Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation in America by Nathan J. Winograd

In our blog of April 4, 2008, we wrote the following:

An initial reaction to Mr. Winograd’s book by those involved in the animal protection movement is that his assertion that the problem of pet overpopulation in the United States is a “myth” is utterly indefensible. Everyone in this movement is painfully aware that millions of healthy dogs and cats are killed in shelters annually. Indeed, the author himself puts the figure at about five million. (Mr. Winograd’s website can be found HERE. At the bottom of his home page is a YouTube interview where he explains his theory of No Kill.)

Thus, if millions of companion animals are put down every year, how can there not be an overpopulation problem?

In his well researched, extremely persuasive book, Mr. Winograd provides the answer. One paragraph sums up his position:

In theory, we could be a No Kill nation tomorrow. Based on the number of existing households with pets who have a pet die or run away, more homes potentially become available each year for cats than the number of cats who enter shelters, while more than twice as many homes potentially become available each year for dogs than the number of dogs who enter shelters. Based on the existing lifespan of existing pet dogs and cats, every year more families are potentially looking to bring a new dog or cat into their home than currently enter shelters. According to one commentator, “since the inventory of pet-owning homes is growing, not just holding even, adoption could in theory replace all population control killing right now–if the animals and potential adopters were better introduced.” In other words, if shelters did a better job at adoptions [and elsewhere in his book the author argues convincingly that too many do a rotten job], they could eliminate all population control killing today. This does not include the fact that the market of homes (the number of homes that do not currently have a dog or cat but will acquire one) is expanding rapidly. If shelters increased market share by just a few percentage points, we could be a No Kill nation right now. But we are far from it. (My emphasis.)

If the author’s figures are correct, that would mean that the vast majority of the five million cats and dogs killed each year (allowing for the sick, seriously injured, and otherwise unadoptable) could find homes–and indeed “No Kill” could be a reality.

But there’s a catch–which is why Mr. Winograd hedges his argument with the “in theory” qualifier.

The catch is that the “overpopulation” mindset must be radically altered, and shelters must do “a better job at adoptions”–which is not impossible.

In the meantime, what is to be done?

To his credit, the author strongly supports spay/neuter, making that point throughout his book.

For example, he notes that the American Veterinary Medical Association “opposed the endorsement of municipal- or SPCA-administered spay/neuter clinics that provided the poor an alternative to the prohibitively high prices charged by some private practice veterinarians.”

“Sterilization of animals to curb their reproductive capacity thus leading to the birth of fewer dogs and cats and consequently fewer surrenders to shelters, is one of the keys to substantially reducing shelter killing.”

“While laws were passed to force people to spay or neuter their pets, little was done about the high cost of sterilization that kept poor people from complying.”

“The genesis of the failed model [solution] can be found at the 1974 meeting at which self-proclaimed animal welfare ‘leaders’ failed to demand the one thing that could have achieved results: low-cost and free spay/neuter, particularly for the pet of the poor.”

“Study after study had already confirmed that unaltered pets tend to belong to the people with the lowest incomes. If there was a solution in front of them, it was not hard to see: make spay/neuter affordable.”

“At a time when every shelter in the country was telling people to spay and neuter their pets, many of these shelters were not altering the animals in their own care prior to adoption.”

“Until its low-cost spay/neuter clinics were closed . . . the City of Los Angeles had begun the march toward No Kill with its municipality funded program that provided affordable access to spay/neuter services and incentives to increase the number of animals sterilized.”

“Studies show the primary reasons people do not sterilize their pets are cost and lack of access to spay/neuter services.”

Who is to blame?

In 1974, the Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association, the ASPCA, and other animal welfare groups had an opportunity to take a decisive stand [for spay/neuter]. Had they endorsed and succeeded in promoting municipally funded low-cost spay/neuter nationwide, the lifesaving results could have been dramatic. Sadly, they failed to do so. * * * Despite two more years of indisputable proof that high volume spay/neuter clinics in Los Angeles were having a decisive impact on lowering shelter deaths . . . the [conference] participants again failed to support municipally funded low-cost spay/neuter programs for fear of alienating veterinary business interests. (My emphasis.)

And so the beat goes on: too many shelters do an incompetent job, spay/neuter programs fall far short, dogs and cats continue to breed (and be bred!), and as they multiply the dead bodies of their predecessors go up in smoke–in a neverending cycle of birth, suffering, and destruction.

Nathan J. Winograd has come up with a challenging, and perhaps workable, solution to the massive annual killing that goes on relentlessly in our enlightened nation. His book should be read, his ideas studied, and his leadership of No Kill applauded.

In the meantime, ISAR will continue its spay/neuter humane education in the hope that at least some companion animals will be spared the fates of many too many of their ancestors.


* * *