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19 May 2008


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Jessica Montague

You forgot to mention that at the end of the article, the author states that THE BENEFITS OF S/N OUTWEIGH THE RISKS!! Funny hw you forgot that little tidbit.

And as for Nathan Winograd----he is delusional. Yes, some shelters are mismanaged, and yes, there is a pet overpopulation proble. The ASPCA states that every household would have to adopt 3 pets each every year in order to re-home the abandoned pets in the US--Nathan, even YOU can't believe that's possible. Just look at the numbers; you will be convinced.

Gina Spadafori

Look at the numbers? Jessica, if YOU looked at the numbers and came up with your conclusion, it's pretty darn clear you flunked math. Every year from fourth grade on.

Rough estimate, pretty much agreed on by everyone: There are 5 million pets needing new homes every year. Winograd suggests 10 percent of these pets are too sick or too vicious to be rehomed. That leaves 4.5 million pets in need of rehoming.

The U.S. Census Bureau says:

"The number of U.S. households is projected to increase during the next 15 years, reaching 103 million by the turn of the century and almost 115 million by 2010" (citation here, page 7, first item in the highlights).

That means fewer than ONE HOME IN TWENTY needs to adopt a SINGLE homeless pet to MORE THAN cover every one of those animals. And that's being way generous.

If every household has to adopt three pets every year to re-home abandoned pets (as you state), then there are more than 300 million abandoned pets in this country. Which is only, uh, 295.5 million more than the most dire numbers out there.

Most of my pets are spayed/neutered, even my bunny. (My kitten Ilario is getting neutered on Thursday, in fact.) But it's time we realized there are pros and cons to this surgery, and that the choice should be the result of an informed decision by a responsible pet-owner after consultation with the veterinarian.

You can keep your intact pet from reproducing by being a responsible pet-owner, and many people do exactly that.

By the way, fuzzy math and emotion-based "logic" has long been with us with regard to the issues of homeless pets.

Case in point: The impossible and yet widely quoted statement that a single cat, left unspayed, will be responsible for 420,000 cats in seven years.

A couple years ago, I asked the Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy," Carl Bialik, to look into that particular claim. Even the HSUS finally admitted to him that the statement was statistical cat poop. The real number? Between one thousand and 5,000, tops (citation here, scroll down to item). Yes, even that is a big number, and a good reason for advocating for spay/neuter, especially of feral cats. But the difference between 5,000 and 420,000 is that the first is potentially manageable and gives one hope that change can happen. The latter indicates a situation that is hopeless, making many people figure, why bother?

You can't solve a problem if you don't know what the problem is. Defining that problem takes numbers, not nonsense. It seems you can't tell the difference.


Just a couple of points Gina - one home in twenty needs to adopt one of those pets EACH YEAR, since there are 5 million a year, 50 million in the next 10 years. After 10 years, half of those households will have adopted a pet on average.

The question is, why aren't more people adopting pets? One big problem at least in urban areas is housing - most landlords in my city do not want to be bothered with pets, period, and I talk to people every time I volunteer at adoptions, who would have a pet but they're not allowed to where they live.

As to Nathan Winograd saying that pet overpopulation is a myth, well, when I heard his seminar one of the first things he talked about was widely available, low-cost or free spay/neuter services. Without aggressive spay/neuter, overpopulation is and will remain a reality.

Gina Spadafori

Except ... people in urban areas continue to BUY pets. We need to capture just a fraction of that market to change things for shelter pets.

With regards to the numbers, I was challenging Jessica's bizarre claim that every household needs to adopt three pets every year. Since the vast majority of people choose to spay-neuter their pets, if you get those shelter animals into responsible forever homes, you might well not see 5 million enter the shelters every year.

Yes, we need to reduce the number of pets through spay-neuter incentives (especially of feral cats,and include a push for more TNR for them) and then put community-wide effort into working with shelters to help them get the animals they have into homes and keep them there.

Go back and read the post on the Berkeley municipal shelter. The community-wide approach can and does work.

But we need to start with a fresh look at what the problem is -- and what it is not. Faulty numbers, emotion-driven bashing of "bad" pet owners (and of those breeders who are ethical and responsible, not clueless, careless backyard breeders or mass commercial breeders) as well as entrenched ideas in the shelter industry have not proven to be the answer.


One issue too is that adoption venues just aren’t always the nicest or most convenient places to “shop”. Too many of the nation’s needy pets are being housed in shelters, foster homes and rescue groups with very limited or appointment-only hours of operation and too many of these places just don‘t seem to be all that friendly toward potential adopters.


So far I've had 7 e-mails telling me I'm irresponsible, 8 from people who liked the column, and 2 or 3 that were neutral. Clearly, several of them didn't read it all the way through, since I do say that all the vets I spoke with agree that the benefits outweigh the risks; they just don't agree that it should be done quite so early.

Christie Keith

You forgot to mention that at the end of the article, the author states that THE BENEFITS OF S/N OUTWEIGH THE RISKS!! Funny hw you forgot that little tidbit

I didn't ignore it; you don't understand the point the article was making. The benefits TO SOCIETY outweigh the risks, but the benefits to individual animals may or may not, and whether and when to do the suergery is a decision that needs to be made on an individual basis for owned pets.


Four to six months is soooo young!

I didn't have my little Mandy spayed until she was 9 mos. of age. It did not seem late, and her vet felt that it was just the right time.

She came through the surgery very well, and recovered in a very short time.


Thank you for the link and the post. I am particularly interested in what Nathan Winograd has to say as the work we do absolutely bears out his point...

"And it does mean we can do something short of killing for all savable animals right now, today: if all shelters had the desire and will to do so, and then earnestly followed through."

