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  News from the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association                                                  Winter 2013

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The Shelter Data that ALL Veterinarians Need to Know
by Mary Zink, DVM, Veterinary Medical Director, Baltimore Humane Society

I have been a veterinarian for over 20 years now. I have spent the majority of that time in clinical practice (small animal private practice and shelter medicine) and some of that time in Industry (pharmaceuticals and pet food). When I entered Shelter Medicine, I was astounded. How is it that I managed to get through veterinary school, years of private practice, and years of working in the Animal Health Industry WITHOUT understanding the reality that my furry patients face daily? I thought I understood the diseases that put their health at greatest risk. Why is it that our profession ignores the fact that euthanasia in shelters kills more of our animal friends than any of the diseases we studied so diligently in vet school? Why didnít anyone tell us that we could make a difference in this important area of animal health? Why werenít we trained to help these animals?

The shelters are trying to make a difference, but they canít do it alone. With their limited space and finite resources, they cannot achieve their goals without high levels of community support, including veterinary support. Veterinarians have the ability to make a world of difference for homeless, abandoned animals. Iíd like to teach you what I didnít know before entering into Shelter Medicine. I believe that every veterinarian needs to know these facts. We canít help the animals unless we understand the problem. So hereís the dataÖ

  • 5 to 7 million companion animals enter U.S. shelters every year

  • 3 to 4 million are euthanized every year (this does not include owner requested euthanasia)

    • 60% of the dogs entering shelters are euthanized

    • 70% of the cats entering shelters are euthanized

  • The Top Ten Reasons for DOG Relinquishment to Shelters in the U.S. :

  1. Moving

  2. Landlord Issues

  3. Cost of pet maintenance

  4.  No time for pet

  5. Inadequate facilities

  6. Too many pets in home

  7. Pet illness (es)

  8. Personal Problems

  9. Biting

  10. No homes for littermates

  • The Top Ten Reasons for CAT Relinquishment to Shelters in the U.S.:

  1. Too many in house

  2. Allergies

  3. Moving

  4. Cost of pet maintenance

  5. Landlord issues

  6. No homes for littermates

  7. House soiling

  8. Personal problems

  9. Inadequate facilities

  10. Doesnít get along with other pets

  • It is estimated that 70 million stray CATS live in the US

    • At least 1/3 of owned cats are acquired as strays

  • Lost animals are returned to their owners through tags, tattoos, and/or microchips

    • Only 15-20% of lost dogs are ever returned to their owner

    • Less than 2% of lost cats are ever returned to their owner

  • 25% of the animals in shelters are purebred

  • 78% of owned dogs and 88% of owned cats are spayed/neutered, yet only 10% of the animals received by shelters are spayed or neutered

    • A fertile cat has an average of 1-2 litters per year with 4-6 kittens per litter

    • A fertile dog has an average of 1 litter per year with 4-6 puppies per litter

    • 70% of dog bites to humans are by un-neutered males

    • 97% of fatal dog bites to humans are by intact dogs (both male and female)

  • Where do people get their pets?

    • The majority of pets are obtained from acquaintances or family members at low or no cost

    • 26% are purchased from breeders

    • 20-30% are adopted from shelters and rescues

    • 2-10% are purchased from pet stores.

  • In 2011, Maryland shelters euthanized 45,000 animals (this does not include owner requested euthanasia)

    • 1/2 of the cats received by Maryland shelters were euthanized

    • 1/3 of the dogs received by Maryland shelters were euthanized

      The above data is compiled from:
      the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Maryland Votes for Animals (MVFA), Maryland Spay/Neuter Task Force, American Pet Product Association (APPA), and the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP)

This data was my reality check. Why arenít we as veterinarians taught to help with the problem of homeless pets? Could we help? Should we help? Is there anyone else better trained for the task? I am not suggesting that every veterinarian should go into Shelter Medicine, but I am suggesting that all veterinarians get involved and help our communities face this animal health and welfare ďdiseaseĒ. We canít focus all of our veterinary energy on owned animals and ignore the one disease with the greatest number of animal casualties. If we all expend a little energy on homeless, abandoned animals, we can make a BIG difference in the incidence of this ďdiseaseĒ.

When I learned the above shelter data, I saw opportunity for veterinarians. I saw areas in which veterinarians could help influence the community and their attitudes towards pets. It could start with something as simple as promoting better pet identification so that more lost pets are reunited with their owners. It could continue with a joint message to the community on the importance of spay/neuter to prevent unwanted pets. Most local shelters would love to have area veterinarians visit for a tour so that they better understand the shelterís strengths, weaknesses, policies, and protocols. Getting to know the shelterís veterinary medical director can help veterinarians stay abreast of any infectious disease issues that may arise in newly adopted pets sent to visit their vet in those first days of adoption.

New adopters can be nervous and confused about their new petís behavior. Open communication between the shelter and the area vet can help ensure a smoother transition from the shelter to the home. The shelter wants to see these pets stay in their new home and regularly visiting their veterinarian. Shelters can track the areas from which the most pets are relinquished and abandoned. Usually these areas are under served by veterinary clinics. Could area veterinarians help reach out to these areas and help educate them about preventive healthcare, including spay/neuter?

It all begins with understanding the data. The problem of homeless pets is not just in those other United States. Itís right here in Maryland. 45,000 animals are euthanized in Maryland shelters every year. If shelters are successful in their adoptions, at pairing the right animals with the right people, they play an important role in strengthening the human animal bond that is so critical to keeping pets in their homes and continuing to seek veterinary services through the area veterinarians. Itís a WIN for the shelter and a WIN for the veterinarian but most importantly, itís a WIN for the animal because they will have a better quality of life in a forever home. Together, we can save lives.

About the Baltimore Humane Society
The Baltimore Humane Society, founded in 1927 by Mrs. Elsie Seeger Barton, is an independent, non-profit, no-kill animal shelter, which offers low-cost veterinary care to the public, and a pet cemetery with grief support services. We receive no funding from the local or federal governments, or any national animal welfare organizations. The Baltimore Humane Society is a proud member of BAWA (Baltimore Animal Welfare Alliance) along with the MD SPCA, BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter), and Baltimore City Animal Control. For more information about BHS, and how you can contribute, volunteer, adopt, or foster, please visit or call 410-833-8848.

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