Annually, an estimated 7.6 million animals enter shelters in the United States. Some 2.7 million of them are destroyed. Some shelters limit their holding time because of the many animals arriving daily.
This situation would be best remedied by subsidized spay/neuter and public education campaigns. The central role of animal shelters is acting as an exemplar of compassion in action. Education should be recognized and supported rather than marginalized.
Many municipal shelters, operating under public funds and public trust — and privately operated shelters, supported by donors — are embracing the no-kill philosophy. Ideally, this means that all but the most physically and emotionally incurable animals are saved from euthanasia.
These shelters’ staff members and volunteers need basic training and protocol to follow in socializing the incoming animals, helping them overcome their fear so that they are responsive, trusting and adoptable. Many shelters use calming music, pheromones, oxytocin and lavender oil to facilitate animals’ ability to cope with fear and to establish trust.
The worst no-kill facilities incarcerate unadoptable animals, which can mean a life sentence of going crazy confined in a small cage, a fate surely worse than death. Some shelters use trap, neuter and release (TNR) as an umbrella to dump cats outdoors with inadequate care rather than taking them in, often because they have no room.
Most dogs and cats entering shelters are stressed out and need tender loving care. They should first be held in quiet quarantine rooms, where they can feel safe and settle down. Many will have post-traumatic stress disorder, and a number will be traumatized from human abuse, the terror of being lost or abandoned, and possibly starved and exposed to the elements.
If there is no real effort to help animals coming into shelters to overcome their fears and trauma — for dogs, this must include outside walks for at least 10 minutes once a day, and encouragement to playfully interact with caregivers — then what chance do they ever have of being adopted? They are more likely to succumb to stress-related infectious diseases if they are kept in the shelter for more than a few days.
Also, when incoming animals’ emotional states are ignored, and adoptability tests are given to them in the stressful new environment, many who might eventually have been rehabilitated fail and are killed. This is a nationwide tragedy. Temperament tests have many limitations, both situational and in terms of those administering them. They can be of value but should not be used as a cover to justify killing any and all animals on a pass-or-fail basis.
The rampant euthanasia is a violation of the public’s trust and support, as is the shipping of animals to class-B dealers who supply the biomedical industry and universities with live animals. The throwaway mentality of our consumer society, with its disposable pets, is a convenient myth used to justify the cruel, temporary incarceration of cats, dogs and other species kept as pets, and their continued wholesale slaughter.
The nationwide epidemic of animal shelters killing pit bulls, and municipalities even outlawing people keeping them because of the “dangerous breed” hysteria, is at last subsiding. Thousands of adoptable dogs have been destroyed because of this unfounded and discredited breed prejudice. Bad dogs come from bad people.
Animal shelters should be just that: providers of shelter, security and proper care by appropriately trained, paid and respected staff members to give all incoming animals a chance of recovery and adoption through socialization, community outreach and volunteer assistance.
We owe no less to the animals who provide inestimable benefits to people of all ages — emotionally, physically and spiritually — and to the majority of people who do care about the sad fate of millions of animals still being mistreated and killed in our shelters today.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I wanted to share our experience with animal bereavement.
We had two Yorkies, brother and sister. They slept each night at either end of our couch. The female died at age 16
I was struck by his aloneness. I had bought a stuffed animal in the shape of a dog. I put it on the couch where Holly used to sleep, and in the morning, Toby was wrapped around the toy and sleeping deeply. For the rest of his life, he slept with his soft companion. He lived to be 17.
DF: I appreciate your account of finding how a stuffed toy worked so well for your grieving dog in helping him cope with the loss of his sister.
Skeptics might dismiss this as mere sentimentalism, but your foresight is a credit to your ability to empathize with others, be they human or nonhuman. This world would be a better place with more empathy and compassion.
I have been deeply moved by the many accounts that readers have sent to me over the years, giving details about how their animals have responded to the death of a loved one in the family. I would be happy to hear more from readers on this subject.
I’d also like to hear about the remarkable phenomenon of “empathosphere,” in which animals seem to have a remote empathic connection, as when the family dog begins to howl about the same time a family member dies in a hospital miles away.
Dear Dr. Fox:
We have a lovely, healthy 3-year-old cat, Rachel. She is affectionate, adaptable and a delight in every way.
My one concern is that she throws up about once a week, sometimes after eating. Only rarely is a hairball indicated. Although she sometimes eats grass, that doesn’t show up in her vomit. Because she does not drink much water, I have, on the advice of her holistic veterinarian, been feeding her wet food.
Being a cat, she has her own opinions on the matter. Despite her vet’s recommendation and my valiant efforts to find a healthy, grain-free wet food that she likes, she has made it plain that she likes only two kinds: 9 Lives Prime Entree (tuna and shrimp) and 9 Lives Ocean Whitefish Dinner. So I give her a can of one of them each day, plus one to two tablespoons of healthy, grain-free dry food.
If left up to her, she would eat only dry food. She accepts any of the dry foods I give her. She weighs 10.8 pounds, which seems to be a healthy weight for her.
Should I be concerned about her throwing up, or is that just something that some perfectly healthy cats do?
K.K., Portola Valley, Calif.
DF: There are many reasons why cats will throw up after eating, which you can find on my Web site, www.drfoxvet.com, along with possible solutions to try.
Your cat might enjoy drinking water if it is filtered and purified — many cats avoid municipal tap water for good reason (a report on this is also available on my Web site). She might also drink more if provided with an electronic drinking fountain.
Many cats also drink more water when it is flavored with a little low-salt chicken bullion, which you can make zero-salt by making yourself: Just boil a few chicken wings and save the broth. Or she might enjoy equal parts skim milk and water.
One of our cats eats only dry food, Orijen being his choice. He also likes Stella and Chewy’s new freeze-dried raw poultry nuggets.
Add some water to your cat’s dry food if the above drinking remedies don’t work.
Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.