More than Sochi, Time to End Overpopulation of Dogs and Cats

Published on Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

The reported death sentence for thousands of stray dogs in Sochi, Russia, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, is just one example of a common practice worldwide, says Dr. Richard A. French, dean of the School of Animal Studies at Becker College. He shares some sobering and heart-breaking facts from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS): three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized each year (National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy). That translates into 24 dogs and cats euthanized in the United States every minute, and a single animal euthanized every 2.4 seconds. In fact, in the time it will take you to read this article, nearly 100 cats and dogs will be killed.

While the exact numbers are difficult to validate, as there is no governing body that oversees all the shelters, rescues, and veterinary practices in the nation, overpopulation presents an ongoing and critical issue for the lives of these companion animals. That is why, as we commemorate February as Spay/Neuter Month and World Spay Day on February 25, it is important to understand the role we can play in safeguarding from continued overpopulation.

The origin of the domesticated dog dates back over 15,000 years ago. When this domestication took place, humanity took on a responsibility by accepting stewardship. This month, if you haven’t already done so, take on that responsibility and spay or neuter your pet(s). Not only does spaying/neutering have a significant impact on reducing overpopulation, but this procedure can ensure that your dog or cat has a longer, healthier life.

Consider the problems with overpopulation and the welfare of dogs and cats, growing issues that have grave consequences within, and beyond, the borders of our country.

In Southwestern China a campaign to kill 50,000 dogs in five days took place to control a rabies outbreak (Reuters, June 16, 2009). The Romanian government has given the green light to the mass killing of thousands of stray dogs in the country’s capital—after a four-year-old boy was attacked and killed while playing outside a park with his older brother, and thousands of people have reportedly been bitten by stray dogs. (Huffington Post, Jan. 16, 2014).  In Istanbul, the government proposed a law that would round up an estimated 150,000 stray cats and dogs and put them in forests on the outskirts of the city (Deutsche Welle, Aug. 10, 2013). Close to home, in the hard-hit city of Detroit, tens of thousands of stray dogs roam the streets, given up by owners who could no longer afford their care (New York Times, Sept. 21, 2013).

This global overpopulation has led U.S. animal rescue leagues to attempt to save dogs and cats from around the world by bringing them to our country. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. is receiving dogs from Puerto Rico, Thailand, India, and many other countries. Public health becomes an issue, because India is in the midst of a rabies epidemic. Roughly 36% of the world’s rabies deaths occur in India each year, most of whom are children who come into contact with infected dogs. More than 60,000 people die of rabies every year, predominantly in Asia and Africa; 40% of those bitten are children under 15 years of age.

It is vital to control dog and cat populations for a number of reasons—from the control of zoonotic diseases such as rabies and leptospirosis, to maintaining public and animal welfare and ecosystem health. A good example of creating a positive impact on overpopulation and ecosystem health is a project in which Becker College is involved: the Mazunte Turtle Project in Oaxaca, Mexico. There, the stray dog population was threatening a number of sea turtle populations. Through a partnership with this Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association-sponsored initiative, students in the veterinary technology program assist volunteer veterinarians in spaying/neutering dogs, thereby gradually reducing the overpopulation and safeguarding the sea turtle populations.

Global change starts at home—with us and the care of our pets, says French. Talk to friends and neighbors about responsible pet ownership. Learn more about the efforts of organizations, both in the U.S. and world-wide, committed to humanely reducing overpopulations, and find out how you can be involved. Let’s do our part to increase the spread of humane pet care and positive change.