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Kinship Circle Column runs monthly in The Healthy Planet. Ms. Shoss is also a contributing writer for The Animals Voice, Satya Magazine, VegNews, and other publications.


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Dying For A Home: America's Pet Overpopulation Crisis

by Brenda Shoss
To subscribe to Kinship Circle Letters for Animals, email:

The white poodle trembled as cars whisked past his mangled body at the busy Chicago intersection of Augusta and Central. Cara pulled over, as she had done countless times before, to rescue another animal. She was inches from the dog when a blue car charged over him. The little pup flipped in a morbidly graceful arc before he crashed into the pavement. Cara gently carried his warm body to the curb. There was no tag or chip to personalize the death-only a limp, pink tongue to recall old kisses and canine confidences.

In America, 62,400,000 dogs live as companions with people. Three in 10 households care for at least 1 cat. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that tens of thousands of puppies and kittens are born everyday. But unlike the 11,000 human babies who enter the world daily, companion animals are amassed and cast off like yesterday's junk. Millions wind up in shelters or are left to die on the streets.

In our disposable culture, people throw out family pets who soil furniture, chew rugs, or simply grow old. Some obtain kittens or puppies without researching their breed and become frustrated with unanticipated growth spurts or behavioral challenges. Stray and abandoned animals propel the overpopulation dilemma with thousands more offspring. One female dog and her young can produce 67,000 puppies in 6 years. A cat and her litter can create 420,000 kittens in 7 years. A 1998 USA Today report revealed that taxpayers shell out $2 billion each year to seize, board, kill and discard homeless animals.

What happens to the bewildered family four-legger surrendered to a shelter? Impound No. 52865, a tan-and-white Labrador mix, typifies the fate of many. Days after his humans left him at the North Central Los Angeles Animal Shelter, the confused 4-month-old searched for a familiar face. Each morning, his eyebrows arched hopefully to greet an Animal Regulations officer. But on day 5 his new friend didn't bring breakfast. The puppy sensed the man's apprehension and his brown eyes widened into terrified pools. This is just a day like any other, he thought as the man cradled him against his chest. A second man armed with a long needle nudged one floppy paw away from the dog's tightly coiled body. Will this hurt? Is this man nice? Impound No. 52865 never found out. Within seconds, death flooded his veins in an unrelenting stream.

For Impound No. 49024, a giddy mixed breed border collie, the day ended in a reunion with his guardians. There is a hit-and-miss fate for the 8 to 10 million cats and dogs who annually enter shelters. With only 4 to 6 thousand U.S. facilities, companion animals are routinely destroyed due to lack of space, illness or unadoptability. HSUS estimates that 4 to 6 million unwanted animals are euthanized every year.

"The nation's shelters have to perform society's dirty work," says Bill Dyer, of the national animal protection group In Defense of Animals. "They do get blamed and that's unfortunate. It's really the fault of people not getting their animals fixed."

An HSUS poster features a puppy in front of a pile of canine carcasses, with the caption: "When you let your pet bring unwanted animals into the world...guess who pays." There are simply more companion animals than loving homes. Each time backyard breeders promise to find homes for litters, they unintentionally put pound pets on death row. In areas that have implemented affordable spay/neuter clinics, educational drives, and low-cost microchip programs-the euthanasia rate has dropped 30 to 60%. Yet an HSUS study indicates that 55% of dogs and 47% of cats enter shelters unaltered.

Extensive sterilization could solve the overpopulation crisis. Unfortunately, misinformation perpetuates the problem. Fallacy: "The procedure is too painful. I wouldn't consider it until my animal is at least 6 months old." Fact: Most veterinarians now perform spay/neuter at 6 to 10 weeks when general anesthesia and surgery pose minimal risk. Animals resume daily activities within 24 to 72 hours.



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