Opinion: Help minimize strays, prove your puppy love by sterilizing your pet

By Kym Levesque, columnist

I know a dog that needs a good home. Her name is Sasha. She is a black lab mix who is about nine months old.

When Sasha came to me, she had an indent around her neck where a collar used to be. No one answered our "found dog" notices. Without a registration number, the local shelters could not help us. She is truly a stray.

Unfortunately, Sasha is part of an old, continuing problem. In the United States millions of dogs and cats go through the shelter system each year. The Humane Society estimates that the number is between eight to ten million animals. Roughly half of those are put to death.

It does not have to be this way. People need to learn how to take care of their pets or to not have any. One of the biggest contributors to animal overpopulation is indiscriminant breeding of dogs and cats. Owners don't bother to spay or neuter their pets and, sooner or later, end up with a litter. Since there's no guarantee that these litters will find homes, many are abandoned.

It's the worst kind of pet owner that does not spay or neuter their animals. Studies done by both veterinarian organizations and animal right groups show that sterilization has many benefits. Sterilized animals live an average of two years longer than unsterilized animals. Health problems are reduced, too. Sterilized dogs have been shown to bite less. A neutered cat is less likely to mark territory. A spayed dog or cat does not go into heat. Above all, sterilized animals interact better with humans.

Yet the Humane Society of the United States reports that three of ten dogs are not spayed or neutered, as well as one of every five cats. 

Expense is an invalid excuse for not spaying or neutering a pet. Shelters regularly offer clinics to the public where sterilizations are performed at little or no cost. The surgery is a regularly performed veterinary procedure and involves little risk to an animal's health.

But worse than irresponsible owners are irresponsible breeders. If you feel like vomiting, do some research on puppy mills. 

The documented offenses at these facilities are gut wrenching. The sole purpose of puppy mills is to produce the most puppies to be sold at the highest price but at the smallest expense. Some dogs will spend their entire lives at a puppy mill in a constant cycle of breeding. Females are bred during each heat, with no rest to regain lost weight. When they can no longer breed, they are killed or abandoned. 

Genetic diseases are passed on to the puppies that will cause trouble and expense for ignorant buyers. Puppies are kept in small pens that are not regularly cleaned and given the cheapest, and least nutritional, dog food.

If you want to find a dog bred in a puppy mill, head to your local pet store. This is the most notorious market for puppies from mills. If the puppies are not purchased, either through the puppy mill or pet store, they are killed or abandoned.

The Animal Welfare Act includes provisions to combat the existence of puppy mills. It has been largely ineffective because of a lack of manpower. Currently, Congress is trying to pass the Puppy Protection Act, which would allow for greater oversight into breeding situations. 

While the Puppy Protection Act may help the situation, it cannot solve it. The public, however, has the power to eliminate animal overpopulation. 

First, owners can help. Spay and neuter pets at a young age. Register your pet. Always make your pet wear its tags. 

Second, prospective owners can responsibly choose a pet. If you feel the need to buy from a breeder, do research. Make sure the breeder is legitimate and credible. Check out your local shelter and think about saving a dog or cat. Do not go to a pet store.

And remember, I know a dog that needs a good home, just like millions of stray dogs in America. 

Kym Levesque is a journalism sophomore. Reach her at kymberly.levesque@asu.edu if you would like to give Sasha a good home.