the euthanasia rate has dropped 64%.
There are several reasons why people don’t want to spay/neuter their pets. They think it is better for the animal to have one litter. This is simply not true. Studies have shown that animals spayed before their first heat tend to be healthier. In fact, if a dog is spayed before the first heat, the odds of developing mammary cancer are less than 1%. If spayed between the first and second heats, this number rises to 8%. Anytime after that, the chance is 25%. The risks of spaying (aside from surgical complications) are a chance of incontinence from low estrogen levels, and a slight increase in aggressive tendencies. About 10% of spayed females do experience weight gain after the surgery, but this can be managed with regular exercise. Another serious problem that can arise in unspayed dogs is pyometra. It is an infection of the uterus. This can be deadly if left untreated.
Another reason given is that they don’t want their male dog to feel less “male”. Dogs do not have an ego, or sexual identity. They experience sexuality merely in the form of hormones. The personality will not change. What will change is the desire to roam, and fight. There will be less tendency to mark and mount. Neutering causes the prostate to shrink, eliminating problems later in life. It also helps to prevent hernias and testicular cancer.
The last reason I would like to address is that spaying/neutering is too expensive. While I agree that this procedure may be costly, it should not be prohibitive in your decision. It takes a very specialized knowledge to know how to perform surgery, and you get what you pay for. It is possible to obtain quotes from many veterinary hospitals before making a decision. Some shelters have low cost spay/neuter clinics. Many clinics offer credit and payment plans. If you adopt a pet, the cost of the procedure is factored into the adoption fee. Also, the cost is a one-time thing that will contribute to better health, and most likely decrease the amount you will spend on your pet over its lifetime. If your dog or cat were to become pregnant, there would be a substantial cost to obtain medical care and feed the mother and offspring. Or you would have to make the choice to spay at that time, which would be costly and more dangerous.
It is commonly accepted that pets should be spayed/neutered at 4-6 months of age, but shelters are altering animals as early as eight weeks. The procedure is done under general anesthesia in a sterile environment. The pet will be intubated and its vital signs will be monitored throughout the procedure. There are always risks with any surgery, but in my opinion the advantages far outweigh the risks. I don’t know that I would advocate mandatory spay/neuter. I don’t necessarily think that someone should have the right to tell you what to do with your property (and yes, in most places pets are considered property. That is for another discussion.) I wouldn’t want someone telling me I had to think a certain way, or raise children according to government regulations. I do think education is important. People should have facts so that they can make their own decision based upon what is best for them.
Edit: It has come to my attention that I did not address several other points in this controversy.
1. I don’t have anything bad to say about responsible breeders. They are a great resource.
2. I think education is very important. People should understand the responsibility involved before deciding to get a pet. Pets cost money. If you aren’t willing to spend the money, don’t have them. You will have to spend time exercising, socializing, and training. If they get out and cause damage, you will be responsible.
3. There are rescue groups that specialize in certain breeds. If you are looking for a specific breed, do some research.
4. Discuss the details of spaying/neutering with your veterinarian. You can formulate a plan that is best for you and your pet.