I have been fortunate to share my life with several amazing pets. Two wonderful dogs, Bailey and Chloe, gave 15 years of unconditional love, and several fantastic felines have graced my life, including Bastian, Luna and Grady who are the current rulers of our household.
Thinking back, I can hardly remember a time in my life when pets were not a part of my home. Ever since Rocky, a cuddly, grey cat who was my first pet, triggered my love for animals and my desire to protect them, there has been at least one resident pet or neighborhood stray commanding my attention and providing me with a purpose.
Life without a pet is just not complete. Most of the people I know, especially my animal welfare colleagues, feel the same. A large portion of our country's population feels the same, too. According to the ASPCA: "It's estimated that 70-80 million dogs and 74-96 million cats are owned in the United States. Approximately 37-47% of all households in the United States have a dog, and 30-37% have a cat." [i]
Still, about 13,000 animal shelters operate in our country to care for the millions of homeless, companion animals entering their doors every year. Many of these shelters, especially in our region, operate at full-capacity most of the year.
Adoptions happen every day, in our shelter and others, approximately 2.7 million annually, in fact. Unfortunately, another 2.6 million pets are euthanized every year. Some die due to injuries or medical problems beyond treatment, or behavior issues beyond available resources.
Sadly though, many of these animals are healthy and perfectly adoptable, but shelters lack the space and resources to house and care for them all. It's a heartbreaking reality, especially when you consider each animal individually, with their own distinct personalities and characteristics, each one unique, craving love and deserving of a home.
So how can we change this? Adoption helps. Absolutely. Each pet waiting on an adoption floor needs a home, but not just any home. They each need a loving and patient person or family willing to understand the responsibilities of owning a pet and commit to caring for them their whole life.
But, as we say a lot in this line of work, "We can't adopt our way out of the problem." There are never enough homes. Even if every American adopted a shelter pet, effectively emptying every shelter, more homeless pets would arrive the next day. And the next, and the next, so on and etcetera.
Spay and neuter is the only answer. It's the only way to successfully and permanently "fix" pet over-population. Not only does spay/neuter prevent unintended litters, reducing the number of pets entering shelters and decreasing euthanasia rates, but it also improves a pet's health, increases their lifespan and can remedy bad behavior like urine-marking, howling and fighting. [ii]
Unfortunately, the homeless pet problem cannot be resolved overnight. Many, many more pets will enter shelters and many more will die on the streets or while waiting for a home. But we can't let this actuality dissuade us from taking action, one pet at a time.
Help us continue to move toward a better future and a home for every pet. Make sure your own pets are spayed or neutered, the earlier the better to prevent first litters that can happen as young as four months old. The SPCA Albrecht Center's Veterinary Care Center makes it convenient and affordable. Call 803-648-6863 or visit www.LetLoveLive.org/vet-care.
And if you have space in your home and room in your heart to commit to a homeless pet, please visit us and see if a match can be made. Our pet care specialists know the pets in our shelter well and are happy to recommend a pet that fits well with your home and lifestyle. Right now, pets one year old and older are available for just a $25 adoption fee.
We're located at 199 Willow Run Road in Aiken, or visit us online at www.LetLoveLive.org. Grant a homeless pet a forever home for the holidays and guarantee yourself a Meowy Christmas, a Yappy New Year, and a lifetime of love.
Sarah Neikam is the Communications & Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah lives in Graniteville with her husband, Tom, mother, Cheryl and three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady.