Millions of Pets Killed; Is There a Solution?

Joel Klose thinks the time has come to solve to the pet overpopulation problem, which leads to millions of cats and dogs being killed in shelters every year.

"Basically we've made life disposable, by saying we're just going to get rid these animals," says Klose, the Animal Control Sergeant for Elmira, N.Y. "I can't tell you how depressing it is."

Millions Killed Each Year

Even though animal control is seldom a top priority for local government, the problem is enormous.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, 6 million to 8 million cats and dogs are euthanized each year.

There are 68 million owned dogs and 73 million owned cats in the United States today, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

Shelters, of course, try to provide homes for their animals, but more often than not they end up euthanizing them.

More than half of dogs and nearly three-quarters of cats in shelters are killed, according to a shelter survey by National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy.

Those numbers are reflected in communities such as Lee County, Fla., where animal control officials expect a record 13,000 pets to arrive in their shelters this year, and two-thirds of those to be killed. And the programs are not cheap; county officials expect to spend almost $2 million in 2002.

"Things have gotten better over the last 20 to 30 years — a bit," said Betsy McFarland of the Humane Society of the United States. "We're still in a crisis."

Working Toward a ‘No-Kill’ Policy

Despite the daunting numbers, animal advocates like Klose are optimistic. His facility in upstate New York is one of a growing number of animal shelters that are rethinking their approach to cat and dog overpopulation, and working toward ending the killing of adoptable pets.

"I think it's very realistic to think it can be done," he says.

Years of working in animal control have convinced him that a "no-kill" shelter is not just possible, but also essential. Extensive euthanasia has lowered the morale of shelter workers, alienated the pet-loving public, and fostered the idea that cats and dogs are essentially disposable, he says.

"You're never really coming to a solution to the problem — with a kill program," he says.

More shelters around the country are coming to agree, says Gary Patronek, the director of the Tufts University Center for Animals and Public Policy.

"Essentially every shelter is trying to become a 'no-kill' shelter," he says.

Looking at Supply …

Shelters such as the Dumb Friends League in Denver (the name means "mute," not "stupid") are looking at both supply and demand in trying to lower the number of animals put to sleep.

On the demand side, much can be done to increase animal adoption rates, says the Dumb Friends League's Kristina Vourax. The organization places 90 percent of adoptable cats and dogs in homes.

Shelters are improving the ways they screen potential pet owners and match a particular animal to a person, and offering more services to help people deal with problem pets.

They are also trying to address owners' unrealistic expectations about their new companions, such as couch potatoes bringing home high-energy terriers that would be better off with a marathon runner for an owner.

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