Dogs Trust's no kill policy means that of the 16,177 dogs cared for in 2007, 12,993 successfully found new forever homes, 192 were reunited with owners and just 334 were put down due to terminal health problems only. At the end of the year 1,636 remained in our kennels, and many of these will go on to find homes. Those that don't, as long as they remain healthy, will LIVE at our rehoming centres or at foster homes for the rest of their natural lives. Our sponsor dog programme provides a simple financial model for charities wishing to implement no-kill policies.

Neutering is necessary not only to keep pet overpopulation from becoming 'fact', but because for most animals that are going to be restricted from breeding anyway, it has more benefits than risks. 4-6 months is younger than many vets would agree to operate in any case.


I should also point out that all dogs handed into Dogs Trust for rehoming are health checked, vaccinated, microchipped... and neutered. Winograd is right that pets need not be killed unnecessarily, but given that there are an estimated 100,000 stray dogs in the UK alone I would say that neutering still remains the best and most humane way of keeping the numbers manageable (remember he is basing his researching on numbers gathered while neutering programmes already exist).


Alex, you do understand that the argument is not over spay/neuter programs, but over legally mandated spay/neuter at an extremely young age, right?


I have 6 dogs of a specific breed: 2 neutered males, 2 spayed females, and 2 intact males, one a retired show dog, the other an aspiring show dog. The other 4? One came from my National Breed Club's Rescue program, and the other 3 were word of mouth from friends in the local dog community who apprised me of these dogs in need before they were dumped. I chose to speuter them because of idiopathic epilepsy in 2 of them (littermates) and the last one is mediocre in regards to the Standard and not worth breeding.

I am a responsible dog owner, and my "virgin" and his greatuncle ( who sired 1 litter and the 4 puppies went on to Finish) do not contribute to the "overpopulation" problem one whit. I did not make the decision to breed that dog. it was done by his co-owner before he became my permanent "houseguest".

I will make the decision in conjunction with their breeders/co-owners And my vet to remove their testicles if it should become necessary for THEIR health and Not because of you ARs who come to this Blog, not some dog ignorant legislator, not some mandatory law.

And thank you very much, but I love my breed, and don't wish to adopt a mutt/mongrel or mixed breed from a shelter. I will donate to

my local shelter ( no kill cat shelter by the way), to my national breed club's Rescue and do every year, but I draw the line at adopting a mutt, and you can not guilt-trip me into doing so.

With many thanks to Christie and Gina, I bought and read Nathan Winograd's book "Redemption:....". It is everything that this Blog said it was and a truly mindset altering book. Every pet owner/lover ought to be required read it.

Silvia Jay

Spay and castrating a whole species is a North American idea.

Many Western European countries don't have this obsession to neuter for behavior and health, and do not have more of a pet overpopulation than North America has. Or more health and behavior problems.

Legislative changes that would prohibit the mass production of a sentient species sold on e-bay and in pet stores would do much more against overpopulation than cutting off a vital body part in animal babies, not even giving them a chance to mature healthy.

Gina Spadafori

E-Bay has long held firm on a no animal sales policy, much to their credit.

Unfortunately, a thousand sites have sprung up to fill "the void," allowing dirtbag puppy-millers the opportunity to sell direct to the public.


I would add that dog "overpopulation" is, indeed, a myth. Some shelters may be overpopulated with dogs, but American homes aren't.

By even conservative estimates, there are millions MORE dogs purchased (from various sources) than are killed in shelters, each year.

Dogs aren't dying in shelters because there aren't enough homes. They're dying because there aren't enough people willing to adopt a shelter dog and, thus, they go to any number of other sources to purchase a dog...typically a puppy.

For dog overpopulation to be a reality, it would mean that homes are already over-saturated with dogs, and that is why dogs die in shelters - because there physically aren't enough homes for them.

The truth, however, is far different. I don't read Nathan Winograd's works, but I've long pointed out that even a 10% increase in the percentage of dogs acquired from shelters would (potentially) make all the difference.

According to a report in Anthrozoos, approximately 6 million dogs are newly-acquired from non-shelter sources, each year. Approximately 1-2 million dogs are euthanized in shelters each year. Using the high estimate for shelter euth's, that leaves 4 million new dogs in new homes, over and above the shelter figures. Four million! That's at least twice as many MORE surplus homes than dogs killed in shelters!

Hence, the dog overpopulation myth.

All commercial breeders (puppy mills) will, of course, have an exception written into law for them. Thus, the only substantial population affected by mandatory spay/neuter is the subset of backyard breeders who will also suddenly obey the new law. (By definition, being a backyard breeder tends to suggest one is not especially concerned about obeying laws or behaving ethically.)

Dogs are dumped at shelters whether or not they're spayed/neutered, so there is also the issue of owner responsibility to address. There are many reasons why people choose to dump their dogs at shelters, but it mostly comes down to lack of commitment on the part of the owner, and a trust the dog at least has a chance at a new home. (According to the Anthrozoos report, of the 1.8 million annual owner-surrenders, about one-sixth were brought in specifically to be euthanized. 5/6ths were surrendered for adoption.)

Whether the owner has already spayed/neutered the dog is relatively inconsequential, in terms of their decision to bring it to the shelter. In my experience, packs of feral, breeding dogs are not common in the U.S., either. Meaning, other than reducing the number of dogs across the board, mandatory spay/neuter wouldn't actually reduce the inclination of people to dump their dogs at shelters, since that's mostly due to their own lack of commitment to the training and lifelong care of their dogs. Even "strays" aren't automatically presumed to have come from feral parents who otherwise might not have produced offspring if they'd been spayed/neutered as part of some feral dog program. (Cats, maybe. Dogs, not so much.)

