This lesson plan is designed to help teachers present animal rights issues to their students. If you’re an educator, please feel free to adapt this material to fit your needs, and contact us if you need help incorporating this activity into your curriculum.
Suggested grade levels: High school
Objectives: To help students understand the companion animal overpopulation crisis, how it affects the local community, and how they can help alleviate it
At any given time, an estimated 70 million homeless dogs and cats struggle to survive on the streets in the U.S. The majority of homeless companion animals face a tragic end—they’re hit by cars; they succumb to the elements, infections, injuries, or diseases; they starve to death; they’re shot or poisoned by cruel people; they’re attacked and killed in fights with other animals; or they die in other painful ways. More than 6 million homeless and unwanted dogs and cats make it to shelters each year. About half of those will be euthanized because they’re in such bad shape, they’ve become unsocialized or aggressive, or no suitable home can be found for them. Euthanasia becomes the only humane option to relieve their suffering.
Because a growing number of animal shelters have begun to turn animals away, more and more end up on the streets, where they reproduce and create even more homeless and unwanted animals. This happens because people neglect to have their cats and dogs spayed and neutered to prevent unwanted births and because people continue to buy animals from pet stores and breeders instead of adopting them from an animal shelter and saving a life. Dogs and cats are domesticated animals, who depend on humans to meet their needs for food, water, veterinary care, shelter, and safety and can’t survive for long on their own.
Every time someone buys an animal from a pet store or breeder, one in a shelter loses a chance at finding a good home. Use PETA’s hard-hitting (but not graphic) video to hammer the point home:
Many of your students have probably seen homeless dogs and cats, maybe even injured ones, which shows that this is a big problem. And students may not realize that they can be a part of the solution! Help yours understand the companion animal overpopulation crisis by sharing some of the statistics behind it. They can reference PETA’s factsheets “Spaying and Neutering: A Solution for Suffering,” “Why Animals Do Not Make Good Gifts,” and “Finding the Right Home for Your Companion Animal” to get them started. Ask them to research the topic by calling or visiting a local open-admission shelter—a shelter that doesn’t turn animals away for any reason, as opposed to a selective-admission or “no-kill” shelter, which chooses the animals it’s willing to take in. (Point out that if the animals in a “no-kill” shelter are not adopted, they are essentially warehoused and often left to suffer in cages for years as they become more and more unadoptable.) Have students explain to the shelter representative that they’re conducting research for a school assignment. They can ask how many animals the shelter takes in each year and where they come from (e.g., they’re seized by law enforcement in cruelty cases; found roaming, starving, and in danger; surrendered by people who can’t or won’t take care of them; or brought in after attacking someone). Have students then ask the shelter representative how much of an impact the shelter has on the local community. (Is the homeless-animal crisis getting better or worse?) Keep in mind that because shelter workers are often very busy and because of the pandemic, students may be asked to schedule a phone call. They can also visit shelter websites to conduct their research.
Students could use their research to write a letter to the mayor asking that your city or town follow the lead of California, Maryland, and a growing number of communities across the country by banning the sale of purpose-bred dogs and cats in pet stores in order to curb the companion animal overpopulation crisis. Want students to go above and beyond? They could also make their voice heard by supporting spay/neuter legislation requiring breeding permits.
Take the lesson a step further by giving your students extra credit for completing one of the following activities: holding a socially distant supply drive for an animal shelter, writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in support of breeding restrictions, or setting up a library display about companion animal overpopulation and writing about the experience.