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Red or blue: united we stand for dogs and cats

From Animal Sheltering magazine September/October 2014

Wayne Pacelle and his adopted dog, Lily

Are we a cat nation or a dog nation? A good number of households, like mine, have representatives from both camps. But there are some geographic variances at work. According to data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats outnumber dogs in the Northeast, Upper Midwest and on the West Coast, while dogs outnumber cats across the South. These numbers also line up quite neatly with voting performance: Cats are typically more popular in blue states, while dogs are more popular in red states. (With my cat Zoe and my dog Lily, I’m trying to stay bipartisan.)

Just under a third of U.S. households live with cats, while just over a third live with dogs. But there are more cats overall because each cat household typically has more cats. All told, Americans now live with an estimated 74 million cats and 70 million dogs (not to mention 3.7 million birds, 1.8 million horses and millions of other creatures great and small).

This is cause for celebration. We now share our homes with four times more companion animals than we did in the 1960s (the human population has only doubled since then). And we share a deeper bond with them: 90 percent of us consider our cats and dogs family members; 80 percent of us would risk our lives for them.

But cats and dogs still face far too much cruelty, neglect and abandonment in this country. Puppy mills aggravate this problem by breeding hundreds of thousands of puppies and bollixing up the adoption pipeline, while often relegating the mothers to lives of deprivation and suffering. Consider these statistics:

  • Every year, as many as 8 million cats and dogs end up in shelters where, tragically, roughly 2.7 million healthy and treatable animals are still euthanized.

  • Cats make up about 70 percent of animals euthanized in shelters, with many relinquished for solvable behavior problems. 

  • Dogfighters abuse tens of thousands of animals in pursuing their barbaric form of “entertainment” and gambling.

We’re committed to confronting the biggest threats to cats and dogs. Our puppy mill campaign works to shut down abusive breeding operations. Last year, we scored a major victory when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) promised to start regulating the online sale of puppies (our litigators are now defending this rule in federal court). We are anxiously awaiting a final rule from the USDA banning imports of puppy mill dogs from foreign nations.

We’re also working to reach our goal that no adoptable cat or dog is ever euthanized. In partnership with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council, we run the Shelter Pet Project to make adoption from your organizations the first choice for every animal lover.

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We’re scaling up our work to keep dogs and cats in homes, fighting against relinquishment, abandonment and deficient care for pets. And we’re expanding our innovative Pets for Life program into more underserved areas, to provide reduced-cost spay and neuter, and outreach and services to support compassionate pet ownership. We are now touching 27 communities directly with this program, elevating the human-animal bond i n places where people often don’t have access to important services for animals. Our work to keep pets in their homes also includes tools to resolve problem cat behaviors—the reason most often cited for cat relinquishments—and we are working to protect outdoor community cats and provide solutions to conflicts between cats and wildlife.

Euthanasia rates have fallen several times over since the 1970s, when an estimated 15 million cats and dogs were put down annually. But we won’t rest until every adoptable cat and dog in America finds a home as loving as those that millions of cats and dogs already enjoy, and we also won’t rest until we put the dogfighters and mills out of business. As a nation of cat and dog lovers, that’s the least we owe these animals.

About the Author

Wayne Pacelle is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States. Under Pacelle's leadership, The HSUS has been approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar's Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities, and is ranked in the top 10 for nonprofit brands.