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Chapter 9

Pets are animals that humans keep for pleasure rather than utility. Their value is mostly emotional. They help to fulfill human desires for companionship, affection, entertainment, and ownership. Historians are not sure when humans first started keeping animals as pets. Keeping an animal for pleasure rather than for food or work was possible only for people who were well off and had the resources to feed extra mouths. For centuries pet ownership was mostly limited to the upper classes of societyroyalty, aristocrats, and landowners. The modern age of pet keeping began in the mid-1800s, when a thriving middle class emerged in society. This was the first time that many people had the time and money to keep animals solely for companionship and pleasure. Owning pets eventually became more and more popular.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) was founded in 1958 and is the nation's leading pet industry trade group. More than nine hundred companies were members of the association as of 2007. Every two years the APPMA releases data on pet ownership. According to the 20052006 National Pet Owners Survey (2006,, nearly 359 million animals are kept as pets in the United States. Freshwater fish, cats, and dogs are the most popular. Other common pets include horses, rabbits, livestock, pigeons and poultry, guinea pigs, turtles, snakes, ferrets, gerbils, lizards, and miscellaneous reptiles and rodents. Sixty-three percent of U.S. households had a pet, up from 56% in 1988. Nearly half owned more than one pet. The APPMA estimates that U.S. pet owners spent $38.4 billion in 2006 on pet supplies, equipment, and services. This is more than double the $17 billion spent in 1994.

The Gallup Organization conducted a poll in December 2006 to learn more about Americans and their pets. Gallup found that 60% of the people polled had at least one pet. A breakdown of ownership by pet type is shown in Figure 9.1. A breakdown by owner demographics is included in Table 9.1. White people, people between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine, and people living in the South or West were found to be the most likely pet owners. Some respondents had multiple pets of different species. For example, the poll notes that 17% reported having both a cat and a dog. Just over half of cat owners (51%) reported having multiple cats in their household, whereas 41% of dog owners said they had more than one dog.

Pets have a unique status. Legally, they are considered personal property. This offers them some protection under the law, as damaging someone else's property is a crime. From a psychological standpoint some pets enjoy a higher value and are considered members of the family, almost like children. In October 2006 the federal government acknowledged this bond with passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act. The act requires that federal, state, and local emergency preparedness officials include pets and service animals (such as seeing-eye dogs) in their plans for evacuating and sheltering people during disasters. The law was spurred by events following Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast during 2005. Many distressed pet owners were forced to leave their animals behind when they were evacuated. Others refused to leave without their pets, putting themselves in great danger.

It surprises many pet owners to learn that some animal rights groups are opposed to the idea of keeping pets. Pet ownership is a thorny issue in the animal rights debate. Some activists believe that any use of any animal for any human purpose is wrong. However, when it comes to pets, many consider this stance too radical. A great number of those who work to improve animal welfare are pet owners. Most animal rights groups and animal welfarists focus their attention on particular pet problems, such as neglect, abuse, and overpopulation. They are particularly critical of breeders and pet stores that sell pets to the public. The keeping of wild animals as pets is condemned by all major organizations working for animal rights and welfare.

Pet ownership, by demographic group, December 2006
Total pet owner % Own dog % Own cat %
Source: Frank Newport, Jeffrey M. Jones, Lydia Saad, and Joseph Carroll, "Pet Ownership by Groups," in Americans and Their Pets, The Gallup Organization, December 21, 2006, 2fUH-%2fFBjUMMC1hLmGF6Dx0SNAswJrjMuRlBs9-wJRR8lAdoUc0s3BNJAnCpQzO8qM57LZJFhK guV4%2fga (accessed December 29, 2006). Copyright ® 2006 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.
18- to 49-year-olds 68 50 35
50- to 64-year-olds 57 43 29
65 years and older 43 33 17
East 51 35 29
Midwest 58 46 24
South 61 49 27
West 68 47 41
Whites 63 46 33
Non-whites 49 38 17

Some groups state that people keep pets for the wrong reasons. They argue that some people get pets to compensate for their inability to engage in healthy social contact with other people. Pets may be a crutch or a time-filler to these people. Others rely on pets to build their egos or make them feel good about themselves in some way. The ability to control another living being can be a powerful motivator. Some people see pets as disposable items to be kept as long as they are useful or fun, and discarded when they are not. Many people think that taking care of a pet is educational for children because it teaches them responsibility and respect for other living creatures. Some people believe that keeping a pet has a spiritual basis and that it brings them closer to nature.

The common thread in all these reasons is that they focus on the needs and wants of the pet owner rather than the pet. Some people feel this is only fair, as it is the pet owner who provides food, shelter, and care. Should people be allowed to keep animals as pets as long they take care of them? There is a movement by some humane organizations to refer to pets as companion animals and to owners as guardians. These terms demonstrate the desire of these groups to elevate pets from property status to wards or dependents.


Despite the popularity of pets, every year millions of them wind up in public and private shelters. The vast majority are cats and dogs. They are either turned in by owners who no longer want them or are picked up as strays. Some are lost pets that can be reunited with their owners, but many are homeless animals with no place to go. In "HSUS Pet Overpopulation Estimates" (October 12, 2006,, the HSUS estimates that U.S. shelters receive six to eight million cats and dogs each year. Approximately half of these animals are euthanized (killed). The remainder are adopted or reclaimed by owners.


According to the HSUS, the first public pounds were constructed during the 1700s to impound stray livestock. As American society changed from rural to urban, these facilities switched their focus to stray dogs and became dog pounds. Rabies was a serious public health threat well into the twentieth century, with thousands of cases reported each year. The vast majority of cases were contracted by people from domestic dogs, so animal control departments operated dog pounds as part of public health and safety programs. Their mission was to protect people rather than to ensure the welfare of the dogs.

Following World War II (193945), rabies vaccinations for dogs became mandatory in the United States. This program, combined with effective stray dog control, dramatically reduced the occurrence of rabies in dogs. Pounds continued to pick up stray dogs (and cats by this time) but mostly to control aggressive and nuisance animals and "clean the streets" than as rabies protection. Pounds also became centralized facilities for people to get rid of unwanted pets.

Dog pounds came to be called animal shelters. They held stray animals for a few days (if there was room) to see if their owners would reclaim them. If not, unwanted strays and pets were sold to research laboratories or given to anyone who wanted them. Unclaimed and unplaced animals were killed using whatever means were available. Public animal shelters received little funding from local governments, and humane treatment and euthanasia were not a priority in most jurisdictions.

Shelter euthanasia of owned animals, selected years 19732000
Year Total owned dogs and cats Euthanized Approximate % of owned animals euthanized
Source: Deborah J. Salem and Andrew N. Rowan, "Table 1. Shelter Euthanasia of Owned Animals," in The State of the Animals: 2001, Humane Society of the United States, 2001
1973 65 million 13.5 million 21.0
1982 92 million 8-10 million 10.0
1992 110 million 5-6 million 5.5
2000 120 million 4-6 million 4.5

This began to change as the animal welfare movement gained momentum during the 1960s and 1970s. Shelters came under increasing pressure to focus on welfare issues besides public health and nuisance concerns. Some municipal governments began contracting their shelter operations to nonprofit animal welfare organizations, such as local humane societies and rescue groups. These organizations held fund-raisers and were able to secure private donations to help shelters operate. However, most shelters continued to euthanize large numbers of animals as the homeless animal population surged out of control.


The word euthanasia comes from a Greek term meaning "good death." During the 1800s it was first used to describe mercy killing conducted with the approval of the law. In the twentieth century euthanasia of shelter animals was conducted on a massive scale. However, euthanasia rates have been generally declining since the late twentieth century. The HSUS reports that the number of euthanized cats and dogs has dropped considerably in the United States, from about 13.5 million deaths per year in 1973 to four to six million deaths in 2000, whereas over the same period the total number of cats and dogs has nearly doubled. (See Table 9.2.)

Animal People is an animal organization that issues the monthly publication Animal People News. Each year in its July-August edition the newspaper compiles data collected over the three previous fiscal years on the number of animals killed in shelters in selected representative cities and states around the country. These data are used to estimate national shelter killing rates. In 2006 Animal People News ( estimated that 4.4 million shelter animals were euthanized in the United States. Figure 9.2 compares this estimate with estimates from previous years dating back to 1970.

According to Animal People, there are regional differences in shelter killing rates. In general, shelters located in the Northeast have the lowest euthanasia rates, whereas shelters in the Southeast have the highest rates. This is attributed to several factors, including the weather, the availability of low-cost spay-neuter programs, and animal control policies. The cold winters in the Northeast lower the fertility rates of cats and dogs and claim the lives of stray animals so that fewer end up in shelters. Animal welfare organizations are much more predominant in the Northeast and provide low-cost spay-neuter programs that help control populations of unwanted animals. Many northeastern municipalities charge pet owners licensing fees with higher amounts for unfixed animals. This is far less common in the South.

Euthanasia Methods

Although the public assumes that animals euthanized at shelters are killed by lethal injection, this is not always true. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) maintains a list of approved euthanasia methods for various types of animals. In Guidelines for Humane Euthanasia of Animals (2000,, the AVMA states, "Euthanasia techniques should result in rapid loss of consciousness followed by cardiac or respiratory arrest and the ultimate loss of brain function. In addition, the technique should minimize distress and anxiety experienced by the animal prior to loss of consciousness." However, the AVMA admits that "the absence of pain and distress cannot always be achieved."

Acceptable euthanasia methods for cats and dogs include intravenous injection of barbiturates (such as sodium pentobarbital or secobarbital) or potassium chloride/anesthetic, or gassing the animals with inhalant anesthetics (such as ether), carbon dioxide, or carbon monoxide gas. In addition, gassing with nitrogen or argon is considered acceptable with some reservations on cats and dogs, as are the use of electrocution and penetrating captive bolts (bolts shot at point-blank range from a gun into the animal's skull, which if shot at the proper location destroy enough brain tissue to kill the animal instantly) on dogs only. Each of the methods, along with its advantages and disadvantages, is described in the 2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia (March 1, 2001,

The report notes that injection of barbiturates intravenously (within a vein) is the preferred method of euthanasia for horses, dogs, cats, and other small animals. Advantages include rapid and smooth action, minimal physical distress to the animal if the procedure is performed correctly, and relatively low cost compared with other options. The main disadvantages are that each animal must be personally restrained for the procedure, and personnel must be properly trained in giving injections. Also, barbiturates are federally controlled substances that can be purchased only using a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration and order form. Their use is controlled by state law, and there are specific record-keeping requirements that must be met.

In The Humane Society of the United States Euthanasia Training Manual (2002), the HSUS recommends injection of sodium pentobarbital as the preferred euthanasia method for companion animals. Intravenous injection is the recommended route of delivery, but intraperitoneal (within the peritoneal cavity in the abdomen) injection is considered acceptable for cats, kittens, and puppies in which intravenous injections cannot be administered easily. Intracardiac injection (within the heart) is considered acceptable only if the animal is already unconscious. Intrahepatic injection (within the liver) is not considered acceptable because of lack of scientific study on the procedure. The HSUS recommends that euthanasia of each animal be carried out by two peopleone to hold the animal and one to administer the injection. Both the AVMA and the HSUS stress that shelter personnel performing euthanasia must be well trained.

Lethal injection is a hands-on procedure in which animals and personnel come into close physical contact. When shelters began practicing humane euthanasia, it was thought that a hands-off approach would be easier for the workers performing euthanasia. Gas chambers were common because the euthanizer could perform the procedure from outside the chamber by opening a valve or flipping a switch.

Many shelters still use gassing to euthanize unwanted animals. Although the use of poisonous gases is considered acceptable by the AVMA, the organization notes that "any gas that is inhaled must reach a certain concentration in the alveoli before it can be effective; therefore, euthanasia with any of these agents takes some time." Animal welfarists roundly condemn gassing as a means of euthanasia. In 1998 California passed a law prohibiting the use of carbon monoxide chambers for euthanizing shelter animals.

Animal shelter workers have an incredibly stressful and emotionally demanding job. Many get into the line of work because they care about animals but become frustrated by the public's seeming lack of concern for the tragic fate of many millions of unwanted pets. Most humane organizations believe that the solution to the euthanization problem lies in aggressive sterilization campaigns, better education of pet owners, and successful adoption programs.

Spaying and Neutering

Overpopulation of cats and dogs is a tremendous problem. It is aggravated by the fact that these animals reproduce at high rates. Experts generally agree that massive and sustained birth control methods must be implemented on cat and dog populations to bring the problem under control. Surgical sterilization of female animals is called spaying, or removal of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. Male animals are neutered or castrated by having their testicles removed. Pet owners commonly refer to these sterilization procedures as fixing or altering an animal. Increasingly, animal groups use the term neuter to refer to sterilization of either males or females.

