Literally millions of lost or unwanted pets are destroyed each year in the U.S. Feral cats and wandering dogs commonly roam the streets, breeding out of control (one female cat and her litter can create 420,000 cats in seven years; one female dog and her litter can create 67,000 dogs in six years). These animals generally have short, miserable lives.

Often municipalities employ animal control measures to keep these derelict creatures off the streets, but the problem of abandoned and/or unaltered (non-“fixed”) pets is more than any one agency or shelter can handle alone.

In Charlotte, a call to 311 for information about the way the city processes collected animals led to a voicemail stating that those who have lost their pets should come to the shelter at least every two days. This is encouraging because it means the city-affiliated shelter tries to give adequate time to owners looking for their companion animals. After an approximately 72-hour hold the animals are either put on the adoption floor or euthanized.

According to Rhonda Golden-Thomas, founder of Project HALO, “In the 10 years I’ve been working with rescuing animals I’ve never seen the city’s animal control managed better. They have a great facility. It’s really encouraging how proactive the organization has become recently in terms of adopting animals out and organizing adoption events.”

Regarding euthanasia, Golden-Thomas said, “I’m against it. But what choice is there? The city can do only so much. Irresponsible pet owners who don’t spay and neuter hurt us all.”

Millions of dollars are spent each year on animal control, a number Golden-Thomas said could be reduced to zero if animals were altered consistently. “We got a $25,000 grant in 2006 for a special project. We spayed and neutered everything we could get our hands on.”

Project HALO (Helping Animals Live On) is a Charlotte-based shelter operating on a regional level. It is affiliated with Pet Finder, a nationwide network of animal care facilities that do not practice euthanasia. The local facility takes in dogs and generally has 20 pets on-site and another 30 animals available through affiliates.

In 2007 Project HALO was able to raise $100,000 through fundraisers, donations and rare special projects grants. The non-profit organization relies heavily on donations, which are tax-deductible. Unfortunately, giving has been severely impacted by the faltering economy.

Golden-Thomas said, “Our donations are down by 50 percent this year because people can’t afford gas. How can they give $20 a month to us?”

How then, can the number of homeless animals be reduced while also lowering the costs associated with their medical care and euthanization?

“Altering,” said Golden-Thomas. “I cannot stress enough how important it is to fix your pet. It should be a federalized law. The money put towards these animals could be used elsewhere. It is my goal to work myself out of a job. I would love to see the day when there aren’t any more animals to adopt, rescue or alter. Spaying or neutering your pets helps us all.”

Unfortunately, Golden-Thomas expects unwanted breeding and euthanasia to soar this year with the spike in home foreclosures. “It’s a very common story. People lose their homes and leave their pets behind. Irresponsible owners who abandon unaltered pets when they abandon a property are going to add very much to this problem.”

Animal lovers can help in a variety of ways. Volunteering provides much-needed assistance at shelters. Adopting animals removes them from the cycle of over-breeding and death, especially if you have them fixed. Adoption also lightens the financial burden on the community by lowering the costs of capture, shelter, food, medicine and operations. Charitable donations allow organizations to continue spaying and neutering.

When adopting a pet, Golden-Thomas suggested taking a few points into consideration. “Black cats and black dogs are the last to go. I don’t know why. Perhaps subconscious religious superstitions? But if I put a pretty white dog next to a pretty black dog, most people pick the white dog, even though its hair is going to show up on everything a whole lot more.

“Also,” she added, “older pets are often overlooked. People wanting to adopt have often recently lost an animal and the fear of death points them towards kittens and puppies. The advantage of older animals is that they don’t chew, they’re already housebroken and most of the health issues are already known. You can adopt a puppy today and it may have hip dysplasia in three years. You just never know.”

For more information of Project HALO, visit their website at Pet Finder has coordinated over 12 million adoptions since 1995. Thousands of pet profiles with pictures are available at