Only YOU can prevent forest fires…

Umm… or the pet over population problem.

I don’t think there is one single thing that would completely fix the fact that there are millions of dogs (puppies, teens, adults, seniors, purebred, ‘designer’ mutts, and Heinz 57 mixes) in shelters and rescues across the country just waiting for a chance. There are just too many variables for one piece to completely change the landscape. There are, however, a few pieces of the puzzle that could make dramatic impacts on reducing the overpopulation problem.

One of the biggest factors is education for prospective and new dog owners–I mean if people made better decisions for themselves and their families, there would be far fewer dogs dumped at shelters (and far less pressure on rescues, shelters, breeders to be mind-reading match makers [since people sometimes fib on applications] or deny potential adopters/puppy buyers for really basic reasons). This is a really broad umbrella topic but it is crucial. This covers everything from understanding the needs of a puppy/teen/adult to knowing about the canine reproductive system. Honestly, I think this one thing could make an absolutely huge dent in solving the problem.

Just think, if people made educated decisions we could put puppy mills out of business, we could drastically reduce the number of teen dogs dumped at shelters (after they are no longer cute puppies), reduce the number of poorly matched dogs ending up at shelters, prevent oops litters, prevent people from becoming irresponsible backyard breeders, and prevent people from buying from irresponsible breeders.

So let’s break this down a bit. Some education factors are definitely “before the fact” while others are more “after the fact.” Before the fact, prospective owners need to do some research and decide on a few critical pieces of information: are they at a point where they are capable of expanding their family to include a dog of any kind, what age of dog best fits into their home (puppy v.s. teen vs. adult v.s. senior), what are the characteristics of a dog that would fit well into their family (ignore for a second breed/mix), based on those characteristics what are some breeds/types of dogs that would be a good mix, how do they plan on working through difficult times (maybe potty training, dealing with jumping, chewing, or general zoomies), and where are they going to look for their new friend.

In talking with perspective students, reading online forums, or reading the reasons given for why a dog was relinquished to the shelter, there are many people who seem almost offended and certainly upset by their dog’s behavior–when the behavior they are talking about it completely normal behavior: “My 10 month old border collie/aussie mix is too hyper. We go for 2 long walks a day and she just won’t settle down” “My sheltie mix has a barking problem. She just barks at everything when I have her in the back yard” “I’m at my wits end with my puppy. She barks, nips, and chews my stuff!” “My ‘chorkie’ just can’t be potty trained. I got her from the pet store a few years ago and she just refuses to potty outside.”

A little bit of “before the fact” education would go a really long way in helping these people choose better matches, find better source for their puppy, know what to expect when raising a dog, and go a long way toward preventing dogs being dumped at the shelter. If people made more educated choices on what type of dog fit into their home, knew the huge commitment needed to raise a dog (and just how much work it is to raise a puppy), educated themselves on responsible places to get a dog/puppy, had some idea of what to expect (behavior wise), and learned a bit about training before actually getting their dogs, these owners would not be nearly as overwhelmed and frustrated.

“After the fact” education is, in many ways, just as important as “before the fact,” especially in one particular area. Spay and Neuter. Given the lack of education the general public has, I do think Spay/Neuter is super duper important–especially for dogs coming out of shelters and rescues. There is an increasing number of dogs who are being allowed to reach sexual maturity before being spayed/neutered (if they are going to be sterilized at all). As a general statement, I do not have a problem with dogs keeping all of their parts until they have fully matured (and in the right homes, keeping those bits forever).

HOWEVER, it is a HUGE problem when the owners of said dogs (particularly the females), are not at all educated on what it means to care for an intact animal. Something as simple as “how long does a female’s heat typically last” stumps most typical owners and asking “Do you know what part of the heat cycle your female is going to be most receptive to males and at her most flirtatious?” just gets blank stares back. Asking the owner of an intact male dog if they know the lengths at which their boy may go to get to a female in heat (be it a local stray, a neighbor dog, or another intact female in the house) often gets the answer, “I need to keep him on leash” or “separated by a baby gate.” When you tell them about males who have broken out of crates, opened unlocked doors, escaped out of 6ft privacy fences, etc. they are often shocked at the lengths some boys will go to in order to get to the female.

This is lack of education completely unacceptable if people are going to have intact pets (even if just for a short while).

If veterinarians are going to suggest allowing a female to have her first heat cycle or allow her to fully mature, they need to take the time to educate their clients about the length of the heat cycle, how to identify the dog is in heat, tell them when the female is most receptive to boys, when the female is most likely to get pregnant if tied with a male, that YES a female in her first heat can get pregnant, the importance of NOT breeding a young dog, and stress being ultra cautious with their in season female. If a veterinarian is going to suggest allowing a male to fully mature, they need to educate their clients on how to keep an intact male separated from an in heat female in the home (locked doors or crates behind locked doors if a dog is REALLY intense) and precautions to take if they suspect a neighbor or stray female in heat. I say that it is the veterinarian’s responsibility largely because I don’t think Joe Schmoe will take it upon himself to get educated if a vet recommends it–people often blindly follow veterinary advice without asking questions or getting more information.

If the owner is simply making the choice to keep a dog intact (for however long), they NEED to educate themselves on all of these things. Its frustrating the number of puppies relinquished to shelters/rescues as a result of “oops” litters: “we thought the chain linke fence was enough of a barrier” “we didn’t even know she was in heat” “we didn’t think she could get pregnant the first heat” “I thought a baby gate was enough to keep my male separate” “We thought she was only in heat for the 9 days she had the blood” “I didn’t know my male would jump our fence–he’s never done it before” “He was neutered 2 weeks ago, I thought he was fine with my in season female.”

A little bit of education about the canine reproductive system would go a long way in preventing a large number of “oops” litters.

Education is just so important in fighting the pet overpopulation problem–it’s so simple but so overlooked. It effects everything from “before the fact” decisions to “after the fact” decisions. These decisions can put puppy mills out of business, make the first home the ‘furever’ home for a dog, and prevent “oops” litters.

I have intentionally just skimmed over education in the sense of choosing where to get a dog, this topic deserves it’s own post!

1 Comment
  1. Great post, Tena!

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