The Pope, PETA and Overpopulation

In the wake of Pope Benedict's controversy-igniting comment that condom use may be acceptable under certain circumstances to reduce the risk of HIV infection, PETA has started some controversy of its own. We're seizing the opportunity to draw attention to dogs' and cats' inability to control their burgeoning overpopulation problem, one that means millions of them go homeless every year and end up being destroyed -- even some by PETA, so you know it's serious. Beginning at the Vatican last week and soon moving on to cathedrals and churches across the U.S., PETA members are going to be handing out leaflets featuring an image of the Pope holding a condom and the message "Dogs & Cats Can't Use Condoms. We Are in the Midst of an Unholy Animal Overpopulation Crisis. Spay or Neuter Today." Some Roman Catholics who can't conceive of the idea that religion can be the subject of humor are in an uproar over this too, while others find nothing offensive about the ad given that the Pope has advocated kindness to animals numerous times. The pontiff has a lot on his plate and hasn't got around to this issue yet, but he might, given that saving the lives of homeless dogs and cats is inarguably kind.

The result of dogs and cats having unprotected sex -- a massive overpopulation crisis -- is as deadly for them as HIV is for humans. Every year, up to 8 million animals end up in shelters across the U.S., and about half of these animals end up at the incinerator or city dump because there aren't enough good homes for them all. Death by painless injection actually looks good when millions of other dogs and cats are abandoned on the streets, where they starve, die of untreated injuries or illnesses, succumb to freezing temperatures, get run over, or are tortured and killed by people who enjoy sadist acts.

It's hard to come to grips with the fact that every new puppy or kitten bred by a pet shop pimp, breeder or unthinking family, steals the chances of a homeless animal filling that slot, but they do. And there are no instant, just-add-water homes to be had no matter how hard you look for them. I mean, maybe you can place one, or even two, animals with your friends and family, but most of us ran out of those vacancies at the inn long ago. With so many animals and so few decent homes, real shelters -- ones that don't up their donations by declaring themselves "no kill" and thereby slamming the door on all but the few animals they can cope with -- have no choice but to get out the needle for unadopted animals so as to make room for the never-ending stream of unwanted at the door.

Which brings me to breeders and pet stores again: They rarely require that the animals they sell be sterilized, meaning that the puppies and kittens can soon go on to have litters of their own, producing thousands more animals over the course of a few rapidly sexually maturing generations, and so further exacerbating the overpopulation crisis. Meaning, please seek a rescue group if you want a particular breed, look in your local shelter for a surprise find, or, better yet, get over the "purebred" fetish and find out how stable, loyal and companionable the all-American mutt can be.

If animals could wear condoms, it would prevent so much suffering, but since they can't, it's up to our species to take responsibility for not only our own reproduction, but that of the dogs and cats in our homes. By having our dogs and cats "fixed," and by encouraging and helping everyone else to do the same, we can help create the "no-birth" nation that might one day make a "no-kill nation" more than words on the wind and wishful thinking. Sterilizations are among the most routine and safest surgeries veterinarians perform, and spayed females have no risk of uterine or ovarian cancer, and are far less likely to develop breast cancer. Neutered males have no risk of testicular cancer and are less prone to prostate disease. Sterilization can also help decrease animals' aggression (making sterilized dogs less likely to bite) and reduce unwanted behaviors, such as urine marking which sometimes sees them ending up homeless.

The Pope may not have talked about animal birth control yet, but dogs and cats and PETA can't wait. All I know is that, whatever our religion, or if we've none at all, as long as millions of healthy, loving, perfectly adoptable dogs and cats are being destroyed every year for no other reason than a lack of homes, bringing more animals into the world is downright sinful.