Unless a large, societal shift occurs, even where most dogs are spayed/neutered, there would still be shelter admissions...because people will continue to be irresponsible, even when they spay/neuter their dogs.

And if we want to take it to the n'th degree, if anything, in an environment where all dogs are sterilized, not only will puppies mostly come from unsavoury sources (like puppy mills), but the 7 million people looking for new dogs each year will create a demand the likes of which we have never seen. With so little supply and such a huge demand, empty shelters (while terrific), might be the least of our worries.

I strongly support voluntary spay/neuter, along with educational programs. I mean, I've had pet dogs my whole life, and trained dogs for thirty years. I've had both intact and sterilized dogs in my care (although all my own dogs - and cats - were altered). I've never had an "oops" mating, and I've also never found a need to treat intact dogs markedly differently than altered dogs, especially in terms of training. All dogs, regardless of reproductive status, can be trained to be model canine citizens. Responsible ownership, including proper supervision, takes care of the other concerns about keeping intact dogs.

I don't support mandatory spay/neuter. I could only be encouraged to go along with mandatory spay/neuter laws if the decision about when, or if, to spay/neuter was left up to the owner and his/her veterinarian. But then, that's not really "mandatory" now is it?

As a lifelong Great Dane fancier, the notion of spaying/neutering them at 16 weeks is about as barbaric a notion as could be imagined. Giant breeds don't finish physically maturing into adults until somewhere between 12 and 24 months (52 - 104 weeks...a far cry from the 16-24 weeks we hear so much about from the mandatory spay/neuter camp). I've had many discussions about this issue, much of it predicated on my long-time fascination with the castrati.

(For those who don't know, the castrati were young boys who were intentionally, or accidentally, castrated at a very young age, and funnelled into training to sing a unique style of opera, partly because their voices never changed.)

We learned some things about human physiology because of this. The castrati were huge men, for instance. On average, they were extremely tall, yet had oddly-shaped skeletal structures.

The longer before puberty they were sterilized, the more pronounced this effect was.

We now know, of course, that it is the sudden "bath" of sex hormones during adolescence that closes the growth plates. Thus, where puberty never occurs, the growth plates take significantly longer to close. In dogs, that can be twice as long as intact individuals. The longer before natural puberty the sterilization occurs, the more pronounced the effect.

This results in longer bones; most notable in the long bones, like the femur. It doesn't just mean taller boys/men, or taller dogs. It also means misshapen and poorly alligned skeletons, that were never meant to develop that way. (Think narrow chests, long legs, and generally juvenile-looking adult dogs.)

Since different bones grow at different rates, one of the most common concerns about early spay/neuter in giant breeds (where it's most pronounced) is CCL tears. Where one bone in a joint finishes growing at a significantly earlier rate (i.e. closer to the time of sterilization, thus it is of relatively normal length), the other bone may grow so long it perverts the angle of the joint, or stresses the attachments. In the stifle joint, this can lead to a CCL rupture. (Granted, even a poorly-aligned stifle joint in intact dogs can lead to CCL tears. The issue here is actively creating an improperly angled stifle joint via too-early spay/neuter, and it's growth plate ramifications.)

Theory aside, let's just say there's no reason to assume growth plates are going to magically close when they're supposed to because sterilization becomes "the law." There's no fixing a distorted skeleton.

As a Great Dane fancier, I have grave concerns about these kinds of laws. And when it's proved that dog overpopulation is a myth, the basis for "mandatory" laws of this kind makes the potential harm to dogs even more unconscionable.

Perverting the skeletons of otherwise healthy puppies won't make more people adopt from shelters, nor will it reduce the number of people dumping their dogs at shelters.

If we really want to reduce the number of euthanasias at shelters, we need to start with people, and start requiring them to be more responsible in the care and training of their dogs. We should next look at making the process for acquiring a dog a bit less whimisical, such as the adoption process for shelters/rescue groups, or purchases from reputable hobby breeders who deny more potential buyers than sell to. Finally, converting some purchasers into adopters will further reduce the number of shelter deaths. But it has to be that kind of multi-pronged approach directed at human behaviour.

1. Plan carefully before acquiring a dog.

2. Don't support unethical breeders by paying them money or even just taking a dog off their hands.

3. Train and supervise your dog.

If you do those things, you likely won't ever consider dumping your dog at a shelter.

Silvia Jay

I stand corrected. Couldn't find any dogs on eBay, just a related link to [a well-known puppy-mill site, name removed because they make us sick here at Pet Connection and we don't want them to get any traffic from us!], that advertises dogs.

The point is that if the dog market would be such that forces people to research and go on a waiting list for a dog, rather than go into a pet store or on-line, dog purchases would be thought through rather than spontaneous.

Careful planning should be a default, not something mindful people do while others check the Bargain Finder.

If anything should be mandatory it should be having to participate in a training class, and being prohibited to dump the pooch into the back yard all day long or leave him chained up.

There are so many factors that contribute to behavior problems and the consequent surrender of dogs.

On a different note - I live in Canada and we certainly have a feral dog problem. Rural areas and reservations are dumping grounds for unwanted dogs here and there are many rural humane societies and rescue foundations where more than half of the dogs they care for are strays and ferals.


I appreciate people who research and take their time before getting a dog. OTOH, I can also understand the feeling of needing a dog ASAP maybe after a pet has died or whatever. In those cases, I wish people could get a dog without undue wait from a shelter or rescue group. I know some can, but others can't because of the shelter's limited hours or the rescue's laundry list of conditions for approval. Sometimes people really need a dog right away and there are *plenty* of dogs who need homes right away so I wish we could just make that happen 100% of the time.