Veterinarians have been promoting spaying and neutering of pets for several decades. According to the animal organization SPAY USA (2007,, sterilization has many medical, behavioral, and social benefits, including:

  • Female pets do not go into heat (have fertile cycles) during which scents are emitted that attract male animals. Sterilization eliminates the problems associated with male animals that gather and often fight over females in heat.
  • Sterilization usually stops male cats (toms) from marking their territory by spraying strong-smelling urine.
  • Sterilization makes pets more likely to stay at home than wander.
  • Sterilized females cannot develop ovarian or uterine infections and are less likely to develop mammary cancer.
  • Sterilized males usually become less aggressive.
  • Sterilization helps reduce the number of stray and unwanted animals in the community. This is advantageous for public health and safety reasons and reduces the enormous cost to taxpayers and private agencies of capturing, impounding, and destroying millions of unwanted animals each year.

Some pet owners are resistant to spaying and neutering their pets. Their reasons can include one or more of the following common myths:

  • Surgery costs too much or is too painful for the pet.
  • Having a litter can be good for the pet and educational for children.
  • Fixed animals get fat and lazy.
  • Backyard breeding is a fun hobby that brings in extra money.
  • Male animals do not need to be fixed because they do not have litters.
  • Neutering male dogs robs them of their masculinity and makes them less protective as guard dogs.
  • Sterilization is unnatural.

Many states and municipalities actively encourage spaying and neutering of pets as a means to reduce overpopulation. Those with licensing programs usually charge pet owners a lower registration fee if their pets are sterilized. A number of states also sell special license plates that benefit spay/neuter programs.

Increasingly, animal shelters spay and neuter cats and dogs before adoption or require new owners to do so within a certain time period after adoption. In 1998 California passed a law that requires preadoption sterilization of cats and dogs. The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was one of the first humane groups in the United States to offer low-cost and early spay/neuter surgery.

Low-cost clinics are often run by humane organizations. They operate under nonprofit status, which allows them to save on overhead and tax costs. They offer discounted rates either to the general public or to those people who have adopted an animal from their shelter. The rates can be substantially lower than those charged by veterinarians in private practice. Such clinics are not without controversy. Some veterinarians complain that the clinics have an unfair advantage because of their nonprofit status. A few states have passed laws that prohibit veterinarians associated with nonprofit groups from operating low-cost spay/neuter clinics. Advocates of the clinics insist that they provide a much-needed service and help reduce animal overpopulation.

In the past veterinarians recommended sterilization for cats and dogs around six months of age. During the mid-1990s many humane organizations began advocating early spay/neuter (ESN) programs. Most clinics practicing ESN will perform the surgery on kittens and puppies at least eight weeks old. Shelters flooded with kittens and puppies have heartily embraced the practice because it allows them to sterilize young animals before they are adopted. Some veterinarians are worried about the long-term effects of ESN surgery on the animals' young bones and express concern that it could cause abnormalities in skeletal growth. However, as of 2007 no definitive scientific studies had proven this. Veterinarians report that kittens and puppies that undergo ESN recover from the surgery much quicker than their older counterparts.

In April 2003 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of the drug Neutersol (zinc gluconate neutralized by arginine) for chemical sterilization of three- to ten-month-old puppies. The drug is injected into the testicles and works by stopping the production of sperm. It does not eliminate the hormone testosterone, as traditional neutering does. This may be a drawback, as testosterone is considered a major factor in behavior problems seen in unaltered dogs. According to the press release "First Neutering Drug for Puppies Gains FDA Approval" (May 23, 2003,, Neutersol is 99.6% effective, and the injection does not require that the puppy be put under general anesthesia. The FDA recommends that puppies be sedated before the injection to eliminate movement and to help with any pain. Neutersol is expected to be used mostly at animal shelters that wish to sterilize dogs before adoption but do not have ready access to a surgical clinic.

No-Kill Shelters

Some animal welfarists and members of the public criticize shelters for using euthanasia at all. They believe that every animal that enters a shelter deserves the opportunity to be adopted no matter how long it takes. Critics say that this viewpoint is unrealistic. They point out that some animals are too aggressive, injured, or sick to be adopted. There is no practical alternative but to euthanize them. Also, some pet owners rely on shelters rather than private veterinarians to euthanize their sick and elderly pets.

During the 1990s the concept of no-kill shelters became popular. The name implies that no animals are ever euthanized in these sheltersan idea that appeals to many people. In reality, most no-kill shelters still euthanize animals that are unadoptable because of illness or temperament. Some traditional shelters (or open-admission shelters, as they are called) do not like the use of the term "no-kill." They feel it can be misleading and accuse some organizations of using the term just to gain financial support and political favor. Welfare organizations argue among themselves about the exact definition of no-kill and which animals are adoptable.

The truth is that all shelters (public and private) operate with limited space, personnel, and financial budgets. The people who run them must make life-and-death decisions about the animals that enter the facilities. These decisions are based on moral, political, social, and financial considerations. In "No-Kill Movement: No-Kill Legislation" (January 19, 2007,, Taimie Bryant argues that traditional shelters are reluctant to give up the use of euthanasia, seeing it as a necessary evil and an issue that pits themselves, performers of a public service, against a public that refuses to spay and neuter its pets. By contrast, shelters feel euthanasia is the most compassionate option, though not at all a desirable one. In "Seven Basic Policies for Every Animal Shelter" (Animal Sheltering, January-February 1996), the HSUS notes, "Euthanasia of shelter animals to make room for others is a tragic necessity that prevents animal suffering."

Even though many people and organizations wish that euthanasia was not necessary, they also recognize some of the practical drawbacks of the no-kill idea. Nancy Lawson and Carrie Allen, in "What Would It Take?" (Animal Sheltering, January-February 2002), describe how the no-kill idea became an advertising and fund-raising slogan for some animal organizations that use it to set themselves apart from traditional shelters.

Popularization of the no-kill idea is generally credited to Richard Avanzino, the president of the San Francisco SPCA from 1976 to 1999. During this period the city achieved the lowest euthanasia rate of any urban city in the nation. The San Francisco SPCA started adoption, spay/neuter, and animal management programs that became models for every other welfare organization. In 1992 Avanzino spoke at an HSUS workshop in Las Vegas on the no-kill movement. He advocated no-kill as a concept and a mission for welfarists, not as a weapon to use against traditional shelters in fund-raising campaigns.

Lawson and Allen also address the difficulties that some organizations encounter when they try to become no-kill shelters. In 1995 the Humane Society of Gallatin Valley in Bozeman, Montana, decided to institute a no-euthanasia policy. However, as the only shelter in the city it also decided to continue accepting any animal that was relinquished. The shelter soon became overwhelmed, and animal welfare suffered. Ganay Johnson, the shelter director, reported that "animals who came in 'adoptable' quickly became unadoptable in a crowded environment that wore on their temperaments and made them sick."

The same problem led some organizations to limit their shelter admissions. Critics state that such shelters do not really serve their communities by accepting only the "cute and cuddly" and turning away difficult-to-adopt animals. This practice is seen as self-serving. It allows these shelters to practice a true no-kill policy but burdens neighboring shelters with the animals they turn away. Yet, the opposite policy can be just as troublesome. Lawson and Allen cite well-meaning shelter groups that refuse to euthanize any animals, even typically unadoptable animals such as aggressive dogs. These animals take up cage space and resources that can be devoted to animals with a reasonable chance of being adopted. Deciding which course of action is better is difficult to make.

The no-kill label is a powerful public relations tool. Many people prefer to donate money to an organization or shelter that advertises itself as no-kill, but no-kill does not necessarily mean no-euthanasia. It also does not guarantee that the animals are being properly cared for and kept in clean, uncrowded, disease-free conditions. Critics state that some people who want to warehouse or hoard animals adopt the label to raise funds. Others may begin with the best intentions and quickly become overwhelmed by the number of animals with severe physical and emotional problems requiring extensive surgery and/or rehabilitation.

Several major cities are already operating or working toward no-kill status. In 1994 the San Francisco SPCA formed an adoption pact with city animal control officials to become the first U.S. city with a no-kill policy. Shelters in Miami, Florida; Richmond, Virginia; and Austin, Texas, have followed suit.

Some organizations and shelters that follow the no-kill philosophy downplay use of the label to describe themselves. For example, the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was founded in 1984 and is the largest animal sanctuary in the United States. Funded by private donations and located on three thousand acres near Kanab, Utah, in 2007 the sanctuary housed roughly fifteen hundred animals. Most were cats and dogs. The remainder included horses, burros, birds, rabbits, goats, livestock, and other animals. Best Friends takes in animals from all over the country and occasionally from other countries. Some come from shelters where they were considered unadoptable and were going to be euthanized. They may be old, crippled, or sick with chronic illnesses, or may have been traumatized by abuse or neglect. In exchange for taking these animals, the sanctuary asks many of the shelters to take back adoptable animals from Best Friends.

According to Best Friends (2005,, many of the animals that come into the sanctuary are readily adoptable or become so following rehabilitation. Others are kept permanently at the sanctuary. Michael Mountain, the founder of Best Friends, is a solid supporter of the no-kill policy. The sanctuary defines no-kill as: "'No-kill' means that animals are not destroyed except in cases of terminal and painful illness, when compassion demands euthanasia because there is no reasonable alternative." As of 2007 Best Friends did not display a no-kill label on its Web site. Instead, it used the slogan "No More Homeless Pets."

Another major organization that supports the no-kill idea is Maddie's Fund. It was founded in 1999 by the billionaire Dave Duffield and his wife, Cheryl, and named after their beloved miniature schnauzer Maddie, who died of cancer in 1997. Maddie's Fund is a pet rescue foundation that advocates a community approach in which animal control agencies, shelters, humane organizations, and private-practice veterinarians work together to achieve no-kill status. Table 9.3 shows the top ten reasons given by Maddie's Fund for a shelter to consider implementing a no-kill policy. Maddie's Fund provides grants to community coalitions, veterinary medical associations, and colleges of veterinary medicine for programs that advance the no-kill goal.


Ten reasons Maddie's Fund recommends shelters join the no-kill movement

  1. Boosts adoptions.
  2. Attracts and retains more volunteers.
  3. Improves staff morale.
  4. Generates greater community support.
  5. Creates better alignment with charitable mission.
  6. Enhances image.
  7. Increases management skills.
  8. Generates more funding.
  9. Expands organizational options.
  10. Establishes eligibility for Maddie's Fund grant.

source: "Ten Reasons to Consider No-Kill," in Maddie's Fund: No-Kill Movement, Maddie's FundThe Pet Rescue Foundation, 2005, (accessed January 3, 2007)

In February 2005 Maddie's Fund pledged $15.5 million to help New York City achieve no-kill status. In 2003 officials in New York City announced plans to convert all the city's shelters to no-kill by 2008. The effort is being spearheaded by the Mayor's Alliancea coalition of dozens of animal welfare groups. Experts believe that the program has an excellent chance of success because the Mayor's Alliance is a neutral party rather than a particular animal group with its own agenda. Animal welfare organizations in the city do not have a history of working well together on common goals. The program will increase public awareness about adoptions and spay/neuter programs at the shelters. A new agreement was reached on how the city's animal control operations will coordinate with rescue groups and shelters to reach the no-kill goal.

Owner Turn-ins

In "Human and Animal Factors Related to Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats in 12 Selected Animal Shelters in the United States" (Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, July 1998), M. D. Salman et al. survey twelve shelters around the country to find out why cat and dog owners are turning in their pets. (Salman is affiliated with the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.) In general, Salman et al. find that the owners had unrealistic expectations for their pets and lacked the knowledge or will to work out problems that arose. Moving was the number one reason given by owners relinquishing their dogs to the shelters. However, Salman et al. find upon interviewing these owners that there were deeper issues involved, mainly behavior problems. In other words, owners who were moving decided to give up their dogs rather than take them along, because the dogs were unruly. Salman et al. indicate that if the dogs were better behaved, they might have been kept and taken along to the new residence. Similar findings have been reported by humane organizations investigating dog turn-ins at other shelters.

Many organizations believe that shelters need to place greater emphasis on behavior problems. Some shelters now offer training classes to new dog owners or have volunteers work with shelter dogs on basic obedience lessons. It is hoped that this will reduce the number of shelter-adopted dogs that are later relinquished. Breeders and veterinarians are being urged to encourage new dog owners to enroll in obedience classes or seek help from professional trainers. All people involved in reducing pet overpopulation agree that pet owners need to be better educated about the responsibilities and issues involved in raising pets.

Pound Seizure

Following World War II the use of animals in laboratory testing and experimentation increased greatly. Researchers turned to pounds and shelters for a quick and cheap supply of unwanted animals. Many states passed laws that required publicly operated shelters to turn over animals to institutions that requested them, a practice called pound seizure. Animal welfarists were disturbed by this development and blamed the National Society for Medical Research (now the National Association for Biomedical Research) for pushing pound seizure legislation. Many welfare organizations contracted with their local municipalities to privatize shelter operations so that their shelter would not be subject to the laws.

