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Too Many Pets, Too Few Homes
Students examine the problem of pet overpopulation both in Canada and in Nova Scotia. Students will learn about the importance of spaying and neutering in combating pet overpopulation. A lesson plan for Grades 3–4 Social Studies.

Learning outcomes
Teacher planning
Supplemental information
Nova Scotia curriculum alignment

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Students will:

  • examine the role of the community in managing the problem of pet overpopulation.
  • draw conclusions based on statistical information concerning pet overpopulation in Canada and Nova Scotia.
  • learn the purpose of writing a “letter to the editor” and will have the opportunity to construct their own letter about the problem of pet overpopulation and possible solutions.


Time required for lesson

2 days


  • Pencil
  • Worksheet 1
  • Fact Sheet
  • Worksheet 2
  • Chapter One of Bill Gutman's Adopting Pets: How to Choose Your New Best Friend
  • Optional: Book (Bill Gutman, Adopting Pets: How to Choose Your New Best Friend, Brookfield, Connecticut: Millbrook Press, 2001. ISBN: 0761318631) (Permission has been granted to photocopy sections of the text for educational purposes.)

Technology resources
Adobe Acrobat Reader is necessary to read the attachments. You can download it for free at the Adobe website.

Have students read Bill Gutman, Chapter 1 “Too Many Animals” from Bill Gutman's Adopting Pets. If you have a copy of the book, leave it in the classroom and make a few additional copies (author has granted permission to make photocopies for educational purposes) of Chapter 1 to ensure all students will have the ability to read the necessary pages.

Because of the sensitive nature of the topic of euthanasia, some classes might not be emotionally prepared to cope with the euthanizing of animals. On the other hand, educating children and adults about the problem of pet overpopulation is an essential part of the solution. To help students process information about such an emotional topic, you could try the following:

  • Allow students adequate time to discuss their feelings and emotions about euthanizing animals.
  • During the activity, emphasize the importance of spaying and neutering and the responsibilities associated with pet ownership rather than only stressing how many animals are killed every year.
  • Before teaching this lesson, speak with the guidance counselor of your school and ask him/her to offer suggestions about how to best introduce this topic to your class or ask him/her to assist you when teaching this lesson in order to prepare for any difficult questions that may arise.

Day 1:

  1. Set the stage for the activity by leading a group discussion based on the questions below. (5-10 minutes)
    • Do all pets in Canada and in Nova Scotia have homes?
    • What happens to pets living in animal shelters that do not get placed in homes?
  2. Place students in groups of 3-4 and distribute one copy of Worksheet 1 to each group. Read the directions aloud and then ask students to complete the worksheet. Once students have finished the assignment, review vocabulary and answers to the comprehension questions as a class. (25-30 minutes)
  3. Optional: If you only have one copy of Adopting Pets, you could make this a class activity by asking for volunteers to offer suggestions about how to best define the vocabulary words and answer the reading comprehension questions.
  4. Conclude the class by asking students to list the major points they learned about pet overpopulation (in both Canada and Nova Scotia) and the importance of spaying and neutering cats and dogs to combat this problem. List the responses on the blackboard or an overhead sheet. (5-10 minutes)
  5. Homework: Ask 2 or 3 volunteers to bring in a copy of a “letter to the editor” (from any newspaper and on any topic) to the next class. Have all students think about the purpose of these letters so they can discuss the topic in class.

Day 2:

  1. Ask students to form the same groups as yesterday. Distribute one copy of the Pet Overpopulation Fact Sheet and Worksheet 2 to each group. Read aloud the directions for Part I of Worksheet 2 and leave time for questions students may have about the fact sheet or the assignment in Part I. Inform students that some of the questions on the fact sheet will have more than one acceptable response, so it is up to each group to decide how to best answer each question. (15-20 minutes)
  2. Once students have finished Part I, review the answers together. (5 minutes)
  3. Read aloud the directions for Part II of Worksheet 2. Before students begin their assignment, have the volunteers from yesterday give a brief description of the letter to the editor they brought in for class. Ask the rest of the class to discuss what they believe to be the purpose of writing a letter to the editor. (5-10 minutes)
  4. Ask students to complete their task of writing a letter to the editor entitled “Too Many Pets, Too Few Homes.” (20-25 minutes)
  5. Optional:
    • In order to facilitate the group work, you may want to assign a task to each of the students (a note-taker to keep track of the group's ideas for the letter; an author who will translate the ideas of the group into a letter; an editor who will proofread the letter for spelling, grammar, and clarity; an artist to draw an illustration to complement the letter).
    • Contact a local newspaper for information on submitting the letters for print (for a list of newspapers by city, see the Nova Scotia Genealogy Network Association's "Nova Scotia Daily and Community Newspapers"). If the paper will only accept one letter on the topic, organize a contest in which other students and teachers select the letter they feel best explains the problem of pet overpopulation and best outlines the solution to the crisis. Or, to eliminate the competition, share all the letters and then use the best points from each letter to create one product that represents the entire class.

Use the rubric to assess how well students worked together in groups and how well students grasped the lessons taught in this activity. Adequate space appears in the rubric to explain the point total for each category as well as space for additional comments at the end of the page.


  1. Eliminate the point structure and only write comments concerning each category.
  2. Have each group assess their own process and product performance.

Worksheet 1 Answer Key

  • Neuter/spay: Surgical procedures that prevent females from becoming pregnant and males from siring litters.
  • Euthanize: The act of purposefully killing animals without pain or distress.
  • No-kill shelters: Animal shelters that do not euthanize animals.

