Pet abandonment, pet overpopulation and animal shelter/rescue overcrowding are all significant problems in the US, and also other countries across the world.
In this guide, we look at a number of potential solutions to better address these problems.
Summary – How To Decrease The Rate Of Pet Abandonment, & Overcrowding In Animals Shelters & Rescues
Understanding The Main Reasons Why People Give Up Their Pets
We put together a list outlining the main reasons why people give up their pets in the first place.
Understanding these reasons as a starting point can help us figure out where to focus our resources (attention, time and money) in preventing people giving up pets.
Understanding The Stats On Stray Animals, Pet Abandonment, Pet Overpopulation, & Animal Shelter Overcrowding
The same point can be made about understanding the main stats on stray animals, pet abandonment, pet overpopulation and animal shelter overcrowding.
Understanding how and why these things happen, and the extent of each issue, can better help in formulating solutions to these issues.
Summary Of Main Solutions To Main Causes Of Issues
Some of the main solutions to address the surrendering of pets, along with stray animals, pet overpopulation, and animal shelter overcrowding might include:
– Decrease the number of pets being bred, and the number of pet breeders in total
– Increase the level of responsibility and standards of both the breeder and the owner have in providing a home for a pet for the pet’s entire life
– Increase adoption and rescue rates of pets in shelters and rescues
– Increase the number of pets being spayed and neutered (to prevent unwanted and unplanned births and litters)
– Focus particularly on helping or educating the main groups of people at risk of giving up their pets
Low income earners earning less than $50,000 a year, and those living in rental homes or those with housing issues such as a lack of space
Older people over 65 can also sometimes fit in these groups
– Provide more emergency funding to assistance programs that help ‘at-risk’ groups of people in particular, but also other people with short and long term issues they are facing with keeping their pets.
These programs might conditionally help with low cost or free pet health and veterinary care, spaying and neutering, pet behavioral/obedience training (some reports show that over 90% of surrendered pets have had no obedience training), pet supplies and food, pet boarding (for people moving house or going away for a period of time), rental housing pet deposits, and so on
– Particularly focus on dogs between 5 months and 3 years of age (make up 40 to 47% of dogs surrendered), and dogs owned between 7 months to 1 year (make up 30 to 37% of dogs surrendered (petfinder.com)
– More education and awareness on, and more legal regulations introduced that support and enforce the above points
Full List Of Solutions
A full list of solutions outlined in the guide below are:
Better regulations on, more restrictions on, and more accountability and responsibility on pet breeding
Better screening and testing of, and more accountability and responsibility on potential owners
Consider mandatory enforcement of ethical/responsible pet networks and associations (with standards and rules)
Better enforcement of responsible spaying and neutering of pets
Emergency pet retention and support programs
Better awareness and education for pet owners on how they can afford emergency vet care
More awareness about the importance of pet insurance
More awareness about increasing the rate of adoption and rescue
Increase education (perhaps in schools and workplaces) of what the commitment of owning a pet for a lifetime really entails (to reduce novelty and impulse buying)
Explore the potential for expanding the number of pet friendly rentals
More funding to pet surrender and support programs
Consider how co-owning pets could work in reality
Educate owners on re-homing, and also advance planning for their pet/s
Greater awareness for pet owners of what they can do before seriously considering surrendering or giving up their pet
1. Better regulations on, more restrictions on, and more accountability and responsibility on pet breeding
A huge reason there are so many pets given up or sent to animal shelters and rescues every year is because of the total number of pets being bred by breeders.
By law of averages, this increases the number of pets that are eventually given up.
Some breeders are responsible and find suitable ‘forever homes’ for their puppies and dogs, and also accept back puppies and dogs that new owners can’t keep in extenuating circumstances.
But, some breeders intentionally sell purely for profit, without as much care about what happens to the puppies/dogs.
Reducing the number of breeders overall, reducing the number of irresponsible backyard breeders and pet shops that sell puppies, and better regulating of who is allowed to breed dogs (and how), is one potential solution to this problem.
