Pets and the Community

NAIA policy statement: Pets and the community

Pet 'overpopulation'

During much of the last half century, shelters struggled with a severe surplus animal problem. Supply outstripped demand as unwanted litters and untrained, unsocialized pets were surrendered by owners who failed to prevent pregnancies or were unsuccessful in bonding with their pets. That problem, widely called pet overpopulation, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past in most parts of the US.

The number of dogs entering shelters has declined dramatically in the past 15 years. However, the number of cats, specifically feral cats entering shelters, is on the rise. Anti-breeding campaigners obscure the progress made in reducing the number of dogs killed in shelters by combining dog and cat numbers and by implying that they are all former pets that are now dumped and dying because no one wants them. They neglect to note that a large number of these animals are either surrendered by their owners for euthanasia because they are old and sick, seriously injured, or dangerously aggressive; that many of the dogs euthanized are unidentified, unclaimed strays that are too old, sick, injured or aggressive to be placed in new homes; and many of the cats euthanized are feral animals that were never owned but were trapped and impounded because they have become nuisances.

NAIA believes that dog and cat shelter intakes and euthanasias should be considered separately and that plans to reduce the number of shelter deaths of each species should be formulated to address these individual differences.

For example, while shelters in some parts of the country may have a surplus of puppies, those puppies are generally adopted, not euthanized. Studies have shown that the vast majority of dogs entering shelters are unwanted by their current owners or are unidentified strays that are not reclaimed by their owners. Therefore, NAIA believes that intervention before owners become frustrated and dogs become community nuisances is the key to reducing shelter surrenders and death. A combination of educational programs provided by shelters, dog clubs, veterinarians, and other dog professionals and strict enforcement of animal control and nuisance laws will go a long way towards the goal.

Many cats entering shelters have been trapped as feral animals. Although feral kittens can adjust to life as house pets if caught young enough, adult feral cats do not adjust to living indoors as pets, so it is misleading to include these cats in any estimate of the numbers of pets dying in shelters. Instead of incarceration and death, a number of communities have instituted programs in which the cats are trapped, vaccinated, and sterilized, then released back into the environment where they often aid in rodent control on farms and urban areas.

NAIA opposes laws that target these problems by attempting to restrict or ban breeding or penalize responsible owners of intact dogs and cats. Instead NAIA recommends that those who would like to further reduce the number of shelter deaths urge community leaders to study local pet population dynamics to identify where the problems lie, mobilize shelters and dog and cat fanciers to devise and implement solutions, and insist on strict enforcement of animal control and nuisance laws.

Suggested reading:

Pet Guardian Laws

Many owners consider their pets to be part of their families. As a result, they use family terms to describe their relationship with the animals that share their lives. Some owners consider themselves 'pet parents' and treat their animals as children. The latest American Pet Products Manufacturers Association survey shows that 62% of American households own at least one pet and 47% own more than one. These pet owners spend an estimated $30 billion annually on their dogs, cats, fish, birds, rodents and reptiles because they love their animals and want to provide the best possible care for them.

Advocates of rights for animals have seized on this closeness between people and their pets to initiate a campaign to undermine pet ownership. They claim that making owners into guardians will result in better treatment for animals. However, their campaign rhetoric tells a different story: here they admit that they intend to use their effort as a wedge to end the ownership of pets.

In their own words:

"Our goal: to convince people to rescue and adopt instead of buying or selling animals, to disavow the language and concept of animal ownership." - Eliot Katz, In Defense of Animals

" ... If people had companion animals in their homes, those animals would have to be refugees from the animal shelters and the streets. You would have a protective relationship with them just as you would with an orphaned child. ..." -Ingrid Newkirk, PETA vice-president, quoted in The Harper's Forum Book, Jack Hitt, ed., 1989, p.223.

US law is based on ownership of property, including animals. Property rights protect owners and their pets from unwarranted seizure by authorities and allow owners to make decisions about pet care, training, breeding, housing, and other matters.

