I wanted to address a recent comment that got me thinking about why I feel it’s important to share stories of animal cruelty. The answer is long, so bear with me. I would start with another of my main issues on the blog – shelters who blame the public for killing pets. It’s important to distinguish a difference here: I am not saying the entire population is blameless in the need for animal shelters, I’m saying it’s wrong to blame them for the killing done there.
There are irresponsible people in all walks of life and pet owners are no exception. While I believe that most pet owners take good care of their pets, there is a minority who are at best, irresponsible and at worst, outright cruel. Education and access to low/no cost spay-neuter can improve some of these situations and for that reason, it’s essential for shelters to maintain a strong community outreach program.
But for other situations, the circumstances simply will not be made better with education – whether that may be the fault of mental illness, stubborn ignorance or some other factor. And it is precisely because of this relatively tiny portion of the pet owning public that we need animal control officers and shelters. Otherwise, the voiceless victims of cruelty, neglect and willful ignorance will suffer in silence until they meet whatever tragic end awaits them.
To my mind, an animal control officer should be a knight riding in on a white horse, rescuing the pet in need and taking him to a safe place where he will be sheltered until a good home can be secured. This is why, when I read about Henry Bergh’s philosophy in Nathan Winograd’s book Redemption, it made such sense to me: An organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to animals can not be in the business of killing them. These are fundamentally opposed actions and yet, in shelters all over the country, they co-exist under the same roof. Places with names such as “Humane Society” and “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” are dispatching officers on cruelty complaints and stray pet pickup while simultaneously killing pets in the back room.
The shelter should be a safe harbor for the community’s lost/homeless pets and those whose owners find the need to give up their pets. Not all of those who surrender pets at shelters are irresponsible owners, as many shelter directors would have us believe. Some are simply good people who have fallen on hard times and in the process of losing a home, suffering a grave illness or some other unforeseen mishap, find they are no longer able to care for their pets. They are doing the responsible thing by bringing the pet to a shelter where they believe – or at least hope – the pet will be cared for until adopted. They don’t want to turn the pet loose in a rural area or kill the animal – they want to do right, as best they can in their circumstances. For these pets, and for those who have been abandoned, neglected or were born into homelessness, we need shelters – and we always will.
And so our shelters fill up with these pets in need and before long, shelters are desperate for adopters. Where will these adopters come from and how will we get them into the shelter? They will come from the public – that vast majority of regular folks who take good care of pets. And we’ll get them into the shelter by promoting the available pets and reaching out to the community for help. Remember, there are many more people looking for pets than there are pets in shelters so we only need to attract a small portion of the pet owning public. It should be a readily achievable challenge. And yet…
Instead of drawing the public in to local shelters, many shelters inexplicably drive people away. They do this by killing healthy/treatable pets the public believes should be cared for and then blaming the public for that killing. They do it by abusing the pets in their care through mistreatment, neglect and the spreading of disease thus devaluing the life of shelter animals until the public perceives that value to be nil. In short, they are driving away the solution to what they say is their problem – too many homeless pets.
And so, why is it important to me to post stories of animal cruelty even though they are difficult to share? Because the victims of animal cruelty need a helping hand. That help is supposed to be coming from taxpayer funded animal control officers and shelters. But too often, the very institutions we are paying to protect our communities’ pets from cruelty are in fact, inflicting cruelty themselves and even killing the victims they are intended to protect. And in doing so, they then turn to the public – the very people who could help them – and jab a finger of shame and blame in their chest. “You wanna take this outside?” Actually, yes, I do. Thus, this blog and the posts within, including those on cruelty.