Becoming a Foster

Hundreds of dogs and cats end up in our local county shelters every month.  The job of a 'rescue' is to remove these animals from these chaotic and under-funded environments.  But where do these animals go after they've been rescued?  Often into the same kennel filled environment that they were just rescued from.  This is why foster home environments are so very important to rescues across Arizona.

The goal of any rescue is to place the dog or cat into a forever home, and fostering is a big part of the journey toward that goal.  Fosters are able to provide the comfort and affection that many animals need to build up their confidence.  A foster is able to spend quality time with their foster pet and get to know the unique personality of each animal, which is an important step in finding a rescued animal a forever family that is a good match.

How much does it cost?

Many rescues will continue to pay vet bills for your foster pet over the course of their stay with you.  Big Hearts Animal Rescue covers vet bills for all of its foster animals.  We also provide our foster families with any other essentials that you might need to get through the day-to-day.  For cats this includes litter, litter boxes, scoops, and litter traps.  For dogs this can include crates, bedding, and soap for the occasional bath :)

How long do I have a foster pet?

As a Big Hearts foster, we look to you to judge your foster pet's personality and tell us what characteristics would make for the perfect forever family.  You are the best judge of their strengths and their fears.  Finding the right forever home for your foster might take a little time; however, we don't want attachment to you to hinder their adoption in any way, so we are always open to moving foster animals into the most productive environment for adoption.

Additionally, we see fostering as a great way to have the benefit of a companion animal for those whose circumstances do not allow for permanent adoption.  This is true for our amazing winter visitors who are only in town for a few months out of the year.

Also, if you are considering adopting, being a foster is a great way to find out if you want to become a permanent forever home.  You will be able to experience the responsibilities of a pet-parent without having to make the commitment.

Won't it be heartbreaking to give them up when they are adopted?

Saying goodbye, or 'see-ya-later', to your foster animal can be sad.  You must consider that you've played a valuable role in their life, and when one foster animal leaves, it opens up space for you to make the same impact in another homeless animal's life.

Fostering a rescued cat or dog is a great way to contribute to your local rescue, and provide the shelter and safety that every shelter pet deserves.

We encourage you to email (or contact us on Facebook) if you are interested in joining our mission to save dogs and cats in need.

Donate Your Clutter!

Big Hearts Animal Rescue is seeking donations for our upcoming Yard Sale!

Preferred donations include new or gently used:

  • Kitchenware (pots, pans, utensils, etc.)
  • Home decor (furniture, rugs, lamps, etc.)
  • Textiles (sheets, towels, curtains, etc.)
  • Pet-care (leashes, collars, bowls, etc.)
  • Hardware (tools, power tools, etc.)
  • Clothing (men's, women's, kid's, etc.)
  • Accessories (jewelry, belts, hats, bags, etc.)
  • Sporting Goods

Email to arrange a drop-off or pick up!

**Tax receipt is available upon request.

Fry's Community Rewards

If you shop at Fry's, please link us to your V.I.P. card so that we can continue to raise funds for homeless animals in need!

Don't already have an online Fry's account?!  Follow the steps below to register!

  1. Go to
  2. Click on 'Register'.
  3. Under 'Create an Account', enter your email address, create a password, and Select your preferred Fry's location.
  4. Enter your Fry's V.I.P Card Number and Last Name.
  5. Continue to the steps below to add Big Hearts to your Community Rewards!

Already have an online Fry's account?  Follow the steps below to link Big Hearts to your Community Rewards!

  1. Navigate to the Fry's Community Rewards explanation page by clicking this link: Fry's Community Rewards
  2. Click on 'Sign In', and enter your email/password to access your online account.
  3. Select 'My Account', then select 'Account Settings' from the drop-down menu.
  4. Click 'Edit' under your Community Rewards section.
  5. Under 'Find Your Organization', enter Big Hearts organization number (20029) or our name (Big Hearts Animal Rescue).
  6. Click in the button next to our info to select our organization, then select 'Enroll'.
  7. If you have registered correctly, you should now see Big Hearts listed under your Community Rewards on your Account Summary page.

