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.