The pet overpopulation problem can feel really overwhelming at times and it can be hard to see if rescue efforts are making a real difference. I recently read an article that looked at the juxtaposition of compassion and cruelty --the side of the pet world that pampers our animals like children versus the side that kills millions of them each year. The statistics are sobering, but also provides a little hope (we've greatly reduced euthanasia numbers over the last few decades). I found that looking at the statistics helped me better understand the problem and some of the possible root causes, so I wanted to share a few of the most haunting numbers.
The article also talked about the rise of puppy mills after World War II. According to dog rescue organizations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged farmers devastated by the Great Depression to breed puppies as a new "cash crop" for the growing pet store market. That combined with a general view of animals as disposable, overcrowded shelters by 1970 and led to the euthanasia of over 20 million animals.
The good news is that the euthanasia number has decreased significantly to three million. While still huge, we've certainly made a lot of progress since 1970. I think this is due in part to a changing view of pets as part of the family and the internet as an educational resource. This has also spurred spay/neuter efforts, an increase in rescue and advocacy organizations, and an increase in legal action for animal cruelty.
So while the numbers can feel insurmountable, it’s important to see the progress we’ve made and how we can use the statistics to fuel future efforts.