Why Spay or Neuter?
The Realities of Animal Overpopulation
From the Humane Society of the United States:
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.
THE HARSH REALITY
Euthanasia is the single largest cause of death for dogs and cats in the U.S. Each year 27 million of the animals are born. Five to ten million we classify as "surplus" and kill. That's about one million per month. These numbers do not include the millions of dead dogs and cats whose bodies we scrape off the streets, or the hundreds of thousands of abandoned, severely neglected or abused ones who never make it to our shelters to be counted and killed. The five to ten million figure represents those we "must" kill because they are unwanted. Most of these animals are young and healthy; in fact, it is estimated that a majority are less than one year of age.
The problem is simple: we have too many dogs and cats. Too many for the too few homes available. The solution we have opted for is to kill the extras. This solution has been considered acceptable by default, as though there were no other way to control the crisis. And we spend over $1 billion every year destroying "man's best friend."
No single segment of the public can be blamed for dog and cat overpopulation; overall responsibility is shared by many groups. The source of the problem includes accidental matings, purposeful breeding by those hoping to sell the offspring, and "personal" reasons like, "I want my children to experience the miracle of birth," and "I feel it's unnatural to castrate my male."
Animal guardians who do not spay and neuter are the greatest single cause of the companion animal tragedy. Many of these "owners" have no intention of breeding their animals, but it happens. Some, on the other hand, want their children to "experience the miracle of birth," but don't think about the results of letting their animal have "just one litter" -- the tragedy of death.
Simple arithmetic illustrates how "just one litter" contributes to the mass killing: Two dogs breed. Six offspring are born. The six offspring reproduce within one year, and are responsible for six offspring each. In one year a litter of six can become 36. And unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. At the end of ten years just one unaltered dog can be responsible for 4,372 births. One unaltered cat can be responsible for 420,000 kittens in just seven years!
Pet shops and puppy mills
Puppy mills are a major contributor to the dog overpopulation crisis. The demand for certain breeds encourages the continuation of these mass breeding facilities that wholesale puppies to pet stores. The majority of puppy mills are in the rural Midwest, particularly Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Arkansas. It is estimated that some 5,000 puppy mills are operating today, breeding more than one half million dogs a year.
Many puppies in these assembly-line businesses are housed in crammed, make-shift cages. They are usually outdoors during the freezing winter and grueling summer heat. They receive inadequate nourishment and poor medical care, and endure the stress of being shipped long distances at an early age, as young as four to five weeks. And because they receive deficient care they are highly prone to disease.
Hobby and professional breeders
We can't ignore the contribution made by professional and hobby breeders. It isn't only mutts and mixed breeds that end up at shelters. Purebred dogs make up 20 to 25% of shelter populations. Some are adopted, but most are not. Victims of the Euthanasia room, contrary to what many professional breeders admit, include purebreds.
Purebred dogs come from many sources: pet stores (via puppy mills), breeders, and people who allow their purebreds to have "just one litter." Because we are so preoccupied with finding the dog or cat with the "perfect" coloring, stance, or tail length, the demand for certain breeds continues. Purebreds do not make better companions than mixed breeds. There are actually disadvantages to having purebreds (high price and genetic problems.) Purchasing an AKC dog (one registered with the American Kennel Club) does not guarantee a higher quality animal. In fact, the case is quite the contrary. There are currently more than 200 genetic diseases in purebred dogs, including deafness, epilepsy, cataracts, glaucoma, retinal degeneration and hip dysplasia. Purebred cats also suffer from genetic problems.
To solve the problem we must prevent animals from being born. The measures taken thus far include three approaches:
- humane education programs;
- low cost spay/neuter clinics; and
- enforcement of laws (i.e., leash laws, mandatory licensing, and other ordinances pertaining to responsible animal guardianship).
Because all three approaches must be taken concurrently, it is critical that our efforts to educate the public about the problem increase. Animal shelters are doing the public's dirty work. They care for the animals people discard, and must destroy those for whom no homes can be found. But for the public it's still a matter of "out of sight, out of mind."
No longer can this problem be considered our shelter's responsibility. We must all begin to take responsibility for the animals ending up in shelters.
Education programs must be developed for adults, because adults are responsible for dogs and cats. At the same time we must reach youth. By teaching children how to be caring and responsible animal guardians early, it is hoped they will grow to be more sensitive and responsible adults. Adults who will create a more compassionate world for all. It's a long-term investment that must be made.
Low cost spay/neuter clinics provide an affordable solution. Spaying is a surgical technique performed on females. It involves removal of both ovaries and the uterus. The operation prevents an animal from having heat periods and eliminate the ability to become pregnant.
Neutering is a surgical technique performed on male animals involving removal of the testicles. This prevents production of sperm and eliminates the possibility of the animal's impregnating a female.
Both surgeries have traditionally been performed on animals six months of age and older. However, many clinics are now sterilizing puppies and kittens as young as eight weeks. The early procedure is still somewhat controversial among the veterinary medical community, primarily because the early age limit departs greatly from tradition. To date, no serious side effects have occurred from early spaying and neutering. It is likely that it will become commonplace within the next few years, as more data is collected demonstrating its effectiveness and safety.
What you can do
You can help end dog and cat overpopulation:
- Spay or neuter your dogs and cats and encourage others to do the same.
- Adopt from your local animal shelter. All shelters are overloaded with adoptable animals who need homes.
- Don't buy animals from pet stores. Chances are the cute puppy in the window came from a puppy mill. Purchasing dogs from pet stores perpetuates the cruel puppy mill industry.
- Don't buy from breeders. Again, by purchasing an animal from a breeder you are encouraging the breeding of more animals. It doesn't make sense to breed more when we must kill so many. If you have your heart set on adopting a particular breed, check the newspaper for adult animals being given up, or visit a shelter. Remember, over 20 percent of the dogs and cats who end up in shelters are purebreds.
- Support your local shelter by volunteering. Many shelters are in desperate need of volunteers.
Reprinted with permission from the Fund for Animals