In 1990 the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was amended to set a minimum holding period of five days for shelter animals before release to research institutions. This holding period is designed to provide a window of opportunity for owners to find their missing pets or for the animals to be adopted by new owners. The AWA also includes record-keeping requirements for dealers who sell shelter animals to research institutions.

Animal rights activists and welfarists universally condemn pound seizure. In "Ban Pound Seizure" (November 15, 2006,, the American Anti-Vivisection Society notes that three statesUtah, Oklahoma, and Minnesotastill require publicly funded shelters to provide cats and dogs for research purposes. Most states legally allow pound seizure or do not address the issue. In some states the decision is left up to local government authorities. A few states require owners giving up animals to indicate whether or not they give permission for release to research institutions. The AAVS (2007, provides a state-by-state listing of laws regarding pound seizure.

According to In Defense of Animals (IDA; June 7, 2006,, thirteen states have outlawed pound seizure: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. The IDA claims that some cash-strapped shelters engage in pound seizure illegally to raise funds. There are also accusations that shelters hide some animals from public view during the required five-day holding period and then sell them to dealers or research facilities. The IDA suggests that pound seizure puts all pets in a community at greater risk of being stolen.

The Michigan Society for Medical Research (MSMR) says that Massachusetts alone prohibits the use of pound-seizure animals in medical research and that the other twelve states listed by the IDA specifically prohibit the use of pound-seizure animals obtained from in-state shelters. In other words, these twelve states do permit the use of pound-seizure animals obtained from out-of-state shelters. This means that forty-nine states allow pound seizure in some form.

Those who support pound seizure argue that animals that are going to be euthanized by shelters anyway should be used in research. They feel the benefits to humans outweigh animal welfare concerns. Welfarists fear that pets turned over to laboratories will suffer from poor care and die slow, painful deaths as the subjects of medical experiments. They believe that euthanasia at the shelter is preferable to this alternative.

The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit organization concerned with medical issues, advocates alternatives to animal experimentation for educational and research purposes. In "Pound Seizure" (2001,, Neal D. Barnard, the president of the PCRM, explains that research institutions prefer test animals that are relatively calm, well socialized, and easy to handle. However, these types of animals are also the most likely to be adopted from shelters. Therefore, Barnard disputes the claim that pound seizure is justified because the animals involved would be euthanized anyway.


Many animal welfare groups blame dog overpopulation in part on the purebred dog industry. Purebred dogs are those that have been bred from members of a recognized breed over many generations. This ensures that certain appearance and behavior traits are maintained within a breed. Breeding of this type has been practiced for centuries. It was popularized during the Middle Ages by European monks who earned money by breeding dogs with particular traits for aristocrats and members of royalty. It resulted in breeds that were notable for a specific task, such as hunting wildfowl, or had desirable features in their size, shape, fur, ears, and so forth.

Terminology used in purebred industry
Source: Created by Kim Masters Evans for Thomson Gale, 2005
Breed standard Set of detailed guidelines established to define the particular characteristics of a breed
Conformation points Specific criteria within the breed standard (e.g., fur color, shape of paws, size, etc.)
Consanguineous Descended from the same ancestor
Dam Mother dog
Fault A characteristic of a purebred dog that doesn't meet a conformation point
Inbreeding Breeding of immediate relatives (e.g., brother with sister, father with daughter, etc.)
Linebreeding Breeding of close relatives (e.g., aunt with nephew, grandfather with granddaughter, cousin with cousin, etc.) or of animals with many common ancestors
Outcrossing Breeding two dogs from different lines
Pedigree A listing of ancestors; the family tree
Sire Father dog
True to type Showing desired breed characteristics. Also desired characteristics are so ingrained that offspring can be certain to have them also.
Type Overall appearance including characteristics important to the breed standard
Typey An adjective used to describe a dog that seems to capture the essence of the breed or closely meets the breed standard
Whelped Born

Maintaining desirable qualities in a bloodline requires careful choice of mating partners. For example, an excellent hunting dog mated with a poor hunting dog will likely produce offspring that are not good hunters, and so the desirable qualities would be lost. Mating together two excellent hunting dogs will greatly increase the likelihood that the offspring will also be great hunters. This makes them much more valuable. Purebred enthusiasts are passionate about protecting certain qualities within a breed, and reputable breeders work to ensure that breed characteristics are maintained and that purebred puppies are placed in good homes.

The HSUS, in "Get the Facts on Puppy Mills" (2007,, estimates that up to five hundred thousand purebred puppies are sold either in pet stores or directly by breeders each year. Purebred puppies and dogs can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Demand for purebred puppies and dogs has resulted in a multibillion-dollar industry based on breeding, showing, selling, and registering these dogs. Some common terms used in the purebred dog industry are defined in Table 9.4.

Registration, Pedigree, and Papers

The American Kennel Club (AKC) was formed in 1884. It is the largest nonprofit organization in the United States that registers purebred dogs. The second-largest registry is maintained by the United Kennel Club (UKC), which was founded in 1898. These are the two most respected purebred registries in the United States. For a fee they provide registration certificates or "papers" showing that dogs are recognized as belonging to a particular breed. These papers provide a written record of a particular dog's ancestry. Typical registration fees range from $15 to $45. As of 2007 the AKC recognized more than 150 dog breeds and the UKC recognized more than 300 breeds. Each organization is supported by hundreds of local and regional kennel and breed clubs around the country.

The registration papers for purebred dogs are based on information supplied by breeders who are members of their respective clubs. Breeders can register litters born to registered purebred dogs. The registration papers are then turned over to the puppies' new owners. Each owner chooses a unique name for a registered dog that cannot be repeated. Owners can also request a copy of a pedigree (a family tree) for their registered dogs that goes back several generations. The AKC's Annual Report 2005 (May 4, 2006, reports that the club registered 920,804 individual dogs and 421,128 litters in that year. According to the AKC, the dog breeds with the most registrations in 2005 were Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Yorkshire terriers, German shepherds, and beagles.

Purebreds and Genetic Problems

Dogs as a species are prone to genetic diseases. Jonathan Amos states in "Pedigree Dog Health to be Probed" (BBC News, January 22, 2004) that "dogs are plagued by the greatest number of documented, naturally occurring genetic disorders of any non-human species." There are approximately four hundred inherited disorders associated with dogs. As long as the breeding population remains large, the chances of passing along a genetic disorder are small. This is because the dog blueprint is based on around thirty thousand genes.

Individual genes determine characteristics of a particular dog, such as hair color. Some genes can also carry the triggers for serious diseases and disorders. Two dogs can carry genes with these dangerous triggers but not suffer from the diseases themselves because the genes are recessive rather than dominant in their genetic makeup. However, if these two dogs mate with each other, there is a good chance that some of their puppies will inherit the problem genes from both parents and develop the disorder. At the very least, most of the puppies will inherit the recessive problem gene and later pass it along to their offspring.

In purebred dogs this inheritance problem is extremely aggravated because closely related dogs are bred with one another. This significantly raises the chances that problem genes will be passed on from parents to offspring.

Amos notes that common genetic diseases within specific breeds include heart disease in boxers, bleeding problems in Dobermans, lymphomas in pointers, hip dysplasia in Labrador retrievers, and eye problems in Irish setters.

In 1966 a group of veterinarians teamed with representatives from the Golden Retriever Club of America and the German Shepherd Club of America to found the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). The OFA maintains a database of specific genetic disorders in individual purebred dogs. This information allows conscientious breeders to make informed decisions about which dogs should be mated. The OFA encourages breeders to submit health information for many generations so that trends in inheritance can be deduced. The OFA also issues health ratings for dogs in its database to provide potential consumers with important information. For example, the OFA can certify the condition of hips and elbows in particular dogs. This information can be included with the registration papers issued by the AKC. Another certifying organization is the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). CERF maintains a database on eye health and can certify that a particular purebred dog's eyes are free of genetic disorders.

Experts advise consumers buying a purebred dog to seek dogs whose hips and elbows have been certified "Excellent" or "Good" by the OFA and whose eyes have been certified by CERF to be free of genetic abnormalities. The same conditions should be met in the parents of purebred puppies that consumers consider buying.

Papers Do Not Guarantee Quality or Health

Neither the AKC nor the UKC guarantees the quality or health of a purebred dog. The AKC (2007, makes the following warning: "There is a widely held belief that 'AKC' or 'AKC papers' guarantee the quality of a dog. This is not the case. AKC is a registry body. A registration certificate identifies the dog as the offspring of a known sire [father] and dam [mother], born on a known date. It in no way indicates the quality or state of health of the dog."

The AKC and UKC simply track ancestry records based on the information they are given by breeders. It is an honor system. Unscrupulous breeders can provide false information and register dogs that are not really purebreds, but mixes (or mutts). Such breeders can also purposely breed dogs with known genetic disorders just to achieve a look that is popular with purebred buyers.

During the late 1990s the AKC began random DNA testing to ensure that breeders were supplying accurate information about the purebred dogs they registered. The AKC (2007, notes that in 2006, 95.5% of the litters tested had correct parentage. This value was up from 89% in 1998.

Purebred Dog Competitions

The AKC and UKC hold thousands of competitions each year in which registered dogs can compete. Some of these events are called dog shows or conformation shows and are designed to show off dogs that exemplify breed standards. These are basically beauty contests in which the focus is on distinctive features that characterize particular breeds. Other competitions highlight skills in hunting, agility, or obedience.

Purebred Registries Compete

The AKC and UKC are recognized as reputable purebred registries in the United States. In addition, some breed clubs maintain well-respected registriesfor example, the Australian Shepherd Club of America. However, a number of other registries exist that may operate for dubious purposes. Dog enthusiasts state that unscrupulous registries make money by issuing papers indiscriminately to dogs that are not even purebreds or for dogs that are not from recognized breeds. This allows breeders to sell the dogs for high prices to unsuspecting consumers. Many of these unscrupulous registries are believed to have been started by breeders who have been kicked out of the AKC or UKC for rules violations.

Alternative registries often allow crossbreeds to be registered. These are puppies resulting from mating two desirable breeds together. Usually, the parents are AKC or UKC registered. However, the puppies cannot be registered by these agencies. Crossbreeds are popular with some consumers because they are novel. Examples include:

Puppy Mills

Puppy mills are facilities that breed puppies in inferior conditions and sell them in commercial markets. The HSUS states in "Get the Facts on Puppy Mills" that puppy mills do not provide adequate veterinary care, food, shelter, and socialization for their puppies. According to the HSUS, thousands of puppy mills existed in the United States as of 2007. Animal welfare groups maintain that puppy mills cause suffering of mother dogs and puppies. Female dogs are bred too often and destroyed when they quit producing puppies. The puppies are often transported over long distances in cramped cages and frequently suffer from debilitating conditions and diseases.

All dog breeders meeting certain criteria must be licensed by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These licenses fall into two types:

  • Class ABreeders who sell animals that they have bred and raised on their own premises. People with three or fewer breeding females who sell offspring for pets or exhibition are exempt. People who sell animals directly to owners are exempt.
  • Class BPeople who purchase and resell animals, including dealers, brokers, and auction house operators. Retail pet stores selling nondangerous "pet-type" animals are exempt.

Table 9.5 shows the number of Class A and B licenses by state as of September 2006. The states with the most Class A licenses were Missouri (1,609), Oklahoma (672), Iowa (448), Kansas (434), and Arkansas (379). Together, these five states accounted for 71% of all Class A licenses. The vast majority of the licensed breeders in these states raise puppies for the purebred market. Breeders and brokers sell purebred puppies to pet stores, who in turn sell them to the public. Annual APHIS license fees for Class A and B licenses are listed in Table 9.6. A $10 application fee is required for first-time applicants.

Puppy farming is big business in the Midwest. It was encouraged by the government following World War II as a way for rural people to make more income. Many traditional farmers switched from raising pigs to raising puppies when market conditions were favorable. This was particularly true in Missouri.


As shown in Table 9.5, Missouri leads the nation in APHIS Class A and B licenses. The state accounts for 32% of all Class A licenses and 14% of all Class B licenses. It is widely agreed that Missouri is the nation's top source for purebred puppies. In December 2003 the radio station KMOX of St. Louis aired the award-winning series Missouri: The Puppy Pipeline by Megan Lynch. According to Lynch, the state had an estimated one thousand licensed puppy breeding facilities in 2003, far more than any other state. Experts estimated that as many as one thousand additional unlicensed puppy farms were operating illegally. The state is home to the Hunte Corporation, the world's largest distributor of puppies to pet stores. In 2003 puppy breeding was an estimated $2-billion-a-year business in Missouri. Lynch reviewed the history of the puppy farming industry in the state and reported on problems revealed by state auditors.

