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The Problem of Euthanasia in Animal Shelters Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 11th, 2021

According to the American Humane Association, over 9.7 million animals were euthanized in 2008 in shelters across America. Many animal welfare organizations agree that this figure is a generally accepted statistic of the number of animals put away by shelter every year. (American Humane Association, 2010). Animal shelters are forced to euthanize animals for a number of reasons which includes: Lack of funds to treat sick animals, overcrowding as a result of the increased number of animals brought in by owners who can no longer take care of them, rising number of old pets and lack of funds to feed animals.

Most animals’ shelters in the country depend on private donations and funding from local government and most of the workforce is provided by volunteers. In the past two years, there have been a sharp decline in private donations and reduced funding from local government as a result of the ongoing tough economic crisis. Lack of funds means that shelters are not able to provide enough food to all animals and pay for the treatment of sick animals. As such they result in euthanasia to create room for healthy pets.

But what does it mean to keep a healthy pet at a shelter or at home? Putting a dollar value will give a clear picture of the cost associated with providing health services to pets. According American Pet Products Manufacturers Association “dog owners spent an average of $785 on vet bills in 2008, while cat owners spent $516” (OES.org, 2009). In addition to the average vet bill, pet owners who have an animal that requires special medical procedures have a bigger burden. Here is a closer look at the average national cost of medical procedures for a dog: The cost of repairing a broken limb; $350, the cost of relieving swallowed objects (Gastrotomy: – which is common to most pets); $383, cost of X-ray, $58, Anesthesia (per hour) $108 and the cost of Anesthetic monitoring $19. ( (OES.org, 2009). This cost can be a big burden to both the animal shelters and pet owners. To cater to this crisis, the American Humane Society and the American Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) are advocating for the “establishment and operation of low-cost spay/neuter clinics” (American Humane Association, 2010). Reduced cost of treatment will motivate people to keep the pet in their home instead of taking them to shelter. On the other hand, shelters will be able to access reduced cost of treatment for pets that are already in the facilities.

The number of pets taken to shelters has risen by 50 percent due to the hard economic times. A pointing case is Animal Rescue Fresno in Central Valley, California where the number of dogs taken to shelter in 2009was 3,900. The majority of the pet owner had lost their homes to foreclosure. Shelters are forced to choose between saving all animals and keeping few adoptable animals, and as a result, many pets are euthanized. According to Beth Caffrey, California SPCA director, 33,000 pets were euthanized in 2009 in the Central Valley, CA. area alone (Caffrey, 2009). To make the matter worse, owners giving up pets for adoption will have to pay an adoption fee of $10 for each pet they take for adoption in California shelters. This may lead to increased cases of pets’ abandonment. Since January 2008, at the onset of the recession, over 2 million animals have been abandoned (Balcom, 2000)

To fully understand what pet owners are going through, and the reason why they may decide to put up a pet for adoption by an animal shelter, it is important to take a closer look at an important factor in regards to pets: Cost of ownership. The bottom line is, owning any kind of pet comes with a huge responsibility and some serious bills. All pets need food, bedding, cage for large animals, toys veterinary services, grooming, and in some cases, licensing. The figures presented in this paper are national estimates from Familyresource.com, are the minimum cost. Actual cost may be higher depending on the cost of living for a particular State. Again, the costs are purely what the pet owners have to pay from their pocket, and “do not include the amount of money and time you will need to spend training, cleaning and interacting with your pet. Time is, after all, money” (Bairey, 2010).

To own a dog, the initial minimum cost is $835. This includes the cost of the puppy itself, shots, food, sundries such as food dishes and collar, toys, treat, licensing and grooming supplies. Dog owners spend a further “$220 on food, $785 on vet bills, $45 on sundries such as a collar, lead, and tag, $60 on toys, $130 on treats, $70 on medications like flea treatments or ear mite oil, and $55 on a short kennel stay, for an average of $1200 per year, or $ 24 per week” for maintenance only (Bairey, 2010). The minimum initial cost of owning a cat is $305, and an average maintenance cost of $550 per year.

In October 2009, Camp Wolfgang, a pet rescue shelter for German shepherds in Ennis Texas, had to close down due to a lack of funds. By the time the shelter was being closed, there was barely any money to feed the animals in that facility. Most of the animals were euthanized while others were taken to Dallas Animal Service, which was already overcrowded. Dallas Animal Services have been forced “to shorten its holding period for animal adoption from several months to 45 days” (England, 2009). This means that unless these pets are adopted, most will have to be put away, in the coming days.

