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Posted on Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 10:10 p.m.

Pet overpopulation continues to be a problem, but nonsurgical options may offer hope in the future

By Lorrie Shaw


flickr photo by cnolan011

The buzz this week isn't just about the 2012 election and the freakish Nor'easter that hit several states over the weekend.

The topic on the lips of some, is the ever-growing human population — one that experts say is increasing by 75 million more births than deaths each year — and is due to hit the 7 billion mark today.

Whether or not one believes that figure doesn't matter; what does, is simply that there's been a spurt in population growth in our recent history.

You're probably wondering what does this have to do with the topic of pets. More than you think. The domesticated pet population is growing alongside humans, and it's no wonder, really.

Dogs, especially, have been tied to our own evolution and have a solid tether to many families in our own society — and the idea of sharing life with canines more closely is catching on in cultures whose members may have shied away doing so previously. Cats have a special place in our lives and, in many cases, they are like the proverbial potato chip for many people: you can't have just one.

But some sad realities come to mind when I think of companion animals and their numbers: the problem of pet homelessness and overpopulation, the needless suffering of many degrees and instances of euthanasia that are, in some situations, the only solution.

Are people really getting the message about what is happening with companion animals?

The primary battle

First, understand that from a biological standpoint, it's a battle with pets, as Julie Levy, DVM, director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine points out.

“Reproductive success drives evolution, so reproductive forces are the strongest biological factors [in] any species. That’s why no one has figured this out yet — it’s hard.”

If one blockade is put into place to curb reproduction, biology takes over and simply walks around it and compensates.

Companion animals who are not spayed or neutered are a major factor in the pet population surge. This was an issue that the ASPCA addressed with a policy decision that made waves in 1972. From then on, every animal adopted from their shelters had to be spayed or neutered — a real shift in forward thinking.

Now, it's standard practice for shelters and rescues across the nation, and the procedures, with their superb success rate, are usually offered at a reduced rate to adoptive families.

For those who welcome a pet into their family due to other circumstances, discounted spay and neuter services are offered at organizations across the nation. Southeast Michigan boasts many programs, like the one available at the Humane Society of Huron Valley.

A comprehensive database of low-cost options is available on All About Animals' website.

With so much emphasis on spay and neuter, you would think that things would be well under control. But, the issue of overpopulation, homelessness and shelter overcrowding is still at the forefront nearly 40 years after the widely-accepted policy.

What continues to fuel the overpopulation and homelessness problem? Why are so many organizations overloaded with dogs and cats?

No-kill shelters: helping or hurting the cause?

Has one concept that has gained popularity in recent years, the "no-kill" movement, harmed or helped when it comes to the problem of homelessness?

Certainly, reputable shelters and rescues who have achieved this status are the exception. They are staffed with knowledgeable, capable professionals who can honestly address the real needs of the pets that they bring into their intake process — and have the means to temporarily house and care for these animals.

Make no mistake: there is a lot of work, knowledge, financial backing and support from qualified professionals needed to make animal welfare organizations like these the successes that they set out to be. Facilities that are properly equipped is essential. These organizations cannot operate simply on the premise of "save every one."

The sad reality is, in some cases, the zeal of the no-kill movement may not be as much of a boon to pets as many think, as reported in

Some no-kill organizations — those who are poorly organized, underfunded, and those that do not seek the assistance from shelters who are successful — are unprepared when they have trouble adopting dogs and cats out. Stories of pets having little human interaction and no exercise are reported. It's also been reported that many the amount of water they can have is limited so that they need not urinate as frequently. Some pets spend years in these shelters.

Is that a good transition for a pet until it is placed in a stable home (if that happens)?

Even with good results, has the no-kill movement simply reinforced the idea in some pet owner's minds that there will always be a place for an unwanted pets to go if things don't work out?

New hope on the horizon

In an article from early this year in The Bark, controlling the populations of canines and felines was addressed, but with a different take and new hope: nonsurgical birth control.