Present your Fry's V.I.P card every time you shop at Fry's, and you'll be helping Big Hearts Animal Rescue continue our mission to assist animals in need of medical services and a new home!

The Value of Microchipping

Much like the topic of animal vaccinations, animal microchipping is a source of heated discussion among pet-owners. “They just end up getting lost in the body” and “They cause cancer”, are a couple of the most common dissenting views.  However, the overwhelming majority within the animal healthcare and animal rescue community report that microchipping saves countless lives because it gives the animal a solid opportunity to be reunited with its owner before it is placed on a shelter’s euthanasia list.

What exactly is a Microchip?

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) gives a perfect definition:
“Implantable microchips are cylindrical devices that are implanted in the subcutaneous tissues using a hypodermic needle. These devices contain four components: a capacitor, antenna, connecting wire, and a covering.  The devices are battery-free and sealed in biocompatible glass covered by a sheath to prevent migration.  Microchips are activated by a low-power radio frequency signal emitted by scanners; electromagnetic induction generates electricity in the antenna and transmits the information stored in the chip.  When activated by the scanner, the microchip transmits a unique, pre-programmed identification number.” (4)

Are microchips dangerous?

The idea that microchips are dangerous is much too broad to be considered a fact.  Home implantation of a microchip can be dangerous for your pet, especially if you are totally unqualified to perform the task. The AVMA lists some severely negative symptoms that resulted from the home implantation of a microchip, including one report that examines an owner who forcefully implanted a microchip into the spinal cord of his personal feline, causing the cat numerous neurological defects that lasted even after the chip was removed. (4)  This manner of inappropriate microchip implantation had similar consequences in a few reported cases involving small-breed puppies. (4)

The fact is, microchips should only be implanted by qualified animal health service professionals. The AVMA has published a lengthy standard for the recommended location of microchip implantation and vaccinations. (4) Following these recommendations is the best way to ensure that your pet does not suffer any adverse reactions to implantation.  Many veterinarians will also recommend that microchip implantation takes place when your pet is already under sedation for a separate procedure, like a teeth cleaning or spay/neuter, or that a local anesthetic is used to prevent your pet from experiencing any unnecessary discomfort from the initial implantation.  In reality, any type of procedure that involves inserting a foreign object, vaccinations or otherwise, into your pet’s body should be discussed and handled by your veterinarian or a skilled veterinary technician.

Can a microchip get lost?

The idea that microchips get lost is another theory that is far too broad to be reasonable.  Several studies have shown that microchips implanted in the elbows and shoulder blades of canines are more likely to migrate to other parts of the body; however,the previously mentioned AVMA standards for implantation and vaccination locations has served to decrease the number of reported migrations by nearly 90%. (4)  This decrease in reported cases of microchip migration has occurred due to growing knowledge of the most advantageous area of an animal to implant the chip.
Discussing your concerns about the migration of your pet’s microchip with your veterinarian will reveal whether your vet is familiar with the best location for implantation, and can provide you with additional biological information regarding why this specific location is widely recommended.

The AVMA additionally provides one reported case of a microchip that was present but did not respond to scanning. (4)  This type of internal failure is rarely reported and should not be expected.

Can microchips cause Cancer?

This theory could be considered true; studies have shown that microchips do commonly cause the growth of sarcomas, in rats.  The AVMA states, “The risk of foreign body-induced tumors is affected by duration, species, and size.” (4)  The surface area of a microchip takes up more space within the body of small animal, like a rat, than it does in a larger animal, like a domesticated dog or cat.  This means that a much smaller body is more likely to react negatively to the introduction of a foreign object, like a microchip.  The AVMA goes into further detail about the suspected variables that increase a lab rat’s susceptibility to these sarcomas (I invite you to follow the link in the citations to read the whole article), but their overall evaluation of sarcoma development as a result of microchip implantation shows that reports of cancer caused directly by microchipping in canines and felines are rare. (4)

Can microchips save lives?

