While researching ideas to write for this blog, I stumbled over this interesting fact: In 2018, over 470 million dogs were kept as pets worldwide, and there were over 370 million pet cats in the world! Approximately 80 million homes in the U.S have a pet, and about half of them have more than one pet. In fact, in 2020, we spent $103 billion on our pets in the U.S. We seem to love and cherish our pets so much that we even have National Pet Month, celebrated in April in the U.K. and in May in the U.S. And why not? I mean, where would our social media posts be without our pets?
With all that celebration and devotion, it’s hard to imagine that approximately 7.6 million companion pets are surrendered to a shelter every year. 4.2 million are dogs and 1.4 million of those dogs are euthanized. Animals have no voice of their own, no social safety net and very few rights under the law. They are helpless, and vulnerable and rely completely on the compassion of humans for their comfort. Unfortunately, many are mistreated more often than we would like to think.
Enter the shelter and rescue operations for pets. These facilities play a critical role in the lives of homeless animals. They work to reunite lost pets with their owners, they provide shelter and security to those in need, and they work to find new homes for those that are homeless or who are roaming the streets. They provide medical care to sick and injured animals and show neglected and mistreated animals that humans really can be good. For animal shelter workers, it’s often a thankless job as they balance having enough space to house all the animals, coordinating pet adoptions, and developing their campaigns to encourage people to be responsible and spay and neuter their animals. And animal shelter staffs do all of this while trying to convince people to look first at animal shelters for that special family pet.
Since many facilities function as non-profit entities, they do not always have the resources they need to do all of these things. Sadly, almost 75 percent of animals that are euthanized are healthy or have treatable conditions and could have been adopted into new homes. Senior dogs and “stigma breeds” are high on the list of dogs that are at-risk for euthanasia.
Check out this video from our 2018 campaign: https://youtu.be/o8AqrKhWVV8
Did you know that there is a difference between an animal shelter and an animal rescue? Animal shelters are physical locations that are funded by state and local governments. (Despite the government funding, shelters rely heavily on donations and volunteers.) They take in homeless animals and provide them with shelter and safety in kennels. Potential adopters can visit the shelter and ideally, adopt the animals that are housed there. Animal rescues are similar to animal shelters in that they protect homeless animals, but they do this without any government funding. They are fully supported by volunteers. A lot of them are run from private facilities or homes and usually depend on fosters to take care of pets until they can find a loving forever home. Both shelters and rescues are wonderful organizations that need our help.
In foreign countries, the situation is often more dire. There is rarely any government aid provided to the facilities and many residents are not financially able to take in a pet. Education is also lacking in some areas, causing the rescue organizations to also take on the job of educating the public about the value of spaying or neutering their pets. Animals in foreign rescues have a smaller chance of being adopted into a forever home than shelter pets in the United States. In the case of Isla Animals, they are funded solely by donations and operated almost entirely by volunteers. Their mission is to improve the quality of life of both dogs and cats in the cities and towns in Mexico and they work very hard to control overpopulation. Stray dogs (and cats) can contribute to diseases running rampant and being transferred to animals and people. When we think about stray animals in these locations, we might not always recognize the enormous social and economic issues involved, but the only real solution is to offer spay and neuter clinics and continue to provide education to locals on proper animal care. Such clinics obviously cost money.
Isla Animals is living proof that this rescue facility model can work. When launched almost twenty-five years ago, Isla Mujeres had a severe overpopulation problem. The island was overrun with homeless dogs and cats. These poor animals were infested with fleas and ticks, starving, and in poor health from living in the streets. Isla Animals set up clinics to spay and neuter pets and strays alike as well as provide free veterinary care for the residents’ pets. Relying solely on donations, they have managed to spay or neuter over 20,000 dogs and cats at their clinics. In addition, they have found homes for over 2,000 homeless animals. Each year they find homes for more than 170 pets by relying on volunteers to fly most of them to their new forever homes in the U.S. and Canada.
Our hearts go out and our hats come off to organizations like Isla Animals and so many others that devote their time and energy to the rescue, protection, and care of homeless and needy animals. If you don’t have a favorite organization, consider doing some research and find one that aligns with your values and give them a call or visit their website. Consider ways you can help them out, whether monetarily or by donating your time. Financial donations make a HUGE difference for animal charities. Donating money is fast, easy and allows facilities to use the money where it is needed most. If the nonprofit group you’re donating to is recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 organization, you might be able to deduct the value of your contribution and score yourself a bit of a tax break.
Above all else, when it’s time to consider a new furry addition to your family, please consider a rescue pet. You’ll be amazed at how full your heart will be when you know that you have done so much to save a life and provide a loving home to a pet in dire need of one.