April 11 is National Pet Day. a day honoring the furry, feathered, finned and scaled creatures with which we share our lives. Started in 2005, this day is meant to spread awareness of the plight of shelter pets and to encourage adoption rather than buying at pet stores and breeders.
All shelter pets have a rough time of it, especially in open admission shelters where they’re constantly at risk of being killed for space. Such shelters have to take all the animals the general public brings in. In a highly populated county, like Orange here in Florida, that can mean over 50 animals ever single day. Unfortunately, cats get the worst end of the deal, with 72 percent of shelter cats being euthanized rather than adopted, according to Becky Robinson of Alley Cat Allies.
It’s tragic to kill healthy cats of any age, but you know those adorable kittens you ooo and ahhhh over in memes? They die just as frequently as their adult counterparts. I often heard people say, “Those kittens are so cute. Someone will snap them right up,” when they see the little balls of fluff on a shelter website or at an offsite adopted event. Alas, that’s not the case. If you take Los Angeles as an example, 57 percent of the healthy animals killed there are unweaned kittens. There just isn’t enough space and time and volunteers to care for the little ones until they can be separated from their moms and adopted out.
The numbers become even more staggering when you look at how many feral kittens are born each year: 40 million. Granted, 20 million die at birth, according to Robinson, but that still leaves a huge number that need special care if they’re ever going to have a chance at adoption.
What can you do to help kittens (or puppies if you’re not a cat person) on National Pet Day or at any time of the year? First and foremost, don’t shop. Adopt! That’s my personal policy for just about every pet in my home, from my cats and dog to my guinea pigs.You can see some of my menagerie in the photos accompanying this article.
Animal shelters and rescues are the obvious choices for adoption, but don’t overlook other sources. For example, Craigslist is packed with cats and dogs whose owners need to get rid of them and will likely dump them at a shelter, or even turn them out, if they don’t get rehomed.
For small animals, I discovered that my local Petco takes in unwanted guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice, and the like and adopts them out (it also sells animals, so I recommend calling ahead to see if there any any adoptable critters). One of my guinea pigs came from Petco, and the other is a Craigslist refugee.
You can even take in a cat or dog that’s been wandering around your neighborhood. Such animals become part of the feral problem because people dump them off, thinking, “He’ll be fine” or “She’s cute, someone will take her in.” Instead, those poor former pets usually lead miserable lives, die awful deaths, and bring more unwanted animals into the world if they’re not spayed and neutered. Two of my cats were abandoned kittens (the other two, along with my dog, were all shelter pets).
I know this post is depressing, but there’s no way to tap dance around the problem. The great thing is, you can make a difference, even if it’s just for one animal. I know people who want to get a dog, cat, or other pet and say, “But how can I choose just one? Does that really help?” The answer lies in one of my all-time favorite anecdotes, adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley
An old man was walking along the beach at dawn when he spotted a boy ahead of him. The youngster was picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean. The old man asked what he was doing, and he replied, “I’m throwing them to safety. Otherwise they’ll die in the morning sun.”
The old man shook his head. “The beach goes on for miles,” he said. “You can’t possibly save them all. What difference can your effort possibly make?”The boy looked at the starfish in his hand before tossing it into the water. He said, “It makes all the different to this one.”