Aimee Gilbreath and Erin Nelson, of the Found Animals Foundation, report that, “of the 165 million pets in the United States, every year approximately 3% go missing.  That’s 4.5 million pets lost each year, and approximately 1 million are never returned to their families. (2)  If even half of those 1 million pets had microchips, our homeless animal population would be considerably less.  Lord’s study of animals with microchips entering shelters revealed that, “the high rate for return of microchipped dogs and cats to their owners supports microchipping as a valuable permanent pet identification modality.” (3)  This study showed that over 70% of the stray cats and dogs admitted to the shelters surveyed were successfully returned to their owner because of the presence of an implanted microchip. (3)

Options for low-cost microchipping are available all over the valley.  The cost of the initial procedure far outweighs the cost and time that a pet owner will spend if their pet goes missing.  Additionally, most local county shelters will only hold a stray animal for up to 72 hours before considering them as available for adoption, or placing them on the Euthanasia-list.  If an owner is unable to locate their animal within that 72 hour period, their pet could possibly be lost to them forever.

Any form of pet-identification is going to increase the chances that a lost pet is returned; however, when tags and collars go missing, a microchip is a valuable way of ensuring that a lost pet has a greater chance of return.  It is important to point out that the value of this method is only as good as its accuracy.  Keeping your pet’s microchip information up-to-date with current contact information will increase the likelihood that the pet will make it home.

Veterinarian, Dr. Karen Becker states, “as with any medical procedure, you have to weigh the risks versus the benefits, and in this case it’s often a very individual decision.” (1)  If your animal shows a high-risk of escape or running away, the benefit of a microchip could save you time, money, and worry spent on attempting to locate them.  Microchipping your companion animal has a proven value for both the health of your pet and the welfare of the homeless animal community.

If your pet is not currently microchipped, please discuss the option with your veterinarian!



(1) Becker, Karen. How Safe are Pet Microchips?. 2010. ( Accessed August 4, 2015.

(2) Gilbreath, Aimee & Nelson, Erin. Simplifying Microchips: Educate Adopters, Track Down Chips, and Boost Redemptions. 2013. ( Accessed August 4, 2015.

(3) Lord, Lk Characterization of animals with microchips entering animal shelters. 2009 July. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association. 15;235(2): 160-7. ( Accessed August 4, 2015.

(4) Microchipping of Animals. 2013 June. American Veterinary Medical Association. ( Accessed August 3, 2015.

The Value of Vaccinations

I recently went on the hunt for evidence of the value of animal vaccinations. There is a lot of attention paid to human vaccinations, with both sides of the table arguing adamantly about the pros and the cons - and it made me curious if the same environment surrounded animal vaccinations. It turns out that the topic of animal vaccinations creates much less debate.  The majority of the animal health community supports the high value of vaccinating animals against the many deadly viruses and diseases that spread quickly and claim numerous lives.  The ASPCA perfectly summarizes the explanation of the risks associated with animal vaccines:

“Immunizations mildly stimulate an animal’s immune system in order to create protection from specific infectious diseases.  This stimulation can create mild symptoms, ranging from soreness at the injection site to fever and allergic reactions. Another less common side effect is the development of immune mediated disease following vaccination.

That said, it is important to realize that vaccines have saved countless lives, and play a vital role in the battle against canine infectious disease. Additionally, rabies vaccinations have saved the lives of countless dogs—and many humans as well.

As with any medical procedure, there is a small chance of side effects. In most cases, the risks are much smaller than the risks of disease itself.  But it is important to talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s medical history before he is vaccinated.” (16)

When a vaccination begins to show negative side-effects, the result is investigation and newer methods of administration (15).  The animal healthcare community has the agreed intention of helping animals avoid unnecessary suffering, and the risks shown to be associated with specific vaccinations certainly outweigh the risks associated with an un-vaccinated animal.

