Thousands of years ago, humans changed the evolution of dogs and cats by domesticating them (“Companion”). These animal descendents, out of their natural environment and actively bred to exhibit owner desired traits, are now dependent on humans for survival. This dependency has resulted in the need for human solutions to animal tragedies. Spaying and Neutering companion animals, such as dogs and cats, is necessary to prevent overpopulation, high euthanasia rates, animal abandonment, unbalanced ecosystems and public health risks.
Animal overpopulation is a very real problem in the United States today. In seven years, one cat and her litters can produce over 420,000 offspring (“Facts”). A dog and her offspring can birth over 67,000 canines in a six-year period (“Companion”). With only 3500 to 4000 animal shelters in the whole United States, it is easy to understand the difficult choices animal control organizations face. There are millions of animals entering shelters everyday with only thirty percent of dogs and two to five percent of cats reclaimed by owners (“Myth”). Only half of these millions find homes through adoption each year.
The other millions of animals unable to find homes are subject to euthanasia to make room for the never-ending influx of other homeless animals. The numbers are heart wrenching; 27,473 animals die in a twenty-four hour period, each of the 365 days a year (“Facts”). In percentages, that is fifty-six percent of canines and seventy one percent of felines entering shelters put to death. Inability to find a home in a given time period is the major reason for euthanasia
In times of economic upheaval, animals are usually the first to suffer. Caregivers spend more time working and have to sacrifice time with their pet. In more severe cases, foreclosed homeowners must find an apartment on short notice and surrender animals to shelters when there is no pet addendum at their new home (Sharon). In Detroit, Michigan, one of the hardest hit cities in the United States during the recession, animal abandonment rates were up 151 percent in 2007 compared to animal abandonment rates in 2004 (Schultz & Verdon). When not surrendered to a shelter animals are released to roam the street or are tied up in a basement or backyard of an abandoned home as the owners way of keeping the animal out of a shelter. Most domesticated house pets however do not have the skills to survive in the wild (Sharon).
Companion animals left to roam the streets must tap into survival instincts laid dormant after thousands of years of being cared for and protected by humans. Most abandoned animals depend on garbage and scraps left by the human population for the majority of their nourishment. Additionally, the surrounding environment is rich with mice, chipmunks, ground squirrels and other small prey. Twenty-five percent of outdoor feline prey consists of birds (Haygood). The domesticated animals’ consumption of small prey is yet to be definitively detrimental to the prey population. There is some evidence of negative effects on competing predators of these prey populations, including the decline in populations of owls and hawks where a high number of companion animals run wild (Haygood).
In addition, companion animals have little in the way of natural predators. The predators they do have are occasional rather than regular attackers. The biggest threats stray, feral and abandoned animals have are inclement weather, like extreme heat, torrential rains and frigid colds, as well as illness and automobiles (Haygood). The overpopulation of these domesticated animals in turn causes negative effects on the human population. Dogs running onto a road cause six percent of all automobile accidents each year. A little over one percent of those accidents results in death and/or injury to the people involved (Frank). Diseases like rabies, though controlled in domesticated vaccinated animals, are contractible and transmittable by stray, feral or vulnerable outdoor pets. These infected animals pose a dangerous threat to wild animals like common skunk, raccoon and opossum, as well domesticated dogs and cats, and humans equally (Frank).
The spaying and neutering of companion animals prevents this overpopulation and its negative effects. Many organizations including PETA, all animal humane societies, most veterinarians and the SPCA all agree spaying and neutering to be the best solution for solving the problem of pet overpopulation and its consequences. There is evidence showing that sterilization can actually extend the life of these animals (“Myths”). The Animal Welfare Committee finds prevention of unwanted offspring and the reducing of certain cancers and disease to be benefits of spaying and neutering cats and dogs (Macejko).
There is controversy over making the sterilization of companion animals a legal matter. The American Kennel Club (AKC) opposes this mandatory stance on sterilization due to it creating problems for responsible breeders. The Animal Veterinary Medical Committee does endorse spaying and neutering however it does not stand behind states mandating sterilization. The fear is that mandating the procedures will cause “pet owners [to avoid] licensing, rabies vaccination and veterinary care for their pets (Macejko).” Mandatory laws for sterilizing companion pets has resulted in higher animal control costs and increased volunteer euthanasia rates. In states where emphasis is on educational initiatives and low-cost spay and neuter programs, animal adoptions have increased with the animal control costs decreasing (Macejko).
Overpopulation is an undeniable issue in the United States. Spaying and neutering animals not intended for breeding purposes serves as an essential solution for combating this issue. Responsible breeders must be under regulation and held to the highest standard to ensure the intentions are good. Sterilizing companion animals is a practice to combine with other solutions to combat overpopulation. People interested in owning an animal can contact local shelters and rescue organizations to adopt an animal in need of a home. A combination of education, awareness and action is necessary to combat the overpopulation of companion animals and the dangers it causes.
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