At least 500 000 domestic animals are put down annually in South Africa at a cost of about R37,5-million.
And in Cape Town, it costs ratepayers at least R125 000 a year to euthanase the city's unwanted pets.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals euthanased 78 681 dogs and 57 274 cats nationally during the year ending March 2001.
Adele Walker of the Cape Town SPCA said the organisation euthanased 10 000 animals out of the 84 000 it had to handle in the city alone.
At a cost of R12,50 an animal, that amounts to R125 000 that ratepayers had to fork out, because the city foots the bill. This does not include the maintenance of strays abandoned by their owners.
Japie Swarts, acting manager of the Tygerberg Administration, which oversees the council's handling of matters relating to strays and euthanasia, said the City of Cape Town had "not really gone into the matter of sterilising" as it was trying to cope with the flood of unwanted pets.
Swarts said the city also did not have a record of the number of animals being put down.
He said the council was paying R10 a day to keep dogs at pounds and R12,50 to have them put to sleep.
It was only funding the Animal Welfare Society in Bellville South, to the tune of R6 000 a month, and the Beaconvale-based Cape of Good Hope SPCA, which was receiving R4 000.
Swarts said owners of large animals like horses did not claim their animals and they would then need to be transported and kept in Atlantis, which added to the bill.
"Sometimes we put the animals up for sale, but we end up losing financially on the deal."
He said each municipality had only one animal control officer, who only responded to complaints.
Waste Care, one of several waste removal companies servicing greater Cape Town, said it disposed of 12 tons of euthanased bodies in the first three months of this year, and the rate of disposal was increasing.
Shocking figures of South Africa's inhumane handling of pets were released by Animal Voice, a magazine covering animal welfare issues. According to the magazine, euthanased dogs and cats are becoming landfill at an unprecedented rate.
"The costs involved in preventing the suffering of stray, starving and diseased animals serve as a wake-up call."
The magazine said the emotional cost to those entrusted with administering lethal injections had until now been "shrouded in denial by a public that would rather not know".
June Woodman, chairperson of the Animal Welfare Society (Western Cape), which euthanases about 1 400 dogs and cats a month, said: "You can't put a price on the emotional stress caused to people who have to do this job.
"We start off trying to make the animals better but we end up destroying them.
"We go into areas and sterilise, take out animals that are beyond help and so on, and if in six months' time we went in again and could see a difference we could say the destruction was worth it.
"But when we go back six months later and find we are starting again at square one, it becomes soul-destroying."
According to Animal Voice, the average cost to euthanase an animal is about R75.
The total cost to euthanase 300 000 animals a year was R22,5-million and to euthanase 500 000 animals a year, R37,5-million.
Christine Kuch, media spokesperson for Johannesburg National Council of the SPCA, said it was not a question of the number of animals that died but how they died.
"Each animal euthanased by a welfare organisation died humanely. The alternatives are hideous."
Kuch said the SPCA and other animal welfare organisations were at the coalface of animal suffering and distress and were often the ones called to rescue animals (not just domestic pets) when no one else was prepared to do so.
Grassy Park SPCA, the largest in the country, had an operating deficit of about R750 000 last year.
- Its inspectorate handles about 600 reports of cruelty a month.
- It can house 300 animals in its hospital and 200 animals in its kennels.
- It has the second largest veterinary hospital, and four mobile clinics which crisscross the Peninsula.
- It runs a horse care unit and a wildlife/farmyard rehabilitation centre.
- In the past financial year, 84 538 animals passed through all its departments.
- 10 000 were put to sleep
- 74 000 left healthy and safe.
- The SPCA asks for a donation of R30 to put "a companion animal" down, but the procedure costs the organisation about R50 (compared with about R152 in private practice, and another R150 for the disposal of the body).
- The South Peninsula Administration grants the SPCA a R22 000 rates rebate.