Posts Tagged ‘spay/neuter’

Speaking Up for the Underdog

At a meeting with some of our closest shelter colleagues last week, we talked about, once again, the pit bull dilemma.  We all want to get to zero euthanasia of adoptable animals in our city but there are just too many pit bulls, not all of whom are “ambassadors” for the breed.  And there are simply not enough adopters.   Shoot, there aren’t enough adopters for yellow labs, yorkies or cocker spaniels either.   And pit bulls, no matter how much we promote them and try to tackle the “bad rep” that we as a society have created, are just not for everyone.  They’re energetic, strong, athletic dogs who need a lot of training.  The media have done a bang-up job of villainizing “America’s dog.”  Sometimes it’s the dog, but it’s always the owner and a good story about a dog attacking anyone makes great TV.

So where does it start?  Do we discount adoptions for pit bulls? Give them away for free?  Or do we attack the “supply” side of the problem?  If so, how can we promote spay/neuter better than we have been doing non-stop for the past two decades?  Do we educate, do litter abatement programs (spay the mom and rehome the litter), bribe, cajole, entreat? 

The fact is, we’ve been trying to do all the above.  But it’s just not working.  We give away spays and neuters, as do many of our colleague organizations.  But we actually have trouble filling these free slots.  We talk, teach and train owners to be responsible.  It just doesn’t work.  We haven’t tried paying people to spay and neuter their dogs, but that’s being discussed nationally with promotions like “spay your dog and get a $20 gas card” among other ideas.

We’ve even talked about going out to pick up dogs for spay/neuter from people’s homes.  Like the rug cleaners do.  If we can’t get the dogs to come to us, we’ll go to them.  And that’s the model that some of the largest spay/neuter programs, like Humane Alliance in Asheville, North Carolina, have done.

Here’s an example of what we’re up against.  Just last week, in the middle of our weekly low-cost vaccination clinic, someone tried to sell his pit puppies in our own lobby.  Unbelievable! Selling puppies at an animal shelter whose mission is to promote animal adoption over breeding as a means towards ending euthanasia and placing every homeless dog and cat in a home.  Where is the message not getting across?  That’s like someone coming into your living room, grabbing your TV remote and changing it to C-span during American Idol.  If we ask people, during our outreach, if they’d bring their dog in for a free spay or neuter, they look at us as if we’re completely nuts.  Why would they spay a dog whose puppies they can sell off in the lobby of an animal shelter?  Or why would they ever want to neuter their dog, especially if it might make him less of a guard dog (it won’t).

So what’s the solution?  If we step back and take a broader view, I think it becomes obvious.  The solution to the pit bull problem is the same as the solution to any animal problem.  It’s all a matter of seeing things from the animal’s point of view.  What if people looked at their own pit bull and saw, not a fighting dog, not a potential source of income, not a tough-dog status symbol, but a living, breathing companion with his or her own interests?  What if they saw a loving, trusting, and loyal companion—a family member, even—whose welfare mattered and was entirely dependent on them? 

Then they would be much more hesitant to turn their dog in to a shelter when he or she became “inconvenient.”  They would be much more forgiving of the dog’s “imperfections” and realize that the burden of training lies on them.  Then—most importantly—they would understand that their dog has absolutely nothing to gain from being bred so that her puppies can be sold on the street corner.  At the cost of annual euthanasia of thousands of unwanted pits already out there.

No matter what it is, it’s a big, fat problem.  And one we’ve got to fix if we’re ever going to get to zero euthanasia of adoptable dogs.  I’m up for any and all out of the box ideas.  But one thing I know is that we’ve got to convince people to stop breeding these dogs.   Then we’ve got to make sure we place pits responsibly in the right homes.  And we’ve got to follow up and make sure they stay there. 

That’s a tall order, but people’s attitudes can and do change.  We need a change on a societal level, but every society is made up of individuals.  Everyone’s opinion counts, but only if it’s voiced.  Yes, animal protection groups like mine have a responsibility to lead the chorus.   But we need every voice we can get.  And every idea, entreaty, proposal out there to encourage people to spay and neuter their pits.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t buy a dog, especially a pit bull.  Believe me, there are thousands waiting for adoption at every animal shelter. 

So, I urge you to speak up for animals, even—or rather, especially—for pit bulls.  When enough people do, and do so at every opportunity, the change will come. Until that happens, we’ll never get to zero.   And that’s the only goal that matters.

The Pit Bull Dilemma

“Any pits?” I asked our shelter director, Maureen, when she got back from the Baltimore shelter with the transfer animals and was parking our rescue truck in front of the shelter. 

She smiled sheepishly at me. 

“Oh, no.  A bunch of lab mixes and a mixed shepherd or two.  And the cutest puppies you ever saw.”

I knew what that meant.  She had a truck full of pit bulls.

