Behind the big drop in euthanasia for America's dogs and cats
Fido and Fluffy are far more likely to survive a stint at the animal shelter today than 40 years ago. Population control and better practices by shelters and pet owners have improved the lot of dogs and cats.
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Sterilization is the biggest reason for the decline in shelter euthanasia, says Andrew Rowan, chief scientific officer of HSUS, but it's not the only reason. "There's more of a pet culture today," he says. "People who want dogs have dogs. People who don't want them don't, and they don't have them living outside on their street either."Skip to next paragraph
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Still, 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter shelters nationwide each year. Along with spaying and neutering, rescue operations focus on the broader concern for animal welfare, says Cindi Shapiro, president of the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Mass.
Founder of one of the largest no-kill animal shelters in the Northeast, Ms. Shapiro says the mind-set of shelter workers has shifted over time.
"In the past, it was acceptable to throw an animal away, the way you would an old television set," she says. "You would just bring them to the shelter and dump the old dog you don't want anymore."
Shelter personnel were no different, she continues. "For a long time, it's just what you did," she says. "[Animals] came in; you killed them. No one thought that was wrong."
Now, Shapiro says, fewer people see pets as disposable. "Very slowly, people have begun to understand that the lives of cats and dogs have value and that owning a pet is a privilege, not a right."
Shapiro says her shelter took in about 4,200 dogs and cats from overpopulated shelters around the US last year. Since opening in 1976, the shelter has placed about 105,000 pets into adoptive homes.
Thanks to careful planning and a detailed understanding of how many animals the shelter can realistically place in homes, no animal that enters the shelter stays permanently, Shapiro says. Two months has been the longest stay for any animal before being adopted.
There are no firm statistics on no-kill animal shelters in the US, but their numbers appear to be rising, experts say. Moreover, cities with no-kill shelters, such as Reno, Nev., have seen a boost in animal adoptions. Cat adoptions in Reno nearly doubled and dog adoptions increased by 51 percent within a year of putting the no-kill policy in place in 2006.
Shelters, most of which are funded with taxpayer dollars, and pet owners spend more to care for stray and neglected animals these days, according to Mr. Rowan. In 1975 they spent about $1 billion on animal protection, versus $2.8 billion as of 2007, he says, noting the figures are in inflation-adjusted dollars.
"When an animal crosses that threshold and into our care, it's ours, no matter what care they need," says Shapiro, in Salem. "Whether it's medical, behavioral, training – whatever we need to do to make them adoptable, we'll do it."
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