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A major contributor to the problem of pet overpopulation is "deliberate" over-breeding by commercial breeders who, for higher sales and profit, choose to produce as many litters as possible. Another contributor is "accidental" breeding by pet owners who don't spay or neuter their pet.
As a result, millions of healthy, adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized each year in the United States. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimated that approximately 3-4 million unwanted animals are surrended to animal shelters each year.
Millions of unwanted animals surrendered
Commercial breeding started in the 1940s. This is the same decade pet overpopulation also became an issue within the animal welfare community. Once dogs and cats started being commercially bred, the number of unwanted animals increased — as did the number of government animal pounds and private animal shelters trying to handle the overpopulation problem.
(In Minnesota, there is no master list of private animal shelters, though estimates range between 160-250, including humane societies, shelters, sanctuaries and rescue groups.)
While people may buy or adopt a pet with the best intentions of loving and caring for him or her forever, sometimes the animal is surrendered — brought to a shelter. Top reasons for surrendering a companion animal (per American Animal Welfare Society): Moving, the landlord doesn’t allow pets, too many animals in the household, and cost of pet maintenance.
Behavioral problems are also a reason for surrendering a pet. It’s estimated that 96% of dogs entering shelters have not had obedience training. (per American Animal Welfare Society) A few other statistics per the American Animal Welfare Society (study based on 12 selected animal shelters in the United States):
Owning a pet is a responsibility. It’s caring for a life, and requires time and expenses. Unlike inanimate objects (e.g. a chair, a computer, a phone), these “products” have been domesticated by humans, require human care and attention.
The unregulated dog and cat breeding industry contributes to pet overpopulation, yet provides no means or support to care for animals who are unwanted and surrendered.
Lack of accurate animal in-take and euthanasia statistics
There is no common reporting procedure used by all animal pounds and shelters for collecting animal data, such as the number and type of animals coming in, the number of animals adopted, the number of animals transferred or returned to owner and the number of animals euthanized.
Many private animal shelters either don’t have the resources to keep accurate records or they fear releasing euthanasia information.
In 2004, a group of animal welfare industry leaders met and created the Asilomar Accords. This document provides formulas and templates for recording and calculating animal data in shelters. The goal is to reduce euthanasia rates of healthy and treatable companion animals in the United States by highlighting the problem — providing clear facts and figures to the public so people begin to understand the pet overpopulation problem. Not all animals shelters, however, have adopted the Asilomar Accords; it’s voluntary.
Euthanasia rates have dropped
The term euthanasia means “good death.” It’s used to describe when animals are put to death (using painless methods) to relieve their misery if they are suffering.
Animal euthanasia is highly controversial within the animal community. Some people believe no adoptable or treatable companion animal should be killed; others believe caging a dog or cat for months or years within a shelter because no one will foster or adopt him or her is inhumane.
Some animal groups also try and calculate animal euthanasia based on human population (number of animal deaths per 1,000 human population). Animal People (Merritt Clifton) estimates “dogs and cats killed in shelters per 1,000 Americans dropped from 115 in 1970 to about 21 in 1995 to 14.8 in 2000 and back up to 17.4 in 2004. This varies by region; highest killing is in the south and the “poorest counties in each state kill dogs and cats at up to four times the rate of the richest.” (per Animal People, see link)
Reasons for euthanasia vary: if an animal is dangerous, seriously ill or seriously injured, or if the animal is healthy but there is not enough space, not enough money to treat the illness or injury, or not enough money to re-train, re-habilitate behavior or the animal is old.
A final note: Who does the killing?
Euthanasia of an animal is a heart-wrenching procedure to do or watch, whether that animal is injured, sick or healthy. In the Animal Care Policy Manual (July 2007) which states guidelines for USDA-licensed breeders, Policy 3 states that the “method of euthanasia must be consistent with the current Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia [name recently changed to AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia].”
The policy also states that gunshot is not an acceptable form of euthanasia. What it doesn’t state is who (breeder or licensed veterinarian) does the killing.
Due to no State law regulating dog and cat breeders, Minnesota has no state guidelines about how injured, sick or old animals should be killed within breeding facilities, and no state enforcement as to whether the breeder (as a business person) or a veterinarian (trained and licensed) should conduct the killing.