Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rescuing Humans

I rescued a human today.

Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels. I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her. I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldn't be afraid. As she stopped at my kennel I blocked her view from a little accident I had in the back of my cage. I didn't want her to know that I hadn't been walked today. Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn't want her to think poorly of them.

As she read my kennel card I hoped that she wouldn't feel sad about my past. I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someone's life. She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me. I shoved my shoulder and side of my head up against the bars to comfort her. Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship. A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well.

Soon my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms. I would promise to keep her safe. I would promise to always be by her side. I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes. I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor. So many more are out there who haven't walked the corridors. So many more to be saved. At least I could save one.

This story is circulating through the animal welfare cross-post lists right now. I usually find most of these kinds of posts sappy and sentimental, and not at all grounded in the reality of the problems we are struggling against. But this one struck me, primarily in light of the book I am currently reading: Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans & Animals Can Change the Way We Live (by Allen M. Schoen).

We focus so much on our saving them. But in so many ways, they save us, too. There is no doubt that studies have proven that having a pet has both physical and psychological benefits. Dr. Schoen (a veterinarian) recounts numerous studies showing that pets can lower blood pressure, ease depression, and encourage exercise, and the list goes on. But I think there is something even more elementary, more primal in our mutual saving. That feeling of connection to another living being goes beyond what science can explain. That bond lives where all of those immeasurable things live - love, compassion, grief, tolerance, and patience. And animals have a way of gently teaching us all of those, often even without our knowledge.

I often hear people joke about not trusting someone who doesn't like pets. I don't think it's a joke. I don't trust someone who is so disconnected from this world that we live in that they feel no connection, compassion or responsibility for the living beings around them. They need saving. Perhaps a trip down one of those shelter corridors in the story above might be the way. If you ever feel lost and disconnected, visit your county shelter. You will not, should not, be able to leave unchanged.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Numbers Game

Do you know how many pets are killed in the Atlanta metro area? In your county shelter? In the US as a whole?

One of the biggest problems we struggle with is a lack of awareness of the problem. I don't blame people for not knowing. We in the animal welfare community have not done a great job exposing the problem. We try not to overwhelm our supporters with sad stories, graphic pictures or overwhelming numbers. But the truth is, simply, that there are too many sad stories, graphic pictures and overwhelming numbers. And my goal is that everyone who reads this post can no longer not know, and can no longer not act.

I'll save the sad stories and graphic pictures for another day, but let's talk about the numbers. In July of this year, Animal People magazine released national statistics. (Click this link and go to page 8 to see the full set of statistics.) There are a lot of numbers, but I'll highlight some of the most important, and disturbing, numbers that we all need to know.
  • The South Atlantic states (of which we are a part) euthanizes roughly 25% of all pets euthanized in the country. This is NOT in proportion to our population, at all.
  • Euthanasia statistics for 2007 went UP nationally. And based on feedback from our area shelters, we can expect this number to go up again in 2008 as a result of the failing economy.
  • U.S. shelters killed 2.3 million cats & 1.9 million dogs in 2007. Nearly half of the dogs were pit bulls.
  • The Atlanta metro area euthanizes approximately 16.9 pets per thousand people. In comparison, Chicago is 6.7, Los Angeles is 3.7 and New York City is 2.0.
  • We kill over 5 times as many pets in a year as New York City, which is almost double the size of Atlanta.
  • Pit bulls account for roughly 25% of dogs in shelters, almost half of the dogs euthanized in shelters, but are only 5% of the total dog population in the US.
So, now you know. And hopefully you cannot ever forgot. And I hope you will join us in our mission to end the problem of pet overpopulation. The numbers are staggering, I know. But the solution is clear: humane education, spay/neuter programs and rescue/adoption will move us closer to our goal where not one more pet is killed because there is no place to call home.

Join us.