Number of licenses granted to Class A breeders and Class B dealers, by state, September 2006
State Class A breeders Class B dealers
Number Percentage of total Number Percentage of total
Source: Adapted from "Breeders," in Facility Lists: Breeders, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, September 7, 2006, (accessed December 18, 2006) and "Dealers" in Facility Lists: Dealers, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, September 7, 2006, (accessed December 18, 2006)
Alaska None Not applicable 0 Not applicable
Alabama 15 0.3% 10 1%
Arkansas 379 8% 34 3%
Arizona 7 0.1% 2 0.2%
California 20 0.4% 26 2%
Colorado 10 0.2% 13 1%
Connecticut 1 0.02% 6 1%
District of Columbia None Not applicable 0 Not applicable
Delaware None Not applicable 4 0.3%
Florida 34 0.7% 87 7%
Georgia 29 0.6% 11 1%
Guam None Not applicable 0 Not applicable
Hawaii None Not applicable 0 Not applicable
Iowa 448 9% 67 6%
Idaho 7 0.1% 1 0.1%
Illinois 53 1.1% 43 4%
Indiana 79 1.6% 26 2%
Kansas 434 9% 61 5%
Kentucky 8 0.2% 4 0.3%
Louisiana 12 0.2% 10 1%
Massachusetts 8 0.2% 12 1%
Maryland 3 0.1% 12 1%
Maine 1 0.02% 2 0.2%
Michigan 25 0.5% 30 3%
Minnesota 86 1.7% 40 3%
Missouri 1,609 32% 165 14%
Mississippi 7 0.1% 2 0.2%
Montana 8 0.2% 2 0.2%
North Carolina 11 0.2% 35 3%
North Dakota 20 0.4% 5 0.4%
Nebraska 170 3.4% 12 1%
New Hampshire 2 0.04% 0 Not applicable
New Jersey 4 0.1% 12 1%
New Mexico 2 0.04% 4 0.3%
Nevada 3 0.1% 7 1%
New York 50 1.0% 33 3%
Ohio 187 3.8% 34 3%
Oklahoma 672 13.5% 58 5%
Oregon 23 0.5% 21 2%
Pennsylvania 185 3.7% 51 4%
Puerto Rico None Not applicable 0 Not applicable
Rhode Island None Not applicable 3 0.3%
South Carolina 1 0.0% 10 1%
South Dakota 114 2% 16 1%
Tennessee 15 0.3% 19 2%
Texas 134 3% 112 9%
Utah 1 0.02% 7 1%
Virginia 16 0.3% 15 1%
Vermont None Not applicable 1 0.1%
Washington 12 0.2% 12 1%
Wisconsin 64 1% 40 3%
West Virginia None Not applicable 7 1%
Wyoming 5 0.1% 1 0.1%
   Totals 4,974 1,185

In 1992 the Missouri legislature passed the Animal Care Facilities Act to establish minimum standards for businesses, shelters, and pounds dealing with cats and dogs. The Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) oversees the program, with regulations largely identical to USDA regulations for animal facilities. In Audit of Animal Care Facilities Inspection Program (February 15, 2001,, Claire McCaskill of the state auditor office was highly critical of the MDA's oversight of the state's puppy breeding industry. McCaskill stated that MDA facility inspections were "spotty" and resulted in few sanctions against violators. Problems were also cited with apparent conflict of interest, because the program coordinator and one of the inspectors were former commercial dog breeders and still involved in the breeding business. McCaskill concluded, "Commercial dog breeders have no incentive to comply with Missouri laws, leaving canines at risk for substandard care."

USDA license fees for dealers, brokers, and operators of auction sales
Over But not over Initial license fee Annual or changed class of license fee
Source: "Table 1. Dealers, Brokers, and Operators of an Auction SaleClass "A" and "B" License," in Federal Register, vol. 69, no. 134, July 14, 2004, (accessed December 15, 2006)
$0 $500 $30 $40
500 2,000 60 70
2,000 10,000 120 130
10,000 25,000 225 235
25,000 50,000 350 360
50,000 100,000 475 485
100,000 750 760

Lynch found that the MDA inspection organization was changed as a result of McCaskill's unfavorable audit. Lynch interviewed the MDA's new director, who instituted standardized procedures that inspectors followed, including a checklist to use during inspections. However, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation said that the MDA's improvements were "on paper only" and did not actually bring about change in the industry. She also criticized the MDA's policy of letting breeders with problems make improvements rather than face administrative hearings for noncompliance. The MDA noted that its policy saves time and money.

In Follow-Up Review of Animal Care Facilities Inspection Program (December 16, 2004,, a follow-up report on MDA's oversight of puppy farms, McCaskill notes that "most" of the problems cited in the 2001 audit had not been corrected. The problem areas McCaskill cites are as follows:

  • Inspectors do not always observe all violations or record all the violations they observe.
  • Some inspectors do not believe it is necessary to report all violations or conduct a complete annual inspection.
  • Some facilities with chronic poor performance are never penalized.
  • State inspectors are duplicating federal inspection efforts.
  • Inspections are not conducted annually at every facility as required by law.
  • The MDA is reluctant to use the administrative hearing process or confiscate animals from repeat violators. For example, one facility had been cited for eighty-three recurring violations since December 2000 but had never been penalized.
  • Fines for violations are rarely assessed. Those fines that have been assessed are never collected.
  • Poor record keeping makes it difficult to determine which facilities have paid their licensing fees.
  • The MDA's nine inspectors are so overburdened with other tasks that they do not have time to conduct their inspection duties properly.
  • The MDA allows unlicensed operators to continue to operate and sell dogs in violation of state regulations.

McCaskill warns, "These problems have eroded the integrity of the inspection program which is designed to help ensure canines are safely and humanely treated." Auditors accompanying MDA inspectors observed unsanitary and unsafe conditions at some puppy farms. A listing of the most serious problems is provided in Table 9.7. In addition, McCaskill mentions many problems with record keeping, both by inspectors and facility operators.

Aggie M. Opgenorth reports in "Largest Animal Rescue in Tennessee County History Saves 250 Dogs" (Portland Independent Media Center, October 29, 2006) that Tennessee authorities conducted a raid in October 2006 on a Sumner County puppy mill housing more than three hundred dogs. Authorities were tipped off about the situation by a neighbor who took undercover video of the deplorable conditions at the farm. Irene Meuser, the farm owner, had been breeding small dog breeds, such as dachshunds and Pomeranians, and keeping them in crowded, dirty cages in buildings on her property. One official reported, "The stench was so powerful that some deputies had to rush outside to vomit." Investigators found several dead dogs on the property. All the rescued dogs had health problems. More than one hundred humane and rescue organizations banded together to obtain vet care for the animals and have them all spayed and neutered before adoption. All the rescued dogs were placed with new owners.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund in "Happy Tails: Caring Prosecutor, Community Shut Down Puppy Mill" (November 28, 2006,, Meuser pleaded guilty to four counts of animal cruelty. Opgenorth notes that Meuser received $5,000 of the adoption fees collected when the dogs were adopted out. Authorities defended the payment, saying it helped facilitate a deal in which Meuser agreed to plead guilty and relinquish custody of the animals immediately. Otherwise, they would have been held indefinitely as evidence during trial. Furthermore, Opgenorth mentions that Meuser had more than 280 cats and small dogs confiscated in 1996 in a similar case.

Violations observed by Missouri auditors at puppy breeding facilities, 2004
Inspection type Violations observed by auditor at puppy breeding facilities Response of inspector
Source: Adapted from text in Follow-Up Review of Animal Care Facilities Inspection Program, Office of the Missouri State Auditor, December 16, 2004, (accessed January 3, 2007)
Pre-licensing Cages with inadequate flooring Did not observe
Accumulated fecal material Did not observe
Multiple shelters in poor condition Did not observe
Improper food storage Did not observe
Operator selling puppies prior to obtaining license Observed, but did not report, told operator "you really shouldn't be doing that"
Annual Pens with large amounts of fecal accumulation Observed, but did not report Housing facility that did not protect dogs from weather Observed, but did not report, decided to revisit facility before winter to ensure building was completed
Annual A piece of unsecured metal covering a drain channel inside the outdoor runs Did not observe
Pre-licensing No veterinary care available Gave applicant up to 30 days to correct, but did not reinspect for 138 days
Fecal accumulation under and in pens
Dirty water or no water in bowls
Re-inspection of above facility Fecal accumulation under and in pens Gave applicant time to correct
Dirty water or no water
Pens with no shelter or shade
No food or moldy food in feed bowls
Dogs with skin problems
A puppy that had been dead for several days in pen
28 new violations
Re-inspection of above facility 14 violations still existing from previous inspections, plus 7 new violations Gave applicant time to correct
Re-inspection of above facility 15 violations still existing from previous inspections, plus 11 new violations Gave applicant time to correct


Tips from the Humane Society on picking a good dog breeder


Keeps her dogs in the home and as part of the familynot outside in kennel runs.

Has dogs who appear happy and healthy, are excited to meet new people, and don't shy away from visitors.

Shows you where the dogs spend most of their timean area that is clean and well maintained.

Encourages you to spend time with the puppy's parentsat a minimum, the pup's motherwhen you visit.

Breeds only one or two types of dogs, and is knowledgeable about what are called "breed standards" (the desired characteristics of the breed in areas such as size, proportion, coat, color, and temperament).

Has a strong relationship with a local veterinarian and shows you records of veterinary visits for the puppies. Explains the puppies' medical history and what vaccinations your new puppy will need.

Is well versed in the potential genetic problems inherent in the breedthere are specific genetic concerns for every breedand explains to you what those concerns are. The breeder should have had the puppy's parents tested (and should have the results from the parents' parents) to ensure they are free of those defects, and she should be able to provide you with documentation for all testing she has done through organizations such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).

Gives you guidance on caring and training for your puppy and is available for assistance after you take your puppy home.

Provides references of other families who have purchased puppies from her.

Feeds high quality "premium" brand food.

Doesn't always have puppies available but rather will keep a list of interested people for the next available litter.

Actively competes with her dogs in conformation trials (which judge how closely dogs match their "breed standard"), obedience trials (which judge how well dogs perform specific sets of tasks on command), or tracking and agility trials. Good breeders will also work with local, state, and national clubs that specialize in their specific breed.

Encourages multiple visits and wants your entire family to meet the puppy before you take your puppy home.

Provides you with a written contract and health guarantee and allows plenty of time for you to read it thoroughly. The breeder should not require that you use a specific veterinarian.

source: "How to Identify a Good Dog BreederTips from the Humane Society of the United States," in How to Find a Good Dog Breeder, Humane Society of the United States, 2005, (accessed January 3, 2007)


In response to negative publicity about puppy mills, several states have passed lemon laws to protect consumers who buy puppies at pet stores. Such laws typically enable consumers to be reimbursed by pet stores that sell them puppies that turn out to be in poor health. The HSUS hopes that such laws motivate pet stores to pressure breeders to improve the conditions in which puppies are raised. Table 9.8 shows HSUS tips on how consumers can identify a good dog breeder.

Headquartered in Goodman, Missouri, Hunte Corporation is the nation's largest supplier of purebred puppies to pet stores and ships them internationally, primarily to Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Spain. During her December 2003 investigation, Lynch interviewed the chief veterinarian for Hunte Corporation. According to the veterinarian, the company holds breeders and pet stores to high standards and uses state-of-the-art transport vehicles to ship puppies. Incoming puppies are subjected to a veterinary exam and checked against breed standards. Hunte also says it tracks sires and dams with a database to screen out genetic problems. The company's puppies come with a three-year guarantee for the absence of hereditary and genetic disorders.

Kim Townsend operates the anti-puppy mill organization She also offers information to people who are thinking about purchasing or have purchased a puppy from a pet store. Consumers who purchase pet store puppies can determine where the puppies came from by researching the supplier (breeder) and distributor (broker) numbers that should appear on the paperwork supplied by the store. These seven-digit alphanumeric codes are APHIS registration numbers (e.g., 43-A-0123 or 43-B-4444).

Consumers are urged to contact APHIS and ask for copies of federal inspection reports conducted on the breeder and broker of any puppy they purchase. Backyard breeders and hobby breeders do not have to register with APHIS. Townsend claims to maintain a database of information on thousands of private breeders and brokers that people can research.

Dog enthusiasts encourage consumers to buy only from reputable local breeders and to ask to see the sire and dam of the puppy they are interested in purchasing. A personal visit ensures the consumer that the breeder is operating a clean and well-kept business with healthy, well-adjusted dogs.


All major animal welfare organizations are opposed to commercial puppy breeding because of the severe pet overpopulation problem. They do not believe that puppies should be commercially bred because millions of unwanted puppies and dogs are euthanized at shelters every year. In "HSUS Pet Overpopulation Estimates," HSUS estimates that approximately 25% of the dogs that wind up in shelters are purebred. Purebred dogs can generally be identified by their coloring, fur, and characteristic appearance.

The AKC does not support random large-scale breeding of dogs for commercial purposes. The organization conducts inspections of breeders who use the AKC registry and of breeders, retail pet shops, and brokers who conduct twenty-five or more registration transactions per year or breed seven or more litters of puppies per year.


