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« Why people adopt pets vs buy, & vice versa - Research from PetSmart Charities | Main | While advocates push for needed shelter reform, HSUS blames volunteers »

June 10, 2010


H Houlahan

I'm running from memory here.

When I read this way back when it was released, I was disappointed that dogs and cats were treated as one entity for the most part.

The issues facing these different species are quite different, and so will be the solutions for any social problems posed by those issues.

I bet there are a LOT more accidental litters born to cats than to bitches. Almost every kitten born was not intended by the queen's owner.

I bet a LOT more cat owners who believe their animal is too young to be spayed are actually "wrong" in that belief. I'd like to have seen the relationship (broken down by species) between the actual age of the animal and the owner's perception of the animal being too young to neuter. That would be interesting.

Also, data on consumer awareness of low-cost sterilization options in their communities assumes that those options actually exist. This is not universally true.

As for the relatively small number of dogs that come from pet stores -- yes, we've known that for a while.

But others now come from direct-to-consumer puppymills, which will be lumped under "breeder" in these stats. No real way to parse those out in a survey like this. I am guessing that direct sales may now represent more puppymill sales than pet store sales. It is certainly more lucrative for the miller with some marketing savvy.

Increasingly -- and I think the numbers are few, but the concept is alarming -- there are puppymill outlets posing as "rescues," so some number of "adopted" dogs were also bred in puppymills and sold at a profit, just with a side dish of deniability for the consumer. Again, outside the scope of this kind of survey, but something to keep in the back of one's head.


I'm not surprised that so many people underestimate the size of the "overpopulation" problem. I get the impression that a lot of municipal shelters want to minimize the scope of the problem of unwanted pets because it can draw attention to their abysmal save rates. I don't understand that mind set since being very open about poor save rates can help to get more people involved in trying to help -- directly (volunteering, advocating for changes at the shelter, adopting from the shelter etc.) or indirectly (getting their own pets altered or working to resolve behavioral issues instead of dropping off at the shelter thinking the animal has a good chance of living -- it doesn't). I know it would mean more heat for the shelter directors, but being more vocal about the number of animals being killed at the shelter might lead to cities/counties trying to do better by these animals on numerous levels.


Petsmart, HSUS and others did a similar survey post-Katrina in the Gulf states and came up with similar results. I've always found it valuable to compare survey responses to look for regional differences and national trends. (I know some people don't like HSUS, but don't let narrow-minded thinking get in the way of reading useful info)
The cat problem is much worse than dogs in many areas. Alley Cat Allies put out a survey in the past year or so showing that a majority of owned cats are altered - it's the strays that need help. The solution, TNR paid for by the city, would be much more economical than paying animal control to catch and kill cats. For dogs, a significant number of people get them as strays or from an unwanted litter. And anyone who thinks they are going to put up an adoption center where people can pay for what (in their eyes) they can get for free is deluded. Remember, it's what _they_ think is important, not what you or any city council person, or any animal control officer thinks.
An effective adoption program is important. But there is never any follow-up research across entire areas to see the effect that a sucessful adoption effort has. I have seen more than one multi-org effort, and adoptions _always_ go down afterwards at both shelters and private rescues after a big success.
The reason the adoptions go down is because there are more pets than good homes, or even ok homes. (I am still waiting to see any REAL research that substantiates the idea that there are enough good homes that we can rely on adoption, something more than just some anecdotal evidence. The numbers that do exist are just opinions. Brent just had a post on that a couple weeks ago, so perhaps we will see something some day ). One of Winograd pillars to the no-kill philosophy is adoption, but s/n is another, and equally important. This country used to kill over 23 million animals a year, and it was only the advent of early-age spay/neuter that brought us significant decreases in those numbers. If there are enough homes adoptions should never decrease, yet they do. In fact Winograd makes the case in his own writing that s/n is seen as so important that it _must_ be offered and underwritten by someone other than the pet owners. National surveys tell us that is vital, especially when one is dealing with household incomes of less than $30,000/yr. See Calgary - they built a whole clinic just for that. Beyond emotion, that lack of hard data is a part of the reason as to why ineffective and dangerous laws like BSL or mandated spay/neuter get passed.
The fact is that most pet owners already spay/neuter (s/n) their pets. Those that don't are significantly overrepresented in households with <$30,000/yr income, and you will never reach them until s/n is provided at no or nearly no cost. Fortunately there are already a couple models for doing this. New Hampshire put a fee on licensing (not a great idea because it hits areas of low-income harder) but then targeted a NEW program at people on government assistance of some kind, with a small copay. Resulted in a dramatic decrease in shelter intake. And the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force raises funds elsewhere to start then pays veterinarians and assistants\technicians to perform high-volume surgeries in a safe and clean temporary setup and invites pet owners to volunteer. (see pics of an event we modeled after that - that area, where dogs used to chase cattle and be killed in the woods has seen no incidents in the same time period when there used to be several. And that was with just one event. There is no formal animal control, and virtually no one pays for animals). With such efforts your costs can average below $50 a surgery which can be raised through grants and small fundraisers by a small nonprofit. The veterinarians, technicians, and assistants still get the fair wage they are very much entitled to. Veterinarians who participate are astounded at the people from their service area who they have never seen. This is the only way to reach that population.


