By Cesar Millan
Refugees have been all over the news recently — whether it’s Syrian refugees in Europe, or tens of thousands of refugee children from Central America crossing the border into the U.S. via Mexico. These are stories I can relate to, because I once made that journey myself, although at least I wasn’t fleeing a situation where my life was in danger.
Now, while some people want to welcome them and others don’t, I haven’t heard anyone seriously suggesting that we should just shoot these people, especially women and children, because there are too many of them and they don’t have homes. That would be a ridiculous, inhumane, and insane suggestion.
But, for another group of refugees, it’s often the first option, and it needs to stop.
Those refugees are the six hundred million unwanted, homeless, and abandoned dogs all around the world and, in far too many places, rounding them up and killing them is exactly what happens. Even in places like the U.S., where we like to think that we treat animals humanely, we still kill them in shelters, by the tens of thousands every single day.
International Homeless Animals Day is celebrated every third Saturday of August to raise awareness about the pet overpopulation epidemic, but we should do that every day. Every day that we reduce the number of unwanted, homeless animals is a day that we allow more of them to live longer, happier lives. Everything that we do to reduce the number of homeless animals ensures that there will be far fewer unwanted animals in the next generation.
I was very encouraged to learn the other day that, in Los Angeles at least, we have made great strides in reducing the number of dogs killed in shelters every year. According to a story in the LA Daily News, in the fiscal year ending on June 30, animal shelters here had reduced the number of dogs and cats killed by almost 35% over the year previous.
That is a very significant reduction, and it’s also very encouraging. But there’s something else behind it. It isn’t just that shelters have decided to kill fewer animals. They’ve also been taking in fewer unwanted animals — more than eight percent fewer than in the year previous.
Every one of us can help to keep reducing the number of dogs killed in shelters, and here are some steps we can take to do it.
- Spay and Neuter
This is probably the single most important thing we can do. Not only does spaying and neutering our pets reduce the number of unwanted animals, it can also reduce aggression, and help our dogs live longer, healthier lives by preventing health issues later, like certain types of cancer.
- Adopt, Don’t Shop
Shelters are full of wonderful dogs available for low-cost adoption, and every shelter dog that we rescue is one less dog that may be killed tomorrow. We need to stop seeing dogs as breed first and deciding that we have to have a certain kind of dog. Not only are mixed breed dogs much healthier than puppies produced in mills, they also tend to be much more stable. Something I remind people of a lot is this: You don’t always get the dog you want, but you always get the dog you need. Rescue dogs are our opportunity to get in touch with Nature by honoring the animal, not the breed.
- Don’t Overlook the “Unadoptable”
Far too often, certain dogs are passed over in shelters because people are just looking for puppies. But that thinking is backwards, especially if you have a busy life. If you don’t have a lot of time, then a puppy is not the right choice for you, because adopting and training a puppy is a full time job. But… adopting an adult dog is a lot easier, and adopting a senior dog is fantastic if you have a low-energy lifestyle.
And definitely do not overlook handicapped dogs. Is that dog at the shelter blind, or deaf, or missing a limb? Well, that dog doesn’t care, because it will be just as loving and enthusiastic a pack member if you take it home. Dogs do not dwell on what they cannot physically do. They ignore their limitations and do what they can. In this, they can teach us a lot.
- Don’t Forget Fostering
If you can’t commit to being a long-term dog owner, you can help out by fostering dogs that are waiting to be adopted but which haven’t been chosen yet. This entails a shorter time commitment, and the option to return the dog without worrying about it being killed. It also allows you to hone your Pack Leader skills with different dogs, and learn that breed doesn’t really matter.
My dream is that, one day, there will be no unwanted animals and every dog will have a loving home with a balanced pack. Raising awareness of the issue is the goal of the Cesar Millan Foundation. Working together, we can achieve that dream.
Stay calm and save lives!