Keeping dogs at home

Owner ignorance populates shelters with abandoned dogs and cats


Several years ago, the Humane Society of the US initiated a “voluntary breeding moratorium” to urge dog breeders to stop producing puppies until all dogs in shelters were adopted to new homes.

“Until there are none, adopt one,” the slogan said.

Thoughtful and caring dog breeders were put on the defensive, pet stores were vilified, and all commercial kennels were lumped together as “puppy mills” no matter how they provided for their animals.

A new study that examined the reasons dogs — about two million each year — are surrendered to animal shelters has shed new light on the problem. The main reasons dogs are surrendered is that owners fail to obedience train or have unrealistic expectations of their pet; the dogs at highest risk of surrender are those acquired at low or no cost, especially those that do not visit a veterinarian regularly.

Gary Patronek VMD, PhD, one of the principle investigators on the study, presented the results at the NAIA Purebred Rescue Symposium last March. The work was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association on August 1, and is corroborated in another study reported in the August 15 issue of the Journal.

Patronek and his Purdue University colleagues concluded that dog owners who pay more than $100 for a dog, take him to a veterinarian more than once a year, and participate in obedience classes are more likely to provide a long-term home for the animal.

Veterinary care and obedience classes may reinforce the bonding of pet and owner, the researchers wrote “. . . by allowing the owner to experience and appreciate the positive aspects of pet ownership such as companionship, affection, entertainment, and security without overreacting to or being distracted by disruptive or unwanted behavior.”

Their conclusions challenge the assertions of activists that breeders directly and indirectly produce an “overpopulation” of pets and provide testimony for early intervention through education, a solution that breeders, breed clubs, kennel clubs, and the American Kennel Club have promoted for years.

The numbers

The research was done at the Humane Society of St. Joseph, Mishawaka, Indiana. The team compiled separate information for dogs and cats; they interviewed 380 people who surrendered their dogs for adoption and 905 owners who kept their animals. The control group was chosen from a random sample of dog-owning St. Joseph County residents.


Curiously, the discovery that increased veterinary visits can influence a dog's longevity in the home comes at a time when the trend is toward fewer visits, not more. Early rabies and parvovirus vaccination and sterilization can wrap up a puppy's regular visits by the age of four months — before owners get tired of chewing, barking, and other normal but exasperating behaviors.

“Such practices will compress preventive veterinary care for puppies into a shorter period and fewer visits, as has been reported in the United Kingdom, thus decreasing opportunities for client counseling by veterinarians during the period of greatest risk for relinquishment,” the researchers concluded. “Although these results should not discourage prepubertal sterilization of dogs, they highlight the importance of maintaining and perhaps increasing the frequency of contact with clients during the dog's juvenile and early adult years.”

[More on choosing a dog for your family]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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