Abby Taylor, Animal Science
Trish Vosburg, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation
Emily Sgarlat, Natural Resources Conservation
Spaying and neutering saves lives. In her first year a female cat can have up to 3 litters, this could mean an average of 12 kittens per year. In her second year if she and each of her kittens have three litters, that’s 144 offspring… if this cycle continues, in 4 years a single cat and her kittens can be responsible for 10,736 offspring. (Pet Health Network, 2011) There is an overpopulation of domestic cats and dogs in the United States. There are not enough homes for these animals and many of them end up in shelters. Due to overcrowding of shelters approximately 600 dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens are killed every hour (AHeinz57, 2015). The role domesticated cats and dogs play in our lives is often as company, we choose to take on the financial responsibility that comes with owning a cat or dog because they add happiness to our lives. Part of this financial responsibility includes spaying or neutering these animal companions.
Defining the Problem
Domesticated dogs and cats have played an enormous role in the lives of humans for centuries, and continue to do so. Humans and animals originally relied on each other for protection, hunting, labor and over the centuries this relationship grew to more specific jobs like seeing-eye dogs, police dogs and rescue dogs. We share a working relationship with animals, but we also share emotional relationships with them; dogs and cats are often family members. However, the best interest of these animals sometimes gets overlooked when we lose control of the domesticated animal population. The numbers of dogs and cats born into this world is exceeding the number of homes that can support them. Animal shelters provide pets temporary homes until they are adopted, but it takes money to keep these shelters running and they are limited in available space. Many homes often rescue a pet but later return them for financial reasons or the pet is not adjusting to the home. Shelters are overwhelmed with the number of rescued homeless dogs and cats coming in since they lack space. An estimated 6-8 million cats and dogs enter shelters each year (Humane Society, 2014). In response, they either turn the pet away or resort to euthanasia. Approximately 2.7 million healthy, adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters each year (Humane Society, 2014).
Much of the world is unaware of this overpopulation problem and the possible steps humans can take to prevent continued growth of an already saturated population. While 6-8 million cats and dogs are entering shelters each year, only 3-4 million of those cats and dogs are adopted (Humane Society, 2014). Many people lack education about spaying and neutering their pets. Often times these benefits appear insubstantial to owners who want their pet behaving a certain way, intend to use them for breeding or showing, or don’t want to pay the sterilization costs. In many cases, owners who fear losing a certain behavior or finances are not yet aware of the overpopulation issue. These owners are not yet informed how spaying and neutering can decrease the number of homeless dogs and cats in the future. There lacks a uniform method of conveying information about spaying and neutering for veterinarians to owners.
“Veterinarian facilities are generally regulated at the state level [and] [m]any states have specific guidelines and requirements that veterinary facilities must maintain in order to receive an operating permit. Many states do not have specific requirements but often times include the failure to maintain sanitary facilities as a violation of the Veterinary Practice Act” (AVMA, 2014, para. 1).
The AVMA state legislative and regulatory department (2014) also claims the regulations they refer to “include such things as sanitary requirements, housing requirements, specifications concerning surgical facilities, and building maintenance requirements” (AVMA, 2014, para. 2). Veterinarians and hospital managers at the state level have certain standards to meet, yet they do not address needs for domesticated animals on a larger scale in this case a nation experiencing the world’s overpopulation of domesticated animals. The goal is to alleviate the taxpayers down the line by directing their money towards methods that help decrease the homeless pet population. Tax dollars will be spent on a solution to the problem, instead of being spent on the issues the problem creates. State legislation implementing mandatory education from veterinarians to pet owners in the benefits of spaying and neutering should be set forth to address and decrease the domestic dog and cat overpopulation in the United States.
Why Should We Care?
Spaying and neutering cats and dogs positively impacts individual health in addition to decreasing overpopulation of these animals. Spaying and neutering is defined as the “ovariohysterectomy” or castration of puppies or kittens 6 to 14 weeks of age” (Kustritz, 2002, pg. 1), meaning that a female’s ovaries and/or uterus are removed, while a male’s testes are removed. Legislation enforcing this education for owners will encourage them to spay and neuter their pets. Neutered male dogs live 18% longer than their intact counterparts and spayed females live 23% longer than their counterparts (Humane Society, 2014). This increased life span is attributed to lessened risks of certain types of cancers prevalent in household pets and behavioral changes that alleviate an animal’s need to find a mate. When a cat or dog is looking for a mate, that is the only thing on their mind. This desire potentially puts them in danger, they will try to run away to find a mate, which increase their chances of getting hit by a car or in a fight with a sexual rival (Humane Society, 2014).
The Proposed Solution
In order to address these broad concerns with domestic dog and cat overpopulation, it is extremely important to invest in a simple but effective educational program for veterinarians to deliver uniform, clear information to pet owners about spaying and neutering. This program would take the shape of a nationwide system for giving veterinarians a regulated education system. The system would include pamphlets about the facts of spaying and neutering and would address common misconceptions about the process, such as the changes in animal behavior and health risks. These pamphlets can be handed out to pet owners when they bring their animals in for check-ups. The program would require veterinarians to deliver the same message to all pet owners about the benefits of spaying and neutering instead of leaving the discussion to the discretion of the vet. In order for all veterinarians to be on the same page about the program, they would also be sent a PowerPoint presentation illuminating the overpopulation issue and explaining the goals of the pamphlets. The objective of this program is not to force pet owners into spaying or neutering pets, but to instead create a uniform system of educating people of the facts, and hopefully sway them to spay or neuter and make smarter choices about their pet’s’ health. It has already been proven that programs that make spay/neuter education consistent are effective at curbing the overpopulation problem within shelters. When a similar program was implemented in Transylvania County, North Carolina, a spay/neuter clinic was opened resulting in a general decline of impounded dogs and cats in the local shelter, additionally a decrease in the number of service calls and complaints to Animal Control (Scarlett & Johnston, 2012). The benefits of our program in comparison to other pamphlets on spaying and neutering already in vet offices is that this system would be uniform and would deliver a single, consistent message to pet owners. There would be no ambiguity or interpretation on the vet’s part, simply facts delivered in a clear and concise way across the nation.