Just to respond to Gina on my post about numbers - I did read the article about Berkeley. I am glad they have emptied half of their 60 dog runs, that is a great accomplishment.

I live in Los angeles where the city shelter system is building bigger, better shelters to eventually grow to about 1200 runs (up from about 400 a few years ago). As fast as they build the new shelters, they are full. The scale is something else all together. There are dozens and dozens of rescue organizations rescuing thousands of dogs, cats and rabbits, as well as private party rescuers pulling dogs all the time and the rescues are usually all at or above capacity. Pit Bulls represent 25% of intakes and 40% of euthanasias. People do come in to adopt pit bulls and people do rescue them but it can take months to place one in a home vs. days or weeks for a small breed dog like a dachshund or terrier mix.

There are hundreds of volunteers but most days at a given shelter you will maybe find one volunteer available, maybe a few on a weekend. The city budget is about to be cut again and inadequate resources will become even more inadequate.

I spoke w/Winograd about the pit bull issue and his suggestion was that maybe if we could get more of the easier-to-adopt dogs out of the shelter we could focus more effort on the remaining pit bulls - but unfortunately people already believe most of the dogs at the shelter are pits and it's not worth their time to come visit. Meanwhile people are breeding their pit bulls and selling puppies for hundreds of dollars. It's a fad dog among macho kids whose families dump the dogs when they become inconvenient.

My neighborhood had a dog who ran loose for years and reputedly fathered at least 10 litters of brown shepherd mix puppies. I don't think its unreasonable for a community to be able to say, if you won't contain your dog we demand that you neuter him, we are tired of cleaning up your mess. We're tired of seeing so many of his puppies dumped at the shelter and we're tired of killing them. If you breed dogs and they end up in our shelter, you are going to have to stop breeding because we are tired of killing your living, breathing "merchandise".

That's the reality where I live.


In Canada, stray & possibly feral dogs are an ongoing problem on some northern native reserves. Some of those dogs may form colonies. In the U.S., there are regions where feral dog colonies have also formed. In both cases, they are far from "common," though.

In comparison to the approximately 60 million U.S. dogs and around 5 million Canadian dogs, the percentage of dogs living in true, feral colonies is barely measurable, by most reputable estimates and accounts. "Stray" dogs are not necessarily feral, nor do they automatically form sustained colonies.

I've worked with several animal welfare groups in both Canada and the U.S., and I can't think of a single region where feral dog colonies were known to exist. I accept that they do exist, in small pockets, mostly in remote regions, with relatively low human populations. But, again, my experience suggests this does not represent the experiences of the vast majority of people or dogs.

According to the Anthrozoos study, of the 4 million dogs that enter U.S. shelters each year, a little over 25% could be called "stray" (i.e. were not brought in by owners or were not claimed by an owner). There doesn't appear to be detailed feral dog population data, either for loose dogs, or shelter admissions. What percentage of that 25% might include dogs captured from true feral dog colonies is anyone's guess. My experience on the front lines doesn't suggest it's a terribly large figure.

In many rural regions in Canada (and the U.S.), dogs are dumped by careless owners. In my experience it would be unusual, to say the least, to conclude that these dumped dogs routinely meet-up and form organized, sustained, feral colonies, the way stray/feral cats might.

I suspect, when that does happen, it's almost exclusive to remote regions of Canada, such as described above. Yet ninety percent of Canadians live within 160km of the U.S. border. Eighty percent of Canadians live in cities. The majority of Canadians will never witness a true feral dog colony, making them anything but "common."

I should point out that I first moved to Toronto (GTA population 2006: 5.5 million, or 17.4% of the total Canadian population) in the early 80's. I lived there, on and off, until 2006, when I moved to the country house as my primary residence. I saw my very first at-large dog in Toronto (not even stray, mind you) just prior to moving in 2006. ...First one. It was quite surprising. Until then, the only off-leash dogs I saw were just that...off-leash, with an owner trailing along nearby.

Since moving to the country two years ago, I've seen 3 at-large dogs (either escaped, or nearby owners allowed them to get out), and heard of two more dogs that were apparently dumped along our long, lonely, country cul-de-sac, and reportedly taken-in by local residents. Such is life in the country. Nothing close to a feral dog colony, though. (I was a competitive rider for many years, and spent a great deal of time in the country. I was raised in a small Canadian town, as well. Even stray dogs were not common.)

I own an island in Georgian Bay, and the region is surrounded by First Nations. Even that far north, I've not come across accounts of feral dog colonies. Actually, even at-large dogs aren't a common sight in that area. (Lots of dogs on chains, though.) :-( Locals are quick to tell me of the "dog shoots" that occur in more northerly reserves. :-(

I've lived in a number of U.S. cities including Chicago, San Francisco, Beverly Hills, and New York. (My last move was my 33rd.) Again, in the most populous places (i.e. most peoples' experiences) and when compared with the total number of dogs, the prevalence of feral dog colonies doesn't appear to be terribly commonplace.

Yes, there are feral dog colonies. I haven't seen anything that leads me to believe they're a common occurence in the lives of most Americans, or Canadians (humans or dogs). I hope that clarifies. :-)


Anne, I just read your comment and I agree. I think it would be terrific if the people who cause the problems were the ones punished/restricted, rather than punishing/restricting everyone in the obtuse attempt to get at the small minority of scofflaws.

A reputable breeder has a contract requiring a dog be returned to him/her, should the owner wish to relinquish it, at any point in the dog's life. A number of Great Dane rescue groups (although I'm sure other rescues do this too) keep a list of breeders who refuse to take responsibility for their abandoned progeny. These breeders are essentially blacklisted, so potential buyers will know to avoid them. (Sadly, I doubt that has much impact, since people tend to get the dog first, and only ask questions once there's a problem.)

