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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


There are lots of jobs that are stressful, but I don’t think there are many that can compare to being a shelter/rescue volunteer or worker. No matter how many animals you help, there are always more that need your help. And when you are unable to help, the situation is even more heartbreaking. These people truly do deserve our appreciation and our thanks for what they do.

Besides thanking them, there may also be some things you can do to help make their job a little less demanding, starting by reducing the number of homeless pets.

How do we reduce the number of homeless pets? Start by not breeding your pet for frivolous reasons.

  • You don’t need to breed your pet to show your child the "miracle of life."
  • You shouldn’t be breeding your pet because you just have to have one of her puppies or kittens.
  • Your pet doesn’t need to experience the "joy of motherhood."

In fact, most pets should be spayed or neutered.

Don’t buy a puppy or kitten from a pet store. Almost without exception these animals come from puppy mills (or the feline version of a puppy mill). Responsible breeders do not sell their puppies or kittens through pet stores. Buying a puppy or kitten from a pet store helps to keep a puppy (or kitten) mill in business.

Never buy or adopt a puppy or kitten (or any other pet) on impulse. Taking in a pet requires a commitment. You are obligated to care for that pet for the remainder of that pet’s life, both physically and financially. Be sure you are able to do that before your bring a new pet home. That means doing some homework beforehand to find out what type of care your new pet might need. Pets are not disposable commodities. If you are unwilling or unable to accept responsibility for that pet, don’t adopt the pet.

If you are looking for a new pet, consider adopting from a shelter or rescue rather than buying a puppy or kitten. Approximately 30 percent of animals that find their way into shelters and rescues are purebreds. So even if you have your heart set on a purebred pet, you may still be able to adopt.

If you do purchase a pet from a breeder, be sure the breeder is a responsible one. Ask questions.

  • Know what genetic conditions are common in your chosen breed and ask how the breeding animals are screened for these diseases. A responsible breeder screens for these diseases and breedings are carefully planned to reduce the potential for passing genetic diseases to the puppies or kittens.
  • What happens if you can’t keep the pet? A responsible breeder will take the pet back, regardless of age. They don’t want their puppies/kittens ending up in shelters and rescues.
  • Ask to see the mother and the father (if both are on the premises). Responsible breeders will be happy to introduce you to both.
  • Never buy a puppy or kitten from the Internet sight unseen. Responsible breeders will not ship a puppy or kitten unaccompanied and they will want to meet with you before the sale as well. You should expect the breeder to ask questions about you, making sure that you will be a good pet owner.

Lastly, support managed trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs for feral cats. TNR is controversial but is much more humane than simply killing these cats. Many of these cats are not socialized with people, do not acclimate well to indoor life, and are not candidates for adoption as a result. Cats in these colonies are trapped, spayed/neutered and vaccinated, and then returned to the colony where volunteers feed and provide shelter for them. These colonies generally do not welcome strange cats into their midst so their numbers do not continue to grow.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Ilike / via Shutterstock

Comments  9

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  • shelter Overpopulation
    11/03/2012 06:57am

    as a Shelter director for almost 30 years, I came to the conclusion that it's not an issue of too many pets/puppies being produced, but an issue of too many owners not keeping the one they have. Here in the Southeast our average canine intake was dogs 8 mos to 24 months of age - nearly 3500 the year I retired -(2011) while we only took in roughlyh 600 dogs under the age of 4 months.
    Unfortunatly the cat population is a horse of a different color - the 'south' is drowning in displaced domestic cats ( not true ferals, but not true 'pets' either ) - our intake of cats/kittens the year I retires was a little over 5,000. Most being technically unadoptable due to behaviour. We were a public shelter with a very limited volunteer base and simply didn't have the resources to try to rehab the adults.
    Kathryn Smith
    Craven-Pamilco Animal Services Center (Retired)
    New Bern NC 28562

  • Shelter Folks
    11/03/2012 07:54am

    People that work at shelters have some of the hardest jobs around. The post is absolutely correct that no matter how many critters you help, there are always more that need help. That can be really difficult for shelter folks.

