United States: Pet Stores Under Attack-Pet Stores Do Not Contribute To Local Overpopulation

Last Updated: October 7 2016
Article by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.

Pet stores used to be the primary source for puppies in the U.S.  That role has drastically changed-rescues and shelters are now the dominant providers of pets, replacing pet stores.  In fact, thousands of puppies are imported into the Northeast to supply the increasing demand for "rescued" pets, as promoted with million-dollar campaigns from nonprofit animal rights organizations' intent on eliminating commercial dog breeding, hobby breeding, and sales from pet stores.

At the same time, shelters, condemned by the public for euthanizing animals are now transferring animals to other shelters and rescues to improve their euthanasia statistics.

The overpopulation of dogs in many municipalities and towns is often used as the reason that pet store sourcing bans are necessary.  However, this is a false premise.  The overpopulation of purposely-bred pets sold by pet stores has been effectively controlled for years.  For years states, particularly in the Northeast, have adopted programs to encourage responsible pet owners to spay and neuter their pets.  Most of these programs, largely focused on subsidizing these surgeries, have been effective in reducing the number of unwanted puppies in this part of the country.  Maine has had a spay/neuter program for many years called Help Fix ME, run through the Department of Agriculture's Animal Welfare Program and intended for income-eligible individuals.  The program provides funds to reimburse veterinarians to spay/neuter cats and some breeds of dogs.  Over the years that it has been in existence this program has enabled thousands of individuals to adopt pets, have them neutered at a low cost (for a nominal co-pay), and enjoy the companionship that pet ownership can provide.

New York has a similar program―Animal Population Control Program―run for the State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Division of Animal Industry by the ASPCA.  Similar to Maine's program, the New York State program underwrites the cost of neutering cats and dogs for income-eligible individuals.  Interestingly, eligibility requirements state that animals must not have been imported from outside the State of New York.

As spay/neuter programs succeeded, at least in the Northeast, the numbers of readily adoptable dogs at shelters, and those requiring euthanasia, was in rapid decline.  In the City, there appears to have been a similar decline, based on reports from the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, demonstrating a remarkable decline in the euthanasia of unowned dogs and cats in the Shelter.  Animal Care & Control in NYC has had a significant decrease in the number of dogs housed in the shelter and an 81% decrease in the number of dogs euthanized since 2003.  According to Risa Weinstock of the Animal Care & Control Program in the City, pit bulls (which are not sold by pet stores) are the most prevalent breed in Shelters.  Weinstock testified that much of the overpopulation problem at Shelters comes from irresponsible pet ownership and breeding for profit, particularly of pit bulls which sell for over $1000 dollars per puppy adding that "[t]he majority of the dogs that we take in and the majority of our population are pit bulls and pit bull mixes . . ."

According to Tufts' Gary Patronek – the Director of Tufts' Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tuft's School of Veterinary Medicine – U.S. shelters may be a victim of their own successes.  "The drive to have dogs spayed and neutered in the USA has cut down on unwanted litters.  And adoption campaigns have helped empty dog pounds . . . people who want to adopt dogs increasingly find aged dogs or undesirable breeds like pit bulls at shelters . . . In the last seven years, one organization in Puerto Rico has shipped more than 14,000 strays to the states for adoption."

A recent study of 18 U.S. animal shelters to identify "the types of dogs present in today's animal shelters," confirms that the population of dogs in shelters are not purebred dogs from the pet stores.  The National Animal Interest Alliance found:

According to this study, the number of purebreds in U.S. animal shelters is closer to 5% (5.04%) than to the 25% so commonly cited by national animal organizations and quoted by the media.  It is interesting to observe that the number of purebreds in shelters would be 3.3% were it not for two breeds that are overrepresented, Chihuahuas and dogs described as Pit Bulls. Together, these two breeds account for 35% of all purebreds listed by shelters in this study. The public seems to be aware that dogs described as Pit Bulls are overrepresented in American shelters. What is not well known is that Chihuahuas are the single most numerous purebred found in shelters today. Because Chihuahuas are small, attractive to adopters and highly adoptable, their numbers are especially high in shelters that import dogs for adoption.

It is clear that blaming pet stores on the overpopulation of unowned, stray dogs is yet another example of the intentional misrepresentation of facts used by retail rescue organizations and law makers to support pet store sourcing bans.  If cities like New York are concerned about the number of dogs in its shelters, they should ban the importation of the thousands of dogs imported through retail rescue channels that are most likely to end up in animal shelters.

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Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.
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