Behavior problems cause millions of dogs and cats to be surrendered to shelters each year, say a number of pet care professionals in Asheville.
“The No. 1 reason I think that animals end up at the shelter is because of behavioral issues,” says Mark Ledyard, veterinarian and owner of Charlotte Street Animal Hospital. “So that’s definitely one thing that’s typically [covered] during your annual visit. If there are any difficult issues, then we can figure out how to go about addressing that so we can have a family member we all enjoy,” he says.
Kim Brophey, a dog behavior consultant and owner of The Dog Door Behavior Center in Asheville, sees firsthand the kind of behavior problems that can propel owners to surrender their dogs. “A lot of times dogs come in at about 6 months old where people did not get the preventive behavioral health care that they needed, and at this point they are having serious problems; they’re kind of at their wits’ ends and are thinking of rehoming the dog,” says Brophy, who has recently completed a book on how to raise a behaviorally healthy dog. (Brophy’s book will be released this fall by Chronicle Books.) She adds that it’s much easier to prevent behavior problems early on than retrain a dog once the problem behavior fully develops.
Beth Jones, a veterinarian and owner of Asheville Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic, agrees. “[Behavior training] is one of those things people don’t think about until they’re right in the midst of it and having a problem,” she says. If dog owners get started “when [their pets] are little, then you have a nice companion and family member and not one you’re afraid is going to bite somebody or you can’t leave alone in the house because they will destroy everything,” she says.
According to a 2015 study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 7 million dogs and cats are surrendered to animal shelters each year in the U.S.; 2.7 million of them will be euthanized.
Spaying and neutering pets is another way to prevent more animals from entering the shelter system, says Marianne Luft, director of administration at The Humane Alliance, a program of the ASPCA.
The Humane Alliance runs a low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic in Asheville. “We work with about 25 welfare animal groups across Western North Carolina in 17 counties,” doing about 24,000 spays and neuters annually, she says. Most of them come from outside Buncombe County, she adds.
The organization also teaches veterinary medical teams from across the country and Canada how to replicate the nonprofit’s spay-and-neuter model — what Luft calls a ” high-volume, stationary clinic that is self-sustaining.” Since 2005, the Humane Alliance has trained teams that have opened 120 low-cost spay-and-neuter clinics in the U.S. and Canada, she says.
In addition to helping curb overpopulation, spaying or neutering can also prevent certain diseases and help make a pet easier to manage, says Anne Bayer, a veterinarian and senior medical director at The Humane Alliance.
“It’s not uncommon when you see older [female] dogs who haven’t been spayed to see little tumors or masses around mammary glands, and that can be a really serious problem if it is a certain type of tumor,” she says. Spaying females can also eliminate the chance of the animals developing a potentially fatal uterus infection called pyometra, she says.
Male pets may be less likely to roam if they are neutered, and females in heat will attract other animals, says Bayer. “I’ve heard some pretty crazy stories about males trying to get to them,” she says.
Bayer explains that it’s a lot easier socially to manage a dog that is spayed or neutered. And it’s also less expensive “not to have your dog or cat having litters of puppies and kittens, so you don’t have to worry about placement in homes and paying for health care and additional animals.”
The good news is that Asheville has made great strides in reducing overpopulation, says Luft. “Overpopulation is an issue across the country, for sure. It is less of an issue here in this area than it used to be, which is fantastic, because we have wonderful organizations that we partner with like Asheville Humane Society and Brother Wolf [Animal Rescue] and lots of other people doing a lot of great work for animals.”
Kim Brophey, The Dog Door Behavior Center
Humane Alliance, a program of the ASPCA