Feral cats are cats that have reverted to a semiwild state because of lack of human contact and socialization. They avoid humans and often live in large groups called colonies. They may be born into this condition or adjust to it after being stray, lost, or abandoned for a long time. Feral cats are often confused with strays, but there is a difference. Stray cats generally appear scruffy and unclean because they do not groom themselves. They are used to human care and suffer from stress and hunger without it. Feral cats are adjusted to a wild manner of living. If a natural food source is prevalent, they survive fairly well.

The problem is that they also reproduce well. Many animal welfare groups advocate a trap-neuter-return (TNR) management plan for feral colonies. In these programs feral cats are humanely trapped, vaccinated, sterilized, and returned to their colonies. In most cases volunteers feed the colonies and conduct TNR activities. Kittens and any particularly tame adult cats go into adoption programs. In general, it is difficult to turn a truly feral cat into a pet. Where it is possible, it requires a great deal of time and effort. Most welfarists believe that their time is better spent sterilizing the cats than trying to tame them.

Alley Cat Allies was founded in 1990 in Washington, D.C., to provide information on feral and stray cats. Many animal control departments try to control feral cat colonies by capturing and euthanizing the cats. According to Alley Cat Allies (September 22, 2006,, the TNR approach is much more effective and less costly. Colonies of feral cats that are not sterilized and managed will continue to breed and expand, allowing in more cats with which to breed. Unneutered males (toms) spread diseaseincluding feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virusby fighting with each other over females and territory. Feline leukemia is a particularly contagious, fatal disease that feral cats may spread to people's pet cats that go outdoors. Feral cat experts point out, however, that incidences of these diseases are no higher in the feral cat population than in the domestic cat population. By contrast, a feral colony that has been managed through TNR will eventually shrink in number through natural causes of death. Established sterilized colonies will not allow new cats in because they are not needed for breeding, nor will they produce any new kittens.

Feral cats are enormously controversial in the United States. Alley Cat Allies estimates that there were "tens of millions" of feral cats in the United States in 2006. Many people consider them to be a nuisance and blame them for killing birds and other wildlife. Supporters of TNR, however, dispute the numbers of birds killed cited by groups that favor widespread capture and killing of the cats. The hunting of feral (also called free-roaming) cats is legal in South Dakota and Minnesota.


Tracking animal abuse cases is difficult because there is no government database of all cases. In 2001 Alison Gianotto of California began an online database of abuse casesPet-abuse.comafter her cat was stolen and set on fire. As of December 28, 2006, the database listed information on more than eighty-six hundred cases in the United States. Figure 9.3 shows a breakdown of the cases by abuse type. The largest number of cases involve neglect or abandonment (30.1%), followed by shooting (11.7%), hoarding (11.6%; see below for a discussion of hoarding), fighting (7.6%), and beating (7.4%). Table 9.9 shows the most common types of animals victimized in the animal cruelty cases documented by Dogs (excluding pit bull breeds) and cats are the most common victims noted.

Data in the database can be searched by state, date, perpetrator name, type of animal, type of abuse, or sex of perpetrator. Photographs are included for some cases. Each case description includes media and/or law enforcement or court references so that information can be verified. includes data on animal cruelty cases in which there is also documented neglect of a child or elderly person in the household. As shown in Figure 9.4, more than half of the hoarding cases in the database and one-third of the cases involving animal neglect and/or abandonment were associated with child/elder neglect as of December 2006.

The HSUS compiles statistics on high-profile abuse cases based on media reports. Its most recent report is First Strike Campaign 2003 Report of Animal Cruelty Cases (2003, The report covers 2003 and presents data related to 1,373 cases involving 1,682 perpetrators. Just over half (57%) of the cases involved intentional cruelty, and 43% involved extreme animal neglect.

The HSUS defines abuse (or cruelty) as purposefully depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, socialization, or veterinary care or maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating, or killing an animal. These are considered intentional acts that give the abuser pleasure. Neglect is not considered to be intentional, but it results in an animal not receiving proper shelter, food, water, attention, grooming, or veterinary care.

As shown in Table 9.10, companion animals were the victims in 71% of the cruelty cases examined by the HSUS in 2003. This percentage is down slightly from the previous three years. More than half of the animals involved in these cases each year either died from the abuse or had to be euthanized.

Animal cruelty cases, by animal type, 2006
Animal type Number of cases
Source: Adapted from "Most Common Animals in Animal Cruelty CasesGraphed Dec 28, 2006," in Animal Abuse Crime Database Statistics, Pet-Abuse.Com and Animal Abuse Registry Database Administration System (AARDAS), December 28, 2006, (accessed December 28, 2006)
Bird (other farmed) 74
Bird (pet) 208
Bird (wildlife) 193
Captive exotic 163
Cat 1,850
Chicken 374
Cow 207
Deer 70
Dog (non pit-bull) 4,301
Dog (pit-bull) 964
Goat 180
Horse 803
Marine animal (pet) 43
Marine animal (wild) 15
Opossum 23
Other companion animal 25
Other farm animal 91
Other wildlife 120
Pig 145
Rabbit (pet) 202
Rabbit (wild) 28
Raccoon 44
Reptile 158
Rodent/small mammal (pet) 178
Sheep 75
Squirrel 22

Table 9.11 shows that shooting, animal fighting, torturing, beating, and mutilation were the most common violent offenses committed against animals. Overall, the HSUS notes that males were responsible for 92% of the cruelty cases. Adults (aged twenty and up) accounted for 77% of the cruelty cases, whereas teenagers aged thirteen to nineteen accounted for 22% and children aged seven to twelve accounted for 1%. Cruelty cases involving dogs outnumbered those involving cats by a margin of two to one. The HSUS believes that dog cases are more likely to be reported to authorities.

The HSUS statistics show that 15% of the intentional animal cruelty cases also involved some form of concurrent family violencefor example, child or spousal abuse. Authorities have long known about the link between animal abuse and family violence. The American Humane Association (AHA) was founded in 1877 as a collection of organizations working against child and animal abuse. It now operates the National Resource Center on the Link between Violence to People and Animals. The AHA works to strengthen animal abuse laws and, in cases where children abuse animals, to advocate early intervention to prevent the violence from escalating. According to the AHA (2007,, a large majority of families being treated for child abuse incidents also report instances of animal abuse.

TABLE 9.10
Breakdown of animal abuse victims, by type of animal, 200003
Animal type Percentage of cruelty cases for 2003 2002 2001 2000
Source: "The Following Is a Percentage Breakdown of Animal Abuse Victims for 2003 As Well As a Comparison to 2000, 2001, and 2002," in The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) First Strike® Campaign: 2003 Report of Animal Cruelty Cases, Humane Society of the United States, 2004, (accessed January 11, 2006)
Companion animals 71% 76% 74%   76%
Farm animals 18% 15% 14%   12%
Wildlife 4% 5% 6%    7%
Exotic animals 2% 2% 2% Unknown
Multiple types 5% 2% 4%    5%

Animal Hoarding

Another form of animal abuse is called animal hoarding. Animal hoarders collect large numbers of pets and do not provide proper care for them. Most hoarders start out with good intentions, taking in a few strays to care for, but the situation can quickly grow out of control as the animals breed or the person takes in more and more animals. The animals are often kept inside the home and allowed to urinate and defecate there. Hoarders are oblivious to the negative effects of their actions on their pets and even on themselves. They see themselves as animal rescuers. Most will not admit that the severe overcrowding is unsanitary and unhealthy for the animals.

TABLE 9.11
Breakdown of common violent offenses committed against animals, 2003
Common offenses Percent of violent cases Percent of cases involving males Percent of cases involving females
Source: Adapted from "The Following Table Is a Breakdown of Common Violent Offenses Perpetrated on Animals," in The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) First Strike® Campaign: 2003 Report of Animal Cruelty Cases, Humane Society of the United States, 2004, (accessed January 11, 2006)
Shooting 17% 94% 6%
Animal fighting 17% 93% 7%
Torturing 11% 95% 5%
Beating 11% 97% 3%
Mutilation 10% 95% 5%
Throwing 7% 94% 6%
Burning 6% 91% 9%
Poisoning 4% 100% 0%
Stabbing 3% 78% 22%
Kicking 3% 93% 7%
Dragging 3% 85% 15%
Suffocating 1% 89% 11%
Drowning 1% 89% 11%
Animal sexual abuse 1% 88% 12%
Hanging 1% 83% 17%
Run over with vehicle 1% 100% 0%

The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium was founded in 1997 by Gary Patronek to study the hoarding problem and work to increase awareness among mental health and social service workers. The group believes that hoarding is a pathological problem. Some psychiatric experts suspect that it is a psychological disorder similar to obsessive-compulsive behavior.

According to "Lawmakers Tackle Animal Hoarding" (JAVMA News, May 1, 2003), in January 2003 authorities discovered the worst case of animal hoarding in U.S. history. An elderly couple living in rural Malheur County, Oregon, was found to have 562 dogs in and around their home. The dogs were scattered around the property, with some living inside the home, some in pens, and some in abandoned cars. Many of the dogs were sick and malnourished. Approximately 130 had to be euthanized. The remaining dogs were distributed among various shelters and rescue groups in the area. The couple was charged with criminal neglect, animal neglect, and criminal mischief. Authorities discovered that they had been charged with similar offenses in 1996 related to the keeping of hundreds of animals at their previous residence in Idaho.

In 2001 Illinois became the first state to pass legislation dealing specifically with animal hoarding as a crime separate from animal cruelty or neglect. The Illinois law is considered by some animal activists to be model legislation for other states because it recognizes that hoarding may be a mental health problem and recommends psychiatric treatment for offenders.


The word exotic means "foreign" or "not native," but when the word is used to describe pets, it refers to wild animals that are not normally considered pets. These include lions, tigers, wolves, bears, primates, certain rodents and reptiles, and many other species. Exotic pets appeal to people because they are different and, in some cases, dangerous and threatening to others.

Many people feel they have the right to keep any animal as long as they provide proper care for it. Critics say that exotic animals belong in their natural habitats and not in cages, where they can suffer from abuse, neglect, and boredom. Welfarists believe that even well-treated exotic pets should not be kept in captivity because it violates their wild nature. Law enforcement and animal control officers point out that exotic pets pose a health hazard to people because their temperaments can be unpredictable.

Some people think it is wrong to keep wild animals in captivity, even those born in captivity. Exotic breeders argue that an animal born and raised in a cage does not miss the wild because the animal has never experienced it. Critics do not agree with this argument. They believe that captive-born wild animals retain the natural urges and instincts of their species.

Exotic pets are offered for sale in pet stores, on the Internet, at auctions, and in trade publications, such as the Animal Finder's Guide (2007, http://www.animalfinders The National Alternative Pet Association (NAPA) provides a list of breeders, dealers, and shops that specialize in exotic pets. The association also provides information and Internet links for a variety of clubs and organizations for exotic pet owners. NAPA complains that people with exotic pets suffer from discrimination and have difficulties finding food, supplies, veterinarians, shelters, and rescue groups for their animals. Zoos are often unwilling to provide needed information and will not take unwanted exotic pets.

Exotic pets are banned or regulated in many states. Table 9.12 was compiled by the Animal Protection Institute in 2006. At that time sixteen states banned private ownership of big cats, wolves, bears, reptiles, and most primates; ten states had partial bans; fourteen states required private owners to obtain a license or permit; and thirteen had little to no oversight of private ownership of exotic pets.

