The answer to pet overpopulation

Cat in the cage at exhibitionBy Cindy Bablitz

I remember when Bob Barker started closing The Price is Right with his now infamous reminder, “Help control the pet population: have your pets spayed or neutered.” I wondered at the time, did people really need a daily reminder?

The bottom line is, as long as animal shelters house homeless pets while would-be pet guardians are buying pets from pet animal retailers, the problem of pet overpopulation exists. It’s one of those inconvenient truths: creating demand while a supply is being euthanized directly contributes to pet overpopulation.

Debbie Nelson, executive director with Calgary-based MEOW Foundation states matter-of-factly, “The result of pet overpopulation is needless suffering and cruelty — period.”

Debbie explains, not only are cats the most needy, the most neglected and most numerous of all other companion animals put together, they’re also most at risk for becoming the so-called “surplus animals” that get euthanized when shelters overcrowd and sufficient adoptive homes can’t be found.

“At MEOW, we say spay and neuter is at the heart of everything we do, but this has to walk hand-in-hand with responsible pet ownership, says Debbie. “We need people to understand that allowing their animals to breed is contributing to the fact that some animals who are waiting in shelters don’t have that opportunity to be adopted. As much as we try our very best to effectively re-home lost or surplus pet animals, the fact is, there isn’t always a happy outcome for homeless pets.”

According to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, (CFHS) the number of animals brought in to shelters in Canada has increased since 2008. The data comes from a report released last fall featuring the 2012 national animal shelter statistics, a voluntary and first time collaboration of data collection from 102 shelters designed to measure and improve the welfare of companion animals in Canada.

In 2012 more than 119,000 cats, 53,000 dogs and 15,000 other animals were taken in and cared for by Canadian shelters. (This is a conservative number and only represents the 102 shelters who responded to the CFHS shelter statistics survey which did not include all of the humane societies, SPCAs, municipal pounds and other organizations that care for animals across the country.)

As a matter of policy, most pet animal shelters spay or neuter animals in their care before adoption; in 2012, this policy accounted for more than 22,000 cats and 10,000 dogs being spayed and neutered by shelter organizations re-homing pet companions.

“Only four per cent of cats brought into shelters were reclaimed by owners compared to 26 per cent of dogs,” says Dr. Toolika Rastogi, policy and research manager at CFHS. “We strongly encourage everyone, members of the public and shelters, to use a permanent method of identification to ensure that lost animals are reunited with their families.”

Although “it is rare for a shelter to euthanize healthy animals,” assures Dr. Rastogi, (only three per cent of healthy cats and one per cent of healthy dogs were euthanized in shelters in 2012) the fact remains that “euthanasia is the starkest reality of companion animal overpopulation due to a lack of responsible pet ownership,” Dr. Rastogi says.

Nationally, some 41 per cent of cats and 15 per cent of dogs who found their way to shelters were euthanized in 2012. Still, this rate is an improved decrease from the mid-1990s when shelter animal euthanasia rates were closer to 60 per cent for cats and 30 per cent for dogs.

“We do believe we need to support our communities, and like other homeless pet shelters, the MEOW Foundation is making an impact in Calgary, helping our communities access spay and neuter surgeries for their pets,” says Debbie.

“In 2013, we subsidized over 1,300 surgeries for Calgarians who needed assistance to get their cats spayed or neutered; and if people are feeding feral cats, our program is completely free.”

And yet, for all Bob Barker’s and now Drew Carey’s reminders (Drew Carey took over as host of The Price is Right in 2007), only a tiny number of pets (seven per cent of dogs and five per cent of cats) entering shelters are already spayed or neutered.

Ladies and gentlemen, help control the pet population: have your pets spayed or neutered and consider adoption first when welcoming a new pet into the family.