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Pets can be wonderful companions, helping humans to be healthier, happier and more engaged with life.

But, like all good things, there can be too many cats, dogs, horses, bunnies, ferrets and other domestic animals. Having a pet is like any other commitment or responsibility: Some people can handle it, and some people should never even try.

Organizations that step in to clean up after the latter group do a great service. But for decades, municipal shelters were forced to euthanize hundreds, even thousands, of unwanted pets every year.

Those figures have been greatly reduced, thanks to educational efforts and mass adoption campaigns. Seventy percent of the animals at municipal shelters in 2013 were not euthanized. More impressive is that 23 of the state's 56 shelters have attained no-kill status already.

Now Best Friends Animal Society of Kanab and 36 other Utah animal-welfare groups have launched a project called No-Kill Utah to make all Utah shelters — public and private — worthy of a statewide "no-kill" designation — meaning 90 percent of shelter animals leave alive — by 2019. The remaining 10 percent are animals that cannot be adopted because they are ill or so mistreated they can't be rehabilitated.

That's a worthy goal — and an ambitious one. And it will require help from more than just animal-welfare advocates like Best Friends, the largest no-kill shelter in the nation. Pet owners also need to get aboard by adopting and donating.

Humans who get pets and don't care for them properly are the greatest contributors to overcrowded shelters. Being a responsible pet owner means having the animal spayed or neutered and vaccinated and providing adequate food, shelter and socialization — for the life of the pet.

A companion animal that lacks any of those necessities can become a nuisance, contributing to overpopulation and sometimes causing problems for neighbors. And far too many pets that become unwanted are simply abandoned, eventually dying or, if they're lucky, being rescued.

Research is continually reinforcing the value of pets in their owners' lives. The calming companionship of a dog, cat or other animal has shown to lower blood pressure and increase feelings of well-being.

Therapy animals help reduce stress and even pain levels in hospital patients, and service animals help people deal with emotional and physical challenges and participate more fully in ordinary activities.

For all they do for us, we owe our companion animals lifelong care.