Every year local animal shelters take in millions of stray, lost, and relinquished pets. Some are adopted into loving homes, but the majority of these animals are euthanized due to overcrowding and limited resources. While animal shelters make concerted efforts to reduce numbers through spay/neuter programs and humane education, overpopulation continues to overwhelm these organizations. The recent economic downturn has placed further strain on the shelters. The onslaught of lost jobs and housing has rendered many owners incapable of caring for their animals. As a result, shelters have seen a notable increase in the number of owner-relinquished pets. Providing housing and food for all of these animals is an insurmountable task, but by donating time and necessary resources we can help improve survival and adoption rates in our local animal shelters.
Animal Shelter Spending
Approximately $2 billion dollars in taxes are allocated to animal shelter budgets every year. This includes the cost of intake, housing, and euthanasia, and averages out to about $100 per animal. In 2009, Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley took in 1,500 animals, returned 252 animals to their owners, and placed 350 in new homes. They reported an annual consumption of 15,000 pounds of food and 800 pounds of dog treats. They also used 14,000 pounds of cat litter, implanted 312 microchips, and administered 255 rabies vaccines. The estimated daily cost to feed and house animals at this shelter was $25 per dog and $20 per cat. They housed an average of 45 dogs and 45 cats each day. These numbers may sound huge, but this facility is actually smaller than many city and county animal shelters.
What You Can Do?
While you may not be able to make a large financial donation to your local shelter on your own, you can always organize a fundraiser to generate sizable contributions. These events should be pet centered, and should also be lots of fun. Consider having a community dog wash day, or set up a pet photo booth with cute costumes and backgrounds. You may also be able to arrange a sponsorship program with a shelter or rescue organization for people who cannot adopt a pet, but want to help support one. Fundraisers do not have to be complicated; they only need to catch the interest of the community, and support humane treatment of animals. The cost of running an entire shelter may be great, but it only takes a small amount to cover the expenses of one animal, and each life saved is a step in the right direction.
In addition to monetary donations, shelters have a high demand for supplies and equipment. Particularly important donations include towels, blankets, cat litter, pet food, toys, litter boxes, and newspaper. Many shelters are happy to provide interested donors with a list of the facility’s specific needs.
Time may be the most valuable item you can donate to your local animal shelter. Volunteers are needed to help with cleaning, training, socialization, and dog walking. If you have veterinary experience, you may be able to volunteer with the medical team assisting with treatments, exams, and surgeries. If you have more time to dedicate, consider joining a foster program. Foster families are an invaluable shelter resource, providing temporary homes and excellent care to puppies and kittens that are too young to live in the shelter. Without foster homes these very young animals would have to be euthanized.
The main cause for high euthanasia rates in shelters is overcrowding. As adoption rates increase, euthanasia rates decrease, so it is very important to promote adoption over buying from breeders or pet stores whenever possible. Unless you are serious about showing animals in conformation events – commonly called dog or cat shows – there is no reason to buy a purebred pet from a breeder. Pet stores are notorious for selling puppy mill dogs with very poor breeding and a tendency towards serious congenital and genetic disorders and diseases. Before you make a decision as to where you will get your next pet, take a few hours to visit your local animal shelter. You may be surprised to find a great variety of ages and breeds, including very young puppies and kittens as well as many purebred animals.
If you have had good experiences adopting pets, make it a point to tell as many people as possible. If you know someone who is planning to get a new pet, encourage him or her to give some consideration to adoption. Most shelter animals will be spayed or neutered before adoption, are up to date on vaccines and parasite control, and come with a microchip. Many shelters and rescues also do temperament testing to determine what type of home each animal will thrive in, and whether they are likely to get along with other pets. Buying a fancy purebred dog from a breeder might provide you with a nice status symbol, but adopting a pet in need is a deeply rewarding alternative that will not only garner far more respect from your fellow animal lovers, but will guarantee you love and affection from a devoted canine friend for life.