I dunno.. it just seems like the more critical piece is "why do owners give up their dogs to shelters and how can we change that" (rather than "how many dogs are out there" or "how many un-neutered dogs are there"?). How many of the dogs given up are puppies from the unwanted/unplanned litters of unneutered dogs?

Aren't there studies that indicate that a huge percentage of dogs are given up for behavioral issues, or stupid ones like "I'm moving" or "doesn't match the couch"?



I think this is what you're thinking about:

Moving is #1 - which makes no sense to me.

Certainly I think there is a lot of work to be done on pet retention -- but I honestly don't think I would make that a focus.

Winograd (I know, you're favorite person) has a great clip in his presentation about how there will always be irresponsible owners that give up on their pets for ridiculous reasons. I have a coworker who is taking in a dog because their relative just got new polished concrete floors and the dog is scratching the floors so they are giving the dog up.

This is highly forseeable 'problem' and a highly solvable one (repolish them) but yeah, some people just aren't willing to make lifetime committments because we, as humans, are selfish creatures.

This is exactly the reason there will always be a need for shelters in the country.

I'd much rather shelters spend their time and energy focusing on changing the things they have the power to change vs trying to hope the human species somehow becomes less selfish. Now programs that help retention of people who WANT to make the lifetime committement (financial help for those who are struggling or for major surgeries, training help, landlord education) is a good idea.


Brent, that top ten list you posted, forgot a MAJOR reason! People surrender pets because they are having a baby ALL. THE. TIME. It should be #2 on that list because seriously, the two most common reasons I hear are moving and baby! We just had two returns a few weeks ago, both old dogs. One was returned because his owner was moving to a condo, the other was returned because his owners were having a baby.

...ok thats all I wanted to say...I do think there are good points in these posts. :)

mary frances

Thanks for this post - very informative - Also Brent your comment is worthy of framing:

"I'd much rather shelters spend their time and energy focusing on changing the things they have the power to change vs trying to hope the human species somehow becomes less selfish. Now programs that help retention of people who WANT to make the lifetime commitment(financial help for those who are struggling or for major surgeries, training help, landlord education) is a good idea."

As a taxpayer/animal welfare advocate/pet owner=lover that's exactly what I want from animal control - then I'll be able to call it an animal shelter.



It wasn't my list - -but yeah, agree, I hear a lot of people who end up with dogs nipping at children and the dogs getting turned into the shelter. I wish everyone who has a dog that is bringing a child into their home would see a trainer about working with their dog around their newborn -- for the good of the dogs and the children.

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