Oprah Winfrey had a terrific show on Friday about puppy mills. If you haven't heard of puppy mills, they are the source of virtually all the dogs that are for sale in pet stores. Conditions in most puppy mills are horrible. Females are bred constantly, and live for the most part in cages all their lives, then are shot or sent to shelters when they are too old to breed anymore. There are fewer male dogs kept, but their lives are similar.
I love both cats and dogs, but have only had cats since I moved out on my own, as cats are more practical in an apartment. As far as I know, there aren't similar breeding mills for cats, as there isn't the demand for specific breeds. However, there are more hoarding cases with cats, and the result is about the same. Hoarding cases are those where a person gathers more cats than they can take care of, and the situation spirals out of control.
To illustrate this problem, let me tall you about my two cats. I adopted them Dec. 27th, 2007 from Good Mews, a wonderful no-kill cat shelter here in Atlanta. My two are both females, a mother and daughter, Shannon, now 7, and Heather, now 6. They came from a hoarding case, and the shelter workers tell me they arrived emaciated and starving. It took some time for them to realize that food was always available in the shelter and they could eat as much as they want. Their teeth had rotted so badly the shelter had them removed. They do fine now eating both wet and dry food.
How has it marked them? Shannon, the mother, is as sweet and cuddlesome as I could want. She comes up to me and rubs my face, and I just melt. She is a little obsessed with food, though, and thinks everything I pick up must be food and comes running to investigate.
Heather, the daughter, is more marked. She has FIV, which is the cat version of HIV. That doesn't worry me, as it doesn't pass to humans and about the only way it is transmitted by cats is deep bit wounds by an unneutered male cat... and Heather has no teeth. It was with Heather I bonded first in the shelter, she followed me around and they said they hadn't seen her do that with hardly anyone. So I chose her and her mother. Since getting her home, she is quite skittish. She comes to me at certain times for petting, but sometimes she runs for no reason I can see. What surprised me is that she sometimes has issues with her mother, hissing and sometimes hitting out at her. I think it is an issue of territoriality and/or jealousy... I pet Shannon a lot because she comes and asks for it. In the months that I've had Heather her lashing out has gotten less, and there are many times they let me pet them at the same time and they will rub faces together. But Heather is unpredictable as to when she will lash out. So their previous life has marked them both, and I am determined to give them a happy ending.
But for far too many animals, that happy ending is still not happening. Over four million animals, cats, dogs, and even rabbits, are euthanized... no, lets say it... killed, in animal control and other facilities every year. The number is down from a decade ago, but it is still far too many. Other animals live in horrible conditions, as outlined above. AND IT DOESN'T HAVE TO HAPPEN. There are some clear things to do to stop it.
(1) Never buy a cat, dog, or rabbit in a pet store. Shelters are overcrowded with lovely animals needing homes, and about a third of dogs in shelters are purebreds. Or, if you don't find a dog of the breed you want in a shelter, look on the web for a rescue society for that breed. Some pet stores are trying to be responsible. My local PetSmart, for example, doesn't sell cats or dogs, but has some space for cats from local shelters that can be adopted, and on many Saturdays they have dogs from shelters available for adoption.
(2) Spay or neuter your pet. Don't count on their not going outside, accidents happen. Let's get the population down to where every pet has a loving home.
(3) If you have the resources, give to shelters. One way of doing so that doesn't cost money is by going to the Animal Rescue site. There you can click on a button to give food to animals in shelters. For $25 a year, you can donate to the Best Friends organization and get an absolutely wonderful glossy magazine about animals and their issues.