Wayne Pacelle is the president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This Op-Ed was adapted from one that appeared on the HSUS blog A Humane Nation. Pacelle contributed this Op-Ed to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Are we a cat nation or a dog nation? The answer can be mixed, with a good number of households, like mine, having representatives from both camps. But as The Washington Post reports, there are some geographic variances at work in the United States. According to data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats outnumber dogs in the Northeast, Upper Midwest and on the West Coast, while dogs outnumber cats across the South. Massachusetts and Maryland are the most cat-friendly states, with almost two cats for every dog, while Arkansas and New Mexico vie for the title of most dog-friendly state. [Personhood for Pets? How the Human-Animal Bond Has Evolved ]
These numbers also line up quite neatly with voting performance, especially on the red-blue state divide. Cats are typically more popular in blue states, while dogs are more popular in red states. That led the Post to coin the terms, "demo-cats" and "re-pup-licans" (with my cat Zoe and my dog Lily, I'm trying to stay bipartisan).
Overall though, we're a nation that loves cats and dogs pretty equally. Just under a third of U.S. households live with cats, while just over a third live with dogs. But there are more cats overall because each cat household typically has more cats. Add it all up and Americans now live with an estimated 74 million cats and 70 million dogs (not to mention 3.7 million birds, 1.8 million horses and millions of other creatures great and small).
That so many Americans have welcomed animals into our homes is cause for celebration. We now share our homes with four times as many companion animals than we did in the 1960s (the human population has only doubled since then). And we share a deeper bond with them than ever before: 90 percent of us consider our cats and dogs family members, while 80 percent of us would risk our lives for them.
But cats and dogs still face far too much cruelty, neglect and abandonment in this country. Puppy mills aggravate this problem , by breeding hundreds of thousands of puppies and bollixing up the adoption pipeline, while often relegating the mothers to lives of deprivation and suffering.
Consider these statistics:
• Every year, as many as eight million cats and dogs end up in animal shelters where, tragically, roughly 2.7 million healthy and treatable animals are euthanized;
• Cats make up about 70 percent of animals euthanized in shelters, with many relinquished for solvable behavior problems;
• Dogfighters chew up tens of thousands of animals in pursuing their vicious and barbaric form of "entertainment" and gambling.
Here at The Humane Society of the United States, we're committed to confronting the biggest threats to cats and dogs. Our puppy mill campaign works to shut down abusive breeding operations across the country. Late last year we scored a major victory, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) promised to start regulating the online sale of puppies (our litigators are now defending this rule in federal court). We are anxiously awaiting a final rule from the USDA banning imports of puppy mill dogs from foreign nations.
We're also working tirelessly to reach our goal that no adoptable cat or dog is ever euthanized. In partnership with Maddie's Fund and the Ad Council, we run the Shelter Pet Project to make adoption the first choice for every cat and dog lover. Already the project has generated more than $170 million of donated ad time to spread this compassionate message. [A Frozen Dog? Puppy Mill Horrors (Op-Ed)]
We're scaling up our work to keep dogs and cats in homes, fighting against relinquishment and abandonment and deficient care for pets. And we're expanding our innovative Pets for Life program into more underserved areas, to provide reduced cost spay and neuter, and outreach and services on compassionate pet ownership. We are now directly touching 27 communities with this program, and celebrating the human-animal bond in communities where people often don't have the means or access to important services for animals. Our work to keep pets in their homes also includes tools for pet owners, shelters and rescues to resolve problem-cat behaviors — the reason most often cited for cat relinquishments — and we are working to protect outdoor community cats and provide solutions to conflicts between cats and wildlife.
The trend is positive: Euthanasia rates have fallen several times over since the 1970s, when an estimated 15 million cats and dogs were put down in shelters every year. But we won't rest until every adoptable cat and dog in America finds a home as loving as those that millions of cats and dogs already enjoy, and we also won't rest until we put the dogfighters and mills out of business. As a nation of cat and dog lovers, that's the least we owe these animals.
Pacelle's most recent Op-Ed was "Banned in 160 Nations, Why is Ractopamine in U.S. Pork?" The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This Op-Ed was adapted from "Red Nor Blue: United We Stand for Dogs and Cats" on the HSUS blog A Humane Nation. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.