Most animal welfare professionals agree that the three causes of pet overpopulation are irresponsible breeding, a lack of behavior training and weak human-animal bonds that result in a failed pet/owner relationship. In addition, lack of knowledge about animals may contribute to unrealistic expectations or inappropriate actions on the part of the owner.
Early spay/neuter of adopted animals now guarantees that participating facilities are not contributors to the surplus of animals. Low cost sterilization programs and differential licensing fees are having an impact in reducing the number of intact animals who contribute puppies and kittens to the animal population.
Increasingly, however, shelters are seeing a greater number of "teenage" dogs being relinquished by owners. Studies conducted by The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) attempted to discern why animals that had owners were relinquished.
The number of animals euthanized annually nationwide is estimated anywhere from 2 million to 20 million. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, but no one knows for sure. Because no one knows how many shelters there are in the U.S., there is no way to extrapolate the data to get a true national number. However, data collected from 1,000 shelters in 1996 showed that 2.1 million dogs entered those shelters in that year. Of those, 9.9 % (207,900 ) were returned to owners, 24% (504,000) were adopted and 63.7% (1,337,700) were euthanized.
The NCPPSP is a coalition of some of America's foremost animal organizations concerned with the issue of unwanted pets in the United States. The NCPPSP has been studying the pet population problem as if it were a disease through the methods of epidemiology. This study of epidemics within a population of animals first attempts to quantify the problem, then tests possible interventions.
Every decision on possible solutions is based on actual research data, not anecdotal evidence or gut feelings. By focusing on data, NCPPSP experts can look objectively at this tragedy. When such animal suffering is at stake, strong emotional responses often dictate what people do, say, and think. These feelings are understandable and often are the impetus for change. They, however, do not serve the cause well in the long term. The problem cannot be solved unless we truly understand it. Without data, individuals and organizations cannot have a clear idea of how to approach the issues effectively.
Why Pets Are Given Up
Early on, the NCPPSP determined that nearly a third of the dogs and cats entering shelters were animals that did have homes but whose owners had rejected and relinquished them. It became clear that if these animals could be kept in the home, and the human/animal bond strengthened, then the euthanasia rate could be reduced significantly.
An NCPPSP study looked at the reasons that people surrender their pets. Specially trained researchers completed confidential individual interviews with people who were relinquishing their dogs or cats to twelve shelters in six states. Pet owners were allowed to give up to five reasons for relinquishment. Interviewers did not, however, prioritize the responses. They simply recorded them in the order stated.
The catch-all reason for relinquishment: "moving" was the most common reason given for relinquishment of dogs in the study. People who gave up their pets because they were moving also said that their landlord would not allow pets, that parents or other people living in the household would not allow pets or that their home had housing rules or restrictions. Others reported that their home was too small, had no yard or had "no place to keep the animal." (More than half of these relinquishers also reported behavior problems in their pets, strongly suggesting that housing restrictions are not the only consideration when moving is given as the reason for relinquishment.) The survey found that significantly more of those relinquishing pets due to moving were young pet owners.
Behavioral problems were among the most common reasons dogs were given up. Households who had only a single animal were less likely to give them up for behavior problems but owners who added a second pet might encounter problems leading to relinquishment of one or both pets.
Failed Versus Successful Relationships Between Pets and Owners
An NCPPSP study tried to determine whether people who take their animals to shelters are different from people who keep their pets or dispose of them by other means or whether their animals are different. The study found that animals owned for a short period of time were more likely to be relinquished; the longer the length of ownership, the less chance they would be given up. The study also found that dogs whose owners paid $100 or more for them were less likely to be relinquished and that animals acquired from friends were relinquished in higher numbers than animals from any other source.
The authors of the study reported that behavioral issues were not unique to the dogs relinquished to shelters. Many of the dogs who remained in their homes exhibited the same kinds of behavior (soiling in the house, damaging things, overly active or fearful).
Results of the study suggested that education and counseling of owners before and after they acquire a pet and providing temporary housing for pets when owners are experiencing a personal crisis may reduce the relinquishment of pets. Careful counseling before acquisition of a second pet about how pets interact with each other might be preventative. Owners who relinquished dogs for behavior problems were likely to have owned them for less than three months. This suggests that intervention for dog behavior problems would need to be available as soon as the dog entered the household. Educational efforts stressing both companion animal selection and the process and difficulties of moving with dogs might be best aimed at the young-adult population.
People need to know more about why animals behave the way they do and have more general knowledge about the animals they take into their homes to make for successful relationships. Veterinarians, animals shelters, trainers, breeders and others interested in animal welfare could be involved in pro-active educational efforts to prevent the development of problems or to deal with existing ones. The window of opportunity for creating a good relationship or salvaging a bad one is narrow based on the length of ownership prior to relinquishment.