Most shelter caters primarily for cat and dogs. As people lose their homes to foreclosure or are simply unable to keep a pet, shelters are increasingly receiving animals that they don’t have the capacity to keep (Balcom, 2000). This includes reptiles like iguanas, turtles, fish and snakes; rabbits, etc. These animals require special care than dogs or cats and not many people are willing to adopt them.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to own a green iguana which is a common practice in states like Florida and California. Green iguana makes a great pet as they are interesting and intriguing reptiles. Owning a green iguana requires specialized knowledge as the animal has a special need. An iguana can grow to be very large. Just like dogs and cats, iguanas need love through interaction and constant contact. They need to be fed, cleaned, and provided with comfortable large cages and beddings. Taming iguana requires a lot of patience as it takes a long time. An iguana can live for more than 20 years; hence they require an owner who is committed for long time relationship. Green Iguana requires a consistent, stable life; hence people who travel constantly may not be the ideal owner. Iguana owners need to be financially secure because raising them requires a lot of money (Knight, 2010). This is because they require fresh food and requires special medical attention from a qualified vet who might be located far.

The bond created between green iguanas and their owner is very strong over time. Selling iguana or taking it for adoption to the animal shelter can be the most devastating experience for the animal, leading to negative consequences. Unlike cats or dogs, iguanas are easily heartbroken, and will most likely get sick when they are separated from their owners. Once they are taken to the animal shelter for adoption, they are even more stressed and become sick (Knight, 2010). The cost of taking care of them compared to other habitable animals like dog is high. Faced with this kind of circumstance, animal shelters don’t have any other choice other than to euthanize them.

In 2007, a company based in San Diego, called FlexPetx started renting dogs to pet lovers who did not have the necessary resources to own a pet on a full-time basis. So far, the company has opened the business in New York, Los Angeles, and another big city, allowing “want-to-be pet owners across the country to experience the joys of owning a pet, without the long term, day-to-day hassles” (McGrath, 2007). The company, owned by Ms. Cervantes, adopts animals from local shelters, provides them with necessary vet care, puts them on intensive training before they are put up for rent. FlexPetz members pay a monthly fee of $50, a “daily doggy time charge” of up to $40, and a yearly membership fee of $250” (Karni, 2007)

Although the concept of renting pets has received a lot of criticism from the canine community, it is one way of solving the current crisis of putting away animals in a pet shelter. The company adopts animals from the shelter, thereby reducing congestion, and cost of care and hence saving animals from being euthanized. Another benefit is that most people end up adopting pets once they “fall in love with their rental pets and decide to adopt them as permanent houseguests” (Karni, 2007). According to Ms.Cervantes, renting a pet act as hands-on training on how to take care of a pet and as people interact with the animals, they understand the ownership responsibility.

Already, many shelters across the country are catching up with the pet renting trend as a way to reduce the number of animals being put away and get the necessary finance for running shelters. In St. Louis, Mo, an animal shelter known as Stray Rescues has a “rent-a-pet program where you can take a dog home for a weekend and see if you are ready to commit to caring and providing for a dog” (Pet Welcome Inc., 2010) Those wishing to rent a pet apply online, and once their credentials are verified, they can foster a dog. According to Randy Grim, “Adoptions have boosted for this organization since the program started in 2007”. In Aspen, Colorado, the Aspen Animal Shelter has a similar program which has resulted in increased adoption and a reduced number of animals put away.

Here are some of the statistics from the American Humane Society which gives a picture of what happens at an animal shelter. 56% of dogs and 71% of cats that enter animal shelters are euthanized. It is important to note that more cats are entering the shelter without identification and as such, it is hard to trace the owners. This explains the high number of cats that are euthanized. 15% of dogs and 2% of cats that enter an animal shelter are reunited with their owners.25% of dogs and 24% of cats that enter animal shelters are adopted by new owners. (American Humane Association, 2010)

Animals’ shelters are forced to euthanize animals for many reasons which include lack of funds, overcrowding, and lack of appropriate facilities to handle unique pets. During tough economic times, the amount of funds from private donors and local government to support animal shelters goes down. With low funds, animal shelters are not able to treat a sick animal or provide enough food. As such, many animals are euthanized. Many people facing foreclosures or who have lost jobs prefer to give up their pets. This has led to overcrowding, leading to reduced time for holding animals for adoption. Some pets such as iguana, turtles, etc., require special care, and as such, it is very hard to hard to find people willing to adopt them. As such, most of them are euthanized.

Works Cited

American Humane Association. (2010). Animal Shelter Euthanasia. Web.

Bairey, S. (2010). How much does it cost to own a pet? Web.

Balcom, S. A. (2000). Legislating a Solution to Animal Shelter Euthanasia. Web.

Caffrey, B. (2009). Pet Shelters in Central Valley Increase Euthanasia Rates. Web.

England, J. (2009). Animal Shelters in Dallas Overwhelmed by Pets. Web.

Karni, A. (2007). Pet-Renting Concept Termed ‘Shocking’. Web.

Knight, J. (2010). Owning a Pet Green Iguana. Web.

McGrath, L. (2007). Love on a Lease: Renting Man’s Best Friend. Web.

OES.org. (2009). Average Vet Costs – National. Web.

Pet Welcome Inc. (2010). Unable to Own a dog, Why not rent. Web.

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