Popular pets

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2001-2002 National Pet Owners Survey, there are an estimated 73 million pet cats in the United States. About one out of every three households has at least one cat and, on average, have two cats. Males and females are equally popular and about 80% of all household cats are spayed or neutered.

Dogs currently are just slightly less popular than cats. Although more households (four out every ten) have a dog than a cat, most households have only one dog, resulting in about 63 million pet dogs in the United States. Dogs are slightly less likely to be spayed or neutered than cats.

The importance of spaying and neutering is emphasized by some statistics provided by the Humane Society of the United States. A female cat can have an average of three litters every year, with an average of four to six kittens per litter. Cats typically live up to 15 years and become sexually mature by the time they are a year old. Theoretically, under ideal conditions, a single female and all of her offspring could produce 420,000 cats in just seven years. Even under normal conditions, unspayed and unneutered cats can produce a huge number of kittens with nowhere to go but the local animal shelter.

Pets used in conjunction with treatment can reduce the length of time in the hospital. (Photo by © Tom & Dee Ann McCarthy/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)
These dogs scent out the quarry and lead the chase for a hunting party. (Photo by Ernest A. Janes. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Dogs are not as prolific as cats, but they still can easily over-breed. A dog can have two litters every year and there are typically six to eight puppies per litter. So one female and her offspring could, theoretically, produce 67,000 dogs in six years.

Of course, cats and dogs do not have anywhere near that many offspring, but pet overpopulation is a serious problem. It has been estimated that there are 30 million feral cats in the United States and that six to eight million cats and dogs are dropped off at shelters every year. Approximately three to four million of these animals are euthanized.

Although cats still know how to hunt, life is much more difficult for feral cats than it is for pets. It has been estimated that the typical feral cat lives for only three years and that 42% of feral kittens die before they are two months old.

Organizations have sprung up in various parts of the country to trap, sterilize, and then release feral cats in order to reduce euthanasia of cats and to protect local wildlife. One such group, the Feral Cat Coalition of San Diego, California, claims that the number of cats euthanized at local shelters decreased by almost 50% between the start of its trap-neuter-release program in 1992.

Dogs, cats and people: an evolving relationship

Dogs and cats have been used as work animals ever since they first associated with humans. While cats have primarily been used exclusively to hunt rodents and pests, dogs have filled a much wider variety of roles in human society.

Sighthounds, dogs that hunt prey primarily by using their sense of sight, have existed for thousands of years. The saluki has been bred in the Middle East for at least 5,000 years and mummified salukis have been found in Egypt. Unlike other dogs, salukis are not viewed as being "unclean" in the Arabic world.

Scenthounds also are hunters but are used for their well-developed sense of smell. These dogs were bred to find prey, but some have no interest in catching quarry once they have found it. Scenthounds often have other characteristics, such as droopy, long ears which form air currents, making it easier for these dogs to pick up scents.

Terriers are a specialized form of hunting dog. Small and low to the ground, terriers have been used to hunt small mammals, such as foxes, and to keep down the pest population around homes and farms.

Herding is another traditional job for dogs. Some herding breeds have been around for millennia. The corgi, for example, is estimated to have arrived in Great Britain anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 years ago. Many other breeds, such as the giant schnauzer and the Old English sheepdog, were herding animals hundreds of years ago.

Although it is not known how these older breeds were created, some of the more recently developed herding breeds involved a careful mix of breeds to produce just the right characteristics needed for herding animals under specific situations. Ancestors of the Australian cattle dog, for example, include collies, dingos, Dalmatians, and kelpies, resulting in a dog that could herd cattle under the often harsh conditions found in Australia.

Guard dogs have a similarly long association with humans. The Portuguese watchdog guarded sheep in Portugal back in the Middle Ages. Today, dogs such as the rottweiler are still used as guard dogs but are frequently used to protect people and property in homes and businesses, instead of livestock on ranches and farms.

Pull Across The Snow
Siberian huskies have been used for centuries to pull sleds across the snow. (Photo by © James Marshall/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)

Unfortunately, these dogs sometimes also had another role, especially when times were tough for their human companions. In addition to guarding livestock, they were sometimes viewed as livestock themselves. The chow chow, for example, was considered to be a particularly tasty breed.