Discussing the necessary vaccinations for your animal with your veterinarian is a critical element to ensuring that your animal stays protected against avoidable pain and stress, and possibly death. However, a better understanding of what the available vaccinations are, and what they prevent, is also an important factor. I have gathered a brief overview of each of the viruses and diseases that are most common, or the most deadly. If you are interested in a more in-depth explanation of any of the topics, I encourage you to follow the links provided within my citations.


According to the Global Alliance for Rabies Control:
“Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted through the saliva or tissues from the nervous system from an infected mammal to another mammal. Rabies is a “zoonotic disease”, [meaning that it] can pass between species. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system causing severely distressing neurological symptoms before causing the victim to die. Rabies is the deadliest disease on earth with a 99.9% fatality rate.” (16)

In many states, animal licensing is contingent on the animal having received a Rabies vaccination.  For canines this means that, on the off-chance that they bite a human, they have the opportunity for a home quarantine, instead of quarantine in an animal control or veterinary facility. In Maricopa County, having a licensed animal can mean a reduced fee for the owner if the animal is ever picked up by Animal Control. Most importantly, having your animal vaccinated for Rabies can save their life since there is no cure for the virus once the symptoms appear. Any animal that may come into contact with a wild-animal, like an outdoor cat, or a dog that commonly spends unsupervised time outside, OR any animal that spends time with an animal that has come into contact with a wild-animal, is at risk for contracting Rabies.



“Canine Parainfluenza Virus (CPIV) is a highly contagious respiratory virus and is one of the most common pathogens of infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as canine cough.” (4)  Symptoms can include: dry or wet cough, fever, runny nose, etc.; however, some dogs will quickly develop a high fever and hemorrhagic pneumonia as a result of severe coughing and increased mucus production. Parainfluenza, Bordetella, Coronavirus and Adenovirus are all known as “causative” bacterial agents for “Kennel Cough”, so exposure to any of these agents can cause infection and symptoms that resemble a human cold or flu. Since the virus is airborne, unvaccinated dogs can easily catch it from spending time in closed environments with other animals, like boarding, the groomer, or a training class (14).

A combo vaccine, sometimes referred to as a “5-in-1”, includes the vaccine for Canine Parainfluenza, so the prevention of the virus is easy. This vaccination can protect your animal from the majority of those bacterial agents that lead to Kennel Cough and “create a localized immunity that greatly reduces the incidence of clinical signs and illness.” (12)  This vaccination can be received by puppies as early as three weeks by intranasal application (2).


BORDETELLA, aka “Kennel Cough”

Kennel Cough is the name given to any of the highly contagious upper respiratory infection that can occur in both cats and dogs.  Bordetella Bronchiseptica is a common bacteria that causes Kennel Cough.  These most common virus causing bacteria are vaccinated against with the “5-in-1” Combo vaccine.  Diagnosis of Kennel Cough, whether it is caused by Bordetella or Parainfluenza, isn’t necessarily deadly if treated early on; however, anyone who has experienced the symptoms of a cold or flu can attest to the misery that they bring, and if Bordetella is left completely untreated, the symptom of a suppressed immunity could lead to more severe secondary infections.


According to the American Veterinary Medical Association:
“Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can affect all dogs, but unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than four months old are the most at risk.  The virus affects dogs' gastrointestinal tracts and is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated stool, environments, or people. The virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs. It is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying, and can survive in the environment for long periods of time. Even trace amounts of stool containing parvovirus may infect other dogs that come into the infected environment.  It can be transmitted from place to place on the hair or feet of dogs or via contaminated cages, shoes, or other objects.” (5)

The bacteria that causes Parvovirus has proved to be nearly impossible to eliminate and likelihood of death after infection is high.  There is no treatment that eliminates the infection, only treatment of the symptoms, which include fever, lethargy, and severe vomiting and diarrhea often to the point of creating ulcers within the digestive tract (5).  If a dog is suspected of having Parvo, the best course is to get them to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible so that they can receive fluids and antibiotics, which will prevent any secondary bacterial infections.  Since the Parvovirus is so contagious and difficult to eliminate, the best prevention is vaccination, which can, and should, be administered starting at 6 weeks, with a booster every 3-4 weeks, until the recommended doses are reached (5).

