Happy World Spay Day! We're celebrating this annual campaign that shines a spotlight on spay/neuter as a way to save the lives of companion animals, feral and stray cats, and street dogs who might otherwise be put down in shelters or killed outdoors, even though we wish we didn't have to.
Canada, we need to talk. It's a little bit crazy that we're still having this conversation about this crucial element of responsible pet ownership.
We wish spay/neuter was something everyone did, without question. We wish we didn't have to advocate for it, and we wish the companion animal population was under control, with all pets in loving homes.
It's evident there's a companion animal overpopulation crisis, with shelters bursting at the seams, feral cat colonies, and thousands of euthanized animals every year. Canadian shelters took in 103,000 cats and 46,000 dogs in 2013 -- of those, 47 per cent of cats and 45 per cent of dogs were adopted. In general, 25-30 per cent of dogs are reunited with their owners, compared to less than five per cent of cats. Euthanasia rates are starkly different between cats and dogs -- 30,000 more cats were euthanized than dogs in 2013.
Yet there are still pet owners who don't sterilize their pets. This often leads to accidental and unwanted litters -- when a cat or dog slips out the back door and make the neighbourhood rounds. While puppies, kittens, and even baby bunnies are adorable, there are just too many of them.
One unspayed female cat can have 25 kittens a year, and a female dog can have up to 21 puppies a year. Then those kittens have kittens, and those puppies have puppies. This means more animals in shelters, and it's completely preventable.
If you have already spayed or neutered your pet, thank you! You are truly making a difference for animals in your community. Now help someone else do the same! Spread the word on social media. Encourage (or nag) your friends to fix their pet. Congratulate someone you know for sterilizing their pet early in life, before it has a chance to accidentally reproduce.
If you can, sponsor someone else's surgery. Cost can be a barrier to the procedure, and while there are many wonderful subsidized services, such as Spay Aid PEI for low-income families, or the Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force, for rural communities, and grants to organizations from PetSmart Charities. There are always more pet owners in the community who could benefit from a little extra help.
Spaying or neutering your pet not only helps combat pet overpopulation, it also has numerous health and behavioural benefits for your animal. Fixed pets are less likely to be aggressive, mark their territory, and roam. Spay/neuter also reduces some diseases, including some kinds of cancer.
As the saying goes: how can you help 100 homeless cats? Easy -- just spay one.
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Foster Pets Learn They're Loved
"Watching a dog that has been in a shelter environment, or hurt, or abused or all of the above enter your home is a magical, beautiful thing," writes regular fosterer Tamera Jackson on the Pibbles & More Animal Rescue blog. "Though they may not be settled, yet they surely seem to know they are safe and, yes, loved."
It's (Usually) So Fun For Your Other Pets, Too
Lisa Morabito, director of operations for Baltimore's city shelter, has had a lot of foster kittens come through her home.
They always end up snuggled close to the big pack of dogs who live with Morabito and her husband on a permanent basis. The dogs don't seem to mind the attention one bit. (The dueling sweater outfits are maybe another story!)
"Not only are they helping us get animals adopted, but they are freeing up space at our adoption centers for other animals in need," says Zenit Chughtai, spokesperson for the Washington Humane Society, D.C.'s city shelter.
"Fosters are the light and joy of my day. They swoop in and help all the animals that need their care the most," adds WHS's foster coordinator Jennah Billeter. "They're not only heroes to animals, they're heroes to all of us who care so deeply about animal welfare."
It'll Make You Feel Great
"It is truly remarkable watching the dogs transition from skittish, scared little animals to trusting, flourishing members of a family," says Steven P. Zimmer, who fosters dogs through Delaware-based Renee's Rescues. "People find different ways to enrich their lives but for us, fostering dogs is what does it. Both making the dogs feel better about their world and making us feel about ourselves."
Foster Pets Will Make You Laugh
Droopy the basset hound was skin and bones and sick with pneumonia, when Emily Gear, director of the rescue group Louie's Legacy, took him in as a foster.
As he was brought back to health, his goofy personality appeared, and Droopy "became a bouncing, boisterous happy Basset Hound with one of the funniest personalities I've ever seen."
