Justice for Stray Cats and Dogs

The issue of animal rights is something that needs more attention. Being an animal-lover, I think it’s an important issue to address. Animals deserve justice where it’s due, especially if they’re being neglected or abused. The topic of animal rights covers a wide variety of circumstances, from mistreatment and unlawful conditions on meat farms to the abuse of pets in the home. However, the specific issue that I’m focusing on for this project is the growing number of stray cats and dogs, especially in urban areas. These animals that are forced to live on the streets don’t have a fair chance at life, especially in cold winter conditions. Some of these animals are born stray, but many are unwanted pets or litter of pets that owners don’t want to care for, so they simply dump them outside to fend for themselves. I don’t believe this is fair. Every cat and dog deserves to have a warm and loving home. There are animal shelters for a reason, and I think more needs to be done to make people aware of these shelters and their services. Other strays are animals that have run away from home. Although ID tags are available, not all pet owners want to purchase these or put them on their pets. Some owners have microchips put in their pets in order to track their location, making it easy to find and retrieve them if this happens. However, a lot of pets don’t get chipped, and often their owners never see them again if they get out. I believe that efforts to reunite lost pets with their owners should be stronger.

Some efforts are already in place to decrease the population of stray cats and dogs. For example, a study done by Emily Weiss and Margaret Slater of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Linda Lord of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University looked at how providing free ID tags to pet owners would increase the number of strays that are returned to their owners. In the study, a focus group of pet owners had collars with ID tags provided to and placed directly on their pets during a veterinary visit, free of charge. Before the study, only 13.8% of the owners reported that their pets were wearing ID tags; after the study, 84.3% of owner reported that their pets were wearing the ID tag (Weiss 2011, p. 265). Approximately 5% of dogs and cats were lost and more than 50% were recovered because of the ID tag (Weiss 2011, p.268). According to Weiss, “this suggests that ID tagging is an effective method to potentially decrease the stray intake into shelters as animals are recovered within the community and never enter the sheltering system” (Weiss 2011, p.268). This study also changed the attitudes of pet owners, making them more aware of the importance of ID tags. 90.5% of owners shifting their answer to “how important do you think it is for animals to wear identification at all times” from “somewhat important” to “extremely important” (Weiss 2011 p.268). This evidence supports my belief that the first step to help stray animals find a home is to change your attitude. This study specifically talks about the attitudes of owners themselves, however I also think the attitude of the general population and anyone that comes across a stray is important to change as well.

Another way to help stray animals is to improve the relationship between shelters and veterinarians. In his article, “Shelters and veterinarians: The problem with cats”, Brendan Howard discusses the in many communicates, current relationships between the two isn’t good. According to Howard, 41% of veterinarians say they support shelters, but shelters don’t support them, and 35% of shelters say they support veterinarians, but veterinarians don’t support them (Howard 2013, p.19). Clearly there is some miscommunication going on. I believe that in order to provide the best services to stray animals, veterinarians and shelters need to be constantly working with one another, both providing an extensive amount of care and services to stray cats and dogs. There are some groups already taking efforts to improve veterinary and shelter relations. One these is the feline advocacy group the CATalyst Council. Dr. Jane Blunt is “hopeful that shelters and veterinarians share enough common ground to work together in their communities to improve the health and adoptions rates of felines” (Howard 2013, p.20). Increased communication and compliance between shelters and vets will help more stray animals find homes.

The easiest way to prevent the number of strays is to decrease the number of pets that are abandoned by their owners. Cats and dogs that are born and live on the streets their whole life have an easier time adapting to this kind of harsh environment. However, if an animal is domesticated and raised in a home, and then later abandoned outside, they are going to have a harder time surviving on their own. A study done by Kathryn Dybdall and Rosemary Strasser of the University of Nebraska and Tanja Katz of the Nebraska Humane Society looked the behaviors and stress levels of cats in shelters, comparing those of domestics cats surrendered by their owner (OS) to found stray cats (S). After observing of a group of random cats, both OS and S for three days at the Nebraska Humane Society, it was discovered that OS cats displayed significantly higher behavioral stress than S cats (Dybdall 2007, p.89). Dybdall discusses that although placement in a shelter is putting both groups in a unfamiliar environment, the OS cats “have an additional psychosocial stressor resulting from an involuntary social separation from their primary caretaker and home environment” (Dybdall 2007, p.92). This stress is not only harmful to the OS cats’ mental health, but can also effect their physical health as well. Evidence shows that unrelieved stress in cats can increase their susceptibility to disease once in the shelter (Dybdall 2007, p.93). All of this evidence proves domestic cats that become strays rarely have a chance at a good life. If the pet owner community is more aware of this information, perhaps the number of pets that are abandoned by their owners will decrease. To be fair, some people are put into circumstances where they don’t want to get rid of their pets but have to; like if they couldn’t support them financially anymore or if they’re moving. However, there are other options besides just throwing your pet outside or taking them to a shelter, such as passing the pet over to a new home. A stronger community of pet owners, and those interested in owning a pet needs to be built to decrease the number of OS cats being put in shelters. If a pet can be directly exchanged between owners, the shelter can be avoided entirely.

The number of cats and dogs that are stray is much higher than it should be. The percentage of these animals that once had a home is even higher. Efforts have already been made to decrease these numbers. It’s been proven that if pets have free ID tags placed on them at veterinary visits, the numbers of lost pets will decrease. An improved relationship between shelters and veterinarians will help improve the care that animals receive while at a shelter. However, these efforts need to be stronger, and more resources should be available to pet owners, shelters, and veterinarians to help stray animals.

Works Cited

 Weiss, E., Slater, M., & Lord, L. (2011). Retention of provided identification for dogs and cats seen in veterinary clinics and adopted from shelters in Oklahoma City, OK, USA. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 101, 265-269.

Howard, B. (2013). Shelters and veterinarians: The problem with cats. Veterinary Economics, 54.1, 18-20.

Dybdall, K., Strasser, R., & Katz, T. (2007). Behavioral Differences Between Owner Surrender And Stray Domestic Cats After Entering An Animal Shelter. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 104, 85-94.

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