Protecting Our Pets: A Mutually Beneficial Arrangement

Protecting Our Pets: A Mutually Beneficial Arrangement

Pets have been beloved companions, loyal guardians, and useful helpers for thousands of years. They even make people healthier, according to a growing body of research.

Unfortunately, the number of domestic animal pets born every year is far greater than the number of secure and loving homes for them, leading to the abandonment of millions of animals, primarily cats and dogs. The reasons are various. The inability of a new owner to meet the responsibilities of pet ownership, an economic crisis that forces a family to choose between feeding themselves or their pets, a sudden move to an apartment with a no pet policy, a pet with behavior problems, or an owner death are all potential causes of animals ending up on the street or in a shelter. Throughout Greater New Haven, shelters, animal agencies, and advocates are working hard to humanely care for these animals and find them a new home.

Violet: one of the many adoptable pets at the New Haven Animal Shelter. Photo courtesy of Friends of the New Haven Animal Shelter.

The Numbers

While there is no centralized source for animal shelter data, The Humane Society of the United States estimates that shelters care for 6-8 million cats and dogs every year1. Of the animals in shelters, only 10 percent have been spayed or neutered, according to the The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)2. Because of overpopulation and neglect, shelters are frequently forced to euthanize animals that are not adoptable.  ASPCA estimates that 3 to 4 million shelter animals are euthanized annually.

The Animal Haven, a North Haven-based rescue and adoption agency, estimates that as many as 10,000 homeless cats and dogs live in Greater New Haven. The New Haven Animal Shelter, one of the largest municipal shelters in the state, takes in about 900 dogs and cats yearly.

“People often take on a pet and they don’t realize the time and responsibilities involved. They don’t change their lives accordingly,” said New Haven Animal Control Officer Joseph Manganiello.

Pets for Good Health

When a pet is welcomed into a home and is well cared for, the pet gives back more than just companionship. Research over the past two decades has shown significant health benefits to pet ownership as well. Petting a dog or cat reduces anxiety and stress levels and has been found to have cardiovascular benefits including lower high blood pressure and lower pulse rates3.  One study revealed that heart attack victims who were also dog owners survived longer than those who did not4. Other researchers found that a half hour spent petting a dog raises a person’s levels of dopamine and endorphins, which are associated with wellbeing and happiness, while levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, go down5. Additionally, children who were exposed to pets as infants are less likely to have asthma6.

Animal companions are also associated with psychological benefits such as a lower risk of depression. Recently widowed women who owned pets, according to one study, experienced fewer symptoms of physical and psychological disease and reported lower medication use than widows who did not own pets7. And bereaved elderly people with few people close to them were found to have lower rates of depression when they owned a pet8.

Many hospitals have taken note of the research and established pet therapy programs for patients. At Griffin Hospital in Derby, sixteen therapy dogs are used in its program, People and Animals Working in Spirit (PAWS). Each dog has to pass behavior and medical screening. Yale New Haven Hospital and the Smilow Cancer Center both offer a therapy dog program for patients awaiting or undergoing various treatments and procedures. 

Helping Pets in Greater New Haven

Shelters and animal rights groups in Greater New Haven help ensure that homeless animals receive humane care. Most rescued animals end up in municipal shelters, which list pets for adoption on petfinder.com. Animal Haven, in North Haven, is one of five area shelters with a no-kill policy. As a private shelter, Animal Haven can turn away an animal with behavior issues or because of breed (such as a pit bull), whereas a municipal shelter like New Haven cannot. The New Haven Animal Shelter has a policy of only euthanizing animals with significant illnesses or behavior issues. Both work to find adoptive homes for their animals as fast as possible. Animal Haven reports an adoption rate of above 80% and the New Haven shelter’s rate is 75%. This compares to an adoption rate of 25% for dogs and 24% for cats among shelters nationally9

To help increase adoption rates, The Friends of New Haven Animal Shelter promotes their mission on a “Pet of the Week” segment on WTNH NEWS 8, and raises awareness through events and social media.

In an effort to reduce disease, The Animal Haven is beginning a program to have veterinarians train their shelter managers using protective equipment, illness recognition, testing, and administering preventative medicine.

The Greater New Haven Cat Project is a volunteer organization that traps and neuters stray feral cats, and tests and finds home for foster cats. It also removes feral cats from dangerous settings and places them on farms for living outside.

For people in financial straits, New Haven’s Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen’s Thunder’s Pantry offers free dog and cat food on a weekly basis alongside its food pantry.

To address a root cause of euthanizing animals, the motorcycle group Bikers Against Animal Cruelty advocates for the end of pet abuse.  The North Haven-based volunteer organization also rescues neglected and abused pets from euthanizing and places them in new homes, and holds an annual  motorcycle rodeo and adoption event.


What The Community Foundation is Doing

The Community Foundation’s commitment to animals goes back to its 1928 founding charter, which states that its charitable endowment funds would be used for the “alleviation . . . of the suffering of animals.” Over many years, grants from TCF donors have been put toward this goal. In the past year, donor advised and preference funds have given more than $110,000 to area animal shelters and advocates including:

Last year, the Lilian and Henry Konopacke fund was established with a $2 million gift to “assist nonprofit animal shelters.”

Helen Shincel was another local lover of animals who established a fund that supports The Animal Haven annually.

For more information on how you can support your favorite charity in perpetuity, contact Angela Powers at apowers@cfgnh.org or call 203-777-7068.


Works Cited

1.The Humane Society, May 2013 

2. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “Pet Statistics FAQ.”

3. Anderson, W.P., Reid, C.M., Jennings, G.L. (1992). Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Medical Journal of Australia 157:298-301

4. Friedmann, E., and Thomas, S.A. (1995). Pet ownership, social support and one year survival among post-myocardial infarction patients in the cardiac arrhythmia suppression trial (CAST).

5.Odendaal, J. (2000). Animal-assisted therapy - magic or medicine? J Psychosomatic Research 49(4):275-280.

6. Gern, J., Reasdon, C., Hoffjan, S., Li, Z., Rogberg, K., Neaville, W., Carlson-Dakes, K., Alder, K., Hamilton, R., Anderson, E., Gilbertson White, S., Tisler, C., Dasilva, D., Anklam, K., Mikus, L., Rosenthal, L., Ober, C., Gangon, R., Lemanske, R. (2004).  Effects of dog ownership and genotype on immune development and atopy in infancy. J Clinical Immunology.

7. Barker, S., Barker, R. 1988. The Human-canine bond: Closer than family ties. Journal of Mental Health Counseling 10:46-56.

8. Akiyama, H., Holtzman, J., Britz, W. (1986). Pet ownership and health status during bereavement. Omega 17(21):187-193.

9. American Humane Association Fact Sheet.

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven,
September 2014

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