When people find out I'm a vet, someone always brings up the subject of euthanasia.
'I'd like to have been a vet', they say, 'But I couldn't kill things.'
It's not a high point of the job, but when an animal is sick, or in pain and has no quality of life, it's sometimes the only humane option. I make sure the patient has a 'good death' and move on relatively easily.
But I've also had to put healthy, unwanted animals to sleep because there no one wanted them and this part of my job is really hard. When you do it routinely, you do harden yourself to it a little, but it never makes for a good day at work.
Some of these animals have severe behaviour issues that make them unsuitable pets for anyone without extensive experience of 'problem' animals. These damaged animals are the result of poor socialisation, poor breeding and abuse and often there is very little that can be done to help them. Rescues have limited resources and need to be selective in the animals they keep for re homing. They simply can't hang on to a large number of animals who will probably never find new owners.
But there are many unwanted, young animals ending up on the euthanasia table, whose only fault is being surplus to requirements. Staffies and their crosses are over represented, as are black cats; these animals have the misfortune to be an unpopular breed or colour. Given some time and effort, these animals have to potential to make fantastic pets but they will never get the chance.
The hard truth is that there are not enough homes out there for the pets that are born every day, so it makes sense to do what we can to reduce the numbers of animals born.
Making sure the pets you already have don't breed is essential.
Think of it this way: when you let your cat have a litter of kittens,or mate your spaniel bitch to the spaniel up the road, you are responsible for bringing any offspring into the world. Ethically, you are accountable for making sure that the homes they go to are good, caring ones and any litters they produce are also your responsibility. That's a lot of liability. If you neuter your pet before they have a chance to breed, then you only have your own pet to worry about.
In a perfect world, the only litters would be from pure bred animals, devoid of any hereditary disorders, who are wonderful examples of the breed. Having a litter from 2 dogs just because they happen to be the same breed benefits no one, except the dodgy breeder seeking a quick profit. Good breeders pick their matings with care, and screen the prospective parents to ensure any progeny are as healthy as possible.
Even if no one ever planned a litter from their pets, there would still be enough pets from accidental matings or rescue centres to go around. Every animal born to a planned, or not-prevented, mating takes away a home from an animal that already exists. And each newborn means that an unwanted animal will die on the end of a needle.
Most of us are now used to considering the environment when we buy something new,and are familiar with the concepts of recycling and reusing in our day to day lives. So extend this attitude towards the animals you share your house with.
By re homing a rescue animal, instead of buying from a breeder or pet shop, you are doing your bit for animal welfare.
Visit your local animal rescue first and talk to them about what you want from a pet.They will be able to advise you which of their inmates might fit the bill. There are also dog rescues all around the country if you are specifically looking for a dog. And if you are fixated on a particular breed, then check out a breed rescue.
There are thousands of unwanted animals out there, just crying out for a forever home. So neuter the pets you have at home, consider a second hand pet instead of buying new, and become a life saver.