"Droopy is a character and would make me laugh constantly. The more I laughed, the more he would clown," says Gear, who was able to help this lovable guy find a wonderful family of his own after about six months of fostering. He also found his way into a Louie's Legacy fundraising calendar.
Your Human Kids Will Love It, Too
Kelly Duer takes in a lot of dogs who need socialization. She loves seeing these pups learn how to be well-loved pets. It's great for her human kids, too.
"Interacting and gaining the trust of these abandoned dogs, many of whom have also been mistreated, has been incredible for their self-esteem," says Duer. "It's been a wonderful experience for all of us."
You Might Foster A Squeal Patrick Harris
What sorts of animals need fostering? All kinds: cats and dogs, birds and rabbits. Even baby pigs, like wee Squeal Patrick Harris here, who was being fostered with great relish by Kirstyn Northrop Cobb, director of the Humane Society of Calvert County, and Cobb's daughter Aubrey.
"He is the perfect example of how fostering is such a great thing," says Cobb. "Without someone to take him in and bottle feed him, he probably wouldn't be around."
We say "was" because Squeal has since been adopted -- by Aubrey.
Laura Peters and her husband can't take in a full-time foster dog. So they pick up fosters for a couple of days at a time, through the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Northern Virginia.
"We can take in a shelter dog on the weekend, give him or her a break from the shelter environment, offer an extended play date with our dog -- which is actually good for her, too! -- take great pictures and learn important things about our foster dog that will be helpful to potential adopters to facilitate the perfect match," Peters says. "All the dogs we have fostered have found their forever home within just a few days of their return to the shelter!"
Fostering Can Help You Heal
Julia Grosz started fostering after the death of her beloved cat Monkey.
"She was a spooky little cuss that nobody liked, but she was my rock," Grosz says.
Grosz decided to foster a cat named Heath, who'd been described by shelter staff as a "moody jerk," thinking that this guy would help her get over her heartbreak.
"He turned out to be the complete opposite, which wasn't entirely disappointing," says Grosz. "Heath brought so much joy into my life while he was here, and personally seeing him off to his new mom completely redefined my understanding of love and purpose. To call the experience profound would cheapen it; Heefy showed me my best self, and mended my broken heart in the process."
You'll Give A Pet A Chance To Shine
Sam's Foster Kittens
Pets who might not thrive in a shelter setting have "a chance to be healthy and happy," says Sam Querry, whose foster cats have their own Facebook page. "It also helps potential adopters get to see what a great personality the animal has in a home setting."
If you can't easily find the information for your local shelter or favorite rescue group, call, or send an email, to find out more. They will be so happy to hear from you.
You'll Make Someone Else's Family Complete
Dixie the dog was being fostered by a New Jersey family.
"The foster mom posted that she was available for adoption on a local Facebook garage sale site," says Marcy Duarte. "I fell in love with that forehead on Facebook and just knew she was our dog!"
Shelters and rescue groups will typically cover medical costs for fosters. Sometimes, they'll foot the bill for food and other day-to-day expenses, as well.
You'll Make New Friends
Pam Townsend stays in touch with the family who adopted one of her favorite fosters.
"One of the added benefits of fostering: meeting and getting to know people I'd never have met otherwise," she says.
Goodbye Is A Happy Ending
Don't be put off fostering because you think it'll be too hard when your sweetie gets adopted.
"It’s never easy to say goodbye to these beautiful souls, but seeing their happy ending makes it all worthwhile," says Lucy Rockdale, founder of My Buddy Dog Rescue. "And just when that chapter comes to an end, there is another one waiting in the wings for a chance to be saved."
And If You Really Fall In Love...
Kelly Garrison knew that she was sunk when her foster Bumper almost got adopted. "I cried and cried. Everything happens for a reason," she says.
Bumper is now permanent at her house, and even has a beloved brother, another "foster failure" named Willis.
Garrison is still bringing home new fosters from Missouri-based Mutts n Stuff on a regular basis.
"There just isn't a better feeling that could ever compare," Garrison says, "knowing what you have done in saving a life."