EsterilSol, an injectable sterilant, which is being tested in the field under FDA approval in places like Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, may prove to be not only effective in reducing pet populations, but also socially acceptable, because, in some circles, castration seems emasculating.

Other nonsurgical sterilants are being tested as well. So is this the Holy Grail when it comes to getting the pet populations under control? Click here to read more about the less expensive, nonsurgical possibilities detailed in the article.

Having said that, what do you see working in the area of addressing pet overpopulation? What is contributing to the problem?

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for Catch her daily dog walking and pet sitting adventures or email her directly.


Lorrie Shaw

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 12:40 a.m.

DBH, Animal hoarding has many reasons behind it, but one thing that is being seen is the trend of everyday people seeing a pet in need, and no matter how sick they might be, and taking them in - and from there, a snowball effect takes hold. It might start out innocently enough and well-intentioned. They end up taking in one pet after another, not realizing all of that goes along with doing so successfully: funds, staff/peripheral help, resources and most of all - time. Most don't realize how deep of a hole that they are digging. Others don't see it as a hole. Before you know it, they've created a bigger issue. Pets are not getting adequate care, exacerbating the problem. They are generally adherents to the no-kill mindset and see that there are rescues and humane societies that are successful at saving so many lives, and think, 'I want to do that, too', and try, without any experience. I'm not confident that some hoarders set out to do this; I'll venture to say that some have some sort of instability and taking in pets makes them feel good. (And why wouldn't it, right?) Surely there are other animal hoarders whose motives may differ. Thanks for interjecting!


Sun, Nov 13, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

Ms. Shaw, thanks for your comment. The reasoning in your comment is understandable, but my question to @H.p. Morgan (1st comment below your submission on 10/31/11) proposed an increase in hoarding causally connected to the "No Kill" method, and I don't think your comment really answers that point. I could just as easily argue that a "Kill" method likely would also lead to hoarding among those neophyte rescuers because they probably would feel that, unless they rescue the animal, the animal is likely to be exterminated. It seems illogical to me that an increase in hoarding would be secondary to a "No Kill" and a "Kill" method. If there is an increase in hoarding, it likely is unrelated to the method of dealing with stray animals by shelters and more likely reflects psychopathology among the populace based on reasons unrelated to how shelters manage their populations. I could be wrong, of course, but I haven't seen a plausible alternative explanation yet.


Fri, Nov 4, 2011 : 4:20 a.m.

How about those "designer dogs". I have a relative that handed over $1000 for a shi-tzu/maltese mutt puppy. The breeder's website has a list of a half a dozen dogs with different mixes of them...some costing $1200. I think that lady is an inbred sob. For everyone you "buy" a shelter dog dies!

Lorrie Shaw

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 12:43 a.m.

pamgasp, A sad situation, certainly. I wrote about designer dogs/puppy mills/mini-mills in September: <a href=""></a> Thanks for commenting!


Tue, Nov 1, 2011 : 7:08 p.m.

Why people pay thousands of dollars for a pure bred is beyond me.

Lorrie Shaw

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 12:52 a.m.

We love mutts, in our family. I will say that it's important to keep healthy, clean and strong purebred bloodlines going. To lose the wonderful breeds that exist today would be terrible. Ethical breeders are the key. Understanding, though that when you get a purebred, you need to select it based on the fact that you can nurture that animal's needs and address their drives. So important.


Tue, Nov 1, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

Your question is even more apt when one considers that many purebred breeders only sell puppies/ kittens with the proviso that they NOT be used for breeding ( as a way of both cutting down on competition and regulating breed purity). That said , purebred dogs often have hardwired behavioral tendencies and abilities ( many desired by some) that hybrid mutts dont ( although the latter are often healthier-- via hybrid vigor-- and trainable to many tasks.


Tue, Nov 1, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

&quot; some circles, castration seems emasculating.&quot; SEEMS emasculating?! I think that is the most unequivocal DEFINITION of emasculating I can think of!


