Homeward BoundBy Brittany Gropp
May 14, 2010
Sophie was paralyzed from the waist down when she was just 4 years old.
Sophie's family dropped her on her back, causing her to lose the ability to walk. Afterward, they took her to get help. The doctor told them Sophie would have a chance to walk again -- if, and only if, she underwent surgery within the next 24 hours.
Rather than pay Sophie's medical costs, her family decided to give her up for adoption.
Fortunately for Sophie, her condition did not leave her in any pain, and she was adopted within the next week by a woman who believed in her, despite the pessimistic outlooks of doctors and specialists throughout Northern Virginia.
Following six acupuncture treatments and three months of hydrotherapy, Sophie was able to walk from the driveway to the front door of her house -- all by herself.
Sophie is a red Daschund. Today, she is 9 years old, and can walk, run and jump whenever she pleases.
Unfortunately, not all stories turn out the way Sophie's did. There are millions of dogs each year -- both disabled and not -- who are not chosen for adoption, and are subsequently killed due to a lack of shelter space.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, between 6 million and 8 million cats and dogs enter into shelters each year; about 3 million or 4 million of them are euthanized.
Although dog shelter overpopulation is a problem that will take time to solve, there are many small steps people can take in order to aid in the process of overcoming it.
When deciding to get a new dog, most people look toward breeders. However, when buying from a breeder, it is important to research the breeder's history to determine if he or she is a selective breeder or a wholesale breeder.
"Wholesale breeders who do 10 to 12 litters a year are not benefitting the breed and are complicating what we are all trying to do with animal welfare. They contribute greatly to the pet overpopulation problem that we are all trying to fix," said William Watson Jr., executive director of the Roanoke Valley Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (RVSPCA).
Because breeders are so readily available, adoption is a method often overlooked by people in search of new dogs. However, dog adoption is much less expensive than buying from breeders, and has the potential to directly impact euthanasia rates in shelters.
When rescue-animal adoptions occur, additional kennel space becomes available, allowing shelters to house and save more dogs.
Adoption is not the only way for individuals to help save animals; participating in foster programs also allows shelters to make room and take in additional animals.
Fostering primarily serves to provide transitional housing for animals that are removed from animal control shelters until there is space for them in the no-kill shelters.
"If we didn't have a foster program, we would not be able to take the kittens and puppies that come over (from the animal control shelter) because sometimes our cages are full," said Ann Marie Sweeney, RVSPCA foster coordinator. "(The kittens and puppies) going into foster -- even for a few weeks -- allows the ones who are up front to be adopted, and then, by the time our fosters come back, we have cage space."
During this transitional period, foster families help with dogs' behavioral issues and health issues, as well as evaluate the dogs, in order to provide background information to individuals interested in adopting the animal.
For people who lack the time or the funds necessary to bring a dog into their home, volunteering at shelters allows them to still contribute to animal welfare.
"Shelters always need help," said Watson. "We have some people who will come in and clean. We have people who will walk the animals and socialize the animals. We have volunteers who will help us with our special events. No shelter can operate without a heavy dose of volunteers."
There is one way in which people can help decrease overpopulation rates and euthanasia rates that is often overlooked: being a responsible pet owner.
Providing fresh food and water, shelter, training and general care for dogs are all ways to engage in being a responsible pet owner; however, the most important duty of a dog owner is to have his or her animal spayed or neutered.
The spaying and neutering of pets is essential to overcoming the problem of pet overpopulation because "we will never be able to adopt our way out of the problem," said Watson.
Spay and neuter clinics, such as Mountain View Humane, which is scheduled to open in Christiansburg, Va., in June, are a testament to the importance of spaying and neutering.
They provide discounted prices for high-quality medicine and spay and neuter services. In addition, these clinics work to raise grant funds, so that no animal will be turned away, regardless of the ability of its owner to afford the services.
"By putting the spay and neuter clinic in (Christiansburg) and helping low-income folks have that service, who normally would not have it, we can lower the number of animals in the community who are coming into shelters, as well as lower the euthanasia rates -- which is the real goal," said Kelly Cass, executive director of Mountain View Humane.
Although pet overpopulation has become a monstrous problem in the United States, it is apparent that there are individuals and organizations nationwide who are committed to working to overcome it.
"Success stories keep you going, but what motivates you is that you can't help all of the animals you want to help," said Watson.