What Should Be Done About Excess Dogs In Shelters? – Phoenix Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist

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Sam Basso
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There are too many dogs in the world. That might seem like a controversial statement coming from a dog trainer and animal welfare supporter, but it is true. And this is also going to be a controversial article, because it is going to cover those things that none of us are really comfortable talking about… what should be done with surplus dogs in shelters?

The Problem Is Based Upon Natural Reproduction: In nature, there are always many more births than the environment can sustain alive. Thus, when talking about animal populations in specific environments, biologists talk about “carrying capacity”. It is that excess breeding that makes a wild population healthy, weeding out the weak, providing food to the strong, and ensuring the genetic health of the overall population of that species. Thus, dogs are always going to be bred in excess of the number of homes available, just as there are always going to be more wolf pups bred in the wild than their pack can support. That is the way nature works. In the wild, animals die from disease, old age, predation, natural catastrophe, and starvation. With domestic animals, all of these same factors kill dogs, in addition to human implemented euthanasia, human caused accidents and abuse. Even so, ever since the beginning, there have always been more dogs than there are homes for dogs. In third world countries, there aren’t shelters for excess dogs, so they run feral in loose packs near human settlements, and they die as we can all imagine. In industrialized, modern cities, we have created animal control police and shelters to scoop up these excess dogs, and we’ve implemented laws and medical procedures to attempt to regulate excess dog populations. However, even in our modern cities, with all our technology, nature gets around our laws, procedures, birth control procedures, fences, and such, and so we still end up with excess dogs.

Since we are dog lovers, we try our best to find homes for all the excess dogs. But, we are running out of options because of the nature of reproduction: there will always be excess young produced. So, what are the options? Here are the list of things that can be done. I’m not advocating for all of these, but I’m writing this article to stimulate conversation. Someone has to. We are averting our eyes to the unpleasant fact that nature is more powerful than all our ideas and technology:

1.) Current System: Either excess feral dogs are left to roam our cities and forests, or human controlled animal control procedures are implemented. We all know how that works in our own towns. In an ideal world, only the very old; very ill; or very dangerous animals would be euthanized. But, we can’t get the ideal. So, many perfectly healthy dogs are killed every week.

2.) The No Kill Movement: There is a movement afoot where animal shelters are privatized. Government shelters are pretty much killing factories. Government is not good at the housing and re-homing of rescue dogs. The no kill movement is developing as a way of increasing the efficiency of finding homes for dogs instead of killing them. Initial reports indicate that this movement is doing better work and providing more homes for more dogs. Even so, there will still be more dogs than homes. Shelters and rescue groups are getting better at sharing data, so as to return lost dogs to their owners, and to share the load from one location to another.

3.) Breeding Restrictions: Purebred breeding organizations promote the idea that the best dog is a wanted purebred dog. Thus, registries of certain breeds have been created, and only puppies bred and registered through that system can be entered into their obedience competitions, show dog events, and working dog events. Some breeders limit the registration of their puppies so as to control which dogs can and can’t be bred. Part of the idea is to weed out backyard breeders. However, this system hasn’t done much to prevent shelters from being full of dogs, especially mixed bred dogs. There are also laws to prevent breeding, but they have proven to be ineffective.

4.) Birth Control: There has been a strong movement for the past few decades to spay and neuter all pet dogs. And even though most dog owners do this in the cities, the shelters are still full of excess dogs. Even where mandatory spay and neuter laws have been implemented, the shelters are overflowing with excess dogs. On the other hand, you can’t spay and neuter all dogs or they will go extinct. The domestic dog is not a wolf. It is a separate species, closely related to the wolf, but not the same. We take extraordinary efforts to preserve endangered species around the world, and we should make the same efforts to preserve the genetic diversity of the domestic dog.

5.) Return To Nature: In zoos, excess animals can sometimes be reintroduced into the wild. Many species are being endangered by habitat destruction and illegal poaching. Zoos are attempting to breed more endangered species to offset these losses. But, there is no natural habitat for the domestic dog. The habitat for the domestic dog, since the beginning, was with humans. Dogs can’t survive in the wild. Animal rights extremists want to cause the extinction of all domesticated animals, including the dog. That is their solution.