2. Better screening and testing of, and more responsibility and accountability on potential buyers/owners
Certain groups of people are significantly more likely (according to surveys and reports conducted on pet abandonment) to give up their pets.
These groups are low income earners (earning $50,000 or less), and those living in communities with high poverty rates.
Introducing an income test (provide evidence of past pay cheques for example) for prospective owners and pet buyers is one way to address this risk.
With renters being another group of concern, and also those with a lack of housing space or those with housing issues that are incompatible with keeping a pet – there could also be a screening process and testing for these groups of people to see that the dog is suitable for a particular living situation.
3. Consider mandatory enforcement of ethical/responsible pet networks and associations
There are already ethical pet networks/associations out there that match responsible breeders with responsible owners.
A requirement of some of these associations is that breeders and/or owners have to commit to a lifelong re-homing program for pets i.e. the pets are never without a home.
An example of one of these associations is the Australian Association of Pet Dog Breeders.
4. Better enforcement of responsible spaying and neutering of pets
Not desexing pets means a higher incidence rate of unwanted litters and unwanted births.
More awareness around this and subsidized spaying and neutering services could help solve this issue.
In some reports, approximately half of the pets (42.8% of dogs; 50.8% of cats) surrendered were not neutered (petfinder.com)
Obviously it would have to be cross checked what dogs this is safe and healthy for, and what dogs it might not be.
5. Pet retention and support programs
One example is the ASPCA’s “Safety Net” program, and another example is the program run by the Animal Humane Society.
The Safety Net program for example has obtained data that up to 80% of the people they help end up keeping their pets in the short/early term [but there is no long term data we could find yet].
These sorts of programs might offer assistance to owners in need via low cost or free pet support services such as:
Health care and veterinary services
Registration and microchipping
Spaying and neutering
Vaccines and medicine
Obedience/behavioral training and socialisation
Pet supplies and dog food (pet food banks)
Pet boarding and temporary stay or foster services
Paying for pet deposits in rentals
Giving advice on how to deal with pet allergies
Having rehabilitation programs for dogs with aggression issues
… and more
It’s been found in one survey that up to 80% of people are unaware of the resources out there to help support them and their pets, but up to 88% choose to pursue finding out about resources rather than going straight to surrendering their pet (aspcapro.org)
In regards to vet help and obedience help in particular, some surrendered pet studies show:
Many of the pets relinquished (33% of dogs; 46.9% of cats) had not been to a veterinarian.
Most dogs (96%) had not received any obedience training
Read more on support and retention programs in the ASPCA.org, nextavenue.org and animalhumanesociety.org resources
6. Teach people what their options are for affording veterinary care, or emergency veterinary care
There can be more affordable ways to get veterinary care for pets that people aren’t aware of – and knowing your options in regards to pet health services can certainly help.
Read more about working with vets, financial assistance, and fundraising and temporary credit at humanesociety.org
7. More awareness about the importance of pet insurance
Pet insurance can save thousands in the event of an emergency.
There are affordable options out there, but there needs to be more awareness around it. Breeders and vets might play a role in this.
8. More awareness about increasing the rate of adoption and rescue
Existing animal shelters and adoption places need to continue to empty out (so resources and money/time can be directed to solving other pet problems)
Increasing awareness about how potential owners can find suitable pets might be one way to achieve this.
9. Increase education and awareness on what owning a pet for the entirety of its life entails
Some people just have no idea what is required to own a pet.
Breeders might produce standard documents in the future for owners to sign that shows they have read, understood and accepted the financial, time, exercise, socialisation and other responsibilities (such as obedience and behavioral training, and understanding that a dog is a dog and not a human), and investments, that owners with have to take on and make.
10. Increase the number of pet friendly rentals, or explore the need for wider acceptance of pet bond deposits
This is a tricky one because landlords have a right to refuse pets on their privately owned properties.
But, increasing the number of pet friendly rentals and having a wider acceptance of pet bonds/deposits could help more owners keep their pets.