Feline Parvovirus is an area that gets slightly confusing, as it is also commonly referred to as ‘Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE)’, ‘Feline Distemper’, and ‘Feline Panleukopenia’.  Feline Parvovirus possesses many of the same symptoms as Canine Parvovirus: vomiting, diarrhea, fever, lethargy - and requires some of the same treatments: fluids and antibiotics. However, Parvo can not be transmitted across species, meaning that a dog cannot get Parvo from a cat, and vice versa.  Feline Parvo should be thought of as more of a cousin to Canine Parvo, rather than the same exact virus (there is even a Human Parvovirus that causes a rash in young children).

Since the different Parvoviruses are somewhat related, the diagnosis for infected Felines is tragically the same.  There is no cure, only treatment, and if medical attention is not paid immediately, the result is typically death. The best preventative against Feline Parvovirus is vaccination, ideally between two and six months of age (6).



The American Veterinary Medical Association explains Canine Distemper as:
“a highly contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of puppies and dogs. It is usually spread by the secretions from an infected animal’s cough or sneeze. The virus also infects wild canids (e.g. foxes, wolves, coyotes), raccoons, skunks, and ferrets, and these animals can be sources of infection for pet dogs.” (3)

Canine Distemper is another disease that currently has no cure. Animal healthcare providers can only treat the symptoms with fluids, which help to avoid dehydration, and antibiotics, which assist in avoiding any secondary infections.  The symptoms of Distemper start out similar to Kennel Cough, where the dog exhibits a high fever, lethargy, coughing and nasal discharge - at the same time, the virus is suppressing immunity and opening up the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract to secondary bacterial infections - while creating inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, which creates twitching of muscles, seizures, and a unique jaw movement that is referred to as “chewing gum fits” (1).

As with most viruses, puppies are the most susceptible to Distemper since their immunity has not yet fully developed. With the virus spreading via body fluid, any dog that shares a space or water dish with an infected animal is at risk for infection.  Again, the best prevention for Distemper is vaccination, with appropriately spaced boosters.  Vaccinations for both Parvo and Distemper often come in one vaccine, referred to as ‘Puppy DPV’ or Distemper/Parvo Combo’.


Feline Leukemia Virus is a retrovirus, which means that it can insert copies of its own genetic material into the genetic material that makes up the cell that it has infected.  The initial stage of infection provides an opportunity for the infected cat to build an effective immune response, causing the elimination of the virus from the bloodstream; however, in most cases, the infection reaches the second stage, in which it inserts itself into the bone marrow and other tissue via bloodstream, and remains present in the cat for the entirety of their life (11). Early on, the infected cat may not show any signs of illness, yet at some point they will begin to show symptoms related to a suppressed immunity: loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, persistent diarrhea, and most commonly, a resulting form of sarcoma.

Kittens are susceptible to FLV because of their young immune system, so it is important to prevent the virus with vaccination as soon as your veterinarian will allow it. Additionally, keeping your cat indoors, and away from potentially infected cats (like feral neighborhood cats) can keep them from coming into contact with the virus via bites or exchange of body fluids (11).


PetMd describes FIV as:
“a complex retrovirus that causes immunodeficiency disease in domestic cats.  Immunodeficiency is the medical term used to describe the body’s inability to develop a normal immune response.  FIV is slow moving, capable of lying dormant in the body before causing symptoms (lentivirus).” (10)

FIV is commonly transmitted through deep bite wounds inflicted during aggressive fighting, and kittens can become infected while in the uterus of their FIV infected mother, or by ingesting her milk. However, kittens may test positive for FIV simply because they carry the FIV antibodies that their mother passed to them, and end up testing negative for FIV after six months of age because the antibodies have left their blood.  If a cat over six-months-old has tested positive, then FIV infection has occurred, and the cat is capable of passing FIV to other cats (9).  Fortunately, the infection isn’t likely to show symptoms for several years after the initial infection. However, at some point the cat’s immunity will deteriorate, and they will begin to show signs of secondary respiratory or gastrointestinal infections, at which time, immediate medical attention is recommended (8).

