Euthanasia Rates… What Can We Do?

1. Statistics - The number of dogs actually euthanized

The actual numbers of dogs euthanized yearly are staggering. According to information provided by American Humane, (one of the founding members of the National Council of Pet Population and Study), in 1997 there were approximately 9.6 million dogs and cats euthanized in the United States alone! Further details reveal that as many as 64% of animals that enter shelters are euthanized annually, and only approximately 36% are adopted or reunited with owners.

2. The reasons dogs end up becoming euthanized

A. Behavior Problems: Most humans will agree that when an animal is suffering and can’t be helped by medical means, euthanasia can sometimes be the most humane decision. While there is a percentage of dogs who are euthanized due to cancer, old age deterioration, and other unpreventable illnesses, there are also many whose injuries or illnesses could have been prevented. For example, dogs who get hit by cars are often unable to be saved. Why was that dog in the street? Perhaps he wasn’t responding when he was called to “come.” There are also many dogs who are found as strays and brought into shelters. If they don’t become adopted, they are also euthanized. Why was that dog a stray? Perhaps he ran away from home.

Often, dogs are brought to shelters by their owners. Perhaps they have bitten a child, or ruined one too many pieces of furniture. Many of these dogs could have been saved had they received proper training. And many of them still can, by receiving that training before it’s “too late.”

B. Irresponsible Breeding: Oftentimes, there are people who have a dog, and a love of dogs and would also like to make some money. They decide to breed their dog because they would like their children to experience raising a litter, or because they have heard the old wives’ tale that bitches need to have a litter before being spayed. These people are not necessarily educated, prepared, or equipped to care for a dam and her whelping puppies, but some owners go ahead and breed their dogs anyway. These people are referred to as “backyard breeders.” According to Dr. Dennis F. Cloud, DVM, he reported in the Animal Welfare Forum that approximately 1/4 of all backyard bred dogs wind up in shelters. Another 1/4 are given to friends, and 1/2 are sold through the newspaper.

Next, let’s discuss the puppy mills. These are places which have many dogs who they continuously breed over and over again. These dogs have a very poor quality of life, are often handled inhumanely, and are forced to have litter after litter of puppies. Often, these puppy mills remove the puppies from their mothers at too young of an age, resulting in health and behavioral problems. They are also bred without regard for temperament, genetics, and health. Most often, the puppies are then forwarded to pet stores for their sale. Needless to say, dogs with severe behavioral and/or medical problems often end up euthanized when owners are unable to care for them under these circumstances.

The AKC (American Kennel Club) does provide some regulation of breeding, but just as with all laws, there are always some who don’t abide by them.

C. Overpopulation of Unwanted Dogs: One of the biggest contributors to the euthanasia problem is overpopulation. There are many unwanted dogs, and simply not enough homes for them all. Often, these unwanted dogs are the result of over breeding by puppy mills, but the biggest representatives of this problem are the families themselves. Owners who do not get their dogs spayed or neutered often find themselves with an unwanted litter of puppies. It can be very difficult to find homes for them all, especially if the pups are of a mixed breed. These are the pups who end up being passed from home to home, brought into shelters by their owners, or are found as strays–which also brings them into the shelters.

3. Preventing dogs from becoming a statistic

There are many things we as humans, can do to prevent dogs from becoming euthanized. Following, is a
list of things you can do to take action against this horrible problem.

  • Adopt a dog: There are many dogs available for adoption that are perfectly wonderful animals. You can even get a purebreed! Shelters and rescue leagues have many dogs available, and they usually include vaccines, free spay/neuter, and they ask only for a donation to their good cause. Visit our additional resources page for information on local rescue groups and much more.
  • If you’re buying a dog: Make sure you get your dog from a reputable breeder–not from someone’s home or a pet shop. Insist on seeing both the sire and the dam of the puppy–if they are unavailable for you to meet, look elsewhere.
  • Speak with everyone involved: If you’re thinking of getting a dog, be sure to discuss it with everyone involved. Your spouse, children, & landlord must all be willing to deal with the pros and cons of having a dog. Make sure everyone realizes the responsibilities that are going to be involved.
  • Get your dog spayed or neutered: This is one of the most important things you can do. And let’s get right to the facts:
  • Neutering a male dog will not make him less protective,
  • spaying/neutering do not cause your pet to become overweight,
  • and it is not necessary for a female to have a litter of puppies first.
  • The best time to spay/neuter your dog is at 6 months of age
  • In addition, spaying / neutering can often help avoid behavior problems & health problems.
  • Make sure your dog’s vaccines are up to date: Many dogs become ill due to lack of vaccines. Diseases such as distemper, rabies, and parvovirus often result in death. Contact your veterinarian to make sure your dog is safe, and make sure your dog is on a heartworm prevention program, and flea/tick prevention program. Check your dog regularly for fleas, ticks, and internal parasites.
  • Have your dog properly trained: Do not wait for problems to “go away.” They will not go away on their own–if anything, behavior problems worsen as time goes by. Make sure your dog knows at least the basic obedience commands of heel (walk at my side), sit, down, stay, & come. Basic manners should also be covered–no jumping, no biting, etc. Make sure you use a reputable, educated, humane trainer for your dog’s education.
  • Keep a close eye on your dog: Make sure your dog doesn’t get out into the street. Having a fenced-in yard is optimal, but it is also important that you teach your dog not to bolt out the door when it is opened. Also, make sure you keep any potentially dangerous things such as chemicals, electrical cords, and sharp, splintering objects, out of dogs’ reach!

4. Training impact on euthanasia rates

By educating both dogs and people, dog training can have a direct impact on euthanasia rates. By teaching people about responsible pet ownership, how to care for and properly train & socialize their dogs, there can be a definitive difference seen. Less dog bites will occur. Less accidents–to both humans and dogs. Also, by educating the dogs themselves, many other problems can be prevented. Socialization is very important–all dogs should be able to deal well with adults, children, other animals, and household appliances. Basic obedience and manners are an absolute necessity. A dog should be able to greet people (especially children) without jumping. He should respect his owner enough to listen when called, not to bite, and not to destroy his home. By educating people and dogs about the use of a crate, a direct impact will be seen on the euthanasia rates. The use of a crate is not cruel–in fact, the crate is looked at by a dog as his “room” or his den. The first night or two, dogs may cry in the crate, but if they are not given in to, they will soon become accustomed to it and both the dogs and their owners will be much happier in the long run. Many owners do not know this. Our goal at Best Paw Forward is to educate both dogs and owners in a full scale attack on the euthanasia rates of dogs! We have also created a national dog education resource To further you and your dog’s education, call today to make an appointment with us for an evaluation of your dog.