Silvia Jay

I lived in Calgary for 15 years, hardly a remote area in Canada. For 13 of those 15 years I worked professionally with dogs, including several years as a volunteer for two humane societies. I agree that true feral dogs are not common (I own one and wrote a book about it), but stray and semi feral village type dogs group wherever there is a garbage dump. They are largely not organized colonies, but loosely formed groups of dogs that breed freely and often - similar to non-owned cats. Most of the pups in a litter are females - naturally to keep the species going that has such a high mortality rate, but that increases the problem. We picked females up that were most likely under a year old that had a litter, usually a five or more pups. We picked females up that had pups around four months old hanging around, and were pregnant again. Those were not exception, but quite common.

There are numerous rural humane societies and rescue organizations that trap and foster these dogs all across Alberta Canada, not just in the North. There are never enough homes, never enough space at shelters, which means that many dogs stay where they are. I can't speak for the US, but doubt that Alberta has somewhat of a unique, regional stray and feral problem within Canada.

Many of the dogs trapped and fostered are adopted, often to rookie owners, that are overwhelmed by behavior problems these dogs can come with. Many of the dogs require extensive rehab, are often surrendered again or owner euthanized.

Still, mass neutering is not the answer as long as there is a mass production of dogs for profit. Neutering babies is so propagated in Canada that I have seen male puppies sit alone in the runs at a shelter because their testicles hadn't descended and they couldn't be neutered. These pups were already adopted, but the shelter wouldn't release them intact. Neutering young puppies is common in Canada, same with kittens. A soon as they are of a certain weight, they're fixed.

The stray and feral born litters are vaccinated at least twice, dewormed, deflead and neutered usually before they are 16 weeks old. Talk about physical trauma and chemical overload to a body that is generally already malnourished, immune deficient and under stress.

I absolutely agree that irresponsible dog owners should be charged, their dogs seized. That is a much better solution than the neuter-all fix-problem theory.

I disagree that someone who needs a dog fast should be able to have one readily available. Socially mature adults ought not to be on an emotional level of a five-year-old who wants something now - and right away. That sense of entitlement at the expense of sentient beings is exactly the problem.


"I disagree that someone who needs a dog fast should be able to have one readily available. Socially mature adults ought not to be on an emotional level of a five-year-old who wants something now - and right away. That sense of entitlement at the expense of sentient beings is exactly the problem."

Comment by Silvia Jay — May 21, 2008 @ 5:56 am

Socially mature adults sometimes really need a pet right away. Having a pet can be therapeutic, physically and emotionally, for adults and children. There are times in our lives when we pet lovers need that beneficial therapy right away. If you or someone you know has ever felt that his life was saved by having a pet, you might be inclined to view the idea differently.

People in need of pets right away


pets in need of homes right away -


Gina Spadafori

A lot of people in the shelter/rescue worlds are quick to point out that "impulse pets" often end up homeless.

That's true, but ...

A lot of "impulse pets" end up in loving, dedicated homes for LIFE.

When I was running a breed rescue (Sheltie rescue, in the Sacramento area), we had RULES. And we broke them all the time. Some of my best placements ever were to people who lived in apartments (no yard), people with very young children, etc., etc.

I placed a young, adult dog with a couple in their 80s who'd been turned down elsewhere because of their age, or only allowed to adopt a very ancient senior dog. The husband still walked five miles a day (he wanted a dog to walk with), and the wife had a massive garden and canned her own preserves (they were delish!).

They sent me Christmas cards every year for a decade, and then a kind note when the dog died. Yes, they both outlived her!

So ... I think guidelines are fine, but rescue groups and shelters need to be able to bend and even break them. Will some of those homes not work out? Sure. But even some of the best homes ever don't work out for the life of a pet -- people die, divorce, lose jobs and homes, etc.

Life's a crapshoot for all of us. But ya gotta play to win.


What a great story!

I think a simple screening process would quickly separate the wheat from the chaff regarding "impulse" adopters:

Your last pet "ran away"? You have no Vet? You have no supplies at home to care for a dog? You want a dog that looks like one in a photo you saw of Britney Spears?


You have a Vet who will provide a reference for the good care you have provided for previous pets. Your last pet died of old age and you are heartbroken and want another ASAP. You have a dog walker who comes to walk your pet while you are at work... etc.

It pains me to think of dogs sitting in shelters, in immediate need of a loving home while loving homes looking for an immediate pet are prevented from adopting because the shelter is only open during limited business hours or the attitude of the rescue group is that all applicants must go through some lengthy and tedious checklist which can take months to complete.

Silvia Jay

I agree that exceptions should be made and suitable adoptees should not be denied because of age, unfenced or no yard, or young children.

A dog that sits in a shelter and can be well placed fast, should be. The emphasis is on well placed, not fast.

It is especially the dog at the shelter already at least once neglected and/or surrendered that needs extra attention to be placed in a suitable home, not necessarily a needy one. Sometimes the right home comes fast, often the fast home isn't the right one.

That dogs and people can be excellent therapy for one another is without a doubt. I have witnessed that time and again. But I have also seen many relationships that are not that symbiotic. Dogs in need themselves are expected to heal or replace a lost companion. That puts a lot of pressure on the dog.

I feel bad for every dog who has no social belonging. I feel for every dog in a shelter. But adopting out without due process just to free the run for another one, or to make a person feel better, just creates more problems.

That does not exclude exceptions. Of course older folks should be allowed to adopt if they can care for a dog and have made provisions in case they can't do it for the rest of the dog's life. And an unfenced yard or apartment is no indication that someone can't be a great owner.