11. More funding to pet surrender and support programs
Programs like the ones mentioned above that provide basic pet care services and basic support for owners thinking of giving up their pets need more money.
More funding would help more pets stay out of shelters and rescues, and help less pets be euthanized.
12. Consider how co-owning pets could work in reality
One idea floated by some people is the idea of co-owning a pet.
This is the idea that two groups of people share ownership of the pet, and agree to or 50/50 split care, bills, and other ownership responsibilities.
It would provide a safety net in the situation that one group of people can’t care for the pet anymore.
Another similar idea to this is the idea that an owner has to name a secondary party who would be required to take care of their pet should they be unable to anymore.
This party would have to be identified/registered at the time of buying the pet.
13. Educate owners on re-homing, and also advance planning for their pet/s
Re-homing may be the only option for some owners – people should know how to do this in an easy but responsible way so they don’t have to resort to shelters and rescues.
Furthermore, some owners might age, or experience mental or physical challenges that render them incapable of caring for their pet for a period of time.
Advance planning the care of your pet in the event something happens to you one way to address this.
Speak to friends, family or start researching re-homing programs and options.
14. Greater awareness for pet owners of what they can do before seriously considering surrendering or giving up their pet …
Owners themselves, or friends or family members might be considering giving up or surrendering their pet.
Before that become a reality, some options that pet owners might explore might be:
– Call a pet support program in your area
A lot of people might give up their pet due to financial challenges.
Pet support programs can do a range of things such as offering discounted or free basic vet services, spaying and neutering, obedience/behavioral training, temporary pet boarding and fostering, and more.
In the US, two examples are the ASPCA launched “Safety Net” program, and another is the program run by the Animal Humane Society.
Read more on them at:
The Need To Help People Keep Their Pets (aspca.org)
Why People Give Up Their Pets (nextavenue.org)
AHS Annual Report (animalhumanesociety.org)
– Search for pet food banks and other pet support initiatives
Pet food banks are one example of initiatives set up to provide help to pets and pet owners in need.
Do an online search for local pet related help initiatives in your area.
– Read your local pet surrender portal, or call your local pet helpline
Do an online search for pet portals or pet surrender hotlines in your country or state.
RSPCA Queensland has a pet portal, and the Animal Human society has a pet helpline – both as examples.
Both services (portals and helplines) help pet owners know their options are that might help them keep their pet, when they are thinking of surrendering their pets.
Read more on each service in the rspcaqld.org.au and animalhumanesociety.org resources
Support lines and pet portals have already been shown to help owners assess their options when thinking about giving up their pet, and know the resources that are available to them to help them keep their pet/s.
In many cases, these services have helped drastically improve pet retention rates.
Some results achieved from the pet portal are:
There has been 22% fewer surrenders from 2016-2017
Each pet that is surrendered to the RSPCA costs about $25/day to care for and the surrender portal have saved the RSPCA an estimated $800,000 in animal care costs
For every 9.59 views on the Surrender Portal, there was one pet owner that changed their mind about surrendering their pet
– Ask yourself the exact reasons that you’re wanting to give up your pet, and ask yourself what the solutions might be
There are some common reasons people give up their pets, and some common solutions to those reasons.
Some solutions are listed in the guide above, but this guide outlines top reasons people give up their pets – Reasons Why People Give Up Or Surrender Their Pets
You can also do a search engine search for your exact problem, and see if there is a short term and long term solution for it that you haven’t yet considered.
– Pursue the option of re-homing before animal shelters, or euthanasia
Pet helplines, portals, animal care organisations, and even animal shelters can all help you find out the easiest and best ways to go about rehoming your pet to a loving home (and not someone who will mistreat your pet).
When the other options are shelters or euthanasia – it makes much more sense to re-home.
– Call your breeder, and ask if they can help in any way
Responsible breeders (if you bought your dog from a breeder) will want to help if you need to give up your pet for any reason.
It can be worth giving them a call and explaining your situation and seeing if there is anything they can help you with.
Some breeders even offer to take back dogs and re-home them themselves.