April 2, 2006
Numbers of Animals Needing to Be Euthanized Is Staggering
By Gary White
The number of domestic animals put to death each year in Polk County roughly equals the human population of Winter Haven. And the people forced to euthanize those animals say it wouldn't happen nearly as often were it not for human negligence.
"The majority of animals euthanized are because they were not cared for properly by their owners -- not providing the necessary care, not having them inoculated against diseases, allowing them to run at large," says Lt. Robert Oakman, director of Polk County Animal Control, a division of the sheriff's office. "If people were responsible and had them spayed and neutered . . . they would not show up in our shelter."
For every human birth in America, 45 cats and 15 dogs are born, says Patt Glenn, operations director of Lakeland's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That translates to about 296,000 cats and 98,000 dogs born in Polk County last year.
The SPCA says a single pair of unfixed dogs and their offspring can generate 4,372 dogs in seven years.
Glenn says pet sterilization is by far the most important factor in reducing the number of euthanizations. The SPCA clinic spays or neuters cats and dogs for $29 to $49, depending on animal type and sex.
The clinic also offers free fixes of feral cats brought to its clinic. The cats can then be returned to their habitats to complete their lives without contributing further to the overpopulation problem.
The Humane Society of Polk County offers reduced-cost vouchers for pets to be fixed at four participating veterinary offices -- $40 for a cat and $60 for a dog. The shelter also is working to deploy a "SNIPmobile," which will travel the county offering free sterilizations to pets of residents on government assistance.
And Polk County has dozens of veterinary clinics that spay and neuter pets.
The SPCA works with residents who serve as "foster parents" for potential pets awaiting adoption. Volunteers temporarily take dogs or cats into their homes, helping to address the chronic problem of overcrowding at the shelter.
Many euthanized animals are escaped pets that wind up at shelters and can't be tracked to owners. Sarah Meltzer, a spokeswoman for the SPCA clinic, says owners can reduce the chances of such an outcome by having their pets wear collars and identification tags or by having microchips embedded in them.
Finally, adopting a pet from a shelter reduces the need for euthanizations by saving that animal and creating space for another.