The Plight of Homeless Dogs in America

Animal homelessness has become an epidemic in the United States.  Every year 3.9 million dogs end up in a shelter across the United States.  Of those sheltered dogs, 670,00 were euthanized. The fact is, human irresponsibility, is the main reason our United States is overrun with sheltered animals.  The suffering of Americas’ dogs in shelters is due to societies lack of planning for the future, our resistance to spay and neuter, and our lack of knowledge and patience to train our animals.  It would stand to reason, that humans should step up and help fix a problem we have created

We as humans have a responsibility to the animals in our charge.  The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) believes that “Animal welfare is a human responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and when necessary, humane euthanasia.”

Accidental litters are a main reason so many dogs end up in shelters.  Many owners do not consider spay and neutering a priority, or they think it is cruel.  However, it is far less humane to euthanize unwanted animals that no one can care for then it is to spay or neuter them.  In 2019 The San Diego Humane Society performed 13,933 spay/neuter surgeries for shelter animals and 3,540 spay/neuter surgeries for owned pets which is a good start, but more education and low-cost spay/neuter services are one of the most important ways to prevent unplanned litters, most of whom will end up in shelters.

Sometimes a dog owner has unrealistic expectations of a companion animal. He may think getting a puppy is fun. However, not researching breed or temperament could lead to an unhappy pet owner.  Many dog owners do not consider that animals go through the “teenage” years as well. 47.7% of dogs surrendered to shelters are in their adolescent years.  Rather than getting appropriate training, they relinquish it to a shelter or dump it on the streets. What it boils down to is that people consider their animal's temporary property that they can discard at will.  The truth is dogs are deeply feeling creatures with the mentality of a 2-year-old. When someone discards a dog, they are in essence discarding a toddler.  Also, dogs have been conditioned over thousands of years to bond with humans because of domestication. Once a bond has been formed between the dog and owner, he will be loyal to the point of death.  The consequences of breaking that bond and rehoming a dog can lead to serious depression and health issues. He may lose interest in food and play and suffer anxiety after rehoming.  This kind of stress can lead to weight loss and stomach upset. Before bringing a dog home the potential owner should examine if they can deeply commit to their dog with a “till death till you part” kind of attitude.

Another reason many owners relinquish their dogs is due to behavioral problems or aggression.  Often, a problem behavior gets out of hand due to the owners' inexperience.  For example, if a dog continually pees in the house, the owner is possibly not cleaning the spot properly.  If an enzymatic cleaner is not used the dog could be drawn to the urine smell still adhering to the floor or carpet.  Other easy behavioral problems to fix include chewing, barking, digging, and counter surfing, yet these are the problems that can easily get a dog rehomed.  Poor behavior can be worked through if the owner is consistent and patient.  Aggression or reactivity such as barking, lunging, and growling is more troublesome but can also be fixed with strong leadership and training.  In some cases, exposing your dog to new experiences can help to desensitize them to the sights and smells, and sounds that make them reactive.  In moderate to severe cases, a professional trainer might be necessary.  But in any case, it is the responsibility of every pet owner to try to work through behavioral issues before they give up their dog.

Once a dog reaches a shelter or rescue organization, there are many obstacles to making the dog adoptable. Shelters and rescue organizations rely heavily on volunteers and donations to help give these dogs a second chance. What the shelters are seeing is the longer dogs are in kennels, the longer dogs stay in shelters, the crazier they are being driven and the more intense their behaviors get.  Socialization is key to helping these dogs because lack of socialization can truly isolate a dog. When shelter workers and volunteers patiently get the dogs accustomed to petting and touching through kindness and positive reinforcement it helps the dog overcome his fear and embrace positive behavior, whether it is through play with other dogs, being fostered in a home, or being walked regularly by volunteers.  

If society were more conscious of how we think of animals, we could combat the dog homeless epidemic in America.  If we were more responsible about spay and neutering and did not think of our dogs as disposable, there would not be a need for over 40,000 shelters and rescues in America.  Since we have not reached that level of consciousness, it has become our moral obligation, to volunteer our time and money and maybe even our homes to ensure that the homeless dogs suffering all over the country can find the loving homes they deserve.