Comprehension Questions

  1. On average, how many pets are euthanized in Canada each year? Estimates suggest that as many as 80,000 pets are euthanized each year in Canada.
  2. How can spaying and neutering animals help solve the pet overpopulation problem? By preventing female cats and dogs from becoming pregnant and preventing male cats and dogs from siring litters, spaying and neutering helps solve the pet overpopulation problem.
  3. List two misperceptions (or “untruths”) that sometimes make people reluctant to spay or neuter their dogs?
    • Spaying or neutering will prevent dogs from being good watchdogs.
    • Spaying or neutering makes dogs fat and lazy.
    • What role does responsibility play in the spaying and neutering of household pets? Knowing that one female cat and her offspring can theoretically produce 420,000 cats in a 7-year period and that one female dog and her offspring can theoretically produce 67,000 dogs in a 6-year period, it would be a responsible decision to spay or neuter your pet in order to help solve the pet overpopulation problem.

Worksheet 2 Answer Key

  1. List two statistics from the Fact Sheet that support this problem exists in Canada. (Answers will vary)
    • Approximately 220,000 cats and dogs enter shelters each year.
    • Approximately 80,000 cats and dogs are euthanized by shelters each year.
  2. List two sources from the Fact Sheet that support that this problem exists in Nova Scotia. (Answers will vary)
    • In 2006, animal shelters of the SPCA across Nova Scotia accepted 7,576 cats and dogs.
    • In 2006, 3,161 cats and dogs were euthanized in Nova Scotia SPCA animal shelters.
  3. How can this problem best be solved? By spaying or neutering.
  4. Provide one example of why people might resist this solution. Some people mistakenly believe that spaying or neutering animals will make them fat and lazy.
  5. How does the information on the Fact Sheet prove that your solution would help the pet overpopulation problem in Canada? (Hint: How many cats can one female and her offspring produce in seven years? How many dogs can one female and her offspring produce in six years?) The statistics prove that pet overpopulation is a problem in Canada. Since cats and dogs can reproduce so quickly and have such large litters, preventing pets from becoming pregnant or siring litters through spaying or neutering means that less kittens and puppies will be born each year, thereby reducing the total number of pets in Canada.

Opportunities for Further Learning:

  1. Assign each student a county in Nova Scotia and ask them to locate information about the number of cats and dogs residing in animal shelters in that county and the number of animals euthanized during the previous year. See the report (PDF) on animal shelters from the Nova Scotia SPCA. Share the findings as a group and have a class discussion about pet overpopulation in Nova Scotia.
  2. Invite a veterinarian, employee from a local animal shelter, or a volunteer from a local animal rescue group to speak to your students about the problem of pet overpopulation and the importance of spaying and neutering. You can contact the Nova Scotia SPCA.
  3. Ask students to write about the significance of the character traits of responsibility, good judgment, and citizenship and civic virtue in attempting to solve the problem of pet overpopulation in their community (2-3 paragraphs).
  4. Have your class take part in a community event to help raise money for local animal shelters such or organize your own event to help homeless animals in your county.
  5. Ask students to select any illustration from Adopting Pets and
    • describe the main point of the illustration.
    • describe how the illustration makes him/her feel.
    • draw his/her own illustration that depicts one aspect of the problem of pet overpopulation.

Example of Activities:

  • ORGANIZE A PREVENT A LITTER WEEK: Raise awareness about pet overpopulation and the importance of spaying and neutering pets.
  • ORGANIZE A FUNDRAISER: Donate the proceeds of a yard sale, bake sale, car wash, or book sale to an animal shelter or rescue group. Contact the organization and ask them for brochures to distribute to students and the public.

Articles on Pet Overpopulation:

  • Spay/Neuter from the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies
  • Solving the Pet Overpopulation Problem from The Humane Society of the United States
  • Why You Should Spay or Neuter Your Pet from The Humane Society of the United States

Free Resources for Educators and Kids:

  • Animals, Eh? contains puzzles, games and all kinds of educational (and fun!) exercises for children in Grades 3 through 7. Published by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.
  • The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a leader in humane education.
  • ASPCA's Animaland provides ideas for activities and science projects, children's bibliography, games, essay and poster contests. ASPCA's Animalessons provides fun and educational lesson plans and activities (in English and Spanish) for grades K through 8.
  • KIND News (Kids In Nature's Defense) is a classroom newspapers for kids in grades K through 6. It includes articles, stories, puzzles, celebrity interviews, and project ideas.
  • TEACHKind provides teaching tips and class activities on humane education.
  • PETAKids explores animal welfare issues and suggests practical ways young people can make a difference.

A 1995 survey from COMPAS Inc. (survey sponsored by Ralston Purina Canada Inc.) reported that 52 percent of Canadians own pets. In 2006, animal shelters of the SPCA across Nova Scotia accepted 7,576 cats and dogs, and 3,161 of these were euthanized because of lack of homes. Few people are aware of the large numbers of animals that are euthanized in shelters. If we educate our youth on the problem of pet overpopulation and the importance of spaying and neutering, they will approach pet ownership more responsibly and help prevent the useless deaths of thousands of animals in the future.

This lesson is endorsed by Pamela Keddy, President Nova Scotia SPCA & Director Nova Scotia SPCA Metro Shelter, and Dr. Oscar Fletcher, former dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University.

Bill Gutman graciously granted permission for the educational use of several chapters of his book Adopting Pets. The text of his permission is below.

“This letter serves to grant permission for teachers from all the schools in the Canada school system to photocopy parts or all of chapters 1, 2, and 5 of my book, Adopting Pets: How to Choose Your New Best Friend, originally published by Millbrook Press, through the rights have since fully reverted to me.

The material photocopied is to be used in a lesson plan to be distributed to public schools and libraries in the Canada school system and can be copied by both Barbara Lapointe and the individual teachers involved with the program.”

Nova Scotia Curriculum Alignment


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