We have known for many years how to control the number of animals so that the number of pets does not exceed the number of good homes. You simply sterilize enough of them to reduce the rate of reproduction to be in balance with the number of possible new homes for pets. Not only do we know how to do this, we now have all the resources to do it. In this community, there are two very low-cost spay/neuter clinics and hundreds of private veterinarians performing these surgeries. We have raised the funding privately to pay for these services. We advertise, we educate, we transport them, we even make it free for low income pet owners.
Just like an epidemic, the loss of life would cease if we just "inoculated" enough of them. But, despite all the resources provided, we have not been able to do so.
The first reason is our local county governments. Both Henrico and Chesterfield counties have been unwilling to provide the message that these services are available and to promote their residents making use of them. To make matters much worse, they send animals that have not been sterilized out from their pounds with adopters every day. State law requires that adopted pets be sterilized, and these counties claim that they require the adopters to do it. The truth is that they do little to ensure such compliance and have no real idea of what the compliance rate is. The city of Richmond is unique in that it has an ordinance requiring that animals be spayed or neutered before leaving its pound. Hanover County, while not having such an ordinance, still makes sure that all animals are sterilized before leaving its control.
Why would Chesterfield and Henrico, the two richest counties in this area, not do the same? It seems to be a reasonable thing to do. The number of homeless animals dying in the city has declined dramatically in recent years. Chesterfield and Henrico, where the numbers have been increasing, spend millions of dollars of tax money annually on impounding thousands of animals, holding them for the required period under state law and then killing the ones that are not adopted. A serious effort to get the animals in their jurisdictions sterilized would reduce this expense enormously for the taxpayers. Not to mention that it would improve the morale of county employees who are forced to do this horrible task. Not to mention that it would be the decent thing to do.
But because county governments are rarely leaders for social change, the more perplexing question is why so many people will not sterilize their own pets when it is so easy and affordable. Some still believe old myths that your male dog will never forgive you for such a thing, that every female dog "needs" to have at least one litter and, my personal favorite, that it will prevent a hunting dog from being able to hunt anymore. We must find the way to convince people that not only won't the dog resent it, he or she will be healthier. And, truly, that dog hunts because he has a brain, not because he has testicles.
Even more troubling are the people who simply don't personalize the problem or don't care. They want to breed their pet either because they want to make the money or because they believe that their pet is so wonderful that he deserves to be cloned or as close to it as they can come. These folks often convince themselves that if they find homes for all the offspring, then they have not contributed to the problem. Not so. There are only a limited number of possible new homes for pets in any community each year. You take some of them and, as a result, other pets don't get them and die because of it. It is a deadly game of musical chairs.
The fact that people use the words "euthanasia" and, even better, "human-induced mortality" to refer to what goes on daily in our pounds is telling. They use words that will relieve them of guilt. They should feel guilty. Not the people who are having to do the actual killing; they are usually the most compassionate people of all. But every pet owner who continues to find one more reason not to spay or neuter his pet and every official who does not ensure that every pet under his control is sterilized should feel guilty. It is mean and barbaric to fail to do what we can to stop animals from dying. In a brutal and vengeful world, we have very few chances to do something personally that will end suffering. Seize the ones you can. SRobin Starr is chief executive of the Richmond SPCA.
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