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Why Environmentalists Should Care about Pet Euthanasia

Why Environmentalists Should Care about Pet Euthanasia
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Written by Laura Kiesel

Each morning when I check my daily Facebook feed, I am greeted by the large, lovely eyes of dozens of cats. These are not the scrunched up, comic faces of LOLCats or YouTube clips featuring a fluffy gray kitten adorably attacking apples on her owner’s bed. Instead, these are the faces of the cats scheduled to be euthanized at the animal control centers in my native New York City, where an estimated 12,000 animals are put down annually.

Unfortunately, New York City is not alone in the staggering amount of animals it puts to sleep every year; the problem is ubiquitous across the nation. Here in the United States, we euthanize approximately five million cats and dogs every year. Euthanasia at animal control centers is by far the leading cause of death of cats and dogs in this country. Many of these animals are either perfectly healthy and adoptable, or suffering from only mild colds or other maladies that could be treated with routine antibiotics or the most rudimentary vet care.

Such numbers should shock us, yet many times when I relay this fact to others, I am met with a shrug of the shoulders and some words of resignation. Among pockets of the conservation community and even animal welfare groups, these deaths rates are not only accepted, but adamantly defended. The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the most aggressive animal rights organization in the country, often cites euthanasia as the most humane option for directly addressing pet overpopulation. Likewise, many wildlife advocacy groups have taken a stance supporting intensive culls of outdoor cats in order to protect songbirds and other small wildlife species cats prey on. In general, the issue of pet overpopulation and high euthanasia rates is often considered one wholly separate from, or even at odds with, our environment.

Yet this issue should be at the forefront of environmentalists’ concerns. Few other issues embody the waste ethic of Western culture than the way in which we use and dispose of our companion animals. For many of us, our companion animals serve as our only personal connection to the larger animal kingdom, and so to the natural world. If we cannot find a way to extend empathy toward our pets, how can we be expected to extend welfare concerns and protections to wildlife and livestock?

Companion animals have the closest, most personal relationship to us than any other non-human species. They are unlike the livestock we have domesticated to provide our food, clothing and transportation, or the wildlife we have come to view as competitors for our planet’s ever-dwindling resources. The primary purpose of dogs and cats — indeed, their sole purpose for many — is to play the role of friend and family member.

Ironically, even as so many die every year, we also have proven ourselves to be a nation enamored with our pets. We spend about $38 billion every year on their comfort and care. Bereavement counseling for people whose pets that have died has become a burgeoning industry. Many of those who are childless or now have empty nests come to view and treat their pets as surrogate children, or at least good and loyal company to stave off loneliness. This emotional attachment translates into reluctance to put down pets.

According to an AP-Petside poll conducted earlier this year, 71 percent of people favored euthanasia for cats and dogs only in those instances when the animal is “…too sick to be treated or too aggressive to be adopted,” and not for the purpose of population control.

Still, millions of animals are surrendered to shelters and animal control centers every year. According to the National Council of Pet Population Study & Policy, “moving” is often cited as the number one reason owners surrender their animals, with “landlord issues” and the “cost of care” close behind. Furthermore, a poll conducted by the Humane Society of the United States showed that 35 percent of people without pets would have one if their rentals permitted animals.

This suggests that if sufficient resources were allocated for finding new homes for pets, advocating for municipal and state policies that would better enable people to retain their pets (through the increased availability of pet-friendly housing and affordable vet care for low income pet owners), and encouraging adoption over breeding, we could end (or at least minimize) the cycle of suffering and death that takes place in thousands of shelters in the US every day.

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2:11AM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

Thank you for this informative and heart-breaking article. I have always loved the USA and things American, and have always been saddened to hear stories about it being a 'throw-away' society, saddened even more now that there appear to be so many people who regard animals in the same light. A very big and heart-felt blessing on those millions (I hope!) of you who sincerely care about what is happening, and I'm praying for long-term solutions, in our own country, South Africa, as well. I believe the answer lies in parenting, and, if not forthcoming from that source, let schools be some sort of back-up, where children are taught the 'preciousness' of life, whether it be human or animal, and, over and above that, the beauty of love and caring for other living creatures. Otherwise, what is our purpose in life on this wonderful, incrediblel planet of ours?

2:10AM PDT on Oct 18, 2012

give poor people the possibility to spay and neuter loving cats and dogs,and I promise you the killing of that beauty animals goes back.

5:01AM PDT on Oct 13, 2012

Please adopt!!! And spay/neuter!!!

1:41PM PDT on Oct 12, 2012

Working at an animal shelter would be hell on earth for me. I could never sit idly by, knowing that most of the animals in my care will be euthanized - most of them discarded by their owners like trash. How can those owners live with themselves and sleep at night? I have saved 100+ animals over the past 30 years. I found homes for many but have had to keep most because good homes are so very hard to find and there are so many surrendered, homeless animals already out there. I work 6 days/week just to keep us fed and vetted so I know it is a challenge for most. The greatest act most owners can do though is: Spay & Neuter! Thank you for the wonderful, informative article.

5:53AM PDT on Oct 12, 2012

save an animal from being put to death... ADOPT!!! we did and we love Hope more than you can imagine!!!

1:01PM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

interesting article :) thanks for sharing

8:35AM PDT on Oct 9, 2012


2:06AM PDT on Oct 9, 2012

Thank you for confirming something I have felt in my heart for a long , long time. I can't see the point of killing a perfectly healthy animal who has done nothing wrong except being born or conceived. What does this say as a nation as a whole what kind of people we are? We waste resources and commodities and now we also waste the lives of unborn babies and 'useless' animals. We have an embarrassment of riches in this country and yet we are so poor in love and empathy. Thank you for being a voice in the desert.

3:54PM PDT on Oct 8, 2012


1:19PM PDT on Oct 8, 2012

Until people are smart enough to make the decision themselves, there needs to be mandatory spay or neuter programs in place for potential pet parents. One gets tired of some of the excuses, especially from guys regarding their male dogs. The dog will not benefit from having one amorous experience and the dog is not an extension of their masculinity.

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