Did You Know That August 20th Is Homeless Animals Day?
Why Do Animals Become Homeless?
I guess we all wonder why animals become homeless in the first place? What leads someone to give up on their beloved pet?
There may be many reasons which lead families or individuals to make that decision. Sometimes, being a pet owner does not always live up to expectations because their pet is difficult to train or handle. They have behaviour issues because they have not been trained properly or they have been mistreated in the past by previous owners.
These behaviour issues make it impossible to keep them in the family home, particularly where the pet parents are out of the house all day and come home to a train wreck.
Older people sometimes reach a point where they become incapable through ill health to care for a pet, no matter how much they love them. An elderly relative of ours recently tripped over her cat and fractured her ankle in two places and is now languishing in hospital whilst caring family members look after her pet. But the pet is lucky that there is a caring family or her fate may have been to be placed in a rescue shelter.
Pet owners may have to move from one location to another because of their work or their health and may not be able to take their pet with them, particularly if they are moving into rented accommodation which won’t accept pets.
Divorce or separation may lead to a pet no longer being wanted by either party and the death of a pet owner may mean the pet has to be taken into a shelter if there are no other relatives or friends prepared to take on the mantle of pet ownership.
Pets may even become strays because their owners move and decide not to take their pet with them and leave the poor animal to fend for itself. Unfortunately, this happens although how anyone could do that is difficult to imagine.
Owners may lose their job and can no longer afford their pet and sometimes the first budget cut has to be the poor pet but desperate situations sometimes require desperate measures.
And, of course, some pet owners may dearly want to have a pet to share their home with but discover that they are allergic to the pet they have chosen. This is really sad but sometimes the best or only solution for the owner is to part with the pet.
We have a beautiful cat who was a stray and made our garden her home. We have no idea where she came from or why she was homeless but she is now part of our family and lives in our house with us, but I suspect that her previous owner relocated and saw fit to abandon her to her fate. You can read about her choosing us as her human companions.
What Happens To Them When They Do Become Homeless?
Sadly, this is where the system becomes a lottery and may well depend on the local facilities available to take in homeless animals. Not all animal shelters are created equal. Many are staffed by professional people who really care about the animals who come to them for shelter, food, treatment and reassurance. This may not be true of all shelters of course as many just become overwhelmed and cannot offer the sort of treatment that the animal needs.
Put yourself in the place of the poor animal who has either been abandoned or left alone with no one to care for them. They are almost certainly frightened as their world has just been turned upside down. They may also be sick or injured through lack of nutrition, or disease or ill treatment. They need love, attention, medical care and nursing back to full health before they can even be considered for adoption by new owners.
Unfortunately, long term survival and placement may well depend on the shelter they are taken to, and the overall health and the attractiveness of the animal. Pressure on space, resources, funds, helpers may all lead to the need to create more places for incoming animals, leading to the need to euthanize the less fortunate who may have behaviour issues or are just not attractive and possibly not able to be placed.
There are numerous shelters who proclaim that they are ‘no kill’ or turn away’ shelters which mean that they do not euthanize animals but instead this policy leads them to turn away animals which they cannot cope with or do not want. Not wanting to euthanize animals is a laudable sentiment but what happens to the animals which are turned away? What does their fate become?
There are numerous recorded instances of animals being presented to no kill shelters and being turned away through lack of space, possibly the owner being asked to come back weeks later when there may be space. But what happens to the animal in the meantime? If the owner was desperate enough to bring it to a shelter for refuge what are they going to do when asked to take it away again and keep it even longer?
Some animals probably don’t make it out of the shelter parking lot, some will be dumped on the roadside a few miles away and still others may not survive the day. Some will be taken to other shelters in the vicinity and may be lucky enough to find themselves being taken in by caring people who will treat them responsibly and find new owners for them.
Many will not be that lucky as they are dumped in pitiful shelters where they just don’t receive the care and attention they need due to lack of funds or in the hands of people who have an ulterior motive for taking them in. Either way, their survival chances are slim.
Ultimately, many unfortunate animals will not get a second chance and will be euthanized, providing a peaceful end to their suffering.
What Are The Statistics?
According to recent American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) statistics:
- Approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.
- Each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats).
- Approximately 2.7 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.4 million dogs and 1.3 million cats).
- About 649,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 542,000 are dogs and only 100,000 are cats.
- Of the dogs entering shelters, approximately 35% are adopted, 31% are euthanized and 26% of dogs who came in as strays are returned to their owner.
- Of the cats entering shelters, approximately 37% are adopted, 41% are euthanized, and less than 5% of cats who came in as strays are returned to their owners.
- About twice as many animals enter shelters as strays compared to the number that are relinquished by their owners.
- It is estimated that there are 13,600 animals shelters in the US nationwide.
If there are any positives to be drawn from this it is that firstly, a number of strays are reunited with their owners and, secondly, just about a third of the animals who enter shelters are adopted each year. Otherwise, the statistics present a grim picture for homeless animals.
What Can Be Done?
It’s a crying shame that so many animals are delivered into this world of ours only to suffer sad or cruel ends and if we all act as responsible pet owners there are certain things we can do to make sure the surfeit of animals coming into the world is reduced.
