Why are American animal controls, shelters and rescues bursting at the seams? So often when the debate arises, there’s a strong contingent that thinks the problem will be solved if everyone just spayed and neutered their pets. While spaying and neutering pets is an important piece of a very complex puzzle, there is so much more that goes into solving the pet overpopulation problem
Just take a look at overcrowded animal controls, shelters and rescues – there are puppies and kittens there. However, they are overflowing with adult dogs and cats of all ages – one year olds to seniors. Spaying and neutering pets help make a dent in the problem, but what do you do about all the homeless adult animals.
Since I’ve been blogging, I talk to people on a regular basis at animal controls throughout Chicago (and elsewhere in the Midwest). Groups have been working hard to get their communities to a zero euthanasia rate. Some weeks they do well, then the floodgates open. Here are some ideas to consider.
Reuniting more lost pets with families - For many animal control facilities, the bulk of the animals taken in are strays. While some may have been dumped by families on the streets, many dogs and cats have families looking for them. According to Petfinder, an estimated two percent of cats and 22 percent of dogs are reunited with their families after they get lost. Many families don't know where to look and a dog or cat could wander a few blocks and be headed to an animal control out of your community. Creating a more cetralized system to make this less daunting to pet owners would reunite more lost pets with families.
Volunteer run sites like Lost Dogs Illinois, Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, Lost Pets USA and Lost Cats of Illinois have reunited thousands of lost pets with their families. Some animal controls have made it part of their routine to check these sites when strays come in. Others have refused help from volunteers to do the same. If more animal controls were open to volunteers coming in to crosscheck, more pets would be reunited with families and out of the system.
Make it easier for families to get their lost pets out of animal control - In most cases, pet owners must pay at least a small fine to be reunited with their pets. However, that fee could range from $30 to hundreds of dollars depending on what community picks up your pet. If families can't afford the fees to pick up their pets, they stay in the system.
Updating your pet's identification - If your pet wears a collar, make sure the ID is up to date. Local tags for rabies or community licenses also can help connect lost pets with families. Petfinder reports that over 50 percent of lost pets that are microchipped are reunited with their families. I did a story a year ago about a family who had their Yorkie stolen from their yard in Chicago. She reappared five years later in Grayslake and was returned to her family (who had since moved to Cleveland) because she had a microchip and the family made sure their most recent information was in the database of that company.
Connecting families with needed services - Some families would be able to keep their pet if they had help when times are tough. That could be donations of pet food and supplies, low cost vaccination or veterinary clinics or direction on what to do for behavioral issues. There are many programs out there to help families in need, but often the people who need it most do not know these programs exist. In Chicago, Pets Are Like Family offers community-based Pet 101 Classes and connects with great pet parents that just need some guidance or a helping hand.
Other groups that are on the streets in their communities have been able to do the same. Several people that have worked intake at a few of the larger open access facilities have said that having non-profit groups on hand during heavy intake days that could advise people about available programs - from food pantries to spay/neuter services to other programs - could keep more pets out of the system. (Here's a list of programs in Chicago.)
Outlawing the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores - An estimated 4 to 6 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year while around 2.5 million dogs are born in puppy mills each year according to The Puppy Mill Project. Dogs bred in puppy mills are sold in pet stores and through online pet sites. Preventing the sale of pets in pet stores would have a tremendous impact.
TNR for cats - Many communities in and around Chicago have adopted Trap Neuter Return programs (TNR) to help stabilize the cat overpopulation program. Through these programs, non-profits work with people in the community to trap feral cats (non-socialized cats), spay or neuter them and return them to their colony. Friendly strays caught in the programs often go to rescue - this cuts down on tons of kittens and stabilizes community cat programs.
Creative fostering - Sometimes adding a pet to the family doesn't work out or someone may move into hospice or die and family members won't take in the pet in need. I've talked to several organizations that say they would be able to admit more pets in these situations into their adoption programs if families agreed to keep or foster this pet while the rescue looks for a new home. This keeps the pet in a familiar environment without overburdening groups that may not have enough foster homes as it is. (Setting up trusts in advance for your pet also is a big help.)
Relationship building with adopters - Some small rescues have a very good track record of seeing few pets returned. This is a mix of doing due diligence from the beginning, working with non-traditional adopters to make more adoption works and providing long term programing. That could range from setting up an action plan with a trainer for dogs, offering pet food pantries and veterinary assistance when times are tight.
Open up adoptions to more families from low income areas - Yes, you do need money to care for a pet. Many low income families are already helping rescue strays off the streets in their neighborhoods and giving th em homes. However, a lot of loving families are turned down by groups due to where they live or because they are of lower income. If you pair good potential adopters, even if the are of lower income, with good programs, that expands the adoption pool. For example, Tree House pairs special needs cats and seniors with some less traditional adopters offering veterinary care at their clinic. This puts harder to adopt cats in homes while opening up adoption space for more cats in need.
Unfortunately. there are still way too many people who take in a pet without thinking about the long-term ramifications of pet ownership. Far too many of the animals left behind in animal control come in for this reason. If you're considering adding a pet to the family, check out this list first.
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