There are two reasons for this:  One, we’re an urban shelter north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  And two, Maureen, like me, loves pit bulls and knows they need our help more than any other animal in this country.  Because of the public’s misperception of this often gentle, loyal, and intelligent breed.   And due to the absolutely unconscionable breeding for criminally inhumane uses that this breed has endured by the most irresponsible humans among us.  There are just so too many pit bulls for the system to absorb.

Here then, is the dilemma.  We have an urban shelter in which we want to house highly adoptable animals whom the public wants to adopt.  And it’s the pits who are most in need of adoption, yet the least likely to get adopted.  So how do we get people into our nation’s shelters when the majority of dogs ready for adoption, at least in the north and in urban centers, are the least likely to be adopted?  How do we compel people to go to their shelters first—long before looking for a dog on Craig’s List, or going to a breed-specific breeder, as good and responsible as many breeders can be?

Some shelters, such as limited admission ones like mine, are not saddled with the municipal obligation of taking in every dog or cat or “other” that is surrendered to them.  We can say no.  Or yes, to the extent we have room.  But that’s not an option the majority of shelters have.  They have to say yes; yes to every litter of puppies, every stray cat, and every pit bull that comes through their doors.  And that leaves shelters full of animals less likely to be adopted—especially in a society that reveres purebred golden retrievers, labradoodles, bichons and Siamese.

We’ve nearly solved the problem of overpopulation in dogs in this country.  That is, if the north had not won the civil war and we were just talking about Washington and above.  Where spay/neuter has worked, it has really worked.  And where it hasn’t—in the south—it really hasn’t.  Other than pit bulls, there are now so few dogs being bred in the north, we have to go to rural communities in the south and in the “middle” to get puppies now, or anything besides a pit bull. I’ve even recently heard a shelter professional say we’ll need to start breeding adoptable dogs now—somewhat facetious, but not entirely. 

I want people to come to the shelter—anyone’s shelter.  That’s why we work to get animals from places where there aren’t adopters to places where there are.  Whether those places are prosecuted puppy mills, hoarding cases, or just the overwhelmed countryside where dogs and cats so readily make more dogs and cats.  That’s the solution.  And, of course, keep those doors open to your own community’s animals, because you can’t be part of that solution without taking care of your own backyard, too.  And I want every single person who adopts to see the number on that national euthanasia rate drop by one digit.  Because that’s exactly what every single adoption represents.

So, has the battle against pet overpopulation been won? Absolutely not.  And certainly not for cats. In this country, there are still between three and four million dogs and cats being euthanized every year.  That’s a huge reduction from the dozens of millions euthanized just a decade ago. But still, looking into the faces of my own dogs, I’m constantly reminded how bonded we humans are to this incredibly dependent species, and therefore, any unnecessary death is an insult to our own humanity.

We’ll continue to try to save dogs and cats from needless euthanasia in this country.  We’ll save the pits, and anything else we can.  And we’ll try to convince the adopting public to go their local shelters first, if they’re in the market to adopt.  And support their shelters with donations.  Lots of them.  Because if ever there were a noble cause, saving and honoring the human-animal bond between us and our canine and feline dependents is a cause that is worthy and very visible.

So back to Maureen and the truck parked in front of our building. 

I just smiled and said, “Bring them in.” 

Because she and I both know that they have nowhere else to go.

Need Something to Celebrate?

November 7 – 13 is National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week.  You probably didn’t know that.  In fact, so few people are aware of this that it begs the question, Do we really need an animal shelter appreciation week?

Maybe and maybe not, but I do think that lots of people take us for granted, not realizing how dramatically animals shelters affect communities. 

 For many of us, life without animals is unimaginable.  They enrich our days and nights in countless ways; they are integral members of our families; and their presence in our homes and neighborhoods makes our communities happier places.  We feel indebted to them, and we feel that we have a solemn responsibility to see that the trust they place in us is not violated.

 Too often, however, that trust is violated as animals are abused, abandoned, neglected, and denied what they need for health and contentment.  Others live with people who have lost jobs or are on fixed incomes and are struggling to give their beloved companion the care they need and deserve.  The League exists for all of these animals.  And since we do our job well, people might not even know we are here, constantly offering refuge, care and fresh starts to animals who need it most.

 Last year, among other things the League:

  • found new homes for 1407 homeless animals;
  •  provided affordable medical care to 4,449 animals belonging to low-income neighbors;
  •  saw 1,766 animals at our low-cost vaccination clinics;
  •  spayed or neutered 2,065 animals; and
  •  led humane education classes and field trips for more than 700 students.

The Washington Animal Rescue League saves lives, builds families, and makes our community a better place to live.  Perhaps that is reason enough to celebrate.

Follow this link to see what we are doing to observe National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week.  Then drop by and learn how can join us in helping the animals and people who need us.