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Stamping Out Increased Pet Poplulation Requires More Than Just Awareness

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As a certified professional dog trainer I receive calls and emails on a daily basis of someone needing to find a home for their own dog or cat, or for someone they know who has to “give up” their dog or cat. Obviously this is a serious issue.

Well is seems our very own United States Postal Service (USPS) is aware of this and has now jumped on the shelter-animal-awareness band wagon to see if they too can help. Last month they launched their new “Adopt a Shelter Pet” campaign. Following their half-century tradition with “promoting attention and awareness of social issues,” they decided this years social issue would target animal rescue! Woohoo! Click-treat for USPS!

The USPS also decided to join forces with none other than Ms. Ellen De Generes, animal advocate extraordinaire and HALO pet food company co-owner. Ms. De Generes has always been a great spokesperson for shelter animals, so I’m happy that she’s speaking out as well.

Post-Master General (PMG) Jack Potter is quoted as saying “Our hope is these stamps will encourage pet adoption and promote humane and responsible pet care.” If stamps are what it takes to be the visual prompt to get folks to think twice when getting a dog, or to help encourage to spay or neuter their pet, then great!

Okay, without sounding negative I’d now like to put on my critical thinking and inquisitive dog guardian cap and ask: “What can we do, as a socially aware society, to help prevent animals from ending up in shelters in the first place?” Self and social awareness about homeless pets is one thing, but I believe prevention is even better! Why create more of the same problem when you can help prevent it from happening.

Shelters are wonderful resources for when there are no alternatives for folks who have to re-home their animals: serious illness, forced relocation (including nursing homes), death, an act of God etc…But they shouldn’t be used to reinforce irresponsible pet guardian behavior!

My fellow trainer friend Stephanie Coleman has also been wearing her critical thinking, inquisitive dog owner hat – She is currently writing an article covering the topic of “raising awareness of responsible pet ownership.” Just like myself, I agree that the “public awareness” campaign by the USPS is important,  however I believe pet guardian responsibility is just as, if not more important. How about we do more to prevent problems from occurring, than trying to fix the ongoing (and highly avoidable) issue in the first place?

How can we do this? A few simple steps would be:

  • Pet Guardian Responsibility: My Before and After You Adopt dog behavior workshop covers steps in helping decide which animal, if any, would be best for your lifestyle. The following are a few dog training tips for responsible pet guardians – For additional pointers, please sign up for our newsletter to receive our Top-10 Dog Training Tips.
    • Think! Adopting any animal is a life changing decision, not just for the one adopting, but for family members and of course the animal! Think wisely before adopting any animal.
    • Learn about the animal you’re adopting: species specific traits, breed specific traits, personality traits. It’s unfair to get angry at a dog that chews or a cat that claws. That is what these animals do! Many animals are relinquished to shelters because of normal behaviors that owners find annoying and choose not to deal with.
    • Teach! If you’re unhappy with the “behavior”, then do something to teach the animal what it is you do want. If our dogs and cats aren’t taught what the “right choice” is, then how is he or she supposed to know what you want him or her to do?
    • Get involved with your pets: dog training classes, dog training workshops, dog sports and other activities helps to provide and enriching life for your pet. He or she will be happier, and most likely better behaved. This will help your relationship get stronger, while reducing the risk of developing behavior problems that often land the poor animal in a shelter.
    • Fixing behavior problems: If you have a dog or cat that does have “issues”, either take the time to find a solution or seek out private dog training (or cat) to help solve the problems, as opposed to handing it off to someone else.
    • Management: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: manage your dog (cat) and manage his or her environment. I’ll always remember the very first dog trainer we went to said the same thing – and it couldn’t be more true. You wouldn’t take a recovering alcoholic to a bar to celebrate sobriety, so if you don’t want your dog barking in the yard when you’re not home, make other arrangements. Preventing our animals from practicing behaviors we don’t want is just as critical as teaching him or her what we do want.
  • Responsible Breeding: Unless you are a reputable, responsible, professional breeder that is breeding an animal that actually enhances the genetic pool of that breed and species then there should be mandatory and enforced spay/neuter laws. There needs to be laws and a set standard of protocols of what traits should be bred, and not just because a dog is “cute” or won Best in Show. Sorry, but that’s no reason to increase the pet population and stick the rest of society with the bill and responsibility.

Are there more reasons? Sure…but I think this is a nice start.

So, will the USPS animal rescue stamp movement and seeing pictures of Ellen De Generes decrease the number of unwanted animals while increasing the number of shelter adoptions? We should ask for data in a year, see if it has made a difference. Regardless, what about asking both organizations to promote spay/neuter and pet guardian responsibility? Maybe together all three campaigns will help stamp out the increasing number of shelter animals.

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