I wouldn’t have felt ambivalent in the past. Pet overpopulation was a crisis in the 1970s: The best available estimates show that around 13.5 million cats and dogs – over 90 percent of incoming shelter animals – were euthanized in 1973. Spaying and neutering programs dramatically reduced overcrowding over the following decades, but pet owners largely assumed that something was inherently wrong with shelter animals. Then, as culture and commerce tightened the human-animal bond, a three-word slogan summed up the mindset and mission of human societies: “Adopt, Don’t Buy”.
“This do not buy adoption message really shattered that preconception,” says Michael Keiley, who has worked in animal shelters since 1994 and is the director of adoption centers and programs for MSPCA Angell Animal Medical Center In Boston. He is also part of the New England Future of Animal Welfare Coalition, with representatives from shelters, rescue groups and low cost sterilization / sterilization organizations. “People started to buy into the idea, and being socially responsible for your animal acquisition choices became much more popular.” In 2010, adoptions became the key to lower rates of euthanasia in shelters. In 2013, after a few years of volunteering at the Centerville shelter of the MSPCA, I adopted Mabel, a 2 month old pit bull mix that stole my heart.
But adoptable animals are becoming increasingly rare. Number of animals in the refuge, a national registry where Keiley sits on the board, counted 3.5 million shelter cats and dogs in 2019. Just under 10 percent of dogs and 13 percent of cats were euthanized – sometimes in due to the limited reception capacity, but more generally for serious medical reasons. or aggression-related issues – a far cry from previous decades.
COVID-19 has plunged shelter populations by 25% from 2019 to 2020. Even as the pandemic craze for pet adoption has ignited, essential shelter workers have become less available and less available. ‘animals could be adopted – no one was there to take care of them. This is fluctuating now that COVID restrictions have eased and workers have returned. The number of stray and abandoned animals has increased, in the South and Midwest in particular, but the number of shelters in the era of the pandemic has risen from record highs to levels close to 2019. It’s not a new crisis, says Keiley; Overall, pet overpopulation and related problems are improving in all parts of the country.
Over the past five years, MSPCA shelters “were more empty than they were full,” he adds, a change reflected in the expansion of the organization of other welfare services. animal, such as affordable medical care. “You could feel this frustration from people wanting to do the right thing, responding to our message, and not necessarily having the animal they wanted to adopt.” For example, it’s rare to find a Goldendoodle puppy for adoption at a local shelter, he says.
Without enough rescue animals for everyone, organizations end up submitting dozens of requests for a single dog, prompting some groups to put up extremely high adoption barriers that exclude and infuriate knowledgeable guardians. In Massachusetts, groups that Keiley calls “black market rescues” frequently require adopters to pick up their animals across state lines to avoid the state’s mandatory 48-hour quarantine, a regulation intended to control diseases transmitted by animals outside the State. Some puppy mills deceive well-meaning adopters with online advertisements for “rescue dogs” available for “adoption fees.”
Hope anyone looking for a pet visits an animal shelter or rescue first. Adoption is still virtuous and necessary, especially as housing assistance linked to COVID – which Keiley says likely helped decrease pet surrenders during the pandemic – is ending and as natural disasters causing displacement of animals such as Hurricane Ida are becoming more common. But while moving animals from crowded areas like Louisiana to high-demand areas like Massachusetts – something the MSPCA has increasingly done in 2021 – helps correct some of the adopter-animal imbalance, it doesn’t. may not be a long term solution.
We would do more good by helping future pet owners navigate grayer realities. “It can’t be totally polarized, where there are only two choices, where one is good and the other is bad,” Keiley says. Instead of vilifying those looking for purebred puppies, help them distinguish between a reputable breeder – a breeder who specializes in one type of dog, allowing you to see the facility and providing a blueprint for it. emergency if the dog doesn’t work – and a puppy mill door peddling a dozen different breeds. Instead of being blindly drawn to the words “adopt” and “save,” remind adopters to check the 501 (c) (3) status of the rescue agency, check customer reviews online, and stay away if it doesn’t provide your pet’s behavioral and medical history. Whether adopting or buying, you should be able to meet the animal – ideally in person – before paying.
This advice is newly relevant to me. In September, after 14 terrific years that quickly took a turn for the worse, Biff took an injection of pentobarbital in a lame leg and passed away. Mabel sulks. My 3 year old daughter keeps asking when Biff is coming home. I don’t plan on having another bulldog, but I know that I will be looking for another pet soon. If the voucher isn’t at the animal shelter, maybe I’ll look elsewhere.
Jeff Harder is a Connecticut-based writer. Send your comments to [email protected]