When a pet is purchased—despite one’s knowledge of the plight of shelter pets—the person is showing indifference for those in shelters, in breeding facilities, and being euthanized.
For many, sustainability is an environmental topic and probably defined more or less as living within the resources of the planet without damaging the environment now or in the future; but with a small amount of imagination this definition can be applied to the issues surrounding our furred friends as well.
Consider this: 5 to 7 million companion animals enter shelters each year and +/- 3 million of those are euthanized. Thus, the supply of companion animals is certainly adequate to meet demand; yet only 15% of pet owners in the U.S. adopted their pet from one of these shelters or rescue groups. At the same time, there are nearly 15,000 puppy mills providing 90 to 99% of dogs sold direct to consumers and through pet stores. With numbers such as these, one could infer we consider our pets to be as disposable as our latest coffee maker.
Empathy is a critical component of sustainability—it is the process of extending concern and care for others beyond our own tightly knit network. When a pet is purchased—despite one’s knowledge of the plight of shelter pets—the person is showing indifference for those in shelters, in breeding facilities, and being euthanized. Further, when a pet is purchased, the buyer is supporting and growing the business of puppy mills, and the cycle continues. Another unneeded pet is born and another abandoned pet is euthanized.
This cycle is not unlike the glut created by plastic bottles. Despite having already manufactured sufficient bottles, we continue to manufacture more and discard the used without adequate consideration for how the waste will be processed in a way not harmful to our environment. For those of us concerned with sustainability, we strive for a world with greater equity, less waste, breathable air, clean oceans, and effective, efficient use of manufactured products. We attempt to achieve or influence this through our choices, purchases, civic engagement, and general behavior. This is precisely what is needed to also be a part of the solution of companion pets.
Shelters are often the trash bin for a breeder’s undesirables: pets with unflattering markings, disabilities, or whose usefulness in the breeding process has passed. It costs taxpayers roughly $2 billion each year to gather, shelter, and euthanize homeless and abandoned animals. We can change this out-of-control, disposable-dog mindset; and like recycling bottles, or any other product, there are probably dozens of great ways to diminish this crisis. One idea would be to ban breeding altogether, but if that is simply too Draconian an approach, we could at least shift the costs of sheltering from taxpayers to breeders in the form of license fees. Education is important, empathy required, and the concept of sustainability expanded to include those who depend upon us for their very survival.