    It especially breaks my heart about the kitties that appear to be feral or semi-feral (read: unadoptable) because I'm guessing many were pets that were discarded. I believe my Louise was one of those. It took over a year, working with her constantly, to win her trust. Owen took up residence in my back yard and it took a little over a month and a lot of treats to earn his trust.

    As KatsKat mentioned, most shelters do not have the resources to rehab kitties. Heck, in a shelter environment, I'm pretty sure a couple of the loving kitties l have right now would appear to have behavioral problems simply because they would be so terribly frightened.

    Managed colonies that practice Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) seem to do well. The kitties should NOT be rounded up and taken to a shelter.

  • Unfortunate title
    11/03/2012 05:09pm

    You are correct that working in an animal shelter is stressful. And yes, these dedicated animal lovers deserve our heartfelt thanks. But please, I beg you . . . don't use that phrase "pet overpopulation". This is another term that has been hijacked, usurped, by the animal rights movement and a lot of highly dubious vigilante-type groups.

    Some years ago I was 'downsized' from a good job, when I was nearing 60. The outplacement firm was frank with me about my chances of getting another job in my field at my age. They looked at my background in dogs, dog training and showing, shelter volunteering, strategic marketing and management, and suggested that I think about a career change, as an animal shelter director. At the time, I shouted NO! before the woman finished her sentence. STRESS? Not on your life, I had enough stress, and now I was out of a job. I started my own business - again - but now, about 6 years down the road, I wonder if I shouldn't have taken her advice. What I see happening in the world of pets, dogs in particular, just makes me want to cry. Bawl my darned eyes out, really.

    What is so crazy is the out of proportion beliefs about the nation's pet animals, and the proliferation of meaningless (well, maybe not totally) catch phrases designed by animal rights activists to separate us from our animals. "Pet Overpopulation" is one of the most damaging terms, because it is used to literally kill millions of healthy, adoptable animals. Americans love pets, the business of pets is enormous. Certainly including the veterinary business. According to statistics compiled by the pet industry, the ASPCA, HSUS, and Nathan Winograd's No-Kill movement, among others, says that there is actually a shortage of dogs (cats and dogs MUST NOT be combined statistically)nationwide, that we don't have an overpopulation, we have a distribution problem. Don't get me started on the controversial - and I would say dubious - business of 'humane relocation', because that little idea grew into something that has created an entire new set of problems. The myth of 'pet overpopulation' feeds this huge money-making scheme.

    The suggestions you give for researching a breed, looking for a good breeder, are not going to be heard under the din, the shouting of "pet overpopulation" - this blog will probably get its share of the shouting. None of this will be heard by someone who is promised a well polished halo if they wait in a dark parking lot at an empty warehouse at 5:00 am for the semi truck to pull in with their new dog. Sight unseen, not even a photograph most times, no idea where it came from, even if it is an American dog, no health history, no temperament evaluation. It's crazy. They fork over a couple of hundred bucks and drive off as the sun is rising to figure out what kind of dog they have for the next 10-12 years. But they 'saved a life', you see.

    Another casualty of the widespread use of this term is the No-Kill movement. The opponents of the No-Kill Equation use this term to actually encourage the killing of adoptable animals - the ASPCA, HSUS, of course, PETA - because there is this terrible, horrible, cruel . . . and mythical . . . overpopulation of pets.

    As a trainer for nearly 40 years, I have seen these changes over time in clientele, dog club memberships, dog sports competitors. I love that you describe a good breeder, even though I take issue with some of your hard and fast rules. Some aren't really necessary or even possible with many excellent breeders, particularly with rare or uncommon breeds, but the basics are good, particularly for people who are not experienced in dog ownership.

    The devastation caused by this term has hit excellent dog breeders harder than any other source of pets. Dog breeders of all types are simply vilified by naive and ignorant people, because if you believe there are "too many pets", you must think that breeders are at fault. Most people just can't look at themselves as the problem, so here you have a scapegoat. Totally defenseless against the hate-mongering from the wealthy and powerful animal rights groups named above.