So, as individual pet parents we can ensure that all animals we take into our households and our hearts are spayed or neutered. I know it costs money but, unless you intend to breed from your pet, please get this done at the earliest opportunity. This prevents further unwanted animals being delivered into the world to increase an already over-burdened population. Please look out for Charity “Free Spay or Neuter Days” in your area if the cost of the operation is a challenge.
There are already a number of pet organizations who act in the best interests of companion animals and could all do with our support. There are too many to mention individually but there are a few who are worthy of mention. They are:
- The Humane Society of the United States who need support if they are to continue with all the good work they do in support of the welfare of animals;
- The ASPCA who provide a number of ways in which you can support them in their quest to resolve animal homelessness and overpopulation;
- The American Veterinary Medical Association who take a keen interest in ways of preventing unwanted increases in the animal population and also of treating animals in shelters;
- The International Society for Animal Rights who are dedicated to keeping the issue of dog and cat overpopulation in the public eye so that all animal care organizations can one day concentrate on improving the health and conditions of companion animals, rather than the overpopulation. They even offer International Homeless Animal Day vigil packets and posters if you happen to be holding an event in your area in support of the day.
Please try to find it in your hearts and wallets to support one or more of these worthy organizations.
How Can You Help?
If you already have a pet capable of breeding, please consider having them spayed or neutered as soon as possible. If your pet is already pregnant and you are going to sell or give away their offspring please make sure the puppies or kittens are properly vaccinated and, at the right time, that they go to responsible people who really want them, are prepared to look after them and can really afford them long term.
If you are thinking of getting a pet because you are being badgered by the kids, please consider a number of factors before you make your decision and please don’t just give in to them, the kids that is. You know you’ll be the ones to care for them and feed them if the kids are bored with their new toys in just a few weeks.
Firstly, pets don’t come cheap and take a lot of initial expenditure as you prepare your home space to cater for them. Although much of this is very obvious I suspect that many families make snap decisions without serious consideration of the consequences. That possibly leads to yet another rejected, dejected and homeless animal placed in an over-populated shelter or worse.
Kittens and puppies both need feeding and this requires not just food but bowls for water, dishes for food, and mats to protect your flooring from spilled food. Then, of course, there is the food itself which has to bought on a regular basis and is an ongoing cost to the household budget. Depending on the animal, its size and growth rate this can move from an acceptable to a very significant cost as your 50 lb, fully grown dog eats you out of house and home.
You need to provide space in your home for the new pet with all that entails. Bedding, possibly litter trays and litter, again on an ongoing basis, dog training, dog collars and leads and many other items besides.
Think about your lifestyle when choosing your pet, the size of your home, how much exercise will the pet need, will they be suitable for mixing with children? And remember that little puppies and adorable kittens grow into larger animals!
When it comes to exercise, cats need less thought than dogs although cats still do need toys to exercise both their minds and their bodies, especially if they are confined to a house or apartment and don’t have access to outside space. However, dogs do need exercising regularly and in all weathers. The larger and more active the dog the more exercise they need. Are there at least two members of your household who are prepared to take on that responsibility, maybe walking them for miles every day? This could eat into your valuable time which you may not be able or willing to afford.
If you are going to be responsible pet parents you are going to have your beautiful kitten or puppy spayed or neutered. This means that they will not have the ability to create offspring, thus preventing the further over population of pet animals in the US. But this does come at a cost, as does pet insurance which is becoming very popular as veterinary practises become more sophisticated in the operations they can carry out to save and make more comfortable the lives of our companion animals.
If you are living in a rental property will your landlord accept pets? This may be a deciding factor which can’t be overcome as it may be part of your contract.
After all these factors are considered and you still make the decision to get a pet then there are some things you shouldn’t do and some you should if you want to reduce homelessness among the pet population.
Please don’t consider purchasing from breeders, puppy mills or pet shops.
Puppy mills and pet shops are all concerned with just one thing and that’s the amount of profit that can be made on the animal. Puppy mills have long been a bone of contention as they are just dog breeding factories with little regard to the health, physical and emotional, of the dogs concerned. The Humane Society of the US estimate that there are at least 10,000 puppy mills in the US with fewer than 3,000 of them regulated by the US Department of Agriculture. The Humane Society have also produced a fact sheet on the veterinary problems associated with puppy mill dogs. If you need any further evidence not to buy from these sources then download and read this.
Buying from breeders brings its own problems as not all breeders are registered with recognised clubs and there are a number of questions which need to be asked of the breeder if you are really intent on having a pedigree puppy or kitten.
Again, the good old Humane Society of the US to the rescue. They provide a download on “How to identify a Responsible Dog Breeder” which is free.
Please read the article and the download before you decide to go down this route.
However, also bear in mind that many dogs and cats in shelters are purebreds and will make excellent pets.
If you decide to get a pet please consider adopting from a local Animal Shelter or Rescue Group. More good advice on this approach can be found here.
By selecting animals from shelters as your pet companion you can help stop the overpopulation crisis that leads to extremely crowded animal shelters and the euthanization of millions of animals who have done nothing to deserve that fate.
PLEASE THINK BEFORE YOU ACT. Thank you.
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