Behavior Analysis of Companion-Animal Overpopulation: A Conceptualization of the Problem and Suggestions for Intervention

By Fournier, Angela K.; Geller, E. Scott | Behavior and Social Issues, Spring/Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Behavior Analysis of Companion-Animal Overpopulation: A Conceptualization of the Problem and Suggestions for Intervention


Fournier, Angela K., Geller, E. Scott, Behavior and Social Issues


ABSTRACT:

This paper conceptualizes the societal problem of companion-animal overpopulation and offers a framework to humanely reduce the current surplus of animals and prevent further overpopulation. Overpopulation is described as a societal problem, with the individual and collective behavior of people as a causal agent. Variables in the environment, including animal-welfare agencies and the pet industry, are also discussed as contributing factors. Behavior and environment factors described in the conceptualization are targeted in a proposed framework for intervention. The intervention framework details relevant target populations and agencies, target behaviors, and dependent measures for evaluating intervention programs. Finally, environmental contingencies are described that support current behavior deficits and will likely impede environment and behavior changes proposed in the framework. It is suggested that behavior analysis can be used to manipulate these contingencies to initiate and sustain proposed changes to beneficially impact companion-animal overpopulation.

Key words: companion-animal overpopulation, animal welfare, behavior analysis, social issues

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates eight to ten million companion animals (i.e., cats and dogs) are relinquished to shelters each year and of those, four to five million are euthanized (HSUS, 2002). In fact, euthanasia is the number-one killer of all companion animals (Sturla, 1993). In addition to being placed in overcrowded shelters and euthanized, many animals stray or roam free, becoming nuisances and causing illness and injury in the community (Allen & Westbrook, 1979).

Professionals in the veterinary, animal control and animal welfare fields are now seeing companion-animal overpopulation as a "people problem" rather than an animal problem (e.g., Arkow, 1991; Arluke, 1991; Miller, Staats, Partlo, & Rada, 1996; Moulton, Wright, & Rindy, 1991). In other words, it is the behavior of people that has resulted in an overabundance of animals, and to solve the problem people must change their behavior. Professionals in the behavioral sciences suggest behavior and environment factors need to be considered when targeting behavior problems in the community (Geller, Berry, Ludwig, Evans, Gilmore, & Clarke, 1990). These factors are described here to help understand overpopulation, beginning with the human behaviors, namely behavior deficits, contributing to this societal "people problem."

BEHAVIOR FACTORS

The behavior factors indicated in overpopulation are behaviors of caretakers (i.e., pet owners). More specifically, behavior deficits, or a lack of doing necessary behaviors, contribute to overpopulation, namely deficiencies in pet-maintenance behaviors and pet sterilization.

Pet-Maintenance Behaviors

Pet maintenance refers to continuing to house and care for a pet once it is acquired. Many pets are not maintained after acquisition but instead are relinquished to an animal shelter or to the wild. Research conducted in animal shelters suggests at least 44% of animals in shelters were relinquished by caretakers and a significant number of stray animals appear to have recently been pets (Patronek & Glickman, 1994). Investigations into the reasons for relinquishment reveal pet-maintenance deficits are actually the result of two more specific behavior deficits among caretakers-animal-training behaviors and preacquisition planning behaviors.

Animal-training behaviors

Caretakers report behavior problems as the primary reason in 40% of dog relinquishments and 28% of cat relinquishments (Salman et al., 2000). The most common behavior problems reported for both dogs and cats are house soiling, aggressive behavior and property destruction (Houpt, Honig, & Reisner, 1996; Salman et al., 2000). These behaviors are actually typical animal behaviors (e.g., chewing and scratching) that become problems when an animal is placed in a human environment (Miller et al. …

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