Why it Matters if We Don’t Have Enough Dogs
The variety of human health benefits associated with pet ownership makes it imperative that people continue to have access to the right four-legged friends.
The College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University has conducted the most comprehensive survey and analysis of the animal shelter dog population in the United States. There’s important news in these findings. First, there are more animal shelters than we thought—more than 7,000—providing the valuable service of caring for and finding homes for 5.5 million dogs. Second, far fewer dogs are being euthanized than previously thought—780,000 compared to the 2.6 million adopted each year.
These findings also lead to some surprising conclusions that suggest that a shortage of dogs is possible, even if every shelter dog were to be adopted. Why is this of such concern? One simple answer: the human-animal bond.
Scientific research is increasingly showing how pet ownership is good for us. Newborns exposed to pets have stronger immune systems and decreased risk of allergies later in life. And the benefits of pets continue when we get to school, with classroom pets improving the learning and development of children. When we work, pets in the workplace facilitate employee collaboration, satisfaction and retention. As we age, pets lower our blood pressure and decrease stress. When we are sick, therapy animals support the healing process in hospitals and at home.
So, when I see that shelters cannot meet the annual demand for new dogs—more than eight million a year and rising—the stakes for our lives and our health are enormous. Pet ownership is no longer a luxury for those that can afford it. Having a pet is an essential element of human health and wellness. So, we need everyone—shelters, responsible breeders, industry and government— to work together to make sure that every person and every family who wants one (or two) can find the right dog for them.
The work does not stop once a dog comes home. Every dog deserves high-quality, affordable veterinary care so that we can live long, happy lives together. The health benefits of the human-animal bond extend to both ends of the leash. Pet owners who are aware of the “pet effect” on their own health also take better care of their pets—maintaining vaccines and preventive medicine and keeping up with their vet appointments.
I don’t have all the answers when it comes to making sure that every family and every community has all the wagging tails that it chooses, but I know why it matters. The human-animal bond and what it means to all of us should unite animal lovers everywhere to make sure we understand and address the future supply of dogs in a thoughtful, collaborative way. For most of us, you can never get enough dog.
Steven Feldman is executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI).