While pets are an integral part of many of our lives, there are problems associated with keeping and breeding such high numbers of animals. Perhaps most pressing is the problem of overpopulation; in the US, approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter shelters every year. Of these, 2.7 million are killed due to not being adopted, many of whom are perfectly healthy. This issue is caused by three main factors, which are breeders, owners who buy and/or breed pets, and the abandonment of unwanted animals.

Often, potential pet owners prefer infant animals to older ones, so they turn to breeders, or prefer particular breeds and are willing to pay to acquire a specific pedigree. These same owners often want their purebred animals to have a litter of their own, either to sell, keep as pets, or in pursuit of show-quality animals. This all leads to large numbers of unwanted animals, who end up overcrowding shelters while they wait for a home. Many never find one.

It is not just families and owners breeding animals; commercial animal breeders are very common and supply almost all animals sold in pet stores, though legislative change in this area has recently been implemented in some locations. More intensive dog breeding operations exist than any other type, with an estimated 10,000 in the US alone, with only 3,000 of these being monitored or regulated. Abuses in these breeding operations are commonplace, and pet stores do not have to reveal where their animals are sourced from.

To maximise profits, female animals are often bred to exhaustion and seldom survive, nor do the many animals born with physical health problems. Raids on these facilities are uncommon due to cost, but in one particular case, a raid on a kitten mill resulted in the seizure of 323 cats — more than half of which had to be euthanized because of poor health. During the raid, officials found a locked room they called a ‘dead room’ that housed sick animals living among the decomposing remains of dead cats. Relaxed legislation and the cost of enforcement often means these crimes go relatively unpunished.

When we consider the millions of healthy animals awaiting new homes, buying an animal or allowing your animal to breed is irresponsible. More than this, the pet trade treats animals as sources of profit and mere commodities, buying and selling intelligent, sentient beings as if they were mere objects.

Buying or breeding an animal rather than adopting denies a rescued animal a home and puts further pressure on what are already overcrowded and underfunded rescue centres. For each litter these animals produce, and every animal who is bought or sold, that is one more rescued animal who will not be rehomed. It is far better to instead provide a loving home for one of the millions of animals in desperate need of care, not only saving one life, but freeing up valuable space in rescue centres doing their best to care for abandoned and unwanted animals.

“Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them. In short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures.”

Thomas de Quincey