There is no cure for FIV, only preventative measures, which include early vaccination and preventing your cat from mixing with feral neighborhood cats. Cats that have tested positive for FIV can very easily pass the virus during fighting, and sometimes, sexual intercourse - and are very likely to pick up a secondary infections while roaming.  Since the virus suppresses immunity, infected cats will have an extremely difficult time recovering from secondary infections and parasites, thus, significantly shortening their life. “FIV-positive cats can live normal lives both in quality and duration. They do take special care in terms of monitoring them for signs of infections and they do have a tendency to have bad dental disease.” (7)  FIV-positive cats can live a long life if they are provided with a nutritious diet, kept indoors, and given adequate veterinary attention.

These are just some of the common viruses and bacteria that most veterinarians insist on vaccinating against in order to maintain a healthy pet.  Depending on what type of environment your pet originally came from, what type of environment they have spent a significant amount of time in since birth, or what environment you have planned for them to visit in the future, your veterinarian might recommend additional vaccinations for

There are many animal-health programs and veterinarians in the valley that provide vaccinations at a discount. Additionally, vaccination packages are often available for puppies or kittens that are experiencing vaccination for the first time.  These early vaccinations can save your pet from experiencing the unnecessary pain and suffering that result from the viruses listed in this article, and save you from a future of expensive medical bills.  The negative side-effects, or risks, of vaccination have proven to be minimal when compared to the benefits of saving your pet from illness. The resounding opinion appears to be that the pros of animal vaccination have a clear win over the cons.

If your pet has not received vaccinations, I encourage you to speak with your veterinarian about your pet’s health and possible vaccine options. Veterinarian Brenda Griffin recommends, “Pet owners should consult their veterinarian regarding a tailored approach to vaccination that meets the needs of their pets given their lifestyle and individual risk assessment.“ (13)  Also, please check out my citations page to find additional information regarding what viruses and diseases are out there preying on unvaccinated animals. Your pet’s health matters, and it is your responsibility to help them live long and happy lives!



(1) “An Overview of Canine Distemper”. (2007). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Baker Institute for Animal Health. (Accessed 21 May 2015).
(2) “Bordetella Vaccine For Dogs And Cats”. (26 March 2014) VetStreet. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(3) “Canine Distemper”. (2015). American Veterinary Medical Association. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(4) “Canine Parainfluenza”. (2015) Merck Animal Health. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(5) “Canine Parvovirus”. (2015). American Veterinary Medical Association. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(6) “Distemper in Cats’. (2015). PetMD. (Accessed 21 May 2015).
(7) “FAQ’s About Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)”. (2015). Best Friends Animal Society. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(8) “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.” (2015). Cornell Feline Health Center. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(9) “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). (2015). The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(10) “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Infection (FIV) In Cats”. (2015). PetMD. (Accessed 26 May 2015).
(11) “Feline Leukemia Virus”. (2014). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (Accessed 21 May 2015).
(12) Foster & Smith. “Kennel Cough (Infectious Tracheobronchitis) in Dogs”. (2015). (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(13) Griffin, DVM, Brenda,. “A Vaccination Education”. (2014). Animal Sheltering, May/June 2014. (Accessed 19 May 2015).
(14) “Kennel Cough”. (2015). The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(15) Ramey, D..”Animal Vaccinations”. 11 Jan 2009. Science-Based Medicine. (Accessed 21 May 2015).
(16) “Vaccinations”. (2015). The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (Accessed 20 May 2015).
(17) “What is Rabies?” (2015). The Global Alliance for Rabies Control. (Accessed 20 May 2015).