NAIA strongly supports laws that preserve our right to own pets, recognize acceptable animal care practices based on sound veterinary science, clearly define animal cruelty and neglect, and hold animal owners fully accountable for animal welfare violations.

NAIA's position is that pets are best protected and cared for by those who own them and therefore strongly opposes concepts and policies that allow others to make those decisions. NAIA also believes that replacing 'pet owner' with 'pet guardian' will

  • clog the courts with frivolous cases brought by animal rights extremists on behalf of dogs, cats and other pets.
  • harm animals by creating confusion about who is responsible for their care.
  • make veterinary care so expensive that many animals will not receive it or will be prematurely euthanized.
  • lead to increasingly restrictive animal care laws and regulations.
  • limit the right of individuals to buy and sell pets as they choose.

Suggested reading:


Animal shelters

Animal shelters fall into three general categories: Humane societies, private shelters, and animal control agencies. Like other animal interests and industries, shelters fall within a continuum of philosophies, policies, and missions. Some promote a no-kill philosophy even while dickering with others about the meaning of "no-kill." Some build fund-raising efforts around the numbers of animals they kill rather than the number they save. Some have such strict adoption policies that almost no one can qualify to get a pet, and others will sell a pet to anyone with the adoption fee and a leash.

Publicly funded animal control agencies also operate under a range of policies, but because they are charged by law with protecting the community from dogs that are nuisances or dangerous and because they do no fund-raising around humane issues, they are often denigrated as animal killers. However, many animal control agencies employ exemplary policies and practices that responsibly increase pet adoptions and provide community education about responsible pet ownership.

Some humane societies solve their money problems by contracting to fulfill animal control services for their communities even though such agreements cause confusion among staff and volunteers and open them to criticism for conflict of interest between their function as animal caretakers and their responsibilities as law enforcement authorities. Some shelters decline to become government partners in animal control, and others that have signed such contracts in the past are giving them up.

No-kill shelters are not all the same. Some use reason and common sense when writing policies that determine the adoptability of animals, and others will not euthanize an animal no matter how much it is suffering or how dangerous it might be. Some provide treatment to animals with mild illnesses and controllable chronic illnesses, fix traumatic but repairable injuries, provide socialization and training for unruly dogs, bring malnourished dogs back to health, and euthanize those animals that cannot be rehabilitated by reasonable efforts to treat medical or behavioral problems. Some release vicious dogs to the public regardless of the risks to public safety and spend thousands of dollars to save an animal when death would be a release from chronic pain and suffering. Some no-kill shelters aggressively market adoptable animals, and others have such strict adoption requirements that few people can qualify for a new pet.

Animal control shelters, including those operated by private humane societies, are sometimes forced to use narrower criteria for assessing adoptability than private shelters because their mandate is set by government statutes, ordinances, regulations and policies rather than by a mission statement. Accordingly, and because (unlike private shelters and SPCAs) animal control agencies generally accept all dogs and cats that are brought to them and are required by law to keep them regardless of their adoptability for a specified period of time, crowding may force animal control agencies to euthanize adoptable animals or ones with milder health or behavior problems such as ear mites, kennel cough, skin lesions, excessive barking, or destructive chewing, in order to free up space for more adoptable animals.

NAIA supports animal shelters and animal control agencies that

  • Provide temporary shelter for dogs and cats impounded under animal control laws or surrendered by owners who can no longer care for their pets;
  • Set reasonable policies for rehabilitating animals and placing them in new homes,
  • Educate the public about responsible pet care and training,
  • Conduct adoption programs that parallel the placement efforts of responsible breeders, and
  • Are willing to take back any animal that does not work in its new home.

NAIA urges all shelters, public and private, to scan for microchips in incoming dogs, implant chips in adopted dogs, provide basic training and socialization for dogs before adoption, work with rescues and breeders to match prospective owners to a dog that fits their lifestyles and meets their needs, and coordinate training efforts with local training clubs and businesses.

NAIA recognizes the value of cooperative programs between shelters and prisons both for training and socializing dogs to prepare them for new homes and for teaching skills to nonviolent inmates.

