Saving One Animal Will Not Save The World… But Surely, For That One Animal The World Will Change Forever

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.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mary Nagy on February 17, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Spaying/neutering dogs before they attain maturity will cause the risk of certain cancers, ACL (ligament) tears, and other illnesses to increase. There are now studies that support this. Dogs should not be spayed/neutered until growth plates are closed. Those hormones are important for proper growth, physically and mentally. With the push for even earlier neutering, I expect we will see more and more health problems in our dogs over the coming years. Imagine the effect this surgery would have on a young child for comparison. Mandatory spay/neuter is totally unacceptable to me, a free citizen of the United States. My dogs are my property and I will make these decisions with input from my vet. I do agree that the majority of dogs and cats should be neutered or spayed because a lot of owners won’t take the responsibility to prevent unwanted litters. Leash and control laws would definitely help by curbing the roaming dogs. But it is still the owner’s choice. I’m expecting lawsuits eventually in places were the residents are forced to spay/neuter their dogs, when some of those pets die during surgery. It does happen. Spaying is especially more complex with risks, as it is truly invasive surgery. Early spay can also lead to urinary incontinence, one of the reasons people turn their pets in at the shelters, although it can usually be treated with medication.


    • Mary: I don’t disagree with you. I did say that it is commonly accepted that the age for the procedure is around six months. I am aware that there could be possible complications due to doing it earlier. I also acknowledged that pets are property, and that I don’t see people being agreeable to mandatory spay/neuter laws. Of course some deaths occur. It is surgery. There are always risks.

      Joe: I agree with everything you said. Not enough people think about the implications of having a pet. They are a lot responsibility, and if you aren’t willing to provide care and deal with possible issues, you shouldn’t have one. I agree that they shouldn’t be given as gifts. Education is probably the single most important thing that needs to be done.
      I don’t have anything bad to say about responsible breeders. Good breeders know what they are doing, understand the breed, and want to make sure that a puppy is a good fit. Some people want a specific breed, and that option should be available to them. I also see the advantage of knowing the background, and the breeding of the dog.

      Eden: I didn’t make up that number. You can find it on several different sites.,,,, And perhaps you misunderstood the numbers. That is each day, 70,000 cats and dogs are born for every 10,000 people born.


  2. You know what would really save all the pets dumped at shelters? If people did their homework. I do breed rescue, and I get 75-80 annually, and 90% of the dogs I get are because the people that purchased/accepted as gifts dogs that were not suited for their family. Too many people take a “free” dog, without finding out if it is a good fit for their family, and then, don’t get any veterinary care for the dog because, hey, it was free! Then there are the people who don’t get a dog from someone who cares where the dog goes, just are happy to accept their money. The breeder who cares about their puppies want to know where they go, and asks lots of questions AND welcomes lots of questions, and will encourage someone who is not a good fit for that breed to look elsewhere.

    MY “rescuing” a dog at a shelter helps that dog, but it does nothing to convince its previous owner to do their homework, and not think of pets as disposable. A dog from a good breeder isn’t cheap, nor should it be, because that breeder will be a wonderful resource for the responsible pet owner, and has done THEIR homework on the breed, the pedigree, and what it takes to be a good breeder.

    I really want to see all this idiotic blame being dumped on breeders to stop. A major part of the problem lies with the person who doesn’t check out their investment. If you were going to buy something that had a justified, high pricetag, wouldn’t the responsibility be on you to make sure this was a good product for you, and what you wanted to use it for? Why is the purchaser of a pet relieved of this responsibility? As far as I’m concerned, there is NO GOOD EXCUSE, except laziness on the part of the new owner.


  3. Posted by Eden Springs on February 18, 2010 at 7:29 am

    “Seven dogs and cats are born every day for each person in the U.S. ” Wow! What an amazing number! Given there are 330 million people in the US, that means there are 2.31 BILLION dogs & cats born every day!

    Multiply that by 365 and the number becomes staggering!

    Given there are 5 million euthanized annually, I’d say somebody deserves a HUGE pat on the back for finding permanent homes for all those gazillions of pets! I was going to make a donation to HSUS, but now that I realize how few animals really end up in shelters I can see there’s no reason to do that. Thanks for making my day!


  4. Posted by S. Flo on February 22, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Thanks for bringing awareness to the responsibility of owning a pet. I really enjoyed this post, and I wish more people were truly aware for what it means to properly care for a pet.

    And, Eden Springs, you sound like a douche.



  5. my cousin runs a local pet store and i love looking at those cute puppies that he keeps on the store*,.


  6. […] Saving One Animal Will Not Save The World… But Surely, For That One Animal The World Will Chan… February 2010 5 comments 4 […]


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