Why is spaying & neutering a critical factor in reducing the homeless pet population

Individuals in the rescue community easily understand the importance of spaying and neutering.  We regularly walk through crowded shelters and witness animals being led away to be euthanized, and we all maintain that it is nothing short of a tragedy that these animals are sentenced to death simply because the population is too high to accommodate and the expense to provide vet services and living accommodations far exceeds the existing funding.  The rescue and shelter community continues to work toward decreasing the overpopulation of homeless animals by charging an increased return fee for un-spayed and un-neutered strays.  Many shelters even include the cost of spay or neuter in an animal’s adoption fee.  Despite these efforts, several Maricopa County kill-shelters are still reporting a euthanasia rate of slightly less than half of their intake (6).  Increasing public education regarding the importance of spaying and neutering is an essential step toward curbing these numbers, the alternative of which is to continue to euthanize nearly 2.7 million cats and dogs each year (12).

Several peer-reviewed studies have concluded that Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs can reduce a feral feline community dramatically in up to five years (3).  These studies support the reasoning that controlling cat and dog reproduction rates can only decrease the number of these animals that end up in shelters and on the euthanization list.  However, not every community has access to grant-funded research resources, and community campaigns or mandatory spay and neuter laws have proven fairly unsuccessful (11).  “The usual natural history of these laws is a year of vigorous enforcement, a year of less enforcement, then enforcement only against people who make someone in the animal control establishment mad. Of course at that point, many otherwise good pet owners are violating the law.” (2)  Education about the significance of humane animal birth control within the homeless pet population, the consequences of ignorance, and the advantages of spaying and neutering for pet owners, could certainly prove to be a more stable foundation on which we build a more responsible pet owner community.

Many individuals outside of the rescue community may not have a clear understanding of the incredible rate of reproduction that un-altered animals possess.  The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that an average fertile cat can produce 1-2 litters of 4-6 kittens per year, and an average fertile dog can produce 1 litter of 4-6 puppies per year (8).  Based on these numbers, 1 single fertile feral cat will produce up to 40 kittens over the course of 5 years.  Both female and male cats can reach sexual maturity anywhere between 5-12 months (4), so if that first generation produced 1 litter in their first year of life, and 2 litters in each subsequent year within that same 5 year span, they would be responsible for 4,000 kittens.  The ASPCA also reports that only 37% of the cats entering their shelters as strays are adopted, while 41% are euthanized (the remaining 5% are returned to their owners) (8). Even if we reduce the number of 4,000 kittens to 3,000, (25%) due to external influences that may cause early death (e.g. illness, birth defects, etc.), we are still left with approximately 1,770 (41%) kittens produced from that first generation that will inevitably be euthanized.  This number obviously increases exponentially as we add the reproduction rate of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th generations of kittens to the formula, and view the rate of reproduction over an extended span of time.

kitten-rescues (2).jpg

This issue of exponential reproduction is not just present within the feral community.  The U.S. Humane Society reports that the majority of the approximately three-million animals being euthanized in U.S. shelters every year “are not the offspring of homeless ‘street’ animals - these are the puppies and kittens of cherished family pets and even purebreds.” (12)  They additionally estimate that 25% of the dogs in reporting shelters are purebred (9).  High School Biology class taught us that the hormones in sexual reproductive organs motivates all animals to search for a mate.  A well-kept dog, or cat, with easy access to the outdoors will seek any opportunity for “sexual roaming” when their reproductive hormones are in full-gear, and male dogs and cats can prove fertile with numerous mates over the course of 24-hours.  Owners of male-strays may never even see the results of their pet’s time on the “outside”, but it is likely that those resulting puppies and kittens will enter a shelter at some point in their lives. And, with only 3-4 million cats and dogs being adopted from shelters each year, it is also likely that those puppies and kittens will end up being a part of the nearly 38% of companion animals euthanized yearly (9).

