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We Do Not Have A Problem With Our Animal Shelters

by Dr. Ian Kupkee

On one of our recent travels, we met a lovely couple from the Northeast. As is often the case, the get-to-know-you banter came around to the questions of where we were from, and what we did for a living. When I told them we ran a veterinary hospital in Miami, the husband just shook his head.

I've heard you people have a serious animal shelter problem."

I was at a loss for words, an affliction which thankfully, rarely affects my wife.

"Not at all," she shot back. "But our animal shelters have a pretty serious people problem."

It’s Time to Clear The Shelters - Again

Last year, NBC-owned stations from all over the country joined forces with over 400 animal shelters, with the goal of clearing the shelters in just one day. Across the nation, roughly 20,000 dogs and cats found their forever homes. It was an exciting event, and I was simultaneously humbled and thrilled to have been included.

The best part? This year, on July 23rd, we’re doing it again.

The worst part? This year, on July 23rd, we’re doing it again.

Because while memories of last year’s empty kennels and quiet hallways are still fresh in my mind, the sad truth is that once again, our shelters are at maximum capacity.

How Does This Happen?

Knowing our travel companions were from the Northeast made their bewilderment a little easier to forgive. In their neck of the woods, the "shelter problems" are strikingly different. Many places in the Northeast suffer from a shortage of adoptable pets. In fact, some such communities request periodic "transports" of homeless pets from our shelters to theirs.

In fairness to our travel mates, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around that concept, so their confusion over our situation is understandable. Here in South Florida, our perpetually warm weather means high survival rates for puppies and kittens that are born to stray dogs and free-roaming cats. Without putting too fine a point on it, let’s just say that the changing seasons up north create a different set of parameters and leave it at that. But it’s not just climate reality that keeps their stray and shelter pet populations in check. The main factor driving their low shelter pet population is their sky-high rate of spay/neuter compliance.

Are You A Part Of The Problem?

Before I go any further, let me make a couple of things clear. If your pet is not a candidate for an early spay or neuter procedure due to a legitimate veterinary concern, this next bit is not for you. Ditto for those of you whose pets are not healthy enough to have surgery. Carry on, and spay or neuter your pet if or when your veterinarian decides the time is right.

Additionally, if you are a licensed, responsible, conscientious breeder of healthy, purpose-bred dogs, I am not addressing you either. Ditto for those of you with genetically strong specimens whose bloodlines will genuinely benefit future generations of the breed. By all means, keep reading and thanks for the click, but don’t send me hate mail. We’re good.

Finally, if you would absolutely love to get your pet spayed or neutered, but simply cannot afford to do so, I’m not calling you out either. I am no stranger to financial hardship. I’ve been there, and it sucks. I get it. Click here for a list of organizations that may be able to spay or neuter your pet at a steeply reduced price, or perhaps even for free.  These organizations are here to help, and would love for you to take advantage of their services.

Having spelled out my disclaimers, let me now say this.

As a forces kid, I grew up in over a half dozen different countries. As an adult, I’ve lived and practiced veterinary medicine throughout the country. I’ve run spay/neuter clinics in rural Central America.

Nowhere have I seen such stubborn resistance towards the concept of spaying and neutering as I have seen right here in my own proverbial backyard. It is mind-boggling, it is an embarrassment to our community, and it’s literally killing our animals.

If you don’t fall into one of the "free pass" categories listed above, and you’re getting ready to send me a piece of your mind, understand that I’ve probably heard some version of your objection before. Indeed, the reasons I have heard for spay/neuter non-compliance are so varied and surreal that they warrant their own separate column. And rest assured, that’s in the works!

I’ll also be discussing the benefits of spaying and neutering for those who may be new to pet ownership, and dissolving the myths that lead to resistance in the first place. We’ll talk about the reasons pets are surrendered to shelters, and what you can do to avoid situations that may force you to give up your pet. There are many unavoidable and heartbreaking reasons why a pet may end up in a shelter. But many of these situations can be headed off at the pass by planning ahead, and practicing due diligence.

Clear The Shelters is an event that has forever changed the lives of thousands of pets. But the fact that it is turning into an annual event should give us cause for concern. It’s only been a year, and once again, many facilities are bursting at the seams. And that, my friends, is not a shelter problem.

It’s a people problem.

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Do you have a question for Dr. Kupkee?

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic

Do you have a question for Dr. Kupkee? Send him an email by clicking here.

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