How animals are treated matters both to animals and to humans. It affects human health in many ways including the therapeutic effects gained from a human-animal bond. Relationships with pets can impact social development as people’s attitudes and behavior towards animals overlap with their attitudes and behavior towards each other. Looking after animals improves people’s productivity and self- confidence.

One of the best ways to help animals is to consider adoption when searching for a new household pet. The best place to find a dog or cat is your local animal shelter or breed rescue group where they have a variety of dogs and cats of all sizes. When you adopt, you’ll give a pet a second chance at finding a home and you will help reduce the nation’s pet overpopulation problem. Over 12 million dogs and cats are euthanized (put to sleep) in shelters in the US every year. Millions more are abandoned in rural and urban areas. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough homes for them. This overpopulation occurs when dogs & cats are bred at a faster pace than they are purchased as pets. Pet adoption can help discourage this breeding and provide loving homes for animals. Because of the problem of overpopulation, approximately 61 % of dogs and 75% of cats entering shelters across the country will be euthanized.

Spaying and/or neutering your pet(s) is one of the best ways to combat overpopulation. Spay means to remove the reproductive organs of a female animal, and neuter means to remove the reproductive organs of a male animal. One unspayed female cat and her unaltered offspring can produce 420,000 cats in 7 years.

Animals also wind up in shelters when owners give up their pets for reasons like moving/landlord issues, no time for the pet, allergies, and the cost of pet maintenance. Many people may find that their breed of pet is not allowed or not allowed in certain cities or counties. This may lead to some owners having to surrender their pets at a shelter or limit where they choose to live. Rules such as these are called Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL). The most common breeds to be banned under breed-specific legislation are pit bulls, rottweilers, and German shepherds. While supporters argue that the only way to be safe from dog bites is to remove “dangerous breeds” from the community, there is little evidence that supports BSL as an effective way of reducing dog bites and dog attacks. Studies led by the Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medical Association and The National Canine Research Council all say that BSL is not the correct way to prevent dog attacks.

Unfortunately, animal cruelty is a big problem and the cruelty takes shape in many forms. One of these is puppy mills. A puppy mill is a large dog breeding business where profit is considered more important than the overall well-being of the dogs. Unlike responsible breeders (people who pair animals together in order to create offspring), who take great care in providing the healthiest and happiest puppies possible, breeding at puppy mills is performed carelessly and without consideration of possible genetic consequences. Puppy mills are overcrowded and unsanitary, and leave dogs without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization.

Illness and disease are common in dogs from puppy mills as sick dogs are commonly left in the breeding process. Puppies from puppy mills are prone to congenital (present since birth) and hereditary (genetic) conditions. Many puppy mill dogs develop epilepsy, deafness, kidney disease and respiratory problems.

Puppy mills became popular in response to extensive crop failures in the Midwest after WWII. The Department of Agriculture began promoting purebred puppies as a “cash” crop. Chicken coops and rabbit hutches were reused for dogs, and pet stores benefited from the increasing supply of puppies from the new “mills.” Missouri has the most puppy mills and the highest concentration of mills is in the Midwest, but there are also high concentrations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and upstate New York. Commercial dog breeding is also very common among Amish and Mennonite farmers.

If you do want a purebred dog, make sure you go through a reputable breeder and not a puppy store or puppy mill.

Dog fighting is another form of animal cruelty. Widespread dog fighting emerged after the Civil War and became a common form of entertainment, especially for police officers and firemen.

There are 3 levels: street fighting, hobbyist fighting and professional activity. “Street” fighters engage in dog fights that are informal and spontaneous neighborhood activities. Street fighting is often a gang affiliated activity. “Hobbyist” fighters are more organized and do several fights a year for both entertainment purposes and to try to supplement income. They also pay more attention to care and breeding of their dogs. “Professional” dogfighters often have large numbers of animals and earn money from breeding, selling and fighting dogs. They often pay particular attention to promoting established winning bloodlines and often kill animals that are not successful fighters or breeders. Most dog fighters use pit bulls in the fights.

Humans and animals share a powerful bond and over time, this bond has been a source of comfort and relief for those who suffer from physical or emotional pain. To explore the healing and learning power of this relationship, many organizations use Animal-Assisted Therapy, or AAT. AAT programs range from dogs visiting schools to provide support to stressed students to people learning how to train their own service dog as a way to boost confidence.

Animal-Assisted Therapy has been shown to help children who have experienced abuse or neglect, patients undergoing chemotherapy or other difficult medical treatments, veterans and their families who are struggling to cope with the effects of wartime military service, and victims of traumatic events such as natural disasters.

Studies also show that interacting with dogs has a positive psychosocial effect on people with psychiatric disorders. For example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) service dogs are trained to help their owners manage their PTSD symptoms. Some of the benefits that PTSD service dogs have on their owners include an increase in patience, impulse control and emotional regulation. Veterans with PTSD service dogs say they have improved sleep, decreased startle responses and a decrease in pain medication.
So what can you do? A wonderful way to fight animal cruelty as well as overpopulation in shelters is to foster an animal or volunteer at local pet shelters or the Humane Society.

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