News that animal shelters in the greater Capital Region are euthanizing dogs and cats at alarmingly high rates — nearly triple the average for the Northeastern United States — should come as little surprise to anyone who lives in the area and has observed anecdotally over the last several years the number of problems associated with too many animals under too little control.
Indeed, the problems have grown worse as dog and cat populations have burgeoned. This in spite of evidence that (1) various private shelters and rescue organizations are well-supported financially, raising over $25 million between 2009 and 2011; (2) owners have become slightly more responsible about licensing their dogs; (3) spay-and-neuter programs are slightly more common than they used to be. And so when shelters fill up, their operators frequently have little choice but to euthanize the animals that no one wants.
The newly released study on animal welfare by the Humane Society of the Capital Region (http://www.hsofcr.org) indicates that more than anything, the problem is a lack of cooperation between the animal welfare organizations, local governments, law enforcement and pet owners. Maybe that’s so, but it seems that governments could be doing more to uphold their end of the bargain — crafting tougher laws governing pet ownership, then enforcing those laws.
Take licensing, for example: The study indicates that only 11 percent of all dogs in the 11-county region are licensed. (For all of Schenectady County, the total number of dog licenses is an absurdly low 1,305!) If more pet owners licensed their dogs, it would make more money available for badly needed shelter space, stricter animal control and more spay-and-neuter programs. Why don’t people observe this law? Most likely, because they know there’s almost no chance of getting caught for not doing so.
If municipalities stopped trying to do animal control on the cheap — paying for a dog census, then stepping up enforcement of licensing and other laws — they’d recover their investment in short order. (Which is only fair: People who don’t own pets shouldn’t get stuck with the bill.) It might also discourage pet ownership by irresponsible people — those who generally create the problems — which, in turn, would further help reduce animal populations.