In animal welfare, we talk an awful lot about how we can end the problem of having homeless pets in the US. There is often talk of things like "pet overpopulation", "shelter overcrowding" and that type of thing. Even one of the largest animal welfare organizations, Best Friends, hosts the No More Homeless Pets conference.
But maybe a more disturbing trend is the seemingly growing trend toward killing HOMED pets.
These are happy, healthy pets, that have loving, caring owners -- that for various reasons, we have decided to bring into our overcrowding shelters where they will likely be killed. These are animals, that have homes, that because of laws that we've created, we have decided to make homeless.
Recently, a Dallas couple, Mark and Lynn Gideon, found themselves in trouble with the Dallas law. Three years ago, Dallas passed a law limiting the number of pets people could have in their homes. The Gideons obtained a special permit to grandfather all of their existing pets -- 7 dogs (mostly Dachshund mixes) and 10 cats. In August, an animal control officer came to their home and wrote them two citations -- one for pet waste and one for odor of pet waste (it should be noted here that all of the neighbors have denied complaining about any odor problems stemming from the house).
By all accounts, the animals were all healthy, all were altered, licensed and up to date on their vaccinations. Because the Gideon's received two citations within a 12 month time period, authorities are saying that all of their pets must be removed from their home. Seventeen animals, all with a home and all seemingly well cared for, being asked to be removed and to join the ranks of the homeless animals in Dallas.
Earlier this week,news hit about two Boxer mixes in Brampton, Ontario that were confiscated from their owners and are on death row at the Brampton Animal Shelter. The dogs are believed by city authorities to resemble 'pit bulls' -- which are banned in Ontario under the Dog Owner Liability Act. By all accounts, the dogs are healthy, happy, well-socialized, not aggressive and are loved by their owners. Both are now "homeless" and could be killed in the shelter.
In 2006, Kansas City, MO passed a law that mandated that all 'pit bulls' had to be spayed or neutered. In 2009, four years after the ordinance passed, 270 dogs were confiscated from Kansas City area homes because they were unaltered pit bulls (more to come on KCMO in the next couple of weeks). The vast majority of these dogs were by animal control officer accounts happy, healthy dogs -- but because they were unaltered, they ended up at the city shelter. More than half of these dogs ended up dead in the shelter. Again, they were happy, healthy dogs, with homes, that the city made to be homeless, and then, dead.
In the book Redemption, Nathan Winograd talks a lot about the Dark Side of Mandatory Laws, and how even though they are often pushed by members of the animal welfare community, most end up leading to increased killing in city shelters.
"Legislation may be worded so that the result of non-compliance is the impoundment and death of the animal. Many jurisdictions have seen their impound rates increase following the passage of laws which give government agencies carte blanche to round up and kill animals. If a shelter has high rates of shelter killing, it makes no sense to support the passage of laws that give them greater power and more reasons to impound--and subsequently kill -- even more animals" -- Winograd in 'Redemption'
If we are to end the problem of homeless pets in this country, it is extremely important that we not only find homes for pets in our shelters, but it is also important that we makes ever effort necessary to keep happy, healthy, non-aggressive animals that have homes IN THEIR HOMES. This means not passing arbitrary pet limit laws, not passing breed specific laws that remove pets from homes based on how they look, not based on behavior, and not pass mandatory spay/neuter laws that pull animals out of homes for not being altered so they end up in the the shelter.
Ending the problem with homeless pets in this country begins with not creating homeless pets unnecessarily. It is one thing to struggle with killing homeless animals because of shelter overcrowding, it is quite another to kill ones that actually have homes, for no reason at all.