YGRR Case Histories
YGRR representatives are often asked "Why do Goldens need rescuing?" The answer is that Goldens are not immune to the problems that the dogs in the NCPPSP studies encountered. The relinquishment patterns detected by their studies are similar to those we observe.
The following happy endings happened for Goldens who were relinquished to YGRR for many of the same reasons as the dogs in the studies.
Owner Had No Time For Dog
We took her to our vet and he said she's a good, solid healthy dog. She now weighs 63.4 lbs., up from 56 lbs. The minus, and only problem (but not a problem really) is she is still very much puppy (18 months old) and wants to play with her sister a little more than Mandy is used to. Mandy will tell her off when she's had enough so each is giving a little. All in all they seem to be an almost perfect match for each other. We are planning on taking Wendy for training and probably Mandy for a refresher course.
Sorry to go on and on but it's hard to not say enough about our new gal. Thank you again so very much.
Dog Was Too Much Work In Addition
to Little Kids
I'm the Golden formerly known as Fisher. I thought I'd send you a note to let you know how I'm doing. Well my first month in my new home was an adjustment for both myself and my family. They were used to older Goldens that slept all day but I was very busy getting to know my people and my new home and had quite an abundance of energy.
The kids love playing with me, I even learned how to climb the play gym and slide down the slide. My mom took me to obedience classes. I behave very well when she puts the training collar on me. My favorite things to do are going for walks, waiting for my boy to get off the bus, playing with my older Golden sister (12 years old) named Callie, and playing with my tennis ball with anyone who will throw it.
I'm so happy to have a home and a family that loves me. Thank you for taking me in when my other family didn't want me any more and caring for me when I had no place else to go.
Kids Were Not Interested In Dog
After the long ride home from Riverview last August, we welcomed Reese (right) into our home. She was anxious during the first six weeks as she was learning how to become another valued member of our family. She and Bunker, YGRR #3215, (left) were very busy working out the "details," as she is a very active and spunky gal and would have loved to come into our home and take control -- gotta like that female spirit! But Bunker has been the "good ole boy" and has managed to tolerate most of Reese's antics. They love to play and they play hard. I spoke to our veterinarian about the rough-housing an she said that they will work it out on their own and not to interfere. After two months, they still play hard and they both like it! Reese loves to nag Bunker if he stops too soon and vice versa! He has truly met his match! They really enjoy each other's company and have smoothed out the rough spots. We are starting to see a strong bond developing between them.
Reese was slightly overweight when she came to live with us but with a better diet she has slimmed down. We have to be careful not to leave food out and about. Reese makes herself right at home and onto the kitchen counter! With some stern verbal commands, she's getting the message! We are also teaching her "down" and "stay," two crucial commands she was not taught in her "other life." She's a good student as she is catching on quickly. Every day is a better day for our Reese.
She's a real character and charmer -- loves to "sass" us if we're too slow getting her food dish filled or take too long in letting her go outdoors! Reese also loves to cuddle and is very affectionate (she has been this way from day one). She's a wonderful little girl. We all love her very much. It is so good to have two Retrievers in our home once again. Life with Bunker and Reese will be filled with golden moments that will never be dull!
Thank you so much for allowing us to care for these two YGRR beauties!
Dog Has Too Much Energy
We don't know how to fully express our gratitude to you for allowing us to adopt two year old Simba in December, 2000. He is one of the best Christmas presents we ever received.
Simba adapted to his new home (and to our family and friends) so easily it seems like he's been a member of our family forever and the year went by so quickly. Never having owned an adopted dog previously, neither my husband nor I truly knew what to expect when we brought him home. However, despite a few weeks of adjustment we were amazed at how quickly he settled in. He is truly a sweet boy and has such a wonderful personality that everyone who meets him just falls in love.
Simba starts his day with a walk at a nearby park where he smiles and greets all the "regular" morning walkers. He also has days at the ball field where he plays with all his doggy friends. He also loves to romp in the yard and play ball - his favorite is a lacrosse ball that he hardly ever puts down. One of his favorite toys is his stuffed teddy bear and he takes it everywhere. It's so amusing to watch him strutting proudly like a peacock with his teddy bear dangling from his jowls. Simba also loves visitors, especially our five-year old nephew and the ringing of the doorbell is quite an event at our home.
Needless to say, he doesn't lack for attention or affection and with Christmas right around the corner, I'm sure he'll be showered once again with many Christmas gifts from family and friends. Again, thank you everyone at YGRR for the wonderful work you're doing. You have given us such a wonderful gift - a loyal, loving, furry-faced friend.
