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There are 600 million unwanted and abandoned animals in the world, living without families or shelter. In many countries, such animals are routinely abused or killed. It seems like an overwhelming number, but we can do something about it by helping these animals find permanent homes and by reducing pet overpopulation. Here’s what you can do right now to help.

  1. Spay or neuter

One unfixed female and her offspring can lead to 67,000 dogs in just six years. Spaying or neutering your pets now will eliminate unwanted litters, and has positive effects on their health and behavior.

There are many spay and neuter myths, but they are just that. Myths. Male dogs will not become fat and lazy, but will be less likely to be aggressive or mark indoors. It also eliminates the possibility for testicular and ovarian cancer, and reduces the likelihood for female dogs to have uterine or breast cancer.

  1. Rescue, don’t buy

Shelters are full of unwanted but adoptable dogs looking for loving forever homes, available at a low cost, which usually includes spay or neuter and vaccination services.

Rescue dogs are usually more genetically diverse than purebreds, and this can be a blessing down the line, as they are far less likely to suffer from inherited conditions that their individual breeds are prone to. A purebred German shepherd, for example, is likely to develop a painful condition called hip dysplasia at some point. A mixed breed GSD is far less likely to have that problem.

  1. Volunteer at a shelter

This is a great way to help and hone your own dog skills in the process. If you don’t have a dog yet but are considering adopting, volunteering lets you see the various behaviors of a lot of dogs, and get to learn how to understand their energy and body language, so you’ll be better able to make the right choice when the time comes

If you do have dogs and they have issues, it’s an opportunity to meet other dogs with similar behaviors and practice the skills you’ll need to rehabilitate your own dogs. Finally, you’ll get to work with animals and practice becoming a better pack leader every time you’re at the shelter.

  1. Keep your pet from becoming a stray

If you haven’t already, get your pets microchipped. It’s a safe, painless way to give them identification that can’t be lost or stolen. Also make sure your pets have collars with securely attached ID tags that they wear at all times, showing your name and phone number — and don’t forget to update whenever you move or change numbers.

Check your home or yard to make sure that it is escape-proof. Look for signs of digging near border walls or fences, or scratching and chewing on gates. Monitor your dog when they are in the yard alone. If necessary, make adaptations — if you have a dog that can jump your six foot wall, you’re going to need a higher wall!

You should also always have a supply of recent photographs of your dog. Include face, profile, and full-body shots, as well as pictures of distinguishing markings. Make sure they are well lit and in focus. For puppies, update the photos every six weeks; more often when they’re younger. For adult dogs, do this at least once a year.

  1. Be the best pack leader you can be

Sadly, many dogs wind up in shelters because of behavioral issues caused when their human pack didn’t bother to resolve the problem. When you adopt a dog, you are making a promise: “I am committed to taking care of you for the rest of your life.”

That commitment has no conditions. It does not mean “unless you pee on the couch” or “until you eat my favorite tie” or “as long as you don’t bark when I’m not home.” If your dog has behavioral problems, it’s up to you, as the pack leader, to fix them.

That’s what a Pack Leader does. Your job is to provide protection and direction. If you can’t do it yourself, hire a professional to help. But your dog will only reflect your energy, and do what you’re telling it to do, whether you’re aware of what you’re saying or not. Become aware, and save a life.

The marvelous relationship between humans and dogs is a unique gift from Nature. No dog anywhere should be abandoned or abused, ever. Luckily, each and every one of us has the ability and the power to do our small part to prevent that, one simple step at a time.

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