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Beyond the health of our bodies, the main reason for so many of us to be vegan is that we wish to be humane human beings. Our food doesn’t have a face, or a mother, thank goodness. Our clothing isn’t constructed out of the fur or fleece of anyone’s child.

My vegan journey has led me to focus on dogs and cats.  Even though these animals are not part of typical American diets or clothing, they are exploited and abused in other ways. Therefore, I feel they are worthy of our attention.

The biggest tragedy for dogs and cats in America is that 4 million of them, most in perfect health and good temperament, are killed every year in so-called animal “shelters.”

They have been picked up as strays, or turned in by owners who can no longer care for them. The cities and counties which run the facilities cannot find enough adoptive homes, and their holding pens are filled beyond capacity. So the animals, who are completely healthy (and loving and trusting and precious) are gassed or given lethal injections.

What can be done? For starters, here are 10 simple strategies that allow everyone to hack away at this horrible statistic and to help make America a no-kill nation for our dogs and cats:

  1. Spay or neuter your pet. If we can prevent the birth of litters, then there will be fewer dogs and cats that have to be “euthanized” down the road. It is a cop-out to say that you will be able to find homes for all the babies your dog or cat will give birth to. A far better approach would be to find homes for the puppies and kittens that are already born and languishing at the shelter.
  2. Become a foster mom or dad for one of the homeless animals at your local animal facility. Even if there is no room in your home, or your life, for a permanent four-legged addition right now, maybe you can commit to loving one of these creatures for a little while. Fostering helps to socialize the animals, making them more adoptable. It also frees up space at the shelters so that more animals can be given more time to be adopted.
  3. Spend a few hours per week, or month, at your local shelter, petting and walking the animals. This, too, helps to socialize them so that they are better candidates for adoption.
  4. Lobby against puppy mills and backyard breeders. Even the ones that claim to have impeccable safety records have no reason to be in business. They are flooding the market with a “product” that is already in over-supply. Animal shelters contain purebred dogs and cats who are desperate for loving homes. There are also animal rescue organizations specializing in various breeds—they can place in your arms ANY breed of dog or cat that you might desire.
  5. Don’t leave your dog on the end of a chain, and reeducate your friends and neighbors not to do so either. Dogs get bored, lonely, frustrated, and injured when they live out their lives tethered to a stake in the ground. They are social pack animals who need the freedom to roam in their own safe spaces. The frustration can lead chained-up dogs to bite children and others who wander into their territory, which then leads to the destruction of the dogs. Also, the chains often break and the dogs run away, adding to the epidemic of homelessness.
  6. Join your local TNR brigade. TNR stands for “trap, neuter, release,” and it is one of the best methods for dealing with feral cat colonies. If cats have been living away from human homes for some time, they are often unable to be re-socialized to live with humans. So, concerned cat ladies and gents round them up, see that they are fixed, and then return them to live out their lives in peace.
  7. Fight breed-specific legislation whose aim is to bar people from owning pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and other breeds of dogs who have a reputation for being vicious. In actuality, there is no breed which is more dangerous than any other. Almost any dog can be turned into a killer if it is starved, beaten, or trained with abusive methods. Conversely, with the proper handling, most dogs can be loyal, loving human companions, irrespective of their breed. Laws which prevent people from owning certain dogs only contribute to the homelessness problem.
  8. Speak to landlords about their no-pets policy. So many renters would love to have a dog or cat companion, but their building or rental home doesn’t allow it. Landlords need to be told that animals are no messier or destructive than their human tenants.
  9. Donate food, old towels, chew toys, and other supplies to your local animal shelter. If the shelters don’t have to spend their limited funds on these things, they might instead be able buy a few more cages or dog runs so that they can save that many more animals.
  10. Visit your children’s school or summer camp to talk about responsible pet care. Kids love hearing about animals, and already have a natural affinity to be kind to them. If we can get through to the children, we have the best chance of a humane no-kill future for America’s dogs and cats.

Pit Bull Puppy Image Source: Sarah Gross