Many pet owners know the joy of coming home to their dogs wagging tails and the sight of their cats curled up on the couch. But for thousands of unlucky pets, their lives are spent in shelters — or worse, on the streets.
Even though animal sterilization is a smart and inexpensive choice, many people do not spay or neuter their pets, leading to an animal overpopulation problem in Canada.
In 2017, Humane Canada reported that 121,477 cats and dogs were accepted into shelters across Canada. Out of that only 71,916 were adopted, meaning 41 per cent of pets were left homeless.
The Calgary Humane Society, which has been around since 1922, is committed to caring for homeless and abandoned animals. In fact, they house approximately 4,600 animals each year and take in an average of 400 to 600 animals per month.
Another animal shelter committed to housing and controlling the animal population is the MEOW Foundation. Debbie Nelson, director of operations at MEOW says that depending on the season, the shelter can be teeming with cats.
“We are at the low season right now, so including our adoption center and the foster homes our cats in care today would range from 150 to 180 cats, but in high season we could be caring for anywhere up to 250 cats at a time,” says Nelson.
As part of their commitment to help reduce the pet population in Calgary, both the Humane Society and the MEOW foundation ensure all pets are fixed prior leaving the shelter. The cost of microchipping, sterilization and vaccinations are included in the adoption price.
“In Calgary, it’s common that cats have at least two litters a year, but they can have three litters which often range from four to six kittens each and there are simply not enough homes,” says Nelson.
Some pet owners worry that spaying and neutering their animals will result in obesity and laziness however, this is a myth according to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If animals become overweight after being fixed, it is more likely a diet problem that can be addressed by healthy diet and exercise.
Sage Pullen McIntosh, senior manager of communications at the Humane Society says there are many positive reasons to have your animals fixed.
“The biggest thing is knowing some of the benefits,” explains McIntosh.
“There are also a number of behavioral and health benefits for animals, such as eliminating or reducing certain behaviours like marking, aggression, and roaming, as well as reducing some diseases that are influenced by hormones.”
It’s clear that people are becoming more educated about spaying and neutering. The Humane Society has seen an increase of spayed and neutered animals being surrendered. Many strays however, still arrive at the shelter unsterilized.
“We know the message is getting out there, but there is definitely still some education needed on the importance of spaying and neutering companion animals,” says McIntosh.
Another large reason people hesitate to get their pets fixed is cost. The average cost of spaying and neutering in Canada ranges from $100 to $500, depending on the size and breed of the animal.
There are several resources which either cover or subsidize the cost of spaying and neutering. The City of Calgary has a no-cost program for pet owners. To be eligible for the program, pets must be licensed and healthy. Application forms can be found on the City of Calgary website.
The MEOW Foundation also has a program called SNAP, a subsidized spay/neuter assistance program.
“Pet owners can apply, and we ask them to pay a certain portion of the fee based on their income and family size and then MEOW subsidizes the rest of the fee at our partner veterinary clinics,” says Nelson.
The application form can be found online and answers a lot of questions to do with the program. There is also an information brochure available online.
It isn’t just animal shelters that are invested in controlling the pet population. Alan Reuther, district manager at Petland Canada says, “Petland is committed to reducing the pet population.”
“We partner with organizations such as A Better Chance Animal Rescue and Alberta Animal Services,” says Reuther.
Animals are typically spayed or neutered prior to being delivered to Petland locations. Those who are too young for the operation are sent home with certificates which can be redeemed at partner veterinary clinics.
While spaying and neutering pets is vital to the reduction of the pet population, there are valid reasons why people do not get their animals fixed.
The most common reason is breeding. Specifically, for dogs, certain breeds are commonly purchased and used for breeding or showing.
There are also laws and regulations they must follow in order to be considered a reliable breeder. Typically, recommended breeders will be register with the Canadian Kennel Club which has their own set of breeding standards.
Pet owners should have the animal fixed as soon as it reaches the appropriate age which is typically six to eight weeks. Some people may worry that spaying and neutering will lead to a lack of available animals, but Nelson says that just isn’t true.
“We will not run out of cats, but it [spaying and neutering] is such an important message. They will live longer, they’ll be happier, they’ll have less injuries and there will be fewer unwanted births.”
According to Canada’s Pet Wellness Report, 35 per cent of Canadian households have at least one dog and 38 per cent have a cat. It’s no question that pets are loved by humans, but Nelson and McIntosh both agree more work needs to be done to ensure every animal born is provided with a loving home.
Editor: Matt Hull | firstname.lastname@example.org