6.) Animal Sanctuaries: Attempts have been made to create animal sanctuaries for excess unwanted dogs. However, these quickly fill up to capacity. In addition, sometimes these facilities go bankrupt and then there is no place for these excess dogs. Further, we are often saving dogs that would have no home except for these sanctuaries. For example, there are sanctuaries for wolf hybrids. There are sanctuaries for dangerous dogs, or for dogs of a specific breed, or dogs that have been condemned to die by a court unless housed there. With wild animals, excess animals are sometimes sold to preserves for trophy hunters to kill. No one likes to talk about it, but those are the facts. Zoos can’t keep as many males as females. So, excess males have to be disposed of somehow.

7.) Roadside Zoos And Circuses: In the old days, roadside zoos and circuses created entertainment shows with trained animals for people to see. That is no longer done in most modern countries, but it is still done in many third world countries.

8.) Donation To Research: Dogs have been used as research subjects for decades. From behavioral studies to medical research, dogs have been used as test subjects. How do you think that the dog foods you buy were created? They were first tested on dogs to see what happened. Food research is still ongoing, and there still isn’t a complete knowledge of what is the right way to feed a dog. We are still feeding imbalanced diets to dogs, and for some, it is causing medical problems and early death. There are also wild animals that eat dog food, such as wild canines in the zoo. Not enough is known about their nutritional needs, and if we are to save some of these species, then research has to be performed. Dogs are used. Is it ethical to donate excess dogs to research?

9.) Euthanasia Of Excess: We already know that excess dogs, by the millions, are killed in shelters every year. In nature, the excess wild animals, dead or alive, are eaten by a predator. There is no humane mechanism like that for the domestic dog.

10.) Publicity Of The Problem and New Laws:  There have been efforts to encourage people to adopt rather than breed. There have been efforts to try and ask the public to limit the breeding of excess dogs, and to crack down on puppy mills. Clearly, this isn’t going to fix the problem of unwanted dogs. Nature will still create more dogs than homes. Further, there will always be ways of people circumventing public opinion. There are laws limiting the number of dogs someone can own, or breed, or the types of breeding facilities they can operate, and so forth. But, across the border, in other countries, they will still ship in excess dogs.

I don’t have the answer to this. No one does. There is no one perfect answer. That’s because we are fighting against nature, and there is no law, procedure, opinion, facility, or medical miracle that will change that. The only way is to limit the problem and live with that.

I do think some general philosophical points should be obvious:

1.) The overall genetic health of the entire dog population should take precedence over individual dogs. We should encourage only breeding the best dogs. Great dogs are more valuable, will have fewer temperament or health problems, and will be more adoptable. People take better care of things that they deem more valuable. That is true even when it comes to dogs. Dogs that have stable temperaments are less likely to harm a human or end up in a shelter for behavioral problems. And healthy dogs cost less to own, live longer, and therefore fewer dogs are needed to be bred to meet the demand. Our current purebred system is outdated and inhumane. Modern genetics are not being applied by breeders, and the public is unaware that we are getting dogs that are more likely to have problems than if we did things properly.

2.) We need to more efficiently share information so as to find homes for dogs. Modern technology, combined with human compassion and ingenuity, can find more homes for more dogs. Government run entities can do the police function of animal control, but they are not efficient at the housing and placement of dogs. The no kill movement is the most efficient plan and we should make the conversion.

3.) Spaying and neutering should be encouraged except for the purpose of maintaining a genetically diverse and healthy population of breeding dogs.

4.) Euthanasia should be better targeted towards saving adoptable, well adjusted, healthy dogs. Too many good dogs die. Government shelters are not good at evaluating dogs.

5.) More laws can’t fix nature. We need to accept the fact that more puppies will be bred than there are homes. So, we need to accept that fact of nature.

6.) Maybe excess dogs can be used for humane forms of animal research. I’m not talking abuse here. Zoos donate animals for research in order to save species. Biologists in the wild capture wild animals for research to save species. This area needs more thought. What if we studied the factors as to why dogs become vicious so as to breed better dogs, and to come up with better behavioral modification techniques to possibly turn these dogs around?

7.) Other Roles: maybe we can find additional useful roles for dogs in society. We already have bed bug dogs, search and rescue, drug sniffing dogs, seizure alert dogs, guide dogs, and so forth. Some of the very extreme dogs in shelters, which don’t make great pets, can sometimes find a role for professional services. This needs more thought, and we need a better pipeline to connect these dogs with the professionals that use such dogs.

It is time to “think outside the box”.