Silvia Jay you said it well. At the city shelter where I volunteer screening is prohibited, of course we can encourage people or discourage them if we think the match is poor but we are not allowed to say no! And some of the rescues on the other hand are in my view, terribly rigid. When I place a dog I've rescued I try to come down in the middle, ask all the questions but avoid dismissing people on rules alone if I feel like the people might make a good home. Unlike some who feel good homes are a dime a dozen, I think sometimes they take a little compromise, a little support and education and followup.


Well, I am not sure what is going to happen with Ca AB 1634, the MSN proposal by Levine et al. However, I think the next opening salvo has started.

On Hwy 5, in Sacramento, at the J St exit (one of two exits off Hwy 5 that can be taken to get to the State Capitol), is a new billboard. Doesn't say who paid for it, but I can guess.

Billboard says:

"A 2008 Zogby poll shows that 80% of Voters want spay and neuter laws. Yes-AB1634"

And I was sooooooo hoping this nonsense would just die the true death.

Gina Spadafori

I am NOT suggesting complacency -- far from it. But I talked to a legislator pal of mine recently, and was told that the office received 20,000 faxes in just a couple days regarding AB 1634, most vehemently opposed.

With so many truly important issues facing the state, I'm guessing few lawmakers wish to deal with this piece of pointless dog poop, especially since it won't solve a damn thing, punishing responsible, ethical tax-paying, and VOTING breeders, won't reform those shelters that would rather kill than change to make adoptions happen, won't stop imports of sick puppies from Mexico or Russia and gives puppy-millers a complete pass.

We'll be keeping an eye on this, and you may rest assured that my own fax machine is ready to roll. And so, too are my phone and my feet. I will call and call and call, and get into those offices as well.

I am very much in favor of incentives for spaying and neutering, and programs to reduce the numbers and the suffering of feral cats especially. But forced spay-neuter, putting the state's nose in the middle of what should be a discussion and an informed-consent decision between me and my veterinarian?


By the way ... my own kitten is being neutered this morning. MY DECISION, not the state's.


I'm impressed. 20,000 faxes. That's a lot to count/read/do anything with.


Why not start charging the people who are currently and ACTUALLY causing a pet to become homeless? People who dump, abandon or drop pets off to shelters/rescues should be the ones fined…not people who “might” do it but the people who ARE doing it.


There are shelters who charge people to bring in their animals, and there are lots of country folk who can attest to the fact that some folks will dump a dog or cat along a country road rather than pay such a fee.


"some folks will dump a dog or cat along a country road rather than pay such a fee."

Isn’t that just as much a concern with people forced to pay for spay/neuter surgery or a intact permit fee?

Gina Spadafori

There are also people who dump pets because they think the animal "has a chance" if "set free" where they have feel they have no chance at the shelter at all.

People who dump adoptable pets in the country are often counting on a farmer's good-nature (rural folks are plenty good-natured, but full up with the previously dumped pets of city folk).

If people didn't see shelters as killing machines but rather as places working to facilitate adoptions -- to SHELTER pets, duh -- they might be far more likely not to dump pets.

OK, so there's my shelter reform rant of the day.

Weirdest "set them free" story I ever heard:

I worked in a newsroom with a guy -- reporter with a master's degree, no less! -- who, when I mentioned that I euthanized a rescue Sheltie who had cancer, was horrified at my action.

"Why didn't you just turn him loose so he'd have a chance?" he said. "You just killed him? I thought you loved animals?"

I kid you not. This guy actually thought turning a elderly dog with end-stage nasal cancer LOOSE was the right thing to do.


slt wrote:I’m impressed. 20,000 faxes. That’s a lot to count/read/do anything with.

I doubt they read them. We are always advised to write our position in the first line or so. I suspect they just go thru and count "oppose" vs "For", which is the reason (in my opinion) that the thing is still hanging around. If they actually read the arguments for and against, I doubt the bill would have gotten this far.

I'm right there with you, Gina. My fax is ready to roll and my "day off request" is sitting on my desk waiting to be filled out, if needed.

I also strongly support increasing low cost spay/neuter clinics, with client assist in getting their pets there. A friend of mine adopted a dog from Colusa Shelter and was given a voucher for spay. She was given 30 days to comply (not sure what the shelter would have done had she not complied). But when she went looking for a low cost clinic, there were NONE within easy driving distance. She lives in Rio Vista and had to finally go all the way to Lodi to get her dog spayed.

If she had been a senior citizen or someone with unreliable transportation, how would she have gotten her dog there? A low cost spay/neuter clinic in San Fransciso did set up a Pick up and delivery type arrangement for thier clients. That worked wonders for them, and saved alot of animals.

However, the proponents of AB1634 are constantly citing that there are low cost clinics all over the place.


About AB1634.….it says the person will be given 30 days to comply. If they fail to comply, they will be fined $500 and an additional $50 per month thereafter until they comply. Where does that end? I mean, what if they just refuse to comply?


I had been trying to convince a PETA member acquaintance to have her feral cat colony TNR'd as local MSN requires. I volunteered to help. She is against it because she claims she can't afford it (she can), she doesn't have the time (she has plenty of time for recreational shopping), and she loves to see all the kittens twice a year. And then she said the thing that made my blood boil. "Besides, my dogs kill most of the kittens so it's natural population control." Since those words crossed her lips last fall, I have not been able to stomach being in her presence.

I have placed several calls to animal control this year and they tell me that without her cooperation, they can do nothing. When I explain that she is in violation of the MSN ordinance they insist that without her cooperation they can do nothing.

Welcome to rural Southern California.


The least she could do is set the kittens free so they'd have a chance...



