Why do companion animals die in pounds?

The short answer is that companion animals die in pounds because pounds see killing as a solution. The reason why an animal dies in a pound has little correlation to why it ends up in a pound. Flash

There is quite a lot of good research about why animals end up in pounds; it’s often about a misfit between the animal in question and its family, where the animal fails to meet expectations.

I am also convinced that there are a lot of animals who die in pounds who actually have homes, but their owners haven’t been able to find them, or if they found them can’t afford to get them out of the pound.

Frankly, I think puppy farm dogs are the least of the problem. While I’m sure its context-specific, pounds are not usually over-run with cute fluffy dogs. In the pounds we work with the majority of dogs are clearly from backyard breeders, either accidental litters or farmers breeding a litter to get a couple of working dogs for themselves. Honestly, if I was going to point the finger at anyone it would be Stafford breeders, registered or otherwise. Some days I want to yell, like Bob Newhart, “JUST STOP IT”.

In fact the existence of puppy farms is a good argument for the myth of pet over-population. It’s clear that there are lots of homes available for dogs or puppy farms wouldn’t be in business. As a rescuer I know that I could place many more animals than I do if I had more resources; the homes are there if we could take more animals.

I am not a fan of the idea that buying from a pet shop, ipso facto, makes you a bad owner. That flies in the face of all the evidence and in the face of common-sense. Of course some people who buy dogs from pet shops are irresponsible, but then so are some people who buy dogs from shelters or their next door neighbour.

I believe that good owners far out-weigh the other kind, and the statistics are there to show us that. We know, for example, that the over-whelming majority of pet owners desex their pets (about 97%); we know that Australians spend billions every year on their pets; we know that rescue is developing an increasingly high profile and more and more rescue groups are placing more and more animals.

We know that compulsory desexing leads to an increase in death rates, not a decrease, and those statistics are available from those places who have instuted the legislation. What does work extremely well is heavily subsidised desexing. In Victoria the Mt Alexander Shire has been subsidising desexing for the last couple of years. In that time, the number of kittens being killed at the Castlemaine RSPCA has decreased by an enormous magnitude (somewhere around 80%).

Most cats who end up in pounds are not owned cats, they are cats who once had owners but no longer belong to anyone. If you are good person and have such a cat around you might not wish to make a commitment to it in a magnitude of $250 for desexing, but you might be willing to spend $25 to have it desexed; and in fact that’s what happens. So those community cats are no longer reproducing, so the numbers of unowned kittens entering the shelter have decreased as well.

The answer to the second question about why so many animals die in pounds is a lot easier. It’s because as a community we have decided that death is the answer. The death of animals in pounds is the responsibility of the pound; of it’s council and of the community. If I am standing in front of you with a gun deciding whether to shoot you or not, how you got there is irrelevent to my decision, I can choose to kill you, or I can choose to keep you alive.

I think the numbers of animals dying in pounds could be reduced by at least a quarter if pounds made it easier for people to find their pets and easier for them to get them out. The removal of punitive fines would go a long way to getting more animals home; people who provide very well for their animals can’t afford several hundred dollars in fines for a lost dog, so the dog stays in the pound and dies instead of going home.

Many council pounds are not open at times which allow people to go and look for their animals; if you’re a working stiff and the pound is only open for a couple of hours during the week, how do you go and look? Added to that is the often peculiar breed identifications; irregularly updated (if at all) pound websites and pound services which operate a long distance from the community they serve (such as the Lost Dogs Home having pound contracts with Bendigo).

And if those pound websites were frequently updated with good photos and descriptions of the animals looking for homes, more animals might be adopted back into their local communities. And when those measures fail, if more pounds saw working with rescue as a priority, more animals would escape death by green needle.

So for my money, all the hand-wringing about the public (people have to realise/if only people would/people are so cruel/greedy/irresponsible) is basically pissing in the wind. Why would we fling resources (including emotional energy) at a problem which is pretty intractable and completely beyond our control, when there are things which are relatively easy to implement which can make a difference.

We all live in communities, we all get to influence our local councils, so we can make a difference. When it comes down to it, if our council is killing companion animals if we care enough it’s up to us to lobby for change.

If I had three wishes they would be:

– Heavily subsidized or even free desexing.

– Making it easier for animals to return to their homes (no huge fines/improved pound opening hours and services).

– Pounds working closely with rescue to place all healthy, rehomable animals.

And if I had a final wish it would be for us all to stop clutching at our pearls and bemoaning the irresponsible public and start putting our energies where we can actually make a difference.

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