By Phil Snyder, Executive Director of Suncoast Humane Society
Published in the Englewood Sun on May 17, 2015
Most of us look forward to spring with great anticipation. The days are longer and the nights a little warmer. Our grass turns greener, and the plants and flowers blossom. It's all good, right?
Sadly, there is also a downside for those who work or volunteer at animal shelters. For us, it signals an early start to the most dreaded time of the year: puppy, and, in this immediate area especially, kitten season.
It is true that puppies and kittens are born year-round; however, during the spring, summer and often well into the fall, open-admission shelters are pushed beyond their limits.
Open-admission animal shelters like the Suncoast Humane Society never turn away an animal in need, regardless of breed, age, size, health or temperament. As hard as it becomes, this holds true even during the staggering animal birth season.
An effective pet-adoption program, including four satellite adoption centers, foster home volunteers and cooperative efforts with rescue groups, helps to reduce the pressure; however it is still overwhelming.
In the U.S., puppies and kittens are born at a rate of 10 to 1 over human babies. It is possible for female cats to go into heat several times a year. They even can become pregnant while they are still nursing a litter of kittens. This means they often give birth to multiple litters a year.
Over a six-year period, an unaltered female dog, her mate, and their offspring can be responsible for the birth of 67,000 puppies. Over the same six-year period, one unaltered female cat, her mate, and their subsequent offspring can produce more than 66,000 kittens. Where do they all end up?
Many never make it to adulthood, suffering and dying cruel deaths from cars, starvation and disease. Six to 8 million dogs and cats are turned in to U.S. shelters every year. Many are puppies and kittens born during the spring and summer. It is reported that it cost more than $2 billion in tax money annually for dog and cats to be picked up, sheltered and, in many cases, euthanized.
It is also heartbreaking this time of year, for shelter personnel to see potential adopters ignore the older pets because the puppies and kittens are stealing the show. With so many litters flooding shelters, it becomes more difficult for senior pets to be given that second chance.
What is the solution? Some think all shelters should become limited-admission, limiting the number of animals they accept, and accepting only those that are highly adoptable. Under the deceptive and misused term "no-kill," they let open-admission shelters worry about dealing with the actual problem.
If all shelters followed those criteria, what would happen to the rest of the animals that need our help? Should we leave them homeless, destined to suffer and die cruel deaths, and also to create public health and safety hazards?
I suggest we address the problem where it begins, by preventing the birth of unwanted litters of dogs and cats. Each dog or cat spayed or neutered prevents the birth of potentially thousands of homeless animals.
Spay-and-neuter is the logical solution to reducing pet overpopulation and decreasing euthanasia. I feel it is also the logical solution to truely becoming "no-kill."
Then spring would be a happier season for all.