Every eight seconds. That's the frequency at which cats and dogs are euthanized in American shelters each year. That equates to 4 million animals killed per year.
Right now, there are about 320,000 adoptable pets listed at petfinder.com. And in Tucson, there are more animal shelters than McDonald's locations.
These statistics point to a critical pet-overpopulation problem.
Ask Deanna Severance, founder of D-S Rescue, about the issue, and she sums it up perfectly: "It's a people problem, and people are the answer. Too many owners are not responsible enough to spay or neuter their pet, and so for their ignorance, the animals pay.
"Some argue that their pets are inside most of the time, or that they have same-sex pets, so no need to worry. They are in denial of the 'what-ifs.' What if your animal ... decides to jump the fence? ... What if your pet is outside ... and another animal jumps into your yard? ... There are low-income and free clinics to help with this, so people need to stop making excuses and get their animals spayed or neutered."
Until this problem is solved, D-S Rescue and other shelters will have plenty to do. "I really wish that I was in a line of work where I wasn't needed," says Severance. Regardless, she gives her all.
Severance worked as an Avon district sales manager for 20 years—covering a $3 million area and supervising 500-plus representatives. About four years ago, she developed a chronic pain condition so debilitating that she could no longer work full-time. Today, she says she has a few good hours in the morning, and a few in the afternoon after a midday rest.
The transition from being a busy sales manager to managing a rescue organization was rocky at first. "I had a full-time job, was a competitive dancer, and raised two kids on my own. ... I could do anything I wanted. ... (Then) four years ago, I was told, 'You can't work; you can't ride your horse; you can't dance,' can't this and can't that."
Faith and perseverance got her through.
"I realized your yearly income doesn't define who you are. I started thinking, 'I do still have worth. I have knowledge.' ... (I do this) because there is a need ... for stray and unwanted animals to have a safe place to come to."
Severance says every program she runs is based on giving back to the community. At her location in Picture Rocks, it's almost like a mini Noah's ark. There are dogs, cats, horses, goats, ducks, pigs, sheep, a donkey, a miniature horse and a rabbit.
Severance respects her animals and tries to educate the community about their care, with the hope that added knowledge will reduce animal cruelty and neglect. She also helps people hold on to their animals if they face a temporary problem. Adoptable pets are listed on her website, d-srescue.com, and the organization offers other services as well.
"Riding lessons teach kids discipline, respect and patience—three things kids really need and are lacking. The petting zoo lets kids experience what I have and gain knowledge. I educate them on the animals: Why does a bunny twitch his nose? How long does a horse live? ... It enriches lives. They walk away knowing something they didn't used to know."
Severance says she also offers birthday parties where even adults get excited, for example, to ride a horse for the first time.
All revenue from programs goes back into the operation of the shelter. D-S Rescue is a nonprofit run by volunteers, and "not one person in this gets paid, myself included," Severance explains.
Still, payment comes in other forms. "Supposedly, we rescue (animals), but in a lot of ways, they rescue us, too," Severance says. "They are very therapeutic. ... Animals are not given as much credit as they deserve.
"They don't care what you look like or what your education level is. They don't care if you have a traumatic brain injury, you are autistic or graduated first in your class at Harvard. It doesn't matter to them. They are very forgiving and very non-judgmental."
The question remains, though, whether we can forgive ourselves for the millions of cats, dogs and other animals put down each year because of human negligence. For all of the love and affection the animals give us, they certainly deserve better.