NAIA also supports animal control agencies that make the tough decision to euthanize a dog in the interest of public safety, especially when the decision is made in the face of vocal opposition from activists intent upon vilifying the agency and second-guessing its policies and judgment. NAIA believes that local governments should adequately fund animal control agencies so that they are able to put policies in place that will enhance public safety and provide humane treatment for the dogs in their care.

Although few studies about the numbers of animals entering shelters and the numbers of healthy animals euthanized in shelters have been done and those that are available depend on a limited number of survey responses, all indications are that fewer dogs are entering animal shelters, more of the dogs that are entering shelters are leaving for new homes, and there is actually a shortage of puppies and small dogs in some areas of the country. However, activists who oppose dog breeding claim that there is still a huge overpopulation of dogs and cats in the US, that euthanasia in shelters is increasing, and that dog breeders are somehow to blame for the shelter deaths. These activists promote mandatory spay and neuter laws and other restrictions on breeding as the solution to "overpopulation" and conduct annual drives to convince owners that every intact pet will be responsible for thousands more dogs or cats in its fertile lifetime.

NAIA recognizes that responsible pet owners and breeders do not contribute to shelter dog intakes and deaths and supports the rights of dog and cat owners to make their own decisions about pet sterilization and breeding. NAIA opposes mandatory sterilization of pets but encourages owners to voluntarily take steps to prevent accidental litters and to leave breeding to those who can make the personal and financial sacrifices necessary to make informed, responsible breeding decisions.

Private pet placement programs

Breed rescue programs have undoubtedly resulted in fewer shelter deaths because they rescue purebred dogs and cats from shelters and provide an option for owners forced to surrender a pet. NAIA applauds those breed-specific organizations that provide temporary homes and care for dogs and cats in need, offer transport to new homes, and help owners through the initial bonding with a new pet.

NAIA does not support the so-called rescue groups that justify taking animals from their lawful owners in the name of humane rescue. Such individuals and groups often consider themselves above the law and steal animals from owners whose practices they dislike. NAIA opposes illegal activities and supports due process for pet owners who are targeted by such activities.

NAIA also recognizes that some people who conduct private animal welfare programs may become inundated with animals because they lose their perspective. These people take any animal that comes to their door, may have difficulty in placing animals because they find fault with many potential adopters, and may ultimately end up unable to properly care for the animals they have. NAIA believes that such people should be held to the same standards of care that other animal owners must attain, not excused because they are 'rescuing' unwanted pets. At the same time, they should also be treated with compassion, not imprisoned or assessed maximum fines.

Breed specific legislation

NAIA supports reasonable laws to protect the public from dangerous dogs and opposes breed-specific legislation in any form. Breed-specific laws target good dogs and responsible animal owners along with the bad.

Unfortunately, sensational media coverage and misleading claims of canine super strength and cunning of some breeds of dogs, especially the bull-and-terrier breeds and crossbreeds, have manipulated public opinion. These factors often lead to limits on breeding and owning certain types of dogs despite the fact that many individual dogs fitting the description are beloved family pets or valuable working partners. Restrictions from outright bans to requirements for confinement, insurance, and spay and neuter often follow incidents in which a breed and its crosses are implicated in aggressive incidents or dog fighting or other criminal activity. Such limits cause the death of many well-behaved pets and rob law-abiding pet owners of their rights to choose a breed or mix and responsibly own or maintain a pet or working dog without government interference.

NAIA supports nuisance ordinances and dangerous dog laws to protect the community against unruly or dangerous dogs and irresponsible dog owners. NAIA supports sentences for violation of dog confinement and nuisance laws that include mandatory attendance at a basic obedience training class. AKC dog obedience clubs have provided such classes for the general public for decades and, together with private trainers, they represent a well-established community resource for courts dealing with dog-related offenses.

Suggested reading:

Be sure to see these additional NAIA policy statements
Pet Ownership / Dogs / Pets and the Community / Guardianship / Animals in Entertainment
Animal husbandry / Animal Careers / Agriculture / Research / Wildlife / Mandatory Spay/Neuter Legislation