Does Cache Valley have a problem with lost and homeless pets?

If you go to Petfinder.com today, and look for available pets in Cache Valley, you’ll find that there are just under 200 dogs and cats listed who are in need of a home. That number is just between our two primary local shelter/rescue organizations. This does not include the animals currently impounded at Cache Humane Society, Blacksmith Fork Veterinary Clinic, North Cache Veterinary Clinic, Bridgerland Animal Hospital, and potentially the Nibley and Smithfield City Offices, who may or may not find their way back to their owners. It does not include what could easily be hundreds of stray and feral dogs, and especially cats roaming neighborhoods, farms and fields in the valley.

A quick search of the classifieds on ksl.com reveals more than 50 ads posted for dogs and cats looking for homes within 25 miles of Logan, and some of those ads are for litters of puppies. Some are “free to a good home” others are listed for thousands of dollars from breeders (good, responsible breeders do not advertise their puppies in the local classifieds). Either way, these are more pets in need of homes. Driving through Logan when the weather is nice and warm it’s not uncommon to see people set up with exercise pens or boxes of puppies or kittens to give away or sell (something else good breeders just don’t do).  

The staff and volunteers at our local shelter and rescue organizations I have spoken feel there is a problem. Many of them have stated that as long as healthy animals are being euthanized due to a lack of homes there is a problem. It’s easy to see their point. Every day, our local rescue volunteers talk to people who need to turn over their pets for any number of reasons. Often the problem is an inability to find suitable housing that will allow their pets to stay with them. Sometimes the “throw-away” attitude that permeates our society also applies to the animals. The cat stopped using the litter box or scratches the furniture, the dog barks, jumps on people, or runs away.

Despite all of this, people still insist on having their animals reproduce, so their kids can “witness the miracle of birth,” or because their pet is so cute, or just because they paid for a pure bred dog, never giving a thought to the physical and behavioral suitability of their animal for breeding. They often fail to consider the physical toll on their pet, and where all of those puppies or kittens are really going to end up, but, according to No More Homeless Pets in Utah (<a href=”http://www.utahpets.org/”>www.utahpets.org</a>), over 22,000 pets were euthanized in shelters in Utah in 2012, so it’s likely that some of them have contributed to that number.

<strong>What can you do to help? </strong>

<strong>Prevent unwanted litters.</strong> It has become commonplace to tell people to spay or neuter their pets, I personally feel that is a decision best carefully considered and made with the assistance of your veterinarian. Instead I would encourage you not to breed your pet, or negligently allow your pet to breed. There are some very specific criteria that should be met before you decide to breed your pet. First you should know that if you’re doing it right, you will not make any money on your puppies or kittens. You should have a good understanding of genetics. Your pet should have been examined and cleared for breeding by your veterinarian, including any testing for conditions that your breed is genetically pre-disposed to. You should have a good knowledge of the development and socialization requirements of puppies or kittens.

Puppies and kittens should stay with mom and the rest of their litter until they are, at minimum eight weeks old, and many breeders and behavior experts are now recommending ten weeks or a little longer, for the benefits of continued learning with the litter. This means you’re looking at feeding your litter for a month or more past weaning, which can get expensive. You should also plan on at least 1-2 vet visits for your litter during that time, to ensure they are healthy, and that they remain healthy. Socialization begins early, and continues throughout the time the litter is with you as a breeder, and careful socialization is vital to pets developing into happy, well adjusted adults. House training should begin early as well, plus crate training, and work on good manners.

<strong>Adopt from a rescue or shelter, or purchase from a responsible breeder. </strong> If we don’t pull our support from those who are breeding pets just to make money, or just because they can, they’re going to continue to do it, at the cost of the animals’ welfare. When you buy a puppy from a puppy mill (most puppies in pet stores are from puppy mills), you’re not rescuing that puppy, you’re dooming more dogs to a life spent in a tiny cage and being bred until they’re no longer able, at which point they’ll be discarded like garbage. You’re also taking a big risk yourself. Many pets from pet stores and backyard breeders will suffer from various lifelong physical or behavioral conditions, which often means you will pay more in vet bills than you saved on their purchase price.

