A Pet Overpopulation Survey

For those of you who have been on my Facebook page for a while, you are familiar with the heated debates that my posts often inspire. Recently, I posted some excerpts from my upcoming book, Friendly Fire, which included a graphic showing there are not too many animals and too few homes; that, in fact, pet overpopulation is a myth:

The information revealed by these statistics is backed by the experience of numerous communities which have replaced killing with adoption. It is backed by national studies including those from the Humane Society of the United States (which does not publicly promote this study given that it reveals that the excuse they have long used to excuse the killing in shelters does not actually exist). And it is based on a database of 1,100 agencies, as well as state reporting requirements for shelters. This graphic has been cross-posted many times and it usually brings new people to the page, people who would no doubt self-identify as “animal lovers” because they are involved with rescue or work at a shelter. Although the evidence supporting the claim that pet overpopulation exists is entirely without a factual basis, there is nonetheless frequently a vehement backlash and antagonism toward this information. I find this baffling because from the animals’ perspective, it can only be regarded as good news. It means that the killing of animals is without any practical “justification”* and we can and should be a No Kill nation today.

Because an essential part of fostering change and solving problems is to treat the root cause of a problem rather than its symptoms, I spend quite lot of time trying to understand not just the facts about shelter killing so that we can truly understand why it is happening, but, just as important, the human psychology which enables it. There is a tremendous amount of dogma and a whole series of rationalizations built up to defend and justify the killing of animals in American shelters, which are so often repeated and have been for decades that pet overpopulation is accepted as gospel truth when it is fact neither the truth nor based on evidence.

When you question any of this insupportable dogma, however, you are often the recipient of tremendous scorn and derision. I have written before that I think this stems from the fact that the edifice which supports shelter killing is so unsound that it must be zealously protected. It is a precarious house of cards, based on euphemisms, misinformation and lies. And in order to rationalize choices and actions that end the lives of animals,  when you are someone vested in those excuses—the director of a kill shelter or the head of a large national group that defends them—you are very threatened whenever anyone questions that structure (read “The Age of Guilt” by clicking here). In addition, groups like HSUS have grown very large and very rich by simply lamenting the killing, even when they have not offered a single solution of their own to bring it to an end. In fact, they fought every innovation that ever has. The No Kill movement now threatens to expose them for the frauds that they are—and, in so doing, strip them of their claimed “expertise,” as well as their fundraising potential. As a result, the darker, though pedestrian, impulses of greed and power are motivating them to maintain the status quo of killing, even in the face of their own study which proves pet overpopulation is a myth.

But what about people that have no vested career interest in shelter killing? What about people who  rescue animals or simply identify themselves as animal lovers—why do some of them respond with such hostility to what in truth is cause for celebration? In other words, the data and experience notwithstanding, why do some people continue to cling to the fiction that pet overpopulation is real when they do not have evidence to support it aside from a hopeless tautology (because shelters kill, there is pet overpopulation; there is pet overpopulation because shelters kill) or emphatic statements written in ALL CAPS that are devoid of facts but drowning in exclamation points (PET OVERPOPULATION IS REAL!!!!!!!!!!)?

Is it because they hate puppy mills so much—admittedly with good reason (read “Ethical Consistency for True Dog Lovers” by clicking here)—they fear that if they admit pet overpopulation is a myth, it will encourage puppy mills, even though the two are entirely distinct—puppy mills should still be shut down regardless—and puppy mills existed even when we all collectively believed in pet overpopulation? Is it because they are in the trenches and have become myopic, blind to the bigger, more optimistic and hopeful truth? Is it because when you tell them that in fact there is not a crisis of uncaring about dogs and cats by the American public, that they feel threatened by that? As sick and tragic as it sounds, is it because they want pet overpopulation to be true because saving animals they believe are otherwise doomed makes them feel superior to the masses and the end of shelter killing means an end to their status as “saviors”? Are they simply too trusting of the large national groups and unwilling to question their most sacred beliefs that they are  suspicious of anyone who questions those organizations to whom they are so loyal and devoted?

