When I took you in nine years ago as a stray cat, I promised to care for you the best I could for all your days. When I eventually lost you to kidney disease, I promised to join others in the fight to help all companion animals find homes. It isn’t going to be an easy battle–there are simply too many pets.
About 11,000 babies are born in the U.S. each day, compared to about 70,000 kittens and puppies. That’s more than six dogs and cats for each new person, and yet the average pet-owning household has only 2.4 pets. There isn’t simply enough demand for all these kittens and puppies. The numbers both startle and dishearten me. We all know what happens to these unwanted pets.
As a lifelong dog lover with no cat experience, my only intent when I brought you inside was to find your owner. When no one came forward, I considered taking you to a local shelter. Now the thought of what could have become of you makes me shudder. As an older cat, you could easily have become of one of the almost three million animals who are euthanized each and every year.
Yes, Lucy, we’re in this strange and uncomfortable place as Americans, where we spend two billion dollars every year on capturing, sheltering, feeding healthy and loving dogs and cats … about a third of which we eventually kill. Don’t you think it’s time for a better solution? I do. But I’m scared. Animal lovers have been fighting this battle for decades now. Will I live to see a solution? Will I get to know that all the precious cats in the United States like you will find their forever homes?
The easiest and best solution gives me hope. It makes sense on both a practical and emotional level. You see, it costs only $40 to spay/neuter one pet, while the processing of one unwanted pet costs $100.
And yet do you know there are people who don’t bother to spay/neuter? The director of Animal Adoption Services tells the story of a man who started out with one cat and then did a marvelous thing by adopting a stray cat. Unfortunately, the story has a tragic end. By the time authorities stepped in a few years later, his home was filled with hundreds of inbred cats, many of which were diseased and had to be killed. This is an extreme example, but it does illustrate why spaying and neutering are so important.
A staggering 2.6 million puppies and 5.64 million kittens are produced annually from unplanned litters. Imagine what would happen if the number of unwanted litters could be greatly reduced. Remember, only three million are euthanized each year. I know, this is a huge number, but I say “only” because it’s far less than new pets produced from unplanned litters.
What’s your story, Lucy? When I first took you to the vet, I discovered that you had been declawed but not spayed. How many litters did you produce, either when a house cat or a stray, because your owner never bothered to get you spayed? For that matter, had you been abandoned because of behavior issues due to being intact?
Spaying/neutering isn’t just about preventing pet overpopulation. When pets aren’t spayed/neutered, they’re at greater risk of being relinquished to shelters. Females especially are at risk. The percentage of household-dwelling female dogs and cats that are intact is between twenty and thirty; this percentage jumps to about fifty for those relinquished to shelters.
The biggest argument in support of spaying/neutering is that it is known to be successful in curbing pet overpopulation. Organization after organization is reporting that sterilization programs result in significant drops in euthanasia rates. Isn’t that a reason to cheer? Isn’t that a reason to embrace spay/neuter as an option? Perhaps that’s why The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has taken the position that “the only method of population control that has demonstrated long-term efficacy in significantly reducing the number of animals entering animal shelters is the voluntary sterilization of owned pets.” In addition, the veterinary community has formally acknowledged the importance of safe, efficient, accessible sterilization programs as the “best antidote to the mass euthanasia of cats and dogs resulting from overpopulation.”
My dear Lucy, you’ve now been gone from my life for just over a year. After losing you, I adopted another cat. Cinder is chatty and spirited, much different from you but equally as deserving of love. In your honor, in her honor, in the honor of all the other pets who have shared their lives with us, my husband and I join the campaign in support of spay/neuter. May we one day live to see a day when every pet will have a forever home.
For anyone else who wants to join the fight, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors offers a low-cost spay/neuter voucher program, in cooperation with nine Lincoln vet clinics. People pay what they can afford toward the procedure and LAA pays the rest. Since 2010, LAA has altered more than 1,600 pets, averaging about 300 pets per year. Imagine how many lives have already been saved!