    I normally wouldn't do this, but I am posting a link to a Facebook page that I think you should see. Groups, or internet gangs like this thrive on attention, and ignoring them is the best policy. But this page is out there already, getting more and more "like"s and friends every day. I believe in the power of good over evil - so lets just see what people are doing, ok? Welcome to the new animal lover of today: http://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Hate-Dog-Breeders/167747893303842?ref=ts&fref=ts

    Where people get their pet is really not the business of others. If someone just loves muttly mutts and wants to go to a shelter for their next pet, great. The people who want, or really need, some very specific features in a dog have every right to choose a purebred or purpose-bred dog without being called names, or judged, or shunned at the dog beach. Buying a well-bred pup from a breeder is not a sin, does NOT cause a shelter dog to die. That is the most horrific lie, makes me crazy, as you can tell I'm sure. There are statistics on pet population that don't lie. There is not pet overpopulation. Yes, there are regions in the country where shelters can't keep up, dogs and cats are not so often S/N, leash laws are lax or non-existant - but each of these and other issues are separate, have little to do with how many pups are whelped by breeders. They should be dealt with on their own terms, not be shoved under that old tired excuse - "there are just too many". Because there's not.

  • 11/05/2012 06:05am

    you are absolutely 100% right on target - and sound like someone we would have loved to have on board in our facility. I too showed/trained/bred/groomed for years and it is not an 'over-population issue' it's an 'owner-retention' issue -- and the AR folks are bound and determined to elimiate our enjoyment of any animals - either in our homes or on our plate.

  • 11/05/2012 06:19am

    I may not have made clear that yes, the 'overpopulation' is IN THE SHELTERS! when hundreds of various mix-breed dogs are shipped by the truck load all over the country to areas that don't 'have adoptable puppies', yet their shelters are full to overflowing with adolescent/adult dogs - where do you think those dogs came from??? It gives 'shelters' a warm-fuzzy' to spout that their 'adoption' rates are 25+% but they neglect to mention that these are not going to private indivduals - they are mass shipped out of their state to 'rescue' groups who apparently are not following up on their placements. It's a revolving door.
    Train your dog, Keep your dog.
    and for cats - it IS broken! FIX IT!!!

  • 11/05/2012 09:45am

    Everything you say is absolutely true. Too many people only hear those buzz words that are now embedded into our unconscious minds. The Big Word, or in the case, phrase, that powers up all the other expletives, is "pet overpopulation". It is often used to shut down any reasonable argument, or even worse, put a halt to any thought of effective methods to change things from the source(s) of the problem. It is not a simple solution. Shelters and dedicated rescue groups really need to be honest, evaluate their situation and ask some very hard questions. Like why is their shelter over-run, or killing healthy potentially adoptable pets? I'll bet it is impossible to honestly tie the problem to breeders. Substandard breeders, illegal and unlicensed, careless or ignorant - I refuse to use that blankety-blank term you know what it is - are often accused of "dumping" their unwanted animals, we hear that all the time. But I'll bet a million bucks that there is a practical solution. But there are fund-raising opportunities that will be lost if certain shelters were to actually solve this problem.

    Before I get on my soap box again, I will get back to my concerns over the title of this blog post - the use of a term that needs to be eliminated from intelligent conversation about animals.

    Words actually hurt more than sticks and stones in today's world of global internet communication. We can put away sticks, not pick up stones, but words CANNOT be taken back. The damage is done, and to use an old saw - you can't un-ring a bell. The ALWAYS hit their mark, especially when they are multiplied at such a stupendous rate through well-read blogs like this one. I really love this blog, people here often disagree, but the conversation is always civil - well mostly. ;-)

    Please, Dr. Huston, consider changing this title, or better yet, discuss the topic. Use the power of this space to talk about the power of words that have been hijacked by the movement that seeks to destroy, little by little, bit by bit, our magnificent relationships with our animals. This is certainly an issue that affects veterinarians!

  • Pet "What Ever"
    11/05/2012 01:59pm

    You know you all have your points and I appreciate the intelligent comments. However if you have worked in an open admission shelter you know that animals come flooding in the door. ie. there are too many to manage. They come from various places with a list too long to mention here. But bottom line there are too many. Call it what ever term you like there are too many for the shelters to manage. There are two ways to address the problem. Less intake or more outtake (is that a good word?) I think both are necessary. I don't think advocating for spay and neuter is an attack on any one group and given the current circumstances I am not overly fear full that somehow advocating for spay and neuter is designed to make it impossible for me to own an animal as some would suggest. I guess if it gets to that point we can work that problem then. In the mean time lets try and work the problem from the intake and outake point of view as I think all would agree we have an issue.

