Companion Animal Overpopulation Crises: A Handy How-To Guide
Written by Anna Angel
Created Wednesday, 26 September 2012
Nothing seems to boil the collective blood of the internet faster than sick, heartless people who don’t like kittens. Wait, who doesn’t like kittens? Well, animal rights activists, apparently.
Whether it’s a troll or a simple misinterpretation, angry soap-boxers have been crying for years that certain activists are actually in the thankless business of sticking up for animals because they – wait for it – hate animals. It sounds ridiculous, but this opinion is more wide-spread than you might think. If you don’t have the facts, it’s not that hard to twist calls for the neutering of companion animals to sound like a plea for the eradication of puppies and rainbows. It’s even easier with the belief that we should boycott pet shops, puppy mills and even local family breeders. Boycott breeders? I know; I must have no soul.
So let’s set the record straight: I don’t hate your Maltese lap dog, or even your Labradoodle Spaniel cross. The fact that you were tricked into paying $1000 for a ‘designer puppy’ from a pet shop without knowing the horrendous conditions it was bred in, while hundreds of thousands of perfectly healthy yet unwanted animals are put down in Australian shelters every year? I hate that. I hate the business cycle that churns out (often unhealthy) animals solely for profit and prestige, with complete disregard for the fact that there are far too few suitable homes and too many companion animals already on the ‘market’. If we’re going to break the chain, it’s crucial to be able to identify it at every step. Here’s how to create a companion animal overpopulation crisis from scratch.
Step One: Create a Product
Tens of thousands of years ago, humans domesticated animals for various purposes, breeding for desired traits. This is why Golden Retrievers are so set on retrieving, and ‘lap dogs’ seem naturally docile. It’s not nature: just thousands of years of genetic selection. This has seen some horrendous and painful deformities develop in certain breeds over time. Unfortunately, the system is so long entrenched that breeders and their societies view these illnesses and deformities as expected traits of the breed.
One example is the Rhodesian Ridgeback, whose ridge (a genetic deformity that can lead to painful and deadly genetic skin conditions) is mandatory for acceptance by most dog shows and societies. When a documentary revealed the Rhodesian Ridgeback Society of Great Britain’s code of ethics supported the culling of healthy (aka ridgeless) puppies, they changed their ‘official’ stance. Dog breed fanciers, however, continue to cull those puppies they see as ‘worthless’. Another example is the debilitating genetic disease found in King Charles Cavaliers, and the breathing difficulties of ‘short-skulled’ breeds like pugs.
Despite these health and welfare concerns, many buy into the idea that ‘purebred’ animals are healthier, friendlier, and easier to look after. They believe the myth that all ‘mutts’ and shelter animals will be poorly behaved, aren’t suitable for families, and aren’t as desirable as pets with papers.
Step Two: Commoditise
After all this breeding, surely there’s some money to be made! Yep, pets are big business and are treated as such. Trends come in and out of fashion, and breeders are often quick to jump on the money train. Head to any animal shelter six months to a year after a pet ‘trend’ peaks and you’ll be able to pick one up for a fraction of the price. After Disney’s 101 Dalmatians hit cinemas, new owners realised how much exercise these massive animals needed. Currently, many are realising that Bengal cats are hard to control (funny, given that they’re part leopard!) and that so-called ‘tea-cup’ pigs actually grow quite large. But that doesn’t stop anyone from cashing in. Unfortunately, the main trend of the past decade has been for ‘snub nosed’ or ‘squash-faced’ dog breeds – a trait that leads to many health complications.
Step Three: Over-commoditise
As a natural extension of there being money to be made from something come attempts to further extend the profit margin. In come ‘puppy mills’. It just got even cheaper to pop out a litter of $700 purebreds. All you have to do is repeatedly impregnate your animals, thereby forcing them to give birth more often than their bodies can handle. You can skimp on their welfare and living conditions, too, if that’ll save some pennies. Their health will suffer and their life span will be drastically reduced but hey, you can always get another. Sell your product to pet shops, through the newspaper and online, or maybe all three. We now have thousands of breeders wanting a piece of the action, which, if you do the basic math, is thousands upon thousands of new pets every breeding season.
Step Four: Backyarders
At this stage of the cycle, we have millions of pet owners across the world, who’ve bought on impulse from puppy mills, pet stores, or other breeders. Noticing how cute the new kitten or puppy is, they might decide not to de-sex them. Because if one puppy is cute, how adorable must a litter of them be? Once the little ones arrive, they’re palmed off onto friends and family or sold. Unless they can’t even be given away (which is most likely if they’re not purebred or trendy mixed-breeds) in which case they might dropped off at a shelter. This mightn’t sound like an issue on its own, until you realise that one cat can produce three litters a year of five kittens each. According to statistics, that means a single cat and her offspring could produce 420,000 in seven years. Irresponsible backyard breeders become a large part of the crisis without even knowing it.
Step Six: Shelters and the Streets
Shelters become overwhelmed with the excess stock of this cycle. More than 150,000 animals are surrendered to the RSPCA in Australia each year alone. Even with the push for shelter adoption over supporting breeders, there are far too few suitable homes for these animals. Approximately 96% of stray and surrendered cats and kittens, and 60% of stray and surrendered dogs are euthanized in some pounds and shelters each year. That’s over 200,000 unwanted healthy animals killed each year. This is not because these animal workers hate animals, it’s because there is nowhere else for them to go. As the cycle continues and more pets are put on the market, the window for these unwanted animals to find a home becomes smaller and smaller. Compound this issue with irresponsible pet owners who don’t factor their animals into their lifestyle, and abusive owners who see these pets as the commodities they have become, and you have a crisis on your hands.
Please forgive me for wanting to see fewer puppies advertised for sale, and for not being excited when you bring home that new kitten from the window. Forgive me for backing mandatory de-sexing for companion animals you buy or sell. I don’t hate puppies and rainbows. I hate that your puppy is a link in a chain that will inevitably see another healthy animal suffer.
Anna Angel is a Brisbane based journalist, writer, and vegan. She likes to daydream just as much as she likes to explore the big issues of life. Anna has been vegetarian for half her life, and vegan since 2007.
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