A community is an extended family, a social ecosystem that includes both our environment and our relationship to all those around us, human and non-human alike. When any member of this family suffers neglect, all members are diminished and the community as a whole is harmed.
Consider the case of companion animals.
Approximately 400 million dogs exist worldwide and roughly three quarters are unwanted. In much of the world, even including portions of the U.S., sheltering homeless animals is a very low social priority, if it is undertaken at all.
Worldwide most homeless animals are left to fend for themselves, or starve, or become subject to cruel collection and killing campaigns like the one recently carried out in Sochi that made headlines internationally. Although effective methods of preventing unwanted litters of dogs and cats have existed for decades and are becoming easier and more cost-effective every day, preventing the births of more homeless animals is not practiced in much of the world, and is not the publicly supported option even in the U.S. with public funding for prevention efforts at a tiny fraction of sheltering.
Preventing unwanted litters is not just important for the animals destined for a life of neglect and suffering, it is also important for the people who live around them — it is important for our greater community of humanity.
When a community is beset by unwanted companion animals, street dogs for example, the care each animal receives is diminished. The local perception of appropriate care is reduced to include none at all, and neglect actually becomes the norm. Not surprisingly then, the average lifespan of a street dog is under three years. While the effect of this neglect on the animals is the foremost issue, and it should be addressed with urgency, “normalized” animal neglect also has a profound effect on people in the vicinity. Witnessing neglect ultimately transfers to the way people perceive the need to nurture, to care for the world around them. Witnessing neglect as a normal day-to-day way of life does not foster a sense of compassion. In fact, quite the contrary.
When companion animals visit hospital wards, children respond positively: their appetite improves, they want to play and they communicate more about their condition. We readily acknowledge this improvement; however, we ignore the opposite effect of losing a pet due to the inability to feed a litter, or seeing a local street dog meet a violent fate, or viewing one of the collection and killing programs so common in developing nations and on tribal lands in the US. These experiences obviously have a far greater impact on the animals themselves than on people around them, but surely living with this violence does not teach us how to be good neighbors.
If nurturing, caregiving and warm human/animal relationships have a positive outcome for people, what happens when we allow neglect and cruelty to be the norm? We offhandedly dismiss many negative, if somewhat subtle, experiences that children in chronic poverty endure. If good experiences can support a therapeutic outcome for a sick child, there is no reason to think that the opposite, witnessing neglect, suffering and cruelty, are without impact as well.
If we view a community as a social and physical ecosystem, a network that is ultimately connected to all other communities worldwide, we must recognize that chronic and widespread neglect of companion animals not only kills these neighbors in a slow and horrible way and but extracts a high price from those who learn to live with it on a daily basis. Preventing unwanted litters is a humane and cost-effective step in enabling people to provide basic care for the animals around them — and, in the process, improving the life of the community they are a part of.
Follow Ruth Steinberger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/spayfirstorg
Our nation has long had a love affair with “pets” or “companion animals” — dogs, cats, rabbits and other cute critters. But while we seem to value our relationships with the animals that share our homes, we’re fickle.
The seemingly beloved and pampered pet of today may be the abandoned, abused or forgotten pet of tomorrow. Indeed, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPA), in 2012 Americans spent $53 billion, or an average of $177 per person, on pet care products, including pet furniture, doggie daycare and videos for pets that shared their lives. Yet, according to Oxford Lafayette Pets we spent only $6 per person, or $2 billion overall, on the animal welfare agencies that help pets once they are no longer wanted. While we love our pets, many of those at the s$6 level of care were once at the $177 level of pampering, and one single predictor of that bad luck stands ahead of all the others.
Among the reasons for releasing pets to shelters cited by the National Humane Education Society (NHES) are moving, changes in employment or housing or behavioral issues and shelters note that some pets are even relinquished because they grew too big. However, the single greatest predictor of whether a dog or cat will end up in a shelter at some time is simply being born in an unplanned, unwanted litter. Basically, if a pet starts out as part of an accidental litter, and is casually given away to any willing taker, its initial “adoption” as a puppy or kitten is far more fragile than if the pet is obtained following a deliberate decision to spend money and purchase a dog or cat from a breeder of their choice. Sounds logical? It is.
Again, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 26 percent of dogs are obtained from breeders and according to the ASPCA, 25 percent of dogs that enter municipal shelters are purebred; the percentage initially acquired as purebreds and the percentage of purebreds released to shelters match up pretty closely. Conversely, APPA notes that 39 percent of dogs are obtained from friends, family members or taken in as strays. While purebreds make up 25 percent of shelter intakes, the unplanned (non-purebred) dogs make up the other 75 percent of those entering shelters, meaning they are released to shelters at nearly double the rate at which they were “adopted” in the first place. And they represent an even greater percentage of those that do not get homes once they enter shelters.
This is no small matter: More than 1.5 million unwanted litters of puppies or kittens, or an estimated 7 to 8 million unplanned dogs and cats, are produced each year in the U.S.
Clearly, we hope that those who have the space and the time in their life for a dog, cat or rabbit will adopt a shelter pet. However, until we address the greatest source of shelter pets –accidental litters — through prevention and mandatory spay/neuter programs, the cycles that place pets on the streets and into shelters will not end.
Follow Ruth Steinberger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/spayfirstorg
Originally published on Huffington Post
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Spay FIRST is leading the charge in research for dogs on the non-surgical sterilent called GonaCon. Through a partnership with the USDA, Spay FIRST will provide field trials that will hopefully bring prevention based programs to communities around the world as they attempt to control the numbers of unwanted dogs.
By SUE MANNING, Associated Press Writer | June 20, 2013 | Updated: June 20, 2013 4:23pm
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A decade ago, the Rosebud Sioux Indians in South Dakota were paying people to catch and shoot wild dogs. Dogs that weren’t caught were covered in mange and parasites. Some froze. Some starved. In packs, they survived by eating each other. And dog bites were 20 times worse than the national average.
Because animals are such an important part of Indian history and culture, tribal leaders called spay and neuter expert Ruth Steinberger. In the next eight years, they worked together to sterilize 7,000 dogs, moving 1,500 of them to other parts of the country for adoption.
SpayFIRST is very excited our partnership with whentospay.org, a brand new project of Humane Alliance (humanealliance.org) that’s designed to bring the science of spay/neuter right to the public through messages that let people know that preventing an accidental first litter is absolutely key to reducing animal suffering. The science may sometimes be complicated but the message is not; the only way to reduce the number of homeless animals is by getting pets fixed before they’re in danger of coming into season for the first time. It’s a matter of common sense and compassion too.
In addition to the many health benefits of avoiding an accidental early litter, an unplanned litter starts a chain of events that goes on for years; some animals will pay a heavy price…some will not make it out of a shelter alive, others will be abandoned and worse. 75 percent of adult animals entering shelters are mixed breed animals that were born in unplanned, and generally unwanted, litters. Then they became an unwanted animal over and over again. If your pet has a litter, other animals that are already born will not get homes. And even if just one third of animals born into an average litter have a litter of their own, and only one third of those have just one litter, the numbers are in the hundreds within just a few years.
Please visit whentospay.org. You can find their great information and downloads right here and on the Spay FIRST Facebook page. Please share their great materials with friends, post them on your FaceBook page and help get the word out…the animals are counting on you!