This month dog-loving Americans, among whom are most of my friends, celebrated National Dog Day by posting "selfies" of their dogs on Facebook and by sharing their stories about their four-legged family members. For too many reasons to enumerate, I cannot share that love. In fact, I am critical of it. When a friend posted a photo of his dog on his Facebook page, I commented, a little mischievously, that "Man is dog's best friend." My friend, who knows about my skepticism on the subject, relied, "A 50,000 year marriage made in heaven."
It's a funny kind of marriage. Awhile ago, I wrote on this blog about the quite special relationship between humans and dogs. In some isolated cases, it can be said to be a true symbiosis - two species depending on one another for survival. But in the vast majority of cases, the relationship is completely one-sided. Dogs depend on us for their survival, not vice-versa. Whatever it is that dog-lovers claim that their dogs provide them, they are an ornament in people's lives. There is never any question that they are their property. They wear tags identifying them as such, and when they escape from their homes, "Lost Dog" notices are posted around the neighborhood or online informing everyone that, if found, the owners should be contacted.
In the U.S., dogs are confined in people's homes and yards, and restrained on a leash when they are taken for a walk, or left in the car when they're taken for a ride-along. In many other, poor, countries, however, dogs are practically feral, allowed to roam the streets unrestrained and undisturbed, sometimes travelling in packs, scavenging for whatever they can scrounge from people's garbage. They spread diseases, like rabies, cause car accidents when they wander through traffic, and menace or bite passersby. Last month in Karachi, Pakistan, tens of thousands of feral dogs, that had become a serious threat to tourists in the city, had to be caught and exterminated. Photos were published of the dead animals spread out on what appeared to be a parade ground.
In the U.S., municipalities employ animal control units that collect stray dogs and, when owners can't be identified, they are placed in animal shelters. The animal shelters are operated by humane societies, like the ASPCA. Animals are kept for a limited time and, if they aren't "adopted" within a fixed period, they have to be euthanized.
I went to the bother of researching the unpleasant statistic of the number of dogs that are euthanized annually in the U.S. According to the ASPCA, 1.2 million dogs are put to death every year in animal shelters.(1) It's a statistic that dog lovers don't want to hear. But why? Shouldn't the people who are responsible for the deaths of so many dogs be apprized of the cost of their love? In the U.S., many people, not all of them vegetarians or Vegans, are clamoring for a humane model for industrial animal farming, for the welfare of the cattle, chickens and pigs that are raised to feed us. Of course, they are only alive so that they will eventually be "harvested," but there is no reason, except for a purely financial one, why the animals cannot be provided with a better life, however shortened it is.
There is more than one reason why so many dogs have to be euthanized (a euphemism preferable to "put down" or "put to sleep," intended to dull the uncomfortable fact of extermination) in the U.S. every year. One reason is that there remain, despite rigorously enforced animal control, large populations of stray dogs and cats. Since these animals breed freely (one litter per female dog per year and three litters per female cat), most of the animals collected in animal shelters come from the stray population. But another reason is because some dog-lovers refuse to spay or neuter their pets. Some refuse to go to the expense, but others refuse to do it because they want their pets to enjoy full lives. Despite these actions taken by dog owners oblivious if their implications for all dogs, many Americans insist of interring their dead pets, the ones lucky enough to die the natural way, in Pet Cemeteries. But what becomes of all the dogs that are euthanized?
(1) Additionally, 1.4 million cats are euthanized. For this and other statistics that pet owners should know, see ASPCA Pet Statistics.