California’s growing challenge of dog overpopulation

February 24, 2023


It’s tough to be a dog in California right now, especially if you’re unwanted, stashed away in a crowded cage with other unwanted dogs, hoping against hope to be adopted. Sadly, the odds are not in your favor.

At last count, Bakersfield was struggling with 300 dogs in a single shelter—the situation is so bad that they’ve started euthanizing puppies—puppies! Over in Fresno, there are currently more than 650 dogs, spread out in two separate facilities, available for adoption.

There isn’t a single shelter in LA County where space isn’t an issue. Even here, in San Luis Obispo County, our brand new expanded facility is already filled to capacity.

Two years ago, as COVID gripped the nation, you couldn’t find a dog to adopt. Animal shelters were ghost towns. Everyone celebrated. Not anymore. Everything’s changed. The reasons are many; the solutions are few.

Talk with local dog rescuers, like Charlotte Meade with Meade Canine Rescue in Creston, or Anouk Novy of Novy’s Ark Dog Rescue in Atascadero, and the challenge becomes all too clear. Too many of us went back to work post-COVID and decided we no longer wanted to care for a dog.

Spay/neuter rates have plunged dramatically—University of Florida researchers report that U.S. veterinarians performed 2.7 million fewer spay and neuter surgeries in 2020 and 2021. It’s not by coincidence that most of the dogs now clogging the shelters are less than two years old.

The problem is compounded by an increasing shortage of veterinarians. Those still in practice have often had to raise their spay/neuter fees. I’ve heard some local vets are currently charging upwards of $600 per dog. Sadly, too many people aren’t willing to spend the money.

Equally troubling is the increase of people breeding and selling dogs for money. Officials over in Fresno have encountered homeless people on the street selling puppies for a quick buck. Animal lovers applauded recent legislation that bans pet stores from selling dogs and cats from breeders, but that didn’t stop the selling. It only shifted everything from the store to the street and Craigslist.

There is no reason to believe the situation will change anytime soon. I submit that most people aren’t even aware that there is a problem, so folks like Anouk Novy, Charlotte Meade, Cheri Lucas, and a handful of other volunteers (curiously all women) shoulder the burden of doing what they can, with what little resources they have. Personally, I don’t know how they can go into these crammed shelters week after week.

On behalf of the dogs, I ask for your help. Obviously, the best thing you could do right now is to go and adopt a dog from a rescue group, but I also understand if there’s no room at the inn where you live. So consider finding another way of supporting dog rescue work, either through volunteering, or donation. Every dollar counts. Every dollar helps.

There are hundreds of dog rescue groups scattered across California and they’d all appreciate anything you could do on their behalf.

I believe we have caring and responsible representatives in Sacramento in state Senator John Laird and Assemblywoman Dawn Addis. Funding for targeted spay/neuter programs may be the best way to reduce the dog overpopulation we’re facing. Please email your representatives, or bring it up in public forums. Selling dogs, except through licensed breeders, should also be outlawed at either the city or county level. The profit motive must be removed.

Let’s give these dogs a chance. It’s up to us.

Dave Congalton is a radio host and animal welfare advocate who lives in San Luis Obispo.

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There’s another side to this, which is that too many people who do have dogs really shouldn’t. Like my neighbors who never take their dogs to the park, which is a two-minute walk away. Just this morning they got out and chased my cat. No discipline, no structure to their lives, just stuck in the back yard all day, every day. Barking incessantly. And like most people who have dogs when they shouldn’t, the dude copped an attitude when I told him that we’d be having a different conversation if my cat were hurt. Which he wasn’t, fortunately. So, if people do get dogs, please be responsible, take them out, clean up the poop in your side yard if you have neighbors, and accept ownership of them in all respects. Thanks so much.

I have been searching various shelters for months now since my 16-year-old pointer cross Woods alumnus died, and most of the dogs are German shepherds, pitbulls, Siberian huskies and other large mix-breed dogs, none of which I want. Also, many homeowner insurance policies will not cover anything related to certain dog breeds such as these. Lastly, new homes being built here have yards the size of a small bathroom, which is not conducive to having a dog. In an effort to build more houses on less land, bureaucrats have forgotten to make space for pets. How sad.

I’ve never had a problem finding a vet. They send me advertisements in the mail just like dentists do. Sure, since Betty O’Conner retired it has cost me a lot more, but then check your plumber’s hourly rate today. Seeing the homeless with animals makes me sick, I’ve seen them use the only authority they have to torment dogs. I don’t know if this is better or worse than the ones with cats on leashes. If you can’t afford your housing and food you can’t afford an animal’s either.

Having a pet is for the wealthy today…

Another issue is the high cost of health care for our adopted friends. I just spent $4k on dental work on my two little guys, a real shock!

By all means adopt a pooch if you can, please. It is no surprise, however, that Mr. Congalton is oblivious or simply chooses to ignore for obvious reasons the fact that far fewer people can afford caring for a dog now. Registration, vaccinations, microchip, veterinarian visits, food, medicine, obedience training, $600 spay or neuter procedures – people tend to forego these sorts of discretionary expenses after seeing Washington D.C. awaken the inflation monster. It’s interesting to learn from Mr. Congalton that enterprising illegal camper addict-vagrants in Fresno have initiated their Fido for Fentanyl schemes. I sure hope that nasty trend doesn’t get popular with the zombie crowd. Maybe all the soon to be vacant prison cells in California can be used to house both species, minus the fentanyl and other drugs of course. Actually, come to think of it the doggies deserve far far better. Please take in a pup or two or three and give them a loving home. One that doesn’t require the California taxpayers to subsidize canine care.

One of the points is the shortage of veterinarians. California desperately needs another veterinary college. How about Cal Poly? By my research one could be started for between 30 and $50 million.

With the cost of veterinary education amounting to $50-$60,000 per year (x 4 years) why would you expect any young person to go into that career with the prospect of making perhaps $150,000 per year.? Four years of a difficult undergraduate science major with nearly perfect grades followed by a a rigorous four year medical education…and hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

We need to work on making the veterinary medicine shortage a sense of urgency and give it the same weight as Public health. Cal Poly should have a veterinary College in my opinion. It would mesh well with the existing zoology and animal science undergraduate programs. Local vets could be part time lecturers and faculty and the college could supplement the existing vet shortage.

I also agree with some of the callers on your program that were speaking about legislation, regarding advertising for puppies and licensing of breeders and so forth. Again, in my opinion this issue is akin to a public health issue.

Thanks for writing this.

100 percent agree with you, but I don’t think most people care.

Thank you for writing this article and raising awareness. Our family has learned the hard way to not purchase a dog from a backyard breeder but instead adopt from a shelter. I encourage anyone wanting to adopt, visit a local shelter as it is a win/win for you and the dog.