TABLE 9.12
Summary of state laws relating to private possession of exotic animals
State Category Animals prohibited
Alabama N Fish from the genus Clarias; fish from the genus Serrasalmus; black carp; any species of mongoose, any member of the family Cervidae (deer, elk, moose, caribou), species of coyote, fox, raccoon, skunk, wild rodents or wild turkey
Alaska B
Arizona L All species of Carnivora (canines, felines, excluding domestic); orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas, alligators, crocodiles, cobras, vipers
Arkansas B* It is unlawful to possess 6 or more bobcat, coyote, deer, gray fox, red fox, opossum, quail, rabbit, raccoon and squirrel
California B Primates; Marsupialia; Insectivora (shrews); Chiroptera (bats); Carnivora (non-domestic dog and cats); Proboscidea (elephants); Perissodactyla (zebras, horses, rhinos); Reptilia (crocodiles, cobras, coral snakes, pit vipers, snapping turtles, alligators)
Colorado B Sugar gliders, wallabies, wallaroos, kangaroos
Connecticut B* The Felidae family (lion, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi cat, puma, lynx, and bobcat); the Canidae family (wolf and coyote); the Ursidae family (black bear, grizzly bear, and brown bear); and venomous reptiles, alligators, crocodiles
Delaware L
Florida B*& L Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, baboons, leopards, jaguars, tigers, lions, bears, elephants, crocodiles,
Georgia B Marsupialia (kangaroos); Primates (chimpanzees, gorillas, macaques); Carnivora (canines, felines); Proboscidea (elephants); Crocodylia (crocodiles, alligators, cobras, all poisonous rear-fanged species)
Hawaii B Non-Human Primates, Felidae family (lion, leopard, cheetah,); the Canidae family (wolf and coyote); and the Ursidae family (black bear, grizzly bear, and brown bear)
Idaho N
Illinois B* Lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, bear, hyena, wolf, coyote, or any poisonous life-threatening reptile
Indiana L Lions, tigers, jaguars, cougars, panthers, cheetahs, wolves, coyotes, jackals, hyenas, bears, venomous reptiles, alligators, crocodiles, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, green and yellow anacondas
Iowa O
Kansas B* Lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, cheetah, mountain lion, hybrid of a large cat, bear, or venomous snake
Kentucky B
Louisiana B* Bears, cougars, or non-human primates
Maine L
Maryland B Foxes, skunks, raccoons, all species of bears, alligators, crocodiles, all species of wild cats, wolves, nonhuman primates, various venomous reptiles
Massachusetts B
Michigan B*& N
Minnesota B* All members of the Felidae family (except domestic cats); all bears; and all non-human primates
Mississippi L Orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas, macaques, mandrills, baboons, wolves, bears, hyenas, lions tigers, jaguars, leopards, elephants
Missouri N Lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, Canada lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, hyena, wolf, coyote, or any deadly, dangerous, or poisonous reptile
Montana L & N Cougars, lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, pumas, cheetahs, ocelots, and hybrids of those large cats that are kept in captivity for use other than public exhibition
Nebraska B* Wolf, skunk, or any member of the Felidae (cats, except domesticated) and Ursidae (bear) families Nevada N Alligators, crocodiles, coyotes, foxes, raccoons
New Hampshire B Felines, bears, wolves, poisonous reptiles, and non-human primates, unless they are exhibitors
New Jersey B Primates; Carnivora (nondomestic dogs and cats, bears); Saura (venomous gila monsters); Serpentes (venomous coral snakes, cobras, vipers, pit vipers); Crocodilia (alligators, crocodiles, gavials); Psittaciformes (ring-necked and monk parakeets); and Rodentia (prairie dogs, ground squirrels)
New Mexico B Non-domesticated felines, primates, crocodiles, alligators, and wolves
New York B All members of the Felidae family (except domestic cats); all members of the Canidae family (except domestic dogs); all bears; all non-human primates, venomous reptiles, and crocodiles
North Carolina N
North Dakota L Bears, wolves, wolf hybrids, primates, all non-domesticated cats except Canadian lynx, and bobcat
Ohio N
Oklahoma L
Oregon L Lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, ocelot, monkey, ape, gorilla, or other non-human primate, wolf or canine not indigenous to Oregon, and bear (except black bear)
Pennsylvania L All bears, coyotes, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars, wolves, and any crossbreed of these animals, which have similar characteristics in appearance or features
Rhode Island L
South Carolina N Cervidae, Suidae, Tayassuidae (peccaries), Bovidae (bison, mountain goat, mountain sheep), coyotes, bears, turkeys, and furbearers
South Dakota L
Tennessee B Primates (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, gibbons, siamangs, mandrills, drills, baboons, Gelada baboons only); Carnivores (all wolves, all bears, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars); Proboscidea (all elephants); Perissodactyla (all rhinoceroses); Artiodactyla (all hippos and African buffalos); Crocodylia (crocodiles and alligators); Serpentes (all poisonous snakes); and Amphibians (all poisonous species)
Texas L
Utah B Ursidae (bears), Canidae (all species), Felidae (all species except domesticated cats), Mustelidae (all species), non-human primates, and certain species of reptiles
Vermont B Large felines, bears, wolves, poisonous reptiles, and non-human primates

NAPA (September 2, 2006, complains that "even though many exotic pet species have been bred in captivity for a long time now, the laws still treat them like second class pets in some areas." The organization believes that a few bad incidents involving exotic pets have been blown out of proportion and that exotic pet owners are unfairly blamed for declining populations of endangered species. NAPA insists that captive breeding is the only chance for some species. It claims that many public shelters and wildlife rescue groups give preference to zoos and will euthanize exotic animals instead of allowing private individuals to take them.

TABLE 9.12
Summary of state laws relating to private possession of exotic animals [continued]
State Category Animals prohibited
B=Ban on private ownership of exotic animalsnon-domesticated felines, wolves, bears, reptiles, non-human primates.
B*=Partial ban on private ownership of exotic animalsallows ownership of some exotic animals but precludes ownership of the animals listed.
L=Requires the "owner" of the exotic animal to obtain a license or permit or to register the animal with state or local authorities to privately possess the animal (excludes states only requiring import permits).
N=The state does not require the "owner" to obtain a license or permit to possess the animal within the state, but may regulate some aspect thereof (i.e. entry permit, veterinary certificate, etc.).
O=No statute or regulation governing this issue.
Source: Adapted from "Summary of State Laws Relating to Private Possession of Exotic Animals," in Take Action: LegislationWhat's the Law? Animal Protection Institute, 2006, (accessed December 28, 2006)
Virginia B* Bears, wolves, coyotes, weasels, badgers, hyenas, all species of non-domesticated cats, alligators, and crocodiles
Washington N
West Virginia O
Wisconsin O
Wyoming B Antelope, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, moose or mountain goat, black bear, grizzly bear or mountain lion

All major animal rights and welfare groups oppose the keeping of exotic pets, expressing concern about degradation of natural populations and the care that captive animals receive. Wildlife collectors are blamed for harming sensitive habitats and killing nontarget animals. Animal rights activists and welfarists tend to be opposed to the removal of wild animals from their natural habitats for any purpose. Besides the obvious dangers to the animals, removal can have devastating consequences on the natural habitats of the animals left behind.

Exotic animals kept as pets can suffer from poor nutrition and care at the hands of inexperienced and uninformed owners. The animals may be subjected to painful procedures such as wing clipping, defanging, and declawing. Welfarists believe that only accredited zoos and sanctuaries should care for wild animals kept in captivity. This ensures the proper care for the animals and protects the public safety.


While testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans, Eric Miller (June 12, 2003,, the director of the St. Louis Zoological Park, stated there are between five thousand and ten thousand pet tigers in the United States and that this number exceeds the number of wild tigers living throughout Asia. Wild tigers are an endangered species, and private ownership of them is prohibited by the Endangered Species Act. However, ownership of a captive-born endangered animal is legal in many states.

Accredited zoos have been collecting wild tigers for decades. Many of these tigers were bred in captivity to produce popular zoo babies to bring in crowds. This resulted in an oversupply of adult tigers, many of which wound up in private hands. Pet owners, breeders, circuses, and roadside zoos have interbred different varieties of these animals, resulting in a large population of generic (not purebred) tigers.

Accredited zoos work to preserve endangered tiger species through selective breeding programs. Only purebred tigers with traceable ancestries are used. Generic tigers, or mutts, as they are called, have no value to these programs. Welfarists state that pet tigers are often kept chained or confined in small enclosures and may be beaten into submission.


The APPMA reports in the 20052006 National Pet Owners Survey that Americans spent $24.5 billion on pet food, supplies, and medicine in 2006. Another $1.8 billion was spent purchasing pets. Animal rights groups and many welfare organizations are critical of pet stores that sell animals, particularly those that sell puppies (because of concerns about puppy mills) and exotic animals. The two largest companies in the pet supply industry are PetSmart and PETCO Animal Supplies.

PetSmart has never sold cats and dogs. Instead, it allows local animal shelters and rescue groups to set up adoption centers in its stores to adopt these animals directly to the public. The company does sell small animals (such as gerbils and hamsters), reptiles, fish, and birds. This has drawn criticism from animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA (2007, claims that small animals in PetSmart stores suffer during their captivity and do not receive proper care.


Veterinary Care

Increasing pet ownership has resulted in greater demand for veterinary care. The AVMA represents the interests of more than seventy-four thousand veterinarians. According to the AVMA's U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook (2002), dog owners were far more likely to visit the vet in 2002 than cat owners. Only 25% of cat owners visited the vet at least once per year, compared with 83% of dog owners. Nearly half of cats and dogs were more than six years old. This percentage is up significantly from the 1987 census, indicating that pets are living longer lives. The AVMA credits better living conditions, health care, and nutrition as reasons for pets' growing life spans. Also, statistics indicate that more people are adopting older pets than ever before. In the 20052006 National Pet Owners Survey, the APPMA estimates that pet owners spent $9.4 billion in 2006 on veterinary services.

Risks to People

The largest health risks to people from pets are zoonoses and animal bites. Zoonoses are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. Scientists report that there are more than 250 distinct zoonoses that have been documented in medical literature. Zoonoses can occur in domesticated and wild animals. However, zoo-noses in livestock, cats, and dogs are well known, heavily researched, and largely controlled through vaccination programs. Diseases passed to humans from most other animals, particularly exotic pets, are a different matter. Little is known about them, and they are more difficult to control.

In May 2003 an outbreak of monkeypox in the Midwest captured widespread media attention. Monkeypox is a disease that is related to smallpox but not nearly as lethal. Scientists believe that several people caught monkeypox from pet prairie dogs, which in turn had caught the disease from infected Gambian rats. The import of all African rats was subsequently banned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health experts fear that other zoonoses not previously seen in the United States will emerge unless the trade in wild and exotic pets is curtailed.

In "Hedgehog Zoonoses" (Emerging Infectious Diseases, January 2005), Patricia Y. Riley and Bruno B. Chomel of the University of California-Davis solidify these concerns by stating, "Overall, ownership of exotic pets should not be encouraged because exotic animals and wildlife do not usually make good pets and can transmit zoonotic agents."


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in "Reptile-Associated SalmonellosisSelected States, 19982002" (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, December 12, 2003), comments on a study that reviewed historical data related to hundreds of case reports of salmonella infections recorded in medical literature. Salmonellosis, an infection caused by the bacteria Salmonella, can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps in patients for several days. Although it does not generally require hospitalization, it can be quite serious for patients with weak immune systems, children, and the elderly. The infection is caused by eating contaminated food or through direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians, such as lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs, and newts. Salmonellae occur naturally in the gastrointestinal tracts of these animals. The CDC concludes that approximately 5% of the cases were zoonotic. Extrapolating on a national basis means that approximately seventy-four thousand of the people contracting salmonellosis each year are infected by reptiles and amphibians.


Determining the number of dog bites and related injuries that occur in the United States is extremely difficult because there is no nationwide tracking system. The most recent comprehensive and published data were collected in 1994 and are summarized in the CDC report "Nonfatal Dog BiteRelated Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency DepartmentsUnited States, 2001" (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 4, 2003). The report notes that in 1994 approximately 4.7 million Americans were bitten by dogs. More than half of the victims were children. Nearly eight hundred thousand people sought medical attention for dog bites. The number of these victims treated at hospital emergency rooms was 333,700. Approximately 6,000 of these patients required hospitalization. The remainder were treated and released.

The same report describes a CDC analysis of dog bite injury data collected in 2001 from 66 emergency rooms around the country. Based on these limited data the CDC estimates that approximately 368,000 people required treatment for dog bite injuries at U.S. emergency rooms during 2001. Children under the age of fourteen accounted for an estimated 42% of the cases. The data collected in 2001 indicate that dog bites occurred mostly during the warm months, primarily during July. Although nearly half of all injuries were to the arms and hands, children were most likely to be bitten in the head or neck. Puncture and laceration wounds were the most common types of injuries.

Although this report does not note the breeds of dogs associated with the bite injuries, breed information has been collected by the CDC for fatal injuries from dog bites. After examining the records for 304 fatalities because of dog bites from 1979 to 1996, the CDC concludes in "Dog-Bite-Related FatalitiesUnited States, 19951996" (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 30, 1997) that the dog breed (or primary cross breed) could be identified in 199 of the cases. Pit bulls were blamed for seventy of the attacks; rottweilers accounted for thirty-two fatalities; German shepherds caused thirty deaths; huskies were associated with another twenty fatalities; and wolf hybrids were blamed for fourteen deaths. Other breeds identified with fatal dog attacks included Alaskan malamutes, Doberman pinschers, chows, Great Danes, St. Bernards, and Akitas. The CDC notes that unaltered dogs (particularly males) were more likely to bite than spayed/neutered dogs.

Public fears about aggressive dogs have led some jurisdictions around the country to ban particular dog breeds. In "Breed-Specific Bans Spark Constitutional Dogfight" (National Geographic News, June 17, 2004), Maryann Mott reports that around two hundred cities and towns have restricted or prohibited ownership of certain breeds. The most frequently targeted breeds (or breed mixes) are pit bulls, rottweilers, Dobermans, German shepherds, chows, Akitas, and Great Danes. Mott notes that bans are often passed after fatal dog attacks occur. Some jurisdictions ban breeds outright, whereas others require owners to carry liability insurance or muzzle their animals in public.

