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Each year, between 3 and 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized by animal shelters in the United States (U.S. Humane Society). In this essay the overwhelming majority of these animals are not injured or diseased, nor have they shown any type of aggressive behavior that would require them to be put down for safety reasons. Instead, these household pets are killed because their owners simply do not want to take care of them any more or because their owners are no longer in a position to have a pet (Peters).
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About half of the unwanted dogs and cats that are dropped off at animal shelters are adopted by new owners. Those pets that do not find new homes within a reasonable amount of time are destroyed (U.S. Humane Society). These senseless and unnecessary deaths could be avoided if pet owners would just be responsible and have their dogs and cats neutered or spayed. Spaying and neutering is so important that state and local governments should require pet owners to show that their pets have been spayed or neutered before they can obtain a license for the animal.
Although no one likes to think about the death of an animal, the unwanted pets that are euthanized are more fortunate than those who are simply abandoned by their owners and left to fend for themselves. When a family moves to a new home and leaves their dog or cat behind, or when someone simply drops off their pet in another neighborhood or out in the country somewhere, they are sentencing their pet to the same fate as that of a homeless person. These abandoned pets, who were totally dependent on their owners to care for them, must now find their own food and shelter if they are to survive. They also face the hazards that come along with their new homeless lifestyle, including fighting with other stray dogs and cats, traffic hazards, and disease.
In addition to the physical trauma that comes along with being homeless, dogs and cats face the emotional distress of having been abandoned by someone whom they loved. Dogs are much more loyal than humans; in fact, it was because of the canine's loyalty that wolves and other wild canines were domesticated and turned into pets. Cats can be more aloof than dogs, but even the most independent cat still has feelings of loyalty and affection. There is no way to measure the psychological trauma that an animal may experience when he or she has been abandoned.
Homeless dogs and cats also create problems in communities as they look for food in trashcans, defecate on lawns, and creating other problems. While cats tend to be loners, dogs are more social and will gather into packs, creating additional problems for neighborhoods. One of the problems that is created by unwanted animals that have not been spayed or neutered is the creation of more unwanted, homeless animals. An unspayed female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies in 6 years; an unspayed female cat can produce up to 420,000 kittens (Nash). Out of control animal populations are bad for animals and ultimately bad for humans. Colonies of feral cats and packs of dogs create health and safety hazards for people, especially for children and older people. Large groups of unwanted animals can destroy property and may even harm other animals.
Some people choose not to have their pets spayed or neutered because they believe that the procedure will change their pet's personality, make the animal fat, or have some other negative side effect. In reality, these are excuses that are not based on fact. For example, an animals personality is influenced by many factors other than his or her sex drive, including genetics and environment. These factors will not change after the animal has been sterilized. The personality changes that are associated with having been spayed or neutered actually make the animal a better pet.
Neutered male dogs and cats no longer have the tendency to roam in search of reproductive partners. Because they are not looking for sex, they are less likely to get into fights with other males. Female cats and dogs that have been spayed do not come into heat and do not attempt to find male partners. Spaying also eliminates the risk of health problems with the reproductive system, including ovarian cancers, cysts, and other complications. Animals of both sexes are more docile after they have been spayed or neutered.
Other people argue that sterilization denies the animal the right to reproduce, as if the ability to have puppies or kittens is a basic animal right that needs to be protected. It is true that the forced sterilization of people would be unethical. Pets, however, fall into a different category. If it is unethical to have pets spayed or neutered because it is a violation of their natural right to reproduce, then by that same logic, it would be unethical to force a pet to stay in your home when he or she wants to roam the streets. For that matter, the entire ethics of pet ownership could be questioned, because it is illegal and unethical for one person to own another person.
Animal rights are a serious issue. No animal should be abused, mistreated, or abandoned. Spaying and neutering protects these basic animal rights by ensuring that unwanted animals that would be abused or abandoned are not created and forced to face such a fate. It is more ethical to prevent pain and suffering before it begins than it is to end the pain only after the animal has suffered.
Some pet owners argue that their female pets should be allowed to have at least one litter before being spayed. As was noted above, the offspring of even one unspayed cat can be responsible for literally thousands of kittens over the course of a lifetime. This "only one litter" argument is often coupled with the explanation that the pet owner wants his or her child to witness the miracle of birth and to experience having a new set of puppies or kittens in the house. There are several things wrong with this argument, not the least of which is the idea that animal reproduction should be used as a form of human entertainment. Pet owners who want only one litter so they can sell the puppies or kittens are also misguided.
Puppies or kittens often go unsold, depending on the state of the economy, the pet preferences of people in the area, and other factors. The odds of a puppy or kitten getting a new owner are dramatically reduced as the animal gets older. These unwanted puppies and kittens must then be taken to the animal shelter where many of them will be destroyed. This sad process happens to purebred dogs and cats as well as to mixed breeds. Dog and cat breeding is best left to responsible breeders who know how to care for their animals and can ensure that their puppies and kittens will be sold, preferably before they are born.
Spaying and neutering pets is in the best interest of animals, people, and communities. Part of being a responsible pet owner is to make decisions on behalf of your pet. A dog or cat cannot understand the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy and unwanted offspring. Dogs and cats cannot make an informed decision about whether to be sterilized. It is the responsibility of the pet owner to make that decision for their pet and to act in their pet's best interest.
The problem of the overpopulation of dogs and cats does not only affect pet owners. This problem affects everyone who lives in an area where there is an overpopulation of animals. As noted above, loose dogs and cats cause property damage and pose a public health risk. Communities can encourage citizens who are pet owners to sterilize their pets by enforcing laws that require animals to be spayed or neutered when they are licensed.
People who care about dogs and cats should want to do what is the best interest of the animals that they claim to love. The benefits of sterilizing animals far outweighs the cost of the procedure and the potential risks, which are very low. Animals should be spayed or neutered.
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