You’ve heard the term but what is a healthy pet community and why does it matter to you?

According to the National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association about 68 percent of households in the US have a pet – 60 million homes having at least one dog and 47.1 million having at least one cat.

With that kind of national pet population your local community is likely home to thousands of dogs and cats at any given time. What happens if the thousands of animals in your town are ignored?

Preventing Disease

One of the most important parts of developing a healthy pet community is simple containment of disease, most notably rabies.

Dogs and cats are a lot more susceptible to disease transmission from wild animals because they spend a lot more time outdoors and are far less physically imposing. Understanding the breeds and concentration of dogs in your community is crucial if a pet or wild animal tests positive for rabies.

According to the CDC 90 percent of the animals that test positive for rabies every year are wild animals like skunks, racoons, foxes and bats. While cats are four times more likely to contract rabies, dogs are much more likely to spread the virus to humans. The World Health Organization reports that up to 99 percent of human transmission worldwide is from domestic dogs.

Every year in the United States 40,000 people receive a series of rabies injections called post-exposure prophylaxis after coming into contact with a rabid animal according to the CDC. If not dealt with immediately rabies is always fatal in humans.

By knowing where dogs live in your community you can easily warn residents to keep their pets indoors and avoid spreading the virus to humans. Likewise you can also swiftly notify them if another pet in their area that they may have come into contact with has tested positive.

Licensing laws are a key component in keeping a community free of diseases like rabies because it holds owners legally accountable to keep up with vaccinations and provides timely and updated pet and contact information to manage any kind of disease spread.

Managing Aggressive Dogs

Every city and town has had their fair share of instances of aggressive or even violent dogs. Dogs attacking people, dogs attacking each other even dogs killing each other. Leash and licensing laws are utilized to keep the problem at bay but when those laws go largely unenforced the risk for violence only goes up.

A healthy pet community is one in which animal violence is under control.

Understanding the dogs in your community is the first step in preventing bites and attacks. Larger dogs tend to be the bigger threat because of the damage they can inflict if they are triggered and some breeds have a higher tendency towards aggression overall. The ASPCA defines a wide variety of aggressive behaviors in dogs some which are dangerous to people, and some which aren’t.

But the bigger issue is knowing who lives where in your community.

Avoiding bites and attacks comes down to monitoring neighborhoods that are at a greater risk, being aware of owners with a history of aggressive dogs and being able to see violations readily. You would want to be aware of neighborhoods full of small children and large dogs, right? Licensing laws are often the only way of getting that information.

Animal Welfare

Happy, well-taken care of animals are sign of a thriving pet community. But unfortunately animal abuse often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.

According to the ASPCA, there are more than 10,000 puppy mills in the United States and 250,000 animals fall victim to hoarding every year. But animal cruelty doesn’t stop there – dog fighting and animal violence are also big issues across the country.

People who are abusing animals are often very good at hiding it but that doesn’t mean leash and licensing laws are useless in these cases. By stepping up enforcement even a little some of these residents can be identified and caught before they harm any more animals.

Manageable Shelter Populations

Every year 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters according to the ASPCA. Of those 710,000 are reunited with their owners, 3.2 million are adopted out and 1.5 million are euthanized. The rest remain in the shelter.

If you could reduce those numbers by reuniting dogs with their owners wouldn’t you want to do it?

Licensing laws play a big role in identifying lost or surrendered pets but they don’t work when they are underutilized. Dog licensing works to reduce shelter populations in two ways – by making lost pets easier to identify and by giving officials accurate counts of the pets in their communities to make better decisions.

If more dogs are licensed then more dogs will be identifiable if they are lost. Even if dogs end up in other communities a licensing tag will help Animal Control find out where it came from. If we can reunite even a few more pets every year that would allocate more resources to the ones that do not have homes.

Having data on the pets in your community can also help you make better decisions to serve them. From shelter supplies to dog parks and vaccination clinics if you don’t know how many pets are in your community how will you know what resources you are lacking?

A healthy pet community is one where animals and people can happily cohabitate without fear of violence, disease or abuse. When the animals in the community are taken care of the residents are often happier and more satisfied with where they live.

In a survey conducted by GoPetie 91.2 percent of Massachusetts dog owners said that their pet is a key part of their happiness and 93 percent consider their pet a part of their family.

If people care about the welfare of their pets, their government should too.