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How to Stop Spending $2B a Year Killing the Pets We Love

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Last year I was scrambling to find a place to live, frustrated because the vast majority of the apartments on Craigslist either did not allow pets or allowed only one (usually a cat or small dog).

But I have two cats I was determined to keep, especially in light of a string of recent deaths in my immediate family that strengthened my attachment to my animals. Luckily I found a place on time, but the experience led me to consider the role no-pet and one-pet policies play in the pandemic of pet homelessness and euthanasia in our country.

Here in the United States, approximately 12 million cats and dogs are relinquished to animal shelters every year, about half of which are euthanized. In fact, euthanasia of relinquished pets is by far the leading cause of death among cats and dogs in this country.

It costs U.S. taxpayers $2 billion annually to impound, shelter, euthanize and dispose of homeless animals. Those that are not euthanized may be sold legally to research laboratories in up to 33 states in a practice known as "pound seizure."

According to the National Council of Pet Population Study & Policy, "moving" is the most-cited reason people give for surrendering their animals to shelters, with "landlord issues" close behind. A poll conducted by the Humane Society of the United States showed that 35% of people without pets would own one if their rentals permitted it.

Even as so many pets are put to sleep annually, we are a nation enamored with them, spending an estimated $38 billion every year on their comfort and care. A poll by AP-Petside last year found that 71% of the people surveyed agreed with euthanasia for cats and dogs only when an animal is "too sick to be treated or too aggressive to be adopted" -- not for population control.

It suggests that if more housing allowed pets, it could stem the staggering rates of pet surrender and euthanasia.

In most states, though, only government-subsidized housing is subject to regulations on pets. As part of the Pet Ownership in Public Housing Act, federal law allows for tenants to have pets in public housing, but it is subject to "reasonable regulations" established by a particular public housing agency and can include pet deposits or fees or restrictions on the size, weight or number of pets allowed in a specific unit or building.