Some might argue that this program is unnecessary, and there is not an overpopulation problem. It is extremely important to recognize that there is in fact a problem, evident from numbers. While it can be difficult to obtain direct data regarding the number of healthy pets euthanized yearly, it is estimated that between one-tenth and one-quarter of the entire United States pet population is euthanized per year due to overpopulation (Olson & Moulton, 1992). Others estimates put the number around 3 million healthy pets euthanized in shelters every year (Humane Society, 2014). No kill shelters accept animals voluntarily and based on available space (AHeinz57, 2015). No kill shelters are unique to traditional shelters and do not euthanize animals if space becomes an issue (AHeinz57, 2015). Only when animals are terminally ill or are too dangerous to adopt do they euthanize (AHeinz57, 2015). These no kill shelters are deemed more humane, however, this only means when facilities reach full capacity shelter staff have to turn away incoming rescued cats and dogs. The search for a temporary home for these pets must continue. This increases money spent on transportation as well. Traditional shelters, also known as open admission shelters, take in any domesticated animal regardless of health, behavior, space, and availability (AHeinz57, 2015). AHeinz57 Pet & Rescue (2015) quote Laura Maloney of the LA/SPCA speaking on the reasons her shelter utilizes euthanasia.
Euthanasia and sheltering are not the solution, but a temporary necessity. Spaying, neutering and education are the only answers to the deep-rooted problem of overpopulation, which is why the LA/SPCA invests so heavily in sterilization programs. Until all dogs and cats are sterilized or the numbers of homeless animals are significantly reduced, our community will continue to euthanize. (AHeinz57, 2015).
The educational program envisioned strives to shed light on shelters’ struggles that Laura Maloney describes.
Another common counterargument is that such a widespread program is costly and, in the face of other problems, unnecessary. It is important to recognize that taxpayer dollars are currently funding shelters, and to lessen the pressure on shelters by implementing an education program would be using that money that would ordinarily go to the shelters themselves. It also costs money to transport the large numbers of rescued pets to and from shelters. Overall, the decreased pressure on shelters would likely lead to an overall balance in costs, and wouldn’t result in an increased need for taxpayer dollars.
Finally, the largest counterargument that many pet owners cite is that there are risks associated with spaying and neutering, and that getting their pet fixed results in an “altered” pet. This is a common misconception regarding spaying and neutering, which actually improves animal behavior. Higgins & Pineda (1980) state that spaying and neutering, if anything, helps curb hyperactivity associated with a sexually mature animal, and will likely calm your pet down as it removes the primary distraction in their lives. Furthermore, pets are less likely to urine-mark their territory, for example, neutering solves 90% of all marking issues (Humane Society, 2014). Their urges to roam and howl are also alleviated. Furthermore, spay/neuter surgeries are one of the most common veterinary procedures, and they are performed quickly and efficiently. Spay/neuter procedures are low-risk and complications are extremely uncommon, especially if the owner follows proper post-surgical care guidelines (Higgins & Pineda, 1980).
The Big Picture
Spaying and neutering household pets is an effective way to help mitigate their massive overpopulation problem. It’s simple, but there needs to be a collaborative effort across the United States for this solution to make a palpable impact. This can be achieved through implementing a program to create a uniform, organized means of communicating spay/neuter benefits from veterinarians to pet owners. The goal of this program is to reduce overpopulation in shelters by alleviating the high rate of reproduction in domesticated pets. Spaying and neutering definitively improves an animal’s behavior and their overall health, and will result in a benefit to the domestic animal population overall. When a person owns a pet they are taking on both an emotional and a financial responsibility to care for that animal. This includes listening to what their veterinarians and shelters have to say about the long-term health of a household pet and the benefits of spaying and neutering. If state legislation requires mandatory spaying and neutering education from veterinarians to pet owners, the overpopulation of cats and dogs will start to be solved.
Higgins, T., & Pineda, M. (1980). Pet population control. Iowa State University Veterinarian, 42(2), 11.
Kustritz, M. V. R. (2002). Early spay-neuter: clinical considerations. Clinical techniques in small animal practice, 17(3), 124-128.
Marsh, P. (2010). Replacing myth with math: using evidence-based programs to eradicate shelter overpopulation. Town and Country Reprographics, Incorporated.
Olson, P. N., & Moulton, C. (1992). Pet (dog and cat) overpopulation in the United States. Journal of reproduction and fertility. Supplement, 47, 433-438.
Scarlett, J., & Johnston, N. (2012). Impact of a subsidized spay neuter clinic on impoundments and euthanasia in a community shelter and on service and complaint calls to animal control. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 15(1), 53-69.
AVMA.org (2014). State regulation of veterinary facilities. American Veterinary Medical Association. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/Advocacy/StateAndLocal/Pages/veterinary-facilities.aspx
Humane Society.org. (2014). Why you should Spay and Neuter Your Pet: Curb pet overpopulation and make your pet healthier. Retrieved from: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/why_spay_neuter.html
Saxon, B. (2014). Why you should spay or neuter your cat: Reduce your kitty’s risk of FIV, FeLV, and more. Retrieved from: http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/cat-health/cat-surgery-a-z/why-you-should-spay-or-neuter-your-cat
AHeinz57 Pet Rescue Transport. “No Kill vs. Traditional Shelters.” 2015 Retrieved from: https://www.aheinz57.com/no-kill-vs-traditional-shelters/