Baby Was Allergic To Dog
Sorry I haven't written sooner but my days are busy with play and walks and my nights ever so heavenly. As you can see by the enclosed photo, I am well and have adjusted to my surroundings. It was not difficult to do being surrounded by water. When I first arrived all the locals laughed when I swam for the first time giving new meaning to the term "doggie paddle" Now I am a natural! I love to swim and fetch the ball.
I love my new home. Jesse (right) my den mate, playmate and soulmate is great. She is the queen and I learned early on not to mess with her. I am the princess and she watches over me and now we share the same bed after a long and busy day. She is 10 1/2 years old and is starting to slow down a bit. We call her poke girl! But, watch out if there is a duck in the water or a cat in view -- she really moves then! We are up and out each morning, rain or shine, for our first walk. A dog walker comes during the day to take us for another walk and we walk again before supper. It was a shock last week to find harbor seals frolicking at our favorite swimming hole! On weekends, tide permitting, we walk the main beach chasing the seagulls and fetching the ball.
I have many new friends. At the end of our morning walk, Jesse, my friend Luke (a yellow Lab) and I stop off at the coffee shop at the pier where the commuter boat to Boston comes in. We go to the take out window, put our paws up on the counter and Luke barks. Billy, the owner of the shop, then opens the window and gives us each a big biscuit. People waiting for the boat watch in amazement.
Thank you for finding this wonderful home for me - as you can see I love it.
In addition to the dogs that are surrendered to shelters by their owners, there are dogs that are abandoned.
It has been just about two months since we happily picked up Barklee from Hudson, MA. We absolutely love him and he is doing wonderfully! We knew he was a great dog from the first moment we saw him, when Allyson brought him out into the play yard. His beautiful white face was shining as he playfully checked us out. We took the leash and off we went for our walk through the woods, to see if we'd mesh. Needless to say, we did, and we are now a happy bunch: my friend Lauri, Barklee and me. Everyone has easily adjusted to our new way of life.
Barklee was a stray, found in Rhode Island. He spent his days in the pound after being found on the streets. He is estimated to be between 10 and 12 years old but he is very young in spirit and spunk. At the YGRR DogWalk in October, someone gave YGRR information about a Golden oldie in a pound in Rhode Island whose time was almost up! YGRR took the appropriate action to rescue Barklee from the pound and brought him safely to Hudson. We are so thankful for the outcome of this complicated transaction which finally brought Barklee to us. We couldn't imagine life without him.
Many, many times we've looked at Barklee and said, "Why would anyone ever give you up? How could you have been a stray?" He loves the car, kids , people, to roll in the grass, play ball, bask in the sun, tear all his toys apart, and to "purr." Yes, Barklee has a wonderful, loud purr that some have mistaken for a growl (never!). He is the best and we are so grateful to have him. Thank you everyone at YGRR and especially the person who told YGRR about Barklee in the first place. You all represent a wonderful organization which we will be members of forever.
In the Spring of 2000, YGRR was in process of placing six puppies whose mother was a ten year old Golden we had recently admitted. Sadly Peaches, the mother, died while recovering from anesthesia during spay surgery. Her puppies were placed in wonderful homes, however and here is the story from one of them.
Abbey, nine week old female
We drove to Riverview to meet Sue and the puppies. They were just adorable. Sue felt that we should adopt the small yellow female as she was a little shy and would benefit from old social dogs and experienced parents. Bob and I agreed and named her Abbey.
When we returned to bring Abbey home at nine weeks old, we brought Lily and Remy to see how they would react. In typical Golden fashion, our wonderful Goldens indicated there would be no problems.
Lily, Remi and Abbey get along just fine. The cats took another puppy in their stride and our three (now four; Grace) granddaughters, Jordan, Madison and Julia love Abbey, as much as she loves them. Abbey and her "sister" and "brother" walk with me twice a day down a wonderful woodland path that meanders along a brook where we meet many other people an their dogs. They re very well behaved, friendly and social. Abbey and Remi often swim together, and Abbey and Lily like to retrieve sticks. We have about a 1/2 acre of our property fenced with Invisible Fence. After Abbey had completed Kindergarten and Basic Training, she trained to the fence without any problems.
Abbey loves her squeak toys, although her favorite thing to do is "steal" Bob's socks and run around the house with them. Each day when I come home from school I am greeted by my three Golden babies, each with a squeak toy in their mouths, and wagging tails.
Abbey is now a beautiful golden color and weighs about 50 pounds. She is very sweet, lovable and playful. Thank you so much for allowing us to adopt her. We love her very much. Abbey all grown up!
Sometimes YGRR is criticized because our adoption process is very rigorous. We have adoption eligibility standards and we require a written application, a home visit and an adoption contract. Nonetheless, our commitment to the dogs we place requires us to do the best we can to ensure that our Rescue Goldens enjoy permanent new homes. The efforts of our members, volunteers and our professional staff make that goal a reality.