Many animal protection organizations and industry groups, including the AKC and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, are opposed to breed-specific legislation. They believe that irresponsible breeders and pet owners should be targeted instead, particularly those who train dogs to be aggressive or refuse to keep their dogs fenced or on leashes. Better enforcement of existing animal control legislation is seen as a more effective measure than breed-specific bans. Mott mentions an Ohio law that was passed in 1987 that deems pit bulls to be "vicious" dogs but does not ban them. Owners are required to carry $100,000 liability insurance policies and properly confine and control their dogs at all times.

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The association of childhood with pet-keeping is easy to see in contemporary culture. Children's intimacy with pets is a stock image of life in suburban America, a theme deployed throughout the world by global capitalism, intensifying the message of childhood as timeless, happy, and safe, fixed both within nature and in a protective, snapshot moment. It is a kinship acknowledged in calendars, stories, stuffed animals, commercials, and mail-order catalogues.

How did this relationship come about? Tess Cosslett suggests in "Child's Place in Nature" that for nineteenth-century people, the link between children and animals was clear and unmediated. When a child encounters an object in nature, French philosopher and historian Hippolyte Taine argued, "animal or tree, she immediately meets it as a person and wants to know its thoughts and words; that is what she cares about; by a spontaneous induction she imagines it like herself, like us; she humanizes it" (quoted in Cosslett, p.481). Cosslett shows how these views found expression in children's literature. In the story "Inferior Animals" by Margaret Gatty, author of Parables from Nature and other books about nature for children, for example, we are directed to "see the little child as she babbles to her cat on the rug, and would fain be friends" (p. 482). Children were like "primitive peoples," Taine explained. In Old Norse poetry and in the folk tales of medieval Wales, for example, "animals have also the gift of speech."

Children are feminized by the pronouns employed by Taine and Gatty, closer to nature than to men. Gatty mourned the "necessary unlearning" of our childhood instinct for intercommunication with the animals, a theme which the stories in the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling also address. Mowgli's trajectory from wild childhalf animal, half human ("I am two Mowglis," he sings)to adult is, Cosslett explains, "part of growing up and leaving the childhood space of play and ambivalence between human and animal natures" (p. 487). Children feel an affinity for nature, one that adults, males, and modern people, have lost. In children's literature, in the fantasy interactions of child and beast, that infantile closeness is recaptured. "Perhaps the child can reclaim as fiction what the adult has to lose as primitive superstition," Cosslett suggests, explaining this nineteenth-century point of view (p. 481). "Only children, or child-like men have any chance of breaking through the charm which holds nature thus as it were frozen around us, like a petrified magic city," German romantic writer Novalis explained (quoted by Cosslett, p. 483).

Research by cognitive scientists into how children perceive the relationship between themselves and other animals belies the "natural" connection assumed by these nineteenth-century thinkers. Gregg Solomon and Deborah Zaitchik show in a 2000 essay, "Les enfants et la pensée animale" (Children and animal thought), that children intuitively recognize themselves as humans to be "ontologically unique," essentially different from other animals: "Consequently, they are reluctant about attributing such essentially human characteristics as the ability to pretend or imagine to other animals" (p. 166). Their research shows how tenacious is the idea of differenceof the separateness of species, of the alienation of human and beastamong young children. Indeed, they show how hard it is to unlearn intuitive ideas about the radical difference between humans and other animals, and how culturally specific that process of unlearning is. A study cited by Solomon and Zaitchik compared two groups of children living in the same Midwestern town. One group was made up of the children of fundamentalist Christians, the other excluded them. The young children of both groups were essentialist in their thinking about species, that is, they believed people werein essential, defining wayscompletely different. Adolescents and adults differed, however. The nonfundamentalists had overcome that so-called bias, while fundamentalists remained locked into the beliefs of their childhood. At the very least, Solomon and Zaitchik conclude, these studies suggest the critical role cultures may play in modifying early notions of the humananimal divide.

The work of anthroplogist Rita Astuti on the Vezo of Madagascar is instructive along these lines. In "Les gens ressemblent-ils aux poulet?" (Do people resemble chickens?), Astuti describes Vezo children torturing animals. As a form of play, they tear the legs off crabs, stab the eyes and wounds of captured sea turtles, and hunt and gratuitously hurt birds, butterflies, grasshoppers, lizards, frogs, and all manner of creatures. Only adults treat animals with respect. Vezo behavior changes when individuals are old enough to understand the restrictions of taboo, which recognizes the moral kinship between humans and certain privileged animals. Thus it is adults who have created an imagined connection between childhood and animal life.

Children and pets are often paired in popular culture, but not because of any natural or indisputable affinity on the part of children for animals. It may be cultural habit alone that prompts Nicholas Orme in Medieval Children to state that "children bonded with animals, too, as they do today, because of animals' comparable size, their different activities, and the apparent friendliness of many of them" (p. 68). Much of the evidence of bonding, however, is slight. We read in Orme of a girl "knocked in the water by a pig" she was feeding, and another drowned while washing the skull of a bird she may have been tending. In addition, a few "household animals" are named in fifteenth-century schoolbooks. The fact that these were named suggests an emotional

connection. These include a hen, a cock, and, possibly, a dog named Whitefoot. Some royal children hunted with hawks and hounds, "animals cared for by others," Orme notes, "but which the child could fancy to be its own." Steven Ozment notes a few incidents like these in Ancestors: The Loving Family in Old Europe, including children playing with tame birds and pretending to be horses and goats (pp. 7172).

More typical of humananimal relationships in the Middle Ages is cruelty to animals on the part of children. Thomas More mentions that boys loved to play cock-stele. The cock-stele, Orme explains, "was a stick to throw at a cockerel in the cruel sport of burying the bird in the ground and aiming sticks and arrows at its head"(p. 179). Boys, and possibly girls, too, Orme suggests, organized cock-fights on Shrove Tuesday, a day "particularly important in the children's calendar[,] a public holiday and one when children had their own activity: cock-fighting" (p. 185). Another favorite pastime was raiding birds' nestsbreaking eggs and killing baby birdsan activity which along with cock-fighting helped to galvanize the European animal-protection movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Keith Thomas in Man and the Natural World and Erica Fudge in Perceiving Animals have shown the importance of Puritan and humanist thought in recasting European's relationship to animalsfrom one of simple dominance to stewardship and even kinship. It makes sense, then, that the pairing of children and pets enters the historical record during the Dutch Golden Age of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The United Provinces was a stronghold of both humanist and Calvinist cultures, and a haven for the English Puritans. In Dutch paintings of the time we find dogs and cats within the home, playing with children, participants in and witnesses to family life. We can interpret the place of pets within Dutch culture as part of the transformation in European attitudes toward animals, but, more particularly, as we shall see below, as an expression of beliefs about family life.

What does this evidence tell us? Historian Simon Schama in The Embarrassment of Riches shows us that in paintings of Dutch domesticity, "we are not merely glimpsing snapshots from the family album, but scenes from the interior of the Dutch mental world" (p. 495). In Jacob Gerritszoon Cuyp's Portrait of a Child, for instance, a "chubby-cheeked" little girl is shown holding the leash of an even smaller dog, perhaps a puppy, as Schama argues, and holding an outsized pretzel. The dog is at once the child's pet and an emblem of her status as a Christian child, educable, trainable, tied by "leading bands" to the values of her home. In another example, the girl in Jacob Ochtervelt's Family Portrait (1663), is training her small spaniel to sit up on his back paws, begging in a familiar way for a cookie or treat. Her father sits behind them, facing us, with his hand on a page of his Bible, while her mother stands, pointing a finger at the dog. These paintings evince a "tradition in which the instruction of children is reinforced by the visual analogue of training dogs in obedience," a tradition within which kittens or cats, in contrast, signal opposite qualities, and "function as symbols of fecklessness or unteachability" (p. 547).

Pets seem to amplify the message that children are meant to broadcast in Dutch life. They form part of a system of signs that tells viewers that a home is ordered, as in Pieter de Hooch interiors, or disordered, as in Jan Steen's The Dissolute Household (1668), where the prettified dog (it seems to be wearing a bow) scrounges for food on platters dropped on the floor as the children steal from their drunken mother. Whether, or to what extent, children and pets were bound together in social life is hard to tell. That they have linked meanings within the cultural universe of the Dutch is less in doubt.

We find a similar figurative quality assigned to pets in the nineteenth-century practice of pet-keeping. Pet-care books, which begin to be published in the 1850s for a middle-class audience, speak to the sanctity of the home and the role of dogs in guarding that domain both from strangers and from the pressures of modern life. Dogs, especially, come to form part of the emotional furniture of the bourgeois home, as Pierre Auguste Renoir implied in his portrait of Madame Georges Charpentier et ses enfants (1878). There, one Charpentier child sits on the shaggy Newfoundland while another is perched on the sofa, the dog as much a component and defining feature of the home as the children themselves.

What is surprising about nineteenth-century pet-keeping practice is the extent to which it is defined as an adult activity. Harriet Ritvo's work on the development of dog breeds shows how grounded in adult needs for status dog breeding institutions were. And although children figure in dog-care books, it is only at a remove, metaphorically, as in the stories of Beatrix Potter. Far from being directed to children or children's needs, much of the literature on pet-keeping describes pets as replacement children, or imitation children, or better children. According to Kathleen Kete's The Beast in the Boudoir, dogs lived "in an eternal childhood, a minority without end" (p. 82).

Like children, pets demanded attention, training, food, and sometimes clothing. But in return, it was promised, they were faithful to the grave. Pets took the "place of dead or departed children, of daughters who have been seduced, of spouses who have been ungrateful" (Kete, pp. 3536). They were buried in pet cemeteries with tombstones, as if marking human loss, then replaced. They found a place within an adult culture marked by the loneliness of modern life. The importance of pets as replacement children continues in contemporary America. For example, suburban towns might have both a pet bakery and an upscale shop for canine and feline toys and clothes, often directly across the street from an equally upscale clothing store for children. For some women a new puppy seems to herald the end of reproduction. The last "child" is canine, a substitution for what the family cannot afford, an outlet for nurturing not yet exhausted.

A custody case reported by Adam Liptak in the New York Times on July 12, 2002 ("Man Loses a Best Friend"), describes some of the issues involved in treating pets like children. A divorcing couple in Pennsylvania had agreed that the wife would have custody of their dog, Barney, and the husband would have visiting rights. The law refused to recognize the arrangement made between the couple, however. A state appeals court ruled that although the former husband "appears to treat Barney, a dog, as a child," legally he had the status of "a table or a lamp." The status of animalspets includedis of increasing concern to the practice of law in the United States, where a growing number of law schools offer courses in the subject, and the animal rights movement in general has called into question the boundaries between human and animal.

Research in psychology helps explain why we might treat animals like children. As Kete reported in The Beast in the Boudoir, talking to pets is shown to lower blood pressure. People's "voice tones and facial expressions," in speaking to pets are the same as those used by "lovers or by mothers with small children"(p. 37). It is for this reason that pets are being used in therapy, especially as tools in the treatment of older people. Psychologically, they are replacement peoplea transference made more easily by the physical resemblance of pets to children. Both are cuddly and cute, at least in the views of their handlers.

The anthropocentric culture of European America is becoming increasingly anthropomorphic. A tension exists, however, between the blended imagery of pets and children today and the wide range of children's behavior, both toward animals and people. Earlier pet-keeping cultures were bolder. The feral children of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century EuropePeter the Wild Boy and Victor the Wild Boy of Aveyron, for exampleanti-pets, as it were, allowed for discussion of the "brutish" nature of humans, though ideas about the natural goodness of children and nature also prevailed. Even among the child-happy Dutch, it was the trainability of children, not their innocence, that canines depicted. The animal protection movement in nineteenth-century Britain and France recognized that children, like adults, were prone to abuse animals. The movement was clear about the dangers this behavior posed to society. "The child is father to the man" was an often-repeated slogan of reformers. William Hogarth's print The Four Stages of Cruelty (17501751) illustrated this point in the mid-eighteenth century, showing the juvenile abuser of dogs and the later robber and murderer.

A 2003 article on dog fighting by Shane DuBow makes a point similar to the animal protectionist arguments of an earlier age, though it is an echo now rarely heard: the inner-city children who grow up training pit bulls to rip each other apart will, in their turn, become violent. "You're going to see a spike in violence" as these children grow up, one police sergeant is quoted as saying. The menace of violence implied in the pairing of child and pit bull is as important, however, as the image of peace and prosperity marketed by the puppies in the clothing catalogues. It is this menace that petkeeping culture today seeks to efface. Perhaps it hides from us the gap between an ideal conception of the child and the more prosaic and versatile range of human behavior.