Setting the issue of reproductive rates aside, we can examine a more qualitative type of negative influence on the homeless animal community, which occurs when the adoption of each new puppy or kitten decreases the likelihood that young or adult aged homeless animals will find a happy ending.  For each kitten or puppy that finds a home, the adoption opportunities decrease for animals already in shelters and rescues.  The American Pet Products Association estimates that 70% of individuals with companion dogs only have one dog in their home, while 46% of owners with companion cats only have one cat (1).  This leaves a 20% chance that a pet-owner with one dog will adopt a second dog, and only a 10% chance that a pet-owner will adopt three or more dogs (1).

Many people argue that ‘cost’ is a valid reason for resistance to spaying and neutering, yet don’t consider the cost, and time, of safely delivering and re-homing a litter.  It is true that the number of homeless animals has significantly decreased in the past 40 years, and the growing attention being paid to the necessity of spaying and neutering could certainly be a contributor (9).  “There is much more awareness of appropriate pet ownership nowadays,” says a representative from the Human Society (5).  More communities are finding that the homeless pet population and euthanasia rates are less acceptable, which has influenced many veterinary organizations to lower their costs of sterilization services, while many non-profit organizations have amplified the number, and consistency, of free and discount spay and neuter campaigns.  Additionally, this culture shift towards an increased awareness of what “euthanization” means for shelter animals has influenced the increase of no-kill sanctuary and rehabilitation organizations, similar to the Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, which is currently home to more than 1,500 dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, and other wildlife (10).

Ultimately, the decision to spay or neuter your own animals will directly contribute to the increase or decrease of your area’s homeless pet population.  It is a community’s moral responsibility to maintain a population of homed and healthy companion animals, and the only solution for the problem of an overpopulation of homeless animals is to control the population through humane birth control.  Euthanasia is not a solution to overpopulation of these homeless animals, but rather an unfortunate necessity present in many shelters (7).  The homeless animal population will take a positive turn if we can continue to convince pet-owners of the many advantages to spaying and neutering.  I encourage you to follow the links provided in my citation list to learn more about the influence of spaying and neutering on the homeless pet population.  The information is out there, and sharing that information, and creating a community of supportive pet-owners, are steps in the right direction.

I invite you to visit the websites that I have cited in this post.  Additionally, here are some great resources that are definitely worth checking out if you are interested in learning more about spaying and neutering:

"Myths and Facts About Spaying and Neutering" - The Humane Society of the United States

"Why You Should Spay/Neuter Your Pet" - The Humane Society of the United States

"You Can Afford to Have Your Pet Spayed or Neutered" - The Humane Society of the United States

"Are You Having Trouble Affording Your Pet?" - The Humane Society of the United States

"ASPCA Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinic" - The ASPCA


(1) 2013-2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. The American Pet Products Association. N.p., Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(2) Hutchens, Walt. “An Approach to High Shelter Euthanasia Rates.” Pet-Law. N.p., 2010. Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(3) "Key Scientific Studies on Trap-Neuter-Return." Alley Cat Allies. N.p., 2015. Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(4) Khuly, Patty. "What's the right time to spay and neuter your dog?". petMD. N.p., 30 July 2009. Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(5) Mach, Andrew. "Behind the big drop in euthanasia for America's dogs and cats." The Christian Science Monitor: Progress Watch. N.p., 10 February 2012. Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(6) Maddies Fund Comparative Database. Maddies Fund. N.p., 2015. Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(7) Newkirk, Ingrid. People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. N.p., 21 March 2013. Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(8) "Pet Statistics." The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. N.p., 2015. Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(9) "Pets by the Numbers." The Humane Society of the United States. N.p., 30 January 2014. Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(10) "Pet euthanasia in shelters unpopular." CBS News. The Associated Press. 5 January 2012. Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(11) "Trap-Neuter-Return Effectively Stabilized and Reduces Feral Cat Populations." Alley Cat Allies. N.p., Web. 11 April 2015. <>

(12) "Why You Should Spay/Neuter Your Pet." The Humane Society of the United States. N.p., 24 August 2014. Web. 11 April 2015. <>