Litters are cute, but lead to animal overpopulation


June 05, 1993|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

A few days ago, I spent some time listening to one woman's view of animal-breeding. I regret to say she's not alone in her beliefs.

"I don't see what the big deal is about animal overpopulation," she said. "We've got acreage, and when my kids were young we always had baby somethings -- kittens, puppies, lambs and an occasional foal.

"We've really cut back now that the kids are grown, but it's still fun to have a litter of kittens for the grandkids to play with."

"And what do you do with the puppies and kittens?" I asked.

"We usually sell most of them," she said. "We used to let our kids handle the sale and keep the money to teach them about finances. Anything we couldn't sell, we'd send with them to give away outside the supermarket.

"We never had to take an animal to the shelter, and we found homes for them all, so what's the problem?"

This is a well-spoken, pleasant woman who has raised a family of fine children and dotes on her grandchildren. She describes herself as an animal-lover and has a picture of her little cockapoo in her wallet, right in there with the family.

And yet it's difficult for me to believe that she sees nothing wrong with her behavior.

Did she screen the people she sold or gave animals to?

"They were all good homes," she said. "Families."

How could she be so sure? Putting aside the issue of those who collect "free to a good home" pets for any number of dreadful reasons, the person who picks up a pet on impulse -- swayed by its "cuteness factor" -- is often ill-equipped for problems the little being will present. Neglect, abuse and abandonment are not uncommon in such situations.

And what about the babies of those babies? Isn't she responsible for them?

"We always found homes for our kittens and puppies," she said. "We can't spay them before they go, after all. And what if the owners want to breed? It's none of our business."

But you can spay or neuter them before they go, and some reputable fanciers of dogs and cats -- along with a growing number of shelters -- are doing exactly that. Many veterinary organizations are educating practitioners about the advantages of altering kittens and puppies as young as 8 weeks of age -- not the traditional 6 months. That takes care of the problem of people who mean well but never get around to altering their pets, and the offspring that often end up in the shelters.

I'm in shelters all the time, so I see where these babies end up. I know that when I see two little tuxedo cats with blue eyes, as I did last weekend, it means there were probably more, but the shelter "splits" the litters, giving a couple of babies from each a shot at the too few homes available. The rest are euthanized. It's the best they can do.

"I don't like to go to the shelter," she said. "It's too depressing."

It is a little tough sometimes, but I get very tired of people who are upset with shelters because they euthanize animals. The shelters aren't breeding the animals, after all; they're just coping with the result of attitudes like this woman's. She may have placed all her kittens and puppies, but I'll guarantee many of them ended up in shelters later, or had litters that ended up there.

What is most worrisome about this woman and others like her is the lessons she passed along to her children and is now sharing with her grandchildren.

If you want to teach children about handling money and running a business, what's wrong with a lemonade stand? If you want to share the miracle of life, how about a videotape?

Animals are not things: They breathe, learn, develop affections and feel pain. They deserve proper care and compassion while in our care. And if we are ever to solve some of the problems of our often cruel society, we need to start by teaching responsibility and kindness to our children.

Animals can help teach children these lessons, if we adults will just do our part and set the right example.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278

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