Children and pets are twinned in European-American culture as two moons might be, the one occasionally obscuring the otherthe child, the peteach reflecting, and together amplifying, the power of adult needs. The history of that association says little about the actual relationships between children and animals but suggests a continuity across European cultures in the power of childhood to speak to ideas of nature and for animals, real and imagined, to stand in for the human.

See also: Theories of Childhood; Zoos.


Astuti, Rita. 2000. "Les gens ressemblent-ils aux poulets? Penser la frontiere homme-animal a Madagascar," trans. Christine Langlois. Terrain 34: Les animaux pensent-ils? March: 89106.

Candland, Douglas Keith. 1993. Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Carpenter, Humphrey. 1989. "Excessively Impertinent Bunnies: The Subversive Element in Beatrix Potter," in Children and Their Books: A Celebration of the Work of Iona and Peter Opie, ed. Gillian Avery and Julia Briggs. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Cosslett, Tess. 2001. "Child's Place in Nature: Talking Animals in Victorian Children's Fiction." Nineteenth-Century Contexts 23, no. 4: 475495.

DuBow, Shane. 2003. "Dog Bites Dog." New York Times Magazine, September 29: 5051.

Fudge, Erica. 1999. "Calling Creatures by Their True Names: Bacon, the New Science, and the Beast in Man." In At the Borders of the Human: Beasts, Bodies, and Natural Philosophy in the Early Modern Period, ed. Erica Fudge, Ruth Gilbert, and Susan Wise-man. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Fudge, Erica. 2000. Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Kete, Kathleen. 1994. The Beast in the Boudoir: Pet-Keeping in Nineteenth-Century Paris. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Newton, Michael. 1999. "Bodies without Souls: The Case of Peter the Wild Boy." In At the Borders of the Human: Beasts, Bodies, and Natural Philosophy in the Early Modern Period, ed. Erica Fudge, Ruth Gilbert, and Susan Wiseman. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Orme, Nicholas. 2001. Medieval Children. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ozment, Steven. 2002. Ancestors: The Loving Family in Old Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ritvo, Harriet. 1987. "Prize Pets." In The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age, ed. Harriet Ritvo. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schama, Simon. 1987. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Knopf.

Solomon, Gregg, and Deborah Zaitchik. 2000. "Les enfants et la pensee animale," trans. Christine Langlois. Terrain 34: Les animaux pensent-ils? March: 7388.

Thomas, Keith. 1983. Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern Sensibility. New York: Pantheon Books.

Waldau, Paul. 2001. "Will the Heavens Fall? De-radicalizing the Precedent-Breaking Decision." Animal Law 7: 75117.

Kathleen Kete

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Pet ownership and animal companionship have become increasingly prevalent in the United States. In 1996, there were 111.9 million cats and dogs in the United States, with these animals living in nearly 60 percent of American households. In addition, more than 4.5 million homes had pet birds and 6.3 percent of homes had pet fish. Less common pets, such as rabbits, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, turtles, snakes, and lizards could be found in 1.5 to 2.3 percent of all homes. While pets are most commonly found in homes of families with small children, dogs and cats can also be found in about one-third of the homes of people age sixty and over. Among seniors, pets are more commonly found in the homes of married couples, though pet attachment has been found to be stronger among people who live alone.

There are advantages and disadvantages to having a companion animal, many of which may be more acutely experienced by older people. Having a pet has been shown to have many beneficial social, emotional, physical, and physiological effects for people, but there are also costs involved in caring for and nurturing animals.

Benefits of animal companionship

Companion animals have been found to improve the physical, emotional, and social well-being of people, though many reported benefits are anecdotal or correlational. Compared to those without pets, animal guardians have been found to report less extensive medication-taking and fewer minor health problems, including indigestion, constipation, insomnia, cold sores, and headaches. They also tend to make fewer trips to the doctor and have shorter hospital stays when hospitalization does occur. Pet guardians over age sixty-five tend to have higher scores on measures of activities of daily living (ADLs) than those without pets. Furthermore, over the period of one year, older people who do not have pets tend to experience a greater decline in their ADL scores than people who do.

People with animal companions have been found to have fewer risks for heart disease including lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and lower serum triglyceride levelscompared to non-pet-owners. While pets do not guarantee protection against heart disease, in a classic study by Erika Friedmann (1980), pet guardians who had suffered a heart attack were found to have higher survival rates after one year than those without pets. Pet owners tend to be more active than non-pet-owners, though many of the physical benefits provided by companion animals hold even when owners do not walk or exercise their pet.

In addition to physical benefits, a variety of psychological, emotional, and social benefits have been associated with pet companionship. Compared to non-pet-owners, people with animal companions have been found to experience less loneliness and isolation, to have lower rates of depression, and to have a greater sense of psychological and emotional well-being.

Contact with animals has been found to have a soothing effect on people. Whether measured by self-report or by physiological response, lower levels of anxiety have been found in the presence of a friendly animal. These effects are present in a variety of situations, including daily, routine activities and stress-provoking activities such as visits to the dentist. During exceptionally high stress periods, such as loss of a spouse, animal companions can act as a "stress buffer" (Siegel, 1990). In Alzheimer's disease nursing-home units, residents with regular contact with dogs have been found to be more calm and less agitated than residents without dog contact. Additionally, caregivers of persons with Alzheimer's fare better on some measures of psychological health when they own pets.

Having a pet can also combat feelings of uselessness. The tasks involved in daily animal care can make a person feel needed, as well as motivate a person to maintain stability and routine in his or her life. When a person's identity goes through transitionsat retirement, for instancehaving a pet can provide a new or anchoring status. This in turn can promote human social bonding with other people with a similar status.

Other types of human social interaction are also promoted through animal companionship. Animals have been said to act as a "social lubricant" or "ice-breaker" in human interactions. In public spaces, being accompanied by an animal elicits friendly smiles and conversation from both strangers and acquaintances. When visiting pets are in a nursing-home setting, not only do residents and employees interact with the animal and the animal handler, but more interactions also occur between and among patients and staff.

The increasing amount of evidence regarding the physical, emotional, and social benefits of companion animals is having an effect on institutional residential facilities for older people. The Delta Society's Pet Partners Program, the Pets On Wheels program in Maryland, Therapy Dogs International, and various local humane societies have volunteer programs in which they bring trained pets (including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and even llamas) into nursing homes to visit with the residents. Other programs, such as The Eden Alternative, attempt to provide an enriched environment in residential institutions, which includes not only incorporation of permanent pet residents, but also flower and vegetable gardens, interaction with young children, and other enhancing stimuli. Nursing-home director Bill Thomas founded The Eden Alternative as an attempt to combat boredom, helplessness, and loneliness in residential institutions. Eighteen months after altering the habitat of the first Eden Alternative home, the residents there were found to take fewer psychotropic medications and have lower mortality rates than similar older people in a more traditional nursing home environment. Thomas believes that within the Eden Alternative homes that now exist across the United States and Canada, the residents' commitment to caring for the animals provides them with a reason to continue living.

Costs of animal companionship

As much as animal companionship offers to the owner, there are also financial and emotional costs to pet ownership, as well as the possibility of physical costs. Animal bites are responsible for 1 percent of all emergency room visits. Animals can host and spread a large number of infectious and parasitic diseases, and even the healthiest and most well-behaved animals can produce allergic reactions in their human companions.

There are several financial costs of pet ownership, including housing costs, pet acquisition costs, veterinary care, and food. Costs can vary according to where the pet guardian lives, the type and size of animal, and the quantity and quality of care provided. Only around 5 percent of rental housing allows for pets, and pet owners who rent can expect to pay both a monthly fee and an up-front pet deposit to keep their pet with them. Acquiring a cat or a dog can cost as little as $15 at an animal shelter, or as much as $1,500 from a registered breeder. To spay or neuter a pet generally costs between $30 and $150. Besides the initial costs, there are annual costs to pet ownership: for a medium-sized dog, food costs can range from $200 to $400 a year; annual examinations and vaccinations can run between $50 and $200 every year. Other costs, such as grooming, toys, treats, leashes, collars, and bedding, can range from $150 to $1,200 annually. Furthermore, these pet-care costs assume a healthy animal; a sick or injured animal can incur extensive medical costs. As with older humans, older animals often demand increasingly frequent and costly health care; but there are no governmental and few private organizations that can help offset the costs of animal health care.

There are a few programs that can help to offset the costs of pet care for older Americans. For instance, the San Francisco SPCA's Pet-A-Care program provides a variety of services to persons over age sixty-five who have limited incomes, including free adoption, free and low-cost veterinary care, and, working with Meals-On-Wheels, free pet food.

While the routine of pet care can help to provide a focused distraction from other stresses in living, animal attachment provides its own sets of stresses and worries. Seniors may worry about who will provide care for their animal if they became unable to do so through physical or mental incapacity or as the result of a change in residence. While federal law allows for pet ownership by seniors (and the disabled) in public housing, many privately owned residential facilities and institutional environments do not allow pet ownership. Fear of recommended residential relocation to a place that does not allow pets has led some seniors to avoid their own health care and physician visits.

Loss of an animal companion can have similar effects to the loss of a human companion. People who become separated from their animal companions through moving into a facility that does not allow pets have been found to feel more negatively about the move, to have more difficulty making friends in the facility, and to have more difficulties sleeping in the new facility. When a pet dies, its guardian can experience grief in ways that mirror bereavement following the loss of a human loved one.

As increasing information and awareness becomes available about the negative consequences of losing a pet, attempts are being made to eliminate or mitigate this kind of loss. Groups like the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are working to achieve relaxation of housing restrictions on pet ownership through legislative action and through programs like HSUS's Pets for Life program, which helps educate landlords about responsible pet ownership. In addition, pet bereavement hot lines and support groups, sponsored by humane societies, veterinary schools and organizations, and other groups are available through out the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.

While there are a variety of programs designed to help older people in maintaining companionship with animals, one area in which assistance is sorely lacking is in the area of daily pet care. Many independently living seniors have occasional difficulties with the care of their pets. Volunteer organizations could fill this gap by providing dog walking or animal grooming services, as well as transportation to the vet or store to obtain pet-care services and items. Organizations could also provide short-term emergency care for pets if the owner is temporarily hospitalized, as is done by the innovative U.K. organization Animals in Distress.

Older pet guardians may also worry about who would provide pet care in the case of the owner's death. Humane societies and veterinary associations recommend that all pet owners make arrangements for the care of their pets in the case of their own temporary or permanent incapacitation. In addition to discussing such arrangements with friends or family, pet owners can specify a caretaker in their will and earmark a portion of their estate to be provided for the care of the pet.

When there is no person available to take responsibility for a pet, the pet owner could consider other alternatives, such as animal sanctuaries that provide for the lifelong physical and social needs of pets when they lose their owners through death or disability. For example, owners are able to enroll their pets in the Home For Life's Angel Care program through a one-time program contribution of between $400 and $1700, depending on the contributor's age.

Animal companionship provides a variety of physical, emotional, and social benefits, but it is a responsibility that comes with a cost. A great number of older people prefer noninvolvement with pets, often because of the responsibility pet ownership entails. However, for people who do desire pets, the ability of companion animals to enhance the quality of life should be recognized and supported in medicine, housing, and legislation.

Jennifer Kay Hackney

See also Friendship; Loneliness; Quality of Life, Definition and Measurement; Social Support.


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Zasloff, R. L., and Kidd, A. H. "Loneliness and Pet Ownership among Single Women." Psychological Reports 75 (1994): 747752.

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pets. The keeping of animals and birds for companionship is probably as old as human society, and there is medieval evidence for cherished lap-dogs and hunting-dogs which were kept for more than utilitarian motives. The cats and toads which were adduced as witches' familiars provide evidence from lower down the social scale. Pet-keeping as an activity with wider economic and social significance emerges as part of the rise of ‘consumer society’ in post-Restoration England, with the development of selective breeding to emphasize approved characteristics (for dogs as well as cattle and sheep) and the introduction of new species which could display the purchasing power and discernment of the owner (as with the rapid diffusion of goldfish). A full-scale pet industry emerged in Victorian Britain, as the élite trends of earlier years found echoes in a growing middle-class public, and the competitive display of newly defined breeds found formal expression in the proliferation of shows and clubs of fanciers. Working-class pet-keeping was decried by those who complained of uncontrolled mongrels roaming the streets and regarded expenditure on pets as a feckless waste of scarce resources, but the demand for commercially produced pet foods, clothing, and other accoutrements which built up firms like Spratts, whose advertisements helped to sustain the specialist press, came from higher up the scale. Commercial, practical, and recreational motives were often combined with affective ones, as book titles like Cats for Pleasure and Profit (1908) confirmed, and the romantic anthropomorphism which was exhibited (for example) in some of Wordsworth's poetry in the early 19th cent. was widely diffused a century later. By the Edwardian years the full range of attitudes to pets which still endured at the end of the 20th cent. could already be identified, and the pet supply and servicing industries had become big business.

John K. Walton

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PETS Computing posting and enquiry terminal system

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