ANIMALS 24-7 readers raise two critical questions:
1) How will this impact stray populations months down the road?
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, all the shelters in Houston have either shut down or have very limited intake. As you know, Houston has tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of stray dogs and cats on its streets. Our shelters take in a few thousand each week—both strays picked up by animal control officers and owner surrenders.
With shelters restricting intake hours, we know that many strays will not be picked up, which will allow them to continue to breed, adding to an already overwhelming puppy and kitten season.
Is there a way to measure how this will impact stray populations months down the road?”
Additionally, as people become financially strapped and less secure, they will be looking to surrender animals. Our rescue partners and Houston Pet Set are getting calls already, and this will only get much worse. We fear that many of these pets will be dumped, which happens on a regular basis anyway in Houston. This compounds the problem that we already have in Houston.
While the media is talking about all of the victories in the shelters (“they are empty”) and proclaiming that, “fosters are stepping up,” we want to also share the message that this is a crisis for the animals. Any data, insights, and projections you could help provide would be useful.
We are doing what we can to mitigate the coming crisis, but are fighting against this message that the shelters represent animal welfare in a community. We all know that is false and damaging to the cause.
Thank you, for the animals,
Tena Lundquist Faust
ANIMALS 24-7 does the math:
The numbers for specific communities will vary somewhat, but for the U.S. as a whole we know from a variety of surveys and studies that shelters, rescues, and feral cat neuter/return projects have annual intake of around eight million “new” dogs and cats per year, meaning dogs and cats who have not previously been in the animal welfare system and therefore have not previously been sterilized.
Of these eight million animals, approximately half are dogs, half are cats, and about half of each species are females potentially capable of bearing litters.
This works out to about 24,169 homeless animals per million humans, including about 12,084 litter-bearing females, whose average litter size will be about four, meaning about 48,338 additional puppies and kittens per million people to deal with somehow if shelter intakes and sterilization programs stop right now, at the beginning of “puppy and kitten season.”
16 million additional animals
For the whole of the U.S., we are talking about 16 million additional animals––more than double the total U.S. animal welfare system intake per year in recent years.
The last time the total U.S. animal welfare system handled 16 million animals more than the recent annual intakes was circa 1985, 35 years ago, when shelters killed 17.8 million animals from lack of adoptive homes, even though shelters then actually rehomed just as many animals as now.
Adoptions from shelters and rescues in the U.S. over the past 40 years have been remarkably consistent at around four million per year––about half of current animal welfare system intake, with feral cat neuter/return programs accommodating another two million animals per year, and shelter euthanasia and other mortality accounting for most of the balance.
This suggests there is no slack in the system for absorbing 16 million more animals.
In only one “puppy and kitten season” during which spay/neuter volume drops to the level of 35 years ago, we as a nation can lose all of the gains against dog and cat overpopulation made since then.
Of course the animal welfare system may not elect to kill the surplus animals this time around. Indeed, current trends suggest that animal shelters and rescues will mostly choose to limit and refuse intakes, while feral cat neuter/return programs, already working at their capacity, will be even less able to trap and sterilize every cat than they are now.
Back to 1950
The “no intakes” scenario would take us all the way back to circa 1950, when a third of the U.S. dog population––more than half of all dogs in the South––were essentially homeless mutts, like the street dogs of the developing world, and there were as many free-roaming feral cats as owned cats.
Under those conditions, free-roaming dogs and cats were poisoned or shot with impunity whenever and wherever they become problematic. Hundreds of thousands were used in biomedical research. Decompressing and gassing dogs and cats, dozens at a time, came into vogue to facilitate “humanely” killing enough animals, fast enough, to avoid overflowing shelters.
There is currently no demand to speak of from the biomedical research sector for “random source” dogs and cats, while decompression and gassing are now banned almost everywhere, but that could change, and even if it does not, the U.S. is unlikely to respond to a rebounding population of street dogs and feral cats any more kindly today than 70 years ago, especially if those animals again become a reservoir for rabies.
But we may go backward “only” 30 years
The worst-case scenario outlined above most likely would not happen in just one year. Mortality among puppies and kittens born at large is so high that perhaps half of the surplus births to be expected if spay/neuter services are suspended might die before weaning, and half of the puppies and kittens surviving weaning might die before reaching sexual maturity.
But this would still mean having to accommodate about four million more puppies and kittens than current animal welfare system intake, which would set us back “only” about 30 years, to the conditions of 1990, when U.S. animal shelters killed upward of six million dogs and cats per year, and we had around 26 million feral cats, instead of the eight million or thereabouts that we have today.
2) How do we make up for time lost?
Although we suspect there are still people in the shelter administration community who recognize the key role of spay/neuter in reducing (and eventually eliminating) companion animal overpopulation, at this time the leadership is moving it from ‘not that important’ to ‘off the table.’ And with no mention or thought of how to revive and make up for lost time when things move back to the new state of ‘normal.’
Anyone who does have an interest in truly ending the pet surplus needs to be thinking, “How do we make up for time lost?”
Where will money for s/n come from?
The most recent IRS Form 990 filings from some of the largest U.S. animal welfare organizations show these annual incomes for 2017, the most recent year for which the data is available:
Best Friends Animal Society: $113,252,695
Maddie’s Fund: $308,427,602
American SPCA: $217,398,213
Humane Society of the U.S.: $143,355,222
PetSmart Charities: $34,434,841
Petco Foundation: $31,400,393
Small business loans?!
Yet on a recent podcast on the topic of COVID-19 and how it will affect spay/neuter programs, it was suggested that those smaller spay clinics that have been providing affordable spay/neuter to the public – and struggling to stay open in good times – should apply to the US government for small business loans!
We all know how low animal welfare is on the priority list for general grants and loans and do not see how all these clinics will be able to get what they need in resources from the US Government – especially not now.
Which begs the question: Will the six mega-orgs listed above step up to the plate? Which ones? How much? For what? Special large blitz campaigns as are currently being done in Mexico and Panama? Long-term loans with little or no interest for s/n clinics and programs and subsidies? Other ideas?
There is much more to put on the table, but let us put this out there for now. We would like everyone who understands the need for prevention of suffering to come forth now and speak up. Gather petitions, write letters to the editor, speak out on the radio, use social media. Put pressure where it needs to be put. Heads out of the sand and back on track! We don’t need to go backward. And we will if we do not speak out now.
Nashua, New Hampshire