  • 11/06/2012 01:59pm

    Open admission shelters certainly are required to take in whatever arrives, but being temporarily overwhelmed by a sudden influx of homeless animals is not the same as 'too many to manage' - you just do it, somehow, correct? Managing is managing. I can't imagine a shelter without triage training, or emergency planning, even if it is just to go by the date of intake and just kill enough animals near the end of their time to make room for the new arrivals. Pretty bad plan, but it is some kind of a plan anyway. Time for a re-evaluation - and NOT one by HSUS, which notoriously recommends this exact system. This justifies all the other draconian measures that seem to aim at making the public feel guilty, and assuage the guilt of the staff that must carry out the killings. It's the 'look what you made me do' defense of egregious behavior. Any shelter that has paid many thousands of dollars to HSUS apparently gets the same old info, including the killing manual. Since HSUS grabs animals in high profile raids (the Alabama 44, the Vick pit bulls, etc.) and rather than care for them they dump them on kill shelters that subscribe to their above-mentioned plan. Wash their hands of the animals, and proceed on to the fund raising forthwith. The Evil Public, you see, that 'never' spays or neuters their dogs, and on and on with the old garbage.

    If there is no 'pet overpopulation', you see, the killing makes no sense, but the myth is perpetuated so that the AR groups can raise more money. Take away the myth, and mandatory S/N is unnecessary. I believe that we are doing well, nationally, on that front, with roughly 85% of pets voluntarily S/N. Regionally, particularly in rural areas, this is not always the case. Yes, we should promote S/N, but it can't be the only answer, especially to a problem that doesn't exist - 'overpopulation'.

    Is your conundrum because the management of the shelter hasn't kept up with trends? Is there any emergency plan in place? Are you in a region that was hit hard by the economy, and maybe have a large number of commercial kennels nearby? These businesses are not all bad places, but they too, get hit with economic downturns, get overwhelmed, and need some help with downsizing, or unsold pets. Have you thought of the concept of "sheltering in place" as a way to care for animals without taking up space at the shelter? Costs little and is easily done.

    I find that the money is so huge in rescue that rescue transport (humane relocation) is often in direct competition with local shelters, so if that is going on, it isn't breeders that are creating the problem of "too many" animals coming in at once. Can you arrange it to stop this displacement of local pets somehow?

    I think you can come up with good ideas - plural. I also suggest you re-think the idea that somehow S/N is NOT aimed at preventing us from ever owning a pet again. I believe it is. There is no doubt in my mind that eliminating pets is the goal of some of these groups. Clearly HSUS and PETA are working towards this exact thing. You can't swing a cat (pun intended) these days without hitting some community that is planning on MSN - mandatory spay-neuter. Chip, chip, chip away at every little aspect of pet ownership with regulations and laws, and it just becomes too much trouble for most people. Nothing ever makes it MORE enjoyable to have pets, does it? Breeding restrictions - which are very popular because of this myth of "pet overpopulation" - are clearly aimed at cutting the supply of healthy pets. Another prong of attack is to eliminate the activities we can participate with our dogs, removing any chance for certain breeds of dogs to ever exercise the skills and instincts they were bred for - another avenue towards extinction, one breed at a time. It's pretty crazy out there, as I've found out through legislative work in my state.

  • Epidemic
    11/11/2012 10:09pm

    Thank you Dr. Huston for this article. There is clearly an epidemic of OVER PET POPULATION at municipal run shelters all over the country.

    I appreciate some comments on this page and agree people have the right to get a pet from a breeder but the fact is pet overpopulation in shelters IS NOT temporary it's long-term and epidemic. In Miami it's been going on for years. Is there a solution? Sure, but it will take SIGNIFICANT time, money, planning and resources. It's not an overnight solution. I strongly believe that education, and teaching pet owners the responsibilities of pet ownership will reduce the number of pure bred or mutt pets being dropped off at the shelter.

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