Sun, Nov 13, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

Ms. Shaw, of course neutering a pet (a male pet, at least) is emasculating. As I noted above, that is the DEFINITION of emasculating. @johnnya2 incorrectly inferred that I thought that meant (as projected to humans) that would make the emasculated person less of a man (or, I suppose, a male pet) but I did not, and the definition of emasculation does not, equate castration with a male necessarily being less of a male (except for the fact that, physically, some or all of the male genitalia is absent) in all the aspects that comprise what makes a typical XY human a male. I don't know for a fact but I suspect that feeling less masculine after castration would be a common psychological reaction of most men to such a procedure. As you noted (and I implied above), how any animal feels after being neutered is an open question.

Lorrie Shaw

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 12:47 a.m.

The problem lies in the fact that some dog owners feel that neutering is an emasculating thing to do to a dog. I've met many humans who see it this way. The pets aren't talking.


Tue, Nov 1, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

Um, @johnnya2, I think you are off base here. &quot;Emasculation is the removal of the genitalia (castration) of a male, notably the penis and/or the testicles.&quot; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> &quot;Emasculated&quot; and &quot;masculine&quot; are not antonyms, and I did not state or imply they were. And how would you know that animals &quot;do not have a sense of 'masculinity' or 'femininity?'&quot;


Tue, Nov 1, 2011 : 3:40 p.m.

Applying anthropomorphic feelings to animals is silly. Animals do not have a sense of &quot;masculinity&quot; or &quot;femininity&quot;. The fact that you think testicles have anything to do with these is disgusting as well. Lance Armstrong does not feel or act &quot;emasculated&quot;. Testicles do not define masculinity to REAL men.

H.p. Morgan

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 3:19 p.m.

Actually, the non surgical methods have been used in Europe with excellent results. But there are organizations here that fight against this method and those are the very organizations that are collecting donations for their &quot;work&quot; with feral cats. They don't want this method because if it does solve the problem, then they will be out of business. As for &quot;No Kill&quot;, it's best to start in a place that found this program to be a disaster, Philly. George Bengal of the PSPCA was quoted in an article that since 2004 he is seeing 1-2 hoarding cases a month whereas before 2004 he was seeing only 1-2 cases a year. Is it a coincidence that the &quot;No Kill Equation&quot; program was installed in Philly in 04? Since that time hoarding has risen that much in Philly not even to mention that the PACCA group was on the verge of having cruelty charges filed against them for the horrible conditions that the &quot;No Kill&quot; program made in that shelter. Their contract was taken away almost overnight. Every week there is another &quot;No Kill&quot; that is busted for cruelty. Infamous hoarders have admitted how much they love &quot;No Kill&quot; shelters. Prior to this movement, impounds were dropping, now they are going up again. No kill as a goal is noble, &quot;No Kill&quot; as a program is a kiss of death.


Tue, Nov 1, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

@johnnya2, &quot;Those who insist on specific breeds are the same type of people who wish they could pick the genetic qualities of their children.&quot; Please provide some documentation of this claim so as to disprove my suspicion that you yourself are not &quot;...making a huge leap from correlation to causation in YOUR [emphasis added by me] post.&quot; In fact, please provide evidence of even some correlation contained within your claim about specific breeds and genetic qualities of their children. Thanks in advance!


Tue, Nov 1, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

So based on your summation, KILLING people is the answer to bad no kill shelters? I suppose killing Libyans who were tortured under Ghadafi was the answer to ending his cruelty too? You are making a huge leap from correlation to causation in your post. Animals do not deserve to be killed for the mistakes people make. Breeders, puppy mills and the rest in the &quot;pet industry&quot; who bring more animals into the world without a home are evil. Those who insist on specific breeds are the same type of people who wish they could pick the genetic qualities of their children.


Tue, Nov 1, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

I don't understand the supposed connection between the &quot;No Kill&quot; methods of animal control and an increase in hoarding of animals. Would you care to explain why such methods lead to hoarding?