Regardless of the reason, it appears that a belief in the existence of pet overpopulation is nothing more than received wisdom, where data, analysis, experience and evidence have no place. And, for whatever reason, they are very careful not to look at data, not to challenge the dogma in light of experience, and not to put their beliefs through evidentiary challenges.  When you actually look at those things, however, you can no longer deny the truth. Even groups like HSUS can no longer deny that pet overpopulation is a myth. Their own study confirms it. Quietly, they have been phasing out the term in their literature and replacing it with  “pet homelessness” or “shelter overpopulation.” Unfortunately, their supporters did not get the memo that pet overpopulation is a myth because no memo went out. Rather than share the good news with their members, HSUS simply and stealthily hoped no one would notice the change in vernacular. Why? They still defend killing. They still support the killers. And they are still dedicated to keeping their donors in the dark in order to continue bilking them for donations which will not help animals in shelters, but continue to enrich their already bloated coffers.

If you are one of those people who believes you “love” animals but continues to defend killing based on a belief in pet overpopulation, I want to understand why it is that—when the very thing which you have publicly lamenting all these years as the “tragic” cause of animal killing turns out NOT to exist—you do not celebrate, but rather, go on the attack in its defense, even as HSUS—the flagship of the killing establishment—has abandoned you in the belief. Here is my survey for you:

  1. I believe that there are too many animals (“supply”) and too few homes (“demand”). The latest data says three million dogs and cats are killed but for a home. I believe demand exceeds supply because my data shows demand is___________________ [fill in number of homes annually, please state whether this includes replacement homes (a pet dies or runs away), new homes (a first pet) and expanding homes (a second, third, etc. pet), as well as your source].
  2. There are roughly 70 communities representing about 200 cities and towns across the U.S. that achieved No Kill, many of them overnight simply by changing the way the shelter operated. Some of these communities are small, some large taking in over 20,000 animals a year and they cover the demographic spectrum (urban, rural, liberal, conservative, affluent, impoverished, municipal shelter, private shelter). They are not “turning animals away” as they are open admission municipal shelters. Animals are not sitting in cages and kennels for years (see No. 5, below). This is logically inconsistent with pet overpopulation since they adopted their way out of killing, many times before a comprehensive spay/neuter program was in place. Yet I can prove that pet overpopulation is real in spite of these successes because ________________________________________________.
  3. There are communities with per capita intake rates 20 times higher than New York City that are No Kill, higher than the intake rates in most communities. This is logically inconsistent with pet overpopulation. Yet I can prove that pet overpopulation is real in spite of this information because ______________________.
  4. Since puppy mills and pet stores that sell milled animals are only in it for the money, they wouldn’t exist if they weren’t making money by selling animals. And given that they wouldn’t be selling animals if there weren’t plenty of homes available, if pet overpopulation is real, why do puppy mills and pet stores exist? My answer is ______________________________.
  5. When shelters do a good job, when they keep animals alive long enough to be adopted, when they market their animals, when they have good customer service, when they fully implement all the programs of the No Kill Equation, animals live instead of die. And they are not sitting in cages or kennels for year. Average length of stay runs from 8 to about 14 days, about the time a dog spends in a boarding kennel when his family is on vacation. My response: ________________________.

Take the survey by clicking here.

P.S. Please: this is a survey, not a free for all. Answer the questions. If you want to add something after you answer the questions, feel free. But no STATEMENTS IN ALL CAPS, no sentences that end in multiple exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, no tautologies, no platitudes, no ad hominem attacks, no tantrums. In short, no crazy. Make your case logically, with data and other evidence. But if you are going to argue that there is a supply (too many animals) and demand (not enough homes) imbalance, you must state the demand side of the equation (and, once again, be sure to indicate whether your demand data includes  replacement homes, new homes and expanding homes, as well as your source).


* Even if “pet overpopulation” was real, shelter killing would still be immoral. Advancing a practical over an ethical argument has long been the safe haven for those who want to justify untoward practices. Even accepting the sincerity of the claim, even if the practical calculus was correct, protecting life that is not suffering is a timeless and absolute principle upon which responsible advocates must tailor their practices. Every action they take must be subservient to preserving life. Ethics will always trump the practical and the two are seldom so inexorably linked that an untoward action must follow some fixed practical imperative.