<strong>Do your research, and choose a pet that suits your lifestyle. </strong> There are plenty of people who are so fully committed to the pets they adopt that they will alter their own lifestyles for the benefit of their pets. These are incredible people, and they have my highest regard. However, not everyone will be able or willing to do this, so it is important for you to do your research and seek help from a breeder, rescue, or another expert, when trying to choose the best pet for your family. Choosing one or more breeds that you’re interested in can help you narrow it down, but it’s important to remember that each animal is an individual, and just because you’ve chosen a breed you like, doesn’t mean that every animal within that breed will conform to what you want. Responsible breeders or rescues will always take the animal back if things end up not working out, whether it’s been two days or 10 years, so it’s in their best interest to place the right animal in the right home.

<strong>Prevent your pet from running off and getting lost. </strong> Everything from proper well-maintained containment to enrichment and training plays a role in this one. Management is important for both cats and dogs. Cats in particular, have no trouble squeezing through the smallest gaps in fences, or even scaling them, and are prone to wander. This has an impact on local wildlife, your neighbors, and puts your cat at greater risk of injury and disease as well. The first step for management of either species is proper supervision and containment. Many rescues prefer to place dogs in homes with fenced yards. Underground fences are discouraged for a number of reasons, including their potential to malfunction, their inability to provide pets on the inside of them with any sort of protection from outside forces, and the commonality of dogs learning to ignore the pain they cause in favor of running at large. Tie outs are discouraged for basically the same reasons.  Both invisible fences and tie outs can also lead to behavior problems, including aggressive behaviors.

<strong>Provide your pet with the training and environmental enrichment that they need. </strong> Often when pets wander, run away or get lost it’s due at least in part to a lack of enrichment (which leads to boredom) or a lack of training. Dogs and cats are smarter than people give them credit for, and when they’re bored, they can end up using their intelligence for things we’d rather they didn’t do. This can include escaping the house or yard to find entertainment. One of the first things I often encourage people to do is ditch their pet’s food bowl in favor of feeding from a toy or during entertainment. In my experience, many pets would prefer to work for their food anyway, and the added stimulation can really help keep pets out of trouble.

Training not only helps your pet learn to live in our world safely, and with good manners, but provides enrichment as a bonus. All dogs and cats should learn their names and to come when called using positive reinforcement. For the greatest benefit, training should be considered a lifelong venture, something for you and your pet to enjoy together, something to keep them safe and out of trouble, and even something to keep them active and comfortable as they age.

<strong>Provide your pet with current identification. </strong> In case your pet does accidentally become lost, identification is what can get him or her home. Tags or microchips are the most commonly used identifiers now, just make sure you keep them up to date if you change your phone number or move. If your pet is likely to slip out of or break a collar, a microchip provides a more permanent source of identification.

<strong>Volunteer, foster or donate. </strong> Cache Humane Society and Four Paws Rescue need help to provide the best possible care for the animals in their care. Shelter life can be incredibly hard on dogs and cats who have been selectively bred for thousands of years to benefit from the company of people. It’s difficult to provide large numbers of dogs with the care, enrichment, and training they need to stay happy and healthy. You can help animals who have not yet found a home by volunteering your time at a shelter or at adoption and fundraising events. Rescue organizations are also frequently in need of professional services, including everything from painting to paperwork.

Fostering a pet allows that pet to be in a home environment, much preferred to life at the shelter. It also allows potential adopters to learn a lot more about the animals they’re interested in. Foster families can provide information that is nearly impossible to learn about an animal in a shelter.  Fostering also means there is more room at the shelter if it’s needed, which means more lives can be saved because there is a safe place for them to stay.

When donating to humane or rescue organizations, it’s best to stay local. Donating to national organizations is great, but it rarely helps the animals in your immediate area. Before you donate, get to know the people at the organization and what they really need. Make sure you’re comfortable with their mission.  Visit their facility if you can, you may find you have something to offer that they haven’t even gotten around to asking for yet.

For more information on helping our local rescues, or to find adoptable pets check out: 

<a href=”http://www.cachehumane.org” target=”_blank”>http://www.cachehumane.org</a>

<a href=”http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/4paws.html”>http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/4paws.html</a>

To find where animals picked up by animal control in your locality are taken go to:

<a href=”http://www.cachehumane.org/resources/animal-control/”>http://www.cachehumane.org/resources/animal-control/</a>

For help with choosing a pet, training, or enrichment find me at: 

<a href=”http://www.mtnviewvet.com/training/” target=”_blank”>http://www.mtnviewvet.com/training/</a>

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