Gina Spadafori

>“Besides, my dogs kill most of the kittens so it’s natural population control.”


Pardon me while I hurl.

Christie Keith

People who dump, abandon or drop pets off to shelters/rescues should be the ones fined…not people who “might” do it but the people who ARE doing it.

I echo what was already said: People should see shelters are places of shelter for animals, and we shouldn't be shaming them for bringing their animals there any more than we shame women for going to domestic violence shelters.

Letting go of a beloved animal is often the hardest part of a divorce, job loss, or the economic bomb the Bush years have dropped on this country.

Of course there are a**holes who couldn't care less, but if you charge them a fee they'll just dump on the side of the road.

There will always be a certain number of jerks in the world, and shelters need to be there as a safety net for their animals, as well as the animals of those who face genuine hardship.

The jerks won't learn from (or pay) a fee and it's cruel to levy one on those who have no choice.


I have been reading about a local problem that I know is widespread. Many people are feeling a shame associated with having to abandon their foreclosed upon homes and can not face the further "shame" of bringing their pet to the shelter so are leaving them tied up in the yard. These pets are often starving to death before anyone finds them. I am opposed to any suggestion of fining or reprimanding anyone bringing pets to a shelter. Some animal control services will come to your home and pick up your pet at no charge if you are unable to care for him any longer.


>“Besides, my dogs kill most of the kittens so it’s natural population control.”

Okay, I'm hurling, too. I don't think I could stand being in this person's presence any longer either.

Just to cheer everyone up, I have the opposite problem -- I had to frantically read up on the care of feral kittens because if Pepper finds abandoned ones at the community garden, she brings them to me and insists that we help them -- this is a dog that has no problem finishing off varmits, but as she grew up with cats, she knows that they are different.

Of course, this doesn't prevent her from believeing that adult feral cats belong in the trees (she is a Border Collie, after all) and last year, when she found a couple of older feral kittens, she watched them closely, realized that they were not in need of help, so she very gently nudged them up into their first tree where they sat in the branches looking very confused, but the babies? They need help and she's determined that we give it to them.


Sorry, what I meant was more rhetorical....if you‘re going to penalize ANYONE, why not start with the actual problem (too many pets in shelters) rather than the assumed “root“ of the problem (presumably too many breeders without licenses?).

I was just comparing the idea of a shelter drop-off fee with the idea of imposing a penalty on people who fail to spay/neuter. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear; I think both are a bad idea.

By far, the majority of the intact pets I have seen who have (and this is an important distinction) *actually produced unwanted/abandoned litters* have been feral cats, strays and pets owned by people who could not afford spay/neuter surgery. And when unwanted pets are the problem, I fail to see the genius in legislation that makes no distinction whatsoever between the wanted and the unwanted.

I live in a community actively working toward no-kill goals. We are generously funded by Maddie’s and, compared to many other municipalities, enjoy a healthy county budget for animal care services. We have one of the best TNR groups in the nation and are home to several visible and energetic non-profit rescue and adoption organizations.

Still, animals are dying in our streets and being killed in our shelter every day. Most say it’s because there are “too many pets and not enough homes”.

Last year, I offered to volunteer with a free spay/neuter program here. My job was to call the 400+ low-income households who had received the free voucher but had failed to use it to have their pets altered. The goal was to discover why these people didn’t use the free voucher.

The majority of the people I called reported they really wanted their pets altered but simply could not afford the “add on” (generally, vaccines) care for the surgery.

The issues overlapped but another big problem was with transportation; these were people without cars who could not afford or did not have access to public transportation. Another problem was that the voucher had expired before the person could manage to arrange a trip to the participating veterinarian.

To give an example with a "face": I called an elderly woman living on food stamps and a $192 monthly check. She had three cats she had “adopted” from the streets; she adored these cats and told me story-after-story about how much they have come to mean to her. She expressed to me these cats were her “only family” as she had no one left in her human family.

Some months before, she had received the free voucher to have them altered but had never used it. The woman described to me how, using a neighbor’s phone, she had made arrangements with a local transport service for the elderly to get a ride to and from the veterinarian with her cats and then called to arrange the veterinary appointment. The veterinarian advised her she would need an additional $18 per cat for vaccines and a $10 per cat exam fee (these were the discounts offered for the needy using the free vouchers).

So, this meant she had to come up with $84 (nearly half her monthly income) before she could have her cats altered. And since food stamps cannot be used for pet food, she said “I had to choose between feeding them and spaying them and I just couldn’t let them go hungry.”

And you know it makes me sad and angry to remember this….but this poor woman cried on the phone with me because she felt she was failing her cats….she asked “do you think I’m a bad person?” and kept begging “you aren't going to come take them away from me, are you?“. She kept reiterating to me that she loved them, kept them indoors and was careful they never got out so they wouldn’t get pregnant.

To me this was tragic; I could feel her shame and her frustration and it made me really angry at the system that I feel was failing her and her pets.

Now with something like AB1634.…what would have happened? Would the threat of a $500 fine and $50 per month thereafter done anything to get this woman’s cats altered? Sorry, but I have very little faith in a 100% FREE and user-friendly spay/neuter program….few are.

And without something like that securely in place and fully operational, I can’t fathom how any municipality can think that penalizing the poor along with every other perceived "threat" will help reduce pet numbers.

And seriously, if a truly operational FREE spay/neuter program were in place, the municipality wouldn’t NEED that sort of legislation, would they?

Now imagine this very same woman losing her cats because she simply couldn't pay the imposed s/n fines. OK great, we don't charge her at the shelter door and boast we are offering her cats humane "shelter" at no cost because it's better than imposing a fee a risking she abandons them. Nice. But what's the point? Why not just offer free and accessible S/N services?

