Reprinted with permission from Brooke Meyering, Quiet Whiskers Solutions for Problem Cat Behaviors. Copyright October 10, 2015.
You do not need to be a pet owner to see that companion animal overpopulation is a growing problem all around the world. Travel any area of your local town, and you are sure to find at least one dog or cat roaming the streets in search of food, water, or a place to sleep. It is believed that there are approximately 70 million homeless cats in the United States alone.
With numbers of vagrant animals on the rise, it is time we educate ourselves on the reality of this issue by analyzing the statistics, looking at causes, and look at our options in decreasing the numbers of wayward animals around the world.
Analyzing the Numbers in Stray Animal Problems
Figure estimates through the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) report that there are around 70-80 million dogs and 74-96 million cats owned by people in the United States. In addition to pet ownership figures, it is believed that there are an additional 70 million homeless cats in the United States alone (ASPCA, 2015).
Homelessness is a growing problem around the world in both humans and animals alike. The stigma in the world today is that homeless people ended up where they are because they are all drunks, drug addicts, or have a gambling problem. Having been homeless, I can assure you my situation was caused by none of these things. Homeless people, like animals, are often overlooked. The difference between us and them is that we could help ourselves out of the situation if we work hard and are granted access to the right resources.
If we are guilty of causing our own situations of homelessness, then who do we blame for homeless companion animals? Unfortunately, that all too often is our own fault, but we seldom are the solution. When vagrant, stray, and homeless animals are found, animal control has to take action.
Consider the reported stray dog situation in Houston, Texas by KHOU news group. The media was wrong to provide incorrect information regarding the actual figures in the problem, reporting “1.2 million stray animals roam the streets of Houston on any given day” has worked in raising awareness to the growing problem of animal overpopulation.
Although the figures are grossly exaggerated, the actual numbers of stray animals in that area, along with many other large cities in the United States, are all still cause for concern. When stray animal numbers are higher than the number of resources available to provide for those animals, calls to animal control will sometimes be ignored. Animal control officers do believe that all animal lives matter, but have to prioritize calls to accommodate animals and people based on the severity of the situation when funds and resources are already maxed out.
Causes of Homelessness in Animals
Homelessness in animals such as cats and dogs happens for a few different reasons; all of these reasons can very easily be summed up with the word ‘negligence’. Part of responsible pet ownership, whether you have a cat or a dog, is ensuring that he or she is not having unwanted pregnancies, getting sick, or being a nuisance to others in the neighborhood. Situations such as these stem from letting your pet roam the neighborhood.
When you allow your pet to roam the neighborhood, you risk your cat or dog getting into a fight, getting sick, dying, being taken into someone’s home to be kept as their own pet, the pet getting lost, or even ending up pregnant. There are so many uncertainties involved with letting your pet out of the home, which is why I am a strong advocate for getting your pet spayed or neutered, and of course, keeping them up-to-date on all of their vaccines.
Allowing your pet to be sexually active while they are not spayed or neutered is the leading cause of homelessness in cats and dogs. Sexually active animals can expect at least one litter a year with about six kittens or puppies to a litter. Add those numbers up over the lifetime of the animal, take into account that most of them will not have homes, and you’re looking at a staggering number of animals that will end up either on the streets or in shelters as it is also believed that only 1 in every 10 dogs born will find a permanent home (ASPCA, 2015).
Often times an animal will become homeless because the owner simply did not want the animal anymore. Whether the owner is moving and cannot take them with, or simply because they are disinterested, it is not uncommon for individuals to abandon their animals and leave them for dead. Some animals are lucky enough to be taken to an animal shelter when their owners are no longer able to care for them, but many more are not as fortunate.
One other reason for homelessness among animals is that the owners have allowed their pets free roam of the outdoors, trusting that the animal would come back. This is a very risky decision for so many reasons. When you let your pet outside, you risk them not coming home.
In fact, many stray animals that end up in animal shelters ended up their because they were picked up by animal control as a stray roaming the streets without proper identification. A study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy found that less than 2% of cats and only 15 to 20% of dogs are returned to their owners when they end up at animal shelters .
Risks to Stray Animals
Homelessness among stray animals comes with an array of problems. They could run out into traffic, experience an unwanted pregnancy, be harmed by people and other animals, or become very sick.
Becca Smidt of the Humane Society of North Iowa (HSNI) spoke with me in an interview about some of the more common health issues she sees in animals that are brought in as strays. “Earmites, fleas, and worms are problems in most of the stray animals we see,” says Smidt, noting that all of the animals are treated for these things during their stay at the shelter.
In addition to deworming, animals that end up at animal shelters like the Humane Society of North Iowa also undergo surgery to have them spayed or neutered, as a little under 10% of them are already fixed upon arrival, says Smidt of HSNI. These animals are also administered distemper combo and rabies vaccines, and receive any other necessary medical treatment to ensure a clean bill of health.
Overpopulation of Animal Shelters
With the growing problem of the overpopulation of cats and dogs in the United States alone, it is hard for animal control, animal shelters, and other rescue groups to keep up with the demand. The supply of animals is far exceeding the demand of adoptive homes. Of the animals that come into animal shelters, the number of animals that enter the shelter as strays is more than double the number of animals surrendered to the shelter as pets.
While an estimated 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters every year nationwide, it is still believed that 2.7 million of these animals will be humanely euthanized because the shelters experience overcrowding and could not get the animals adopted out (ASPCA, 2015).
How You Can Prevent Pet Overpopulation
The single most effective thing you can do is to ALWAYS get your pet spayed or neutered. Having your pet fixed will prevent unwanted pregnancies, allow your pet to live a happier, healthier, and longer life, and will help to reduce the number of unwanted and stray animal populations.
Because most strays were pets that escaped the house or managed to get lost while they were out, you should always keep your pet appropriately secured inside. If you have a skilled escape artist on your hands, be sure to keep their identification tags on and keep them collared at all times. I would personally recommend microchipping your pet. Microchipping allows your pet to be scanned and returned home to you in the event they are lost and picked up. Any vet and animal shelter can check for the chip.
Last, but not least, do not take home any animal that you would not promise devotion and commitment to for the duration of their life. Cats, dogs, and all other living things, are sentient beings that are deserving love and protection. If you are not willing to keep them for life, then please, do not bring them home to dump them later.
Additional Ways to Help Animals
- Adopt a shelter pet.
- Inquire about catch and release spay and neuter programs in your area.
- Educate your friends and family about spaying and neutering.
- Volunteer at your local shelter.
- Donate to your local shelter.
- Rescue strays!
- Report neglect of animals to authorities.
Brooke has been a long-time advocate of animal welfare. According to Brooke, the purpose behind her website is to help cat owners to understand their cats better, and to work with their cat in modifying their behaviors. The information she provides has been compiled through trial and error with her own cats. She hopes that the information will help owners and their cats have a better relationship.