The Catastrophe Of Pet Overpopulation

FOCUS ON PETS

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An incredible film documentary aired on public television the other night. Unfortunately, it was shown at 10:30 p.m. so many people missed it. The title was "Best Friends Forgotten," and it explored the severe problem of pet overpopulation in this country.

This documentary focused on two animals, a dog named Clover and an adorable black and white kitten named Oreo. You watch them move through the system. This film is sad, heartwarming, gripping and real.

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In a perfect world, all cages would be empty. If everyone would make a lifetime commitment when adopting a pet, and would spay and neuter, this could be a reality.

Our government spends two billion dollars a year to capture, shelter, feed, and euthanize our pets. We are failing our best friends.

These dogs and cats are supposed to be, and beg to be, our constant companions, and our most forgiving friends. According to the film, there are millions of unwanted dogs and cats, and most have no hope of survival. There are too many animals for the number of available homes. There are 4,000 to 6,000 shelters operating across the country. All take in more animals than they can care for, and each day they face the horrible task of euthanizing puppies, kittens, and sweet adult dogs and cats. These are the harsh realities of pet overpopulation.

Animal Control officers are often seen as the bad guys, and yet they are rescuing animals from horrible, deplorable situations and bringing them to safe, sheltered environments. It is my hope that each dog brought into a shelter is checked for a microchip, but most have no identification of any kind. Ideally, they are examined for health problems. Those who are not healthy generally would be euthanized immediately because funds are not available for their care. Too many feel that shelter pets are vicious, sick or in some way not fit to be companions. In reality, 20 percent of all pets entering a shelter are purebreds. Adoption is the best hope for these animals.

Only 17 percent of companion animals are adopted from shelters. Too often, we purchase our pets from pet stores, particularly in cities. The majority of pet store puppies come from puppy mills -- puppy mills are the absolute injustice for dogs. Females are bred each heat cycle, twice a year, and raise their puppies in small cages. These puppy mill dogs live their lives in cages, and most of them never set foot on the ground or have a chance to run and play, or even walk a little. They have very limited human contact. The puppies are taken from their moms at four to five weeks and packed into other cages and boxes, and shipped to pet stores across the country. Many never make it. Puppy mills are not always in distant places. If you see an advertisement for puppies and the breeder has several different breeds and lots of puppies, and offers to meet you some place and show you a few puppies, you can be fairly certain this breeder operates a puppy mill. So many puppy mill dogs are poor representatives of the breed, but puppy buyers are impressed with the fact that the sire and dam are registered with the American Kennel Club. Many of them have health or behavior problems and many end up in shelters. What a life!

One-in-10 dogs will stay with its original owner. Isn't that an incredible statistic? Five-in-10 will change owners before they are a year old. The rest end up in shelters, or worse. The main reason given by people turning in a dog or cat is because of housing situations. The landlord will not allow pets, or people move, families break apart, and the pet becomes an inconvenience. Not all situations are preventable, but with planning and commitment, many of these situations would not happen. Too many see pets as expendable. If one does not work out or gets sick, is hit by a car, grows too big or runs away, get another one. Or leave the old one behind and get a new one after the move.

The major problem, of course, is failing to spay and neuter. One kitten and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats in seven years. Some feel a male dog will not be macho if he is neutered and not allowed to breed. Some think it is wonderful to allow a female to have a litter or two or three. Most just do not think about it. There are probably some who would neuter and spay their pets but the money is just not available. For those in that last category, contact me and in some way we will solve that problem. If there are people who would like to contribute to a spay and neuter fund, or would like to sponsor a dog or cat, let me know.

For more information, go to the website for HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States, and click on "Animal Information Centers." You can read about and order "Best Friends Forgotten." This documentary will change the way you think, or it should.

Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry AZ 85544.

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