I can't imagine the AC officers charged with enforcing AB1634 are going to be going to these people's homes and evaluating each one to discover which are truly in need of help and which are just "irresponsible jerks" who will comply when threatened with a $500 fine. Can you?


Couldn't the financially challenged owners sign a waiver that if they declined the vaccines, any risks to the health of their pet would be the owner's liability? Put the vaccinated cats in one bank of cages and unvaccinated in another. Vets volunteering to do the free s/n surgery can volunteer to do a quickie pre-surgical exam at no charge to the owner as well. Problem solved? I don't see why they would go to all the trouble of setting up a "free" s/n when in fact people have to pay for vax/exams in order to get the "free" s/n.


I dunno slt, the voucher system here is through private veterinarians participating in the program. The vets insist they cannot intake a pet without vaccines and other services and that they can not/will not offer them free. Most all free or discounted spay/neuter programs I have ever been aware of have similar issues...few are actually free and accessible.


One of the reasons people don't go to a "regular" Vet for spay-neuter is because of all the add-on expenses for vaccines and exams. It logically follows that low income people who qualify for a subsidized s-n voucher are going to face this same dilemma. By not addressing it effectively and simply saying "We'll volunteer X but they have to pay for Y", they're not really providing the services the community needs. To my mind, it would be more effective to cut down the total number of vouchers offered by whatever number is necessary to be able to offer the required shots/exams at no cost to qualified low income owners.

Gina Spadafori

It's a policy issue that could easily be addressed by the veterinarians. I recognize they're concerned about best care and liability. Seems the latter, at least, could be solved with a signed waiver releasing the veterinarian/veterinary hospital of liability. ("Pet owner recognizes that no exam is being given and no vaccines are being required. Pet owner accepts the increased risk and waives the right to pursue claims against XYZ Veterinary Hospital with the exception of those issues directly related to the spay-neuter surgery.")

Not a lawyer, but you get the point.

Point in interest: The GP veterinarian I often use for routine matters (as in, ones I could diagnose myself) was uncomfortable with the idea of neutering Ilario at 12 weeks. I had a legitimate reason for doing so -- my own health, with regard to allergies and the increase in FelD1 protein once the testosterone kicks in in male cats. (Previous discussion of Clara/Ilario and allergies here.)

I didn't want her to do something she wasn't comfortable doing, so I asked one of my other veterinarians, in a different practice. He agreed, and of course we had all the recommended safeguards -- IV, anesthetic monitoring, pre- and post-op pain control, etc.

When I picked Ilario up, I noted on the bill that as discussed pre-op nothing was done except the surgery. Not a word on vaccines, no bill for exam, nothing. Just the surgery and the take-home pain meds.

So ... yeah, it can be done.

I didn't have to sign a waiver, but I would have. I wanted one thing and one thing only ... neutering.

But of course, I've worked with this veterinarian for 25 years, and he knows that 1) If I said the kitten was in the middle of his shot regimen and healthy, he could trust my evaluation and my word; and 2) I would sooner sue my mother than this guy, who is one of the kindest, smartest people I've ever known, and a seriously kick-ass vet.


the vets are not big fans of the free/discount spay neuter programs. They're pretty vocal about that here

Luke Thomas

It's only unkind to the millions of backyard breeders who are part of the problem because everytime breeder breed and sell thier cash crop, a shelter dog/cat dies.

What is so hard about it? The RABIES vaccination is not enforceable-but most people do it–because IT IS THE LAW. With something on the books people can report others who let their cats and dogs breed like crazy–hello folks-feeding is not enough to care for cats and dogs. We ALL know some person who does this. It will also cut down on the “free to good home” ads-which people adopt these pets so they can feed their pet snake or sell them for hideous experiments.

Requirement for license for animals not spay/neutered is smart-we DO have a fishing license. So why not this. In addition, be aware CATS CAN CATCH AND TRANSMIT BIRD FLU TO OTHER ANIMALS-now how many homeless cats in Chicago? MILLIONS. USA never had bird flu but we are not immune to to; in addition, two flocks of ducks tested positive for Bird Flu in February 2009–so bird flu is just right around the corner. Have a nice Jesus filled day.

Maybe many European countries are not too keen about mandatory spay/neuter laws because they don't have an epidemic of homeless dogs and cats--many European countries EAT dog and cat meat. It's a fact. In Guangdong China, they eat 10,000 cats a day. Read the news. Google it. Confirm it. In South Korea, they are trying to legalize dog meat as a legal produce (I think they succeeded).

Gina Spadafori

The information is from peer-reviewed veterinary journals, Luke. You can look it up.

Many Europeans don't neuter their dogs, and their dogs manage to stay out of traffic and stay unbred.

There's a miraculous invention, and perhaps you've heard of it. It's called a "leash."

Your other comment is so full of ignorance fed to you by others I hardly know where to begin.

Christie Keith

It’s only unkind to the millions of backyard breeders who are part of the problem because everytime breeder breed and sell thier cash crop, a shelter dog/cat dies.


Explain that to me, then, because there are THREE TIMES AS MANY pets bred as there are shelter dogs and cats killed in shelters every year. If EVERY TIME a puppy or kitten was bred a shelter pet died, the kill rate would be four times what it is.

That's not the only math problem you seem to have. You say there are "millions" of homeless cats in Chicago? Really?

There are around 700,000 OWNED cats, nearly all of them spayed/neutered already, and around half a million homeless/feral cats. The total cat population is barely over a million. [Citation]

Geography is also not your strong point; China and Korea aren't in Europe, so you can't use them to prove something about pets in Europe.

I'm just saying.

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