Draft dogs worked as miniature horses, pulling carts and sleds. These dogs, not surprisingly, tend to be large. However, size is not the only asset needed to fill this role. The Siberian husky, weighing between 35 and 60 lb (16 and 27 kg), is one of the smaller draft breeds, yet it is the dog of choice for sled races due to its stamina.

Dogs have also been used as search animals for centuries. The Saint Bernard breed is particularly well known. Raised by monks in the Alps, Saint Bernards were originally bred as watchdogs and companions but eventually became legendary for saving travelers trapped in the snow during harsh European winters. The ability of dogs to be used as search animals has been refined over the last few decades. In addition to finding people by tracking their odors, dogs can be trained to detect other scents, including illegal drugs. They have been trained to recognize the smell of explosives and can be used detect minefields. Dogs have also been used in arson investigations because they can detect traces of gas and flammable liquids.

Some roles are relatively new for dogs. Formally trained seeing-eye dogs, for example, originated in Germany after World War I. Dorothy Harrison Eustis became interested in the concept and wrote a popular article about it for the Saturday Evening Post in 1927. She was approached by Morris Frank, a young man who had recently lost his sight, and she agreed to train a dog for him. Mr. Frank, in turn, helped to establish the first seeing-eye dog school in the United States.

The use of seeing-eye dogs grew in popularity and eventually included other species of animals and other tasks. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a service animal is "any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability," which can range from helping a blind person walk across a busy street to picking up dropped items for a person who cannot bend over.

While it is not surprising that service dogs have a beneficial effect on their eventual owners, they also can produce beneficial effects in their trainers. For example, some prison inmates at a maximum-security prison in Washington State train service dogs. One hundred percent of the trainers are reported to have found jobs when released from jail and none of them returned to prison within a three-year period, a much better success rate than that of the average released inmate.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and animal-assisted activities (AAA) are two other new ways that animals such as dogs and cats have been used to help humans. While AAT and AAA both involve animals, their uses and goals are different. AAT has specific goals and must be directed by someone who has been trained in its use. It produces measurable results, such

Guide dogs have been trained to assist people with visual disabilities, including navigating city streets. (Photo by Peter Skinner/Science Source/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

as improved range of motion or decreased anxiety. AAA has a more general purpose and doesn't require a measurable goal. Volunteers taking dogs and cats to nursing homes to promote social interaction among the elderly residents and taking these animals to pediatric hospitals to cheer up sick children are two examples of AAA.

Animal welfare and rights movement

Dogs and cats have given a great deal to humans—work, companionship, and affection—and people have responded to this relationship. Although animals have sometimes been viewed as nothing more than useful tools, countless humans have developed a very affectionate relationship with dogs and cats. Eventually, the affection and empathy that some people felt toward animals led to the development of organizations devoted to animal welfare and even to what is referred to as the "animal rights movement." Although most of these organizations are concerned with many species of animals, cats and dogs are typically a major focus of their efforts.

The American for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), for example, was established in 1866 by Henry Bergh. This wealthy philanthropist was appalled by the abuse some people inflicted on horses, dogs, and cats, and he and the ASPCA worked to reduce these abuses. One of the first successes of the ASPCA was the enactment of an animal anti-cruelty law by the state of New York. Today, it's readily accepted that animals should not be abused and anti-cruelty legislation has been passed throughout the United States.

Some animal rights groups are more controversial. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for example, proposes that "animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment." Since its inception in 1980, PETA has influenced consumers and businesses in various ways: by working against wearing fur, hunting, and experimenting on animals; and advocating the adoption of a vegetarian diet. Some of its projects, such as the "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign, have garnered huge amounts of publicity. Others, however, such as comparing animal suffering to the Holocaust, have garnered accusations of being insensitive and excessively reactive.

Other animal protection groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), founded in 1954, are more widely accepted. Indeed, the HSUS states that it is "the world's largest animal-protection organization," with seven million members and constituents and 250 employees. The HSUS envisions a world in which people satisfy the physical and emotional needs of domestic animals; protect wild animals and their environments; and change their relationships with all animals, evolving from exploitation and harm to respect and compassion. As evidenced by these groups, the relationship among cats, dogs, and humans is still evolving in many ways. Originally viewed as four-legged workers, today domesticated cats and dogs are increasingly valued for their productive roles in human society.

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