How Can Veterinarians Reduce Euthanasia Rates In Shelters?
Each year in U.S. animal shelters, over one and a half million homeless animals are euthanized. Of these, 80% are adoptable and healthy, yet shelters simply do not have the room or resources to keep them indefinitely. This paper, published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, suggests practical ways for veterinarians to get more involved in reducing the number of animals brought to shelters and eventually euthanized. After all, veterinarians are experts on companion animals and they have the ability to both influence the guardians whom they serve in their businesses, and get involved with their local community in other ways that impact companion animals.
Problematic pet behavior, such as being destructive or expelling waste indoors or outside of designated areas, is a common reason for pets to be relinquished at shelters. This is a clear area where veterinarians could intervene before the animal is given up on. According to one study, 70% of dogs and 50% of cats had been to a veterinarian in the year prior to being relinquished at a shelter. However, a poll of veterinarians found that only 52-65% of veterinarians discussed handling behavioral issues with clients during visits with puppies and kittens, and only 15% of veterinarians discussed behavior during annual visits. If veterinarians provided information to clients about proper obedience training, socialization, and positive reinforcement, perhaps behavioral problems could be resolved early on. Veterinarians can also provide counsel to shelter staff who run behavioral programs for dogs and cats to make them more adoptable.
Another way veterinarians could help decrease the number of animals that are euthanized at shelters is by doing more to encourage spaying and neutering companion animals.
Spaying and neutering decrease the number of animals born and thus decrease the number of animals who need homes and could end up in shelters. Additionally, animals who have been spayed or neutered are less likely to be relinquished at shelters. Sexually intact dogs are 2 to 3.5 times more likely to be relinquished, and sexually intact cats are 3.3 to 4.8 times more likely to be relinquished. Veterinarians could combat this issue by educating their clients about the health and behavioral benefits of spaying and neutering, and by advising their clients to spay or neuter their pets early on (as the procedure can become less effective if done later in the animal’s life). Veterinarians can also volunteer with local trap-neuter-release programs which spay and neuter feral cats so that fewer feral cats are born in a given community.
The paper lists a few additional ways that veterinarians help. Vets can encourage their clients to microchip (and register the microchips of) their companions so that the animal can be returned to them if lost and later recovered. Veterinarians can also try to serve lower-income guardians by offering sliding scale fees or having referrals on hand for local low-cost spay and neuter programs. Finally, veterinarians can get involved in local politics by speaking up at local civic council meetings when animal issues are raised, or even by drafting city ordinances that help the cause of decreasing companion animal homelessness.
Advocates who are themselves veterinarians could follow the suggestions outlined in this paper, and those who are in contact with veterinarians – no doubt, many of us – could bring these issues to their attention. Even non-veterinarians and non-companion animal advocates can encourage some of the practices from the paper – such as spaying and neutering pets and using positive reinforcement to train them – in their local community.