Despite Americans’ general affection for pets, the reality is that at any one time, nearly 48 million cats and dogs are without homes in the United States. homelessness.
At the forefront of this enormous challenge is Dr. Ellen Jefferson, animal welfare advocate, longtime pet shelter veterinarian, and president and CEO of Texas animal shelter Austin Pets Alive.
TriplePundit spoke with Dr. Jefferson from his office in Austin to learn more about this persistent problem and how individuals and businesses can help combat pet homelessness. She also put to rest some common assumptions many of us still have about why countless dogs and cats can’t find safe, loving homes, and she talks about new research from Mars Petcare, the first global pet care company by revenue, on the state of global pet homelessness and the role of private sector partners in creating a world where all pets are wanted, cared for and welcomed.
Homelessness is caused locally by funding and technology gaps
The current model under which most animal shelters operate is based on an outdated approach that municipalities have long taken towards unwanted pets. For years, the focus has been on preventing the spread of diseases such as rabies. To this end, shelters have been designed and run to contain animals until the time has come for a common and sad outcome – the euthanasia of pets – because the vast majority of shelters do not have efficient staff and resources to help these dogs and cats land in a new home.
“Only 0.2% of local government funding goes to animal shelters, and that’s a problem when community members believe pets are part of their family,” Dr. Jefferson explained.
Yet the role of shelters within their local communities has had to evolve over time. “The problem with government shelters is that they are often seen as the last rung and lowest priority of safety nets within communities, so they are responsible for solving problems that are not solved elsewhere,” said continued Dr. Jefferson.
Moreover, shelters now face a very different reality. They are not just responsible for storing stray animals. Due to decades-long efforts to neuter and neuter pets across the United States, the population of animals entering shelters is actually very low, Dr. Jefferson said.
“For every pet in an animal shelter, there are about eight people willing and ready to bring them home,” she explained. “But the problem is that the industry has not been able to modernize to meet demand. There is no longer an “infestation”, but there are hundreds of obstacles we face in finding a new home for these animals.
The lack of information about the driving forces behind pet homelessness leaves many of these barriers unresolved. “This myth of overpopulation is really pervasive. We need to debunk this mentality with data and tell policy makers that it is no longer acceptable to do so, and provide the budget to ensure shelters have the resources they need,” Dr. Jefferson continued. “We need to bring together people who are committed to solving these big social problems.”
How businesses can lend resources to help pets and families find each other
The quest for more government funding can be a long one for animal shelters across the United States, but Dr. Jefferson insisted that companies can step in where policymakers fail. “Companies can contribute to innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization of the industry,” she told us.
In particular, tech companies can help animal shelters modernize with software and better serve their communities. Of course, not all shelters could be part of such a change – after all, many shelters are small operations run by one person who might not have a computer in the first place. Yet modernizing these systems would offer many shelters a fresh start and a new role in helping to strengthen communities, whether they are reuniting lost pets with their families or finding new homes for homeless animals.
“We need to bring in human health software to help track pets,” Dr. Jefferson suggested. “It’s a similar concept to tracking a person through a hospital system, but we’re using shelter software designed for prisons, not hospitals.”
Yes, you read Dr. Jefferson correctly: Most shelter software is based on an incarceration model, not a health or wellness model. “The most common software package is a subset of prison software – the bar is set by that. It’s a space that hasn’t had any innovation or competition, so as far as animals in shelters, we’re about 25 years behind,” she said.
A common – and tragic – result is that pets that are picked up off the street (even those with homes) can easily be lost in the shelter system. “Fifty percent or more of the animals that come into shelters don’t need to be there at all. The vast majority are within a block when picked up,” Dr Jefferson said at 3 p.m. “But once an animal enters a shelter, and often across town, their chances of being recovered drop to 10 percent.”
A step forward to tackle pet homelessness
Negative perceptions in some communities about adopting and fostering homeless pets are among the barriers to ensuring every pet has a loving home, something organizations like Mars Petcare are working to address. The company provides resources to local governments and pet owners through its Better Cities For Pets program. He also donates pet food to shelters through his pet nutrition brands like Pedigree, Nutro, Iams, Sheba and Cesar, and hosts regular adoption events, including his weekend annual adoption end with the Pedigree Foundation.
The company also recently released its first State of Pet Homelessness Index, research that measures and tracks the underlying causes leading to pet abandonment, seeking to identify key issues. that must be resolved to meet these challenges. Mars Petcare has developed this work in partnership with animal welfare experts and organizations, resulting in an index comprised of quantitative research and data from over 200 global and local sources to understand the issues and find the best possible answers. .
As a starting point, the index focuses on nine countries around the world, and the results are staggering: in these countries alone, 224 million cats and dogs are homeless, and less than 10% of them are housed in shelters. The US has an average overall score on the index – higher than countries like Greece and Mexico, but lower than Germany and the UK
Mars management hopes the data will inform and accelerate collective progress toward ending pet homelessness. “We have learned through our work over the past decade that this issue demands both global attention and local response,” said Ikdeep Singh, regional president of Mars Petcare. “Companies can start by understanding the problem in the communities where they operate and collaborating on solutions with local animal welfare organizations like Austin Pets Alive. We look forward to more people coming together to fight pet homelessness.
Dr. Jefferson is a member of the advisory board for Mars Petcare’s Pet Homelessness State Index and said the study is crucial for anyone working in this space to understand the ongoing disconnect between demand of pets and the millions of pets that need homes.
“The Index is a framework for understanding what’s going on that hasn’t been done before across the world,” Dr. Jefferson said. “I’m thrilled to be working with Mars and seeing this focus on a global approach to ending pet homelessness.”
This series of articles is sponsored by Mars and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.
Image credits: Matt Nelson and Jonas Vincent via Unsplash