Thursday, October 29, 2009

If You Build It, Will They Come?

We all know the famous line from Field of Dreams -- "If you build it, they will come."

It's a nice idea, really. Sometimes I try to apply that to what we do with AARF, and to the animal welfare community as a whole. If we just do things the right way, if we work with the best intentions and follow the best policies, then pets will be saved. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way at all.

Unfortunately, animal welfare works just like any other business. Those with the flashiest advertisements, the slickest campaigns and the most immediate products get the most customers. What does this mean for animal welfare?

It means no one really wants to hear about the long, hard struggle to make things change. As a community, we want tidy problems and quick solutions. But pet overpopulation and mass euthanasia isn't tidy. And the solutions aren't quick.

So, why is the problem messy? It's messy because we have over a hundred years of a model of catching, housing, and then killing homeless pets. While many unlimited intake shelters have improved dramatically in conditions, adoption rates and euthanasia methods over the past 20 years, we still, as a national community, allow the killing of millions of pets a year. In Atlanta, we kill almost 100,000 pets a year (about 219 a day). It happens usually in a back room of a shelter, and the bodies are never seen. The bins of collars are thrown away or donated to adopters or rescue groups. In many counties, prisoners in the county jail are forced to carry the bodies outside to be disposed. It's a messy, ugly and painful process for those that have to do it. But we don't want to see it, so we don't. We don't like messy.

But there is a better way. And it's not tidy either. It involves protesting, agitating and demanding. Change is often messy and long. No one ever easily gives up the status quo, even when the status quo is clearly wrong.

So, let's start a messy, long change here in Atlanta. Let's go no-kill.

Start with your local community. Call your mayor, city council member, county commissioner or other responsible official, and tell him or her that killing animals for the simple reason that it's always been done is no longer acceptable. Tell him/her that becoming a no-kill community is important to you, and that you vote.

Then, start with your county animal control. Almost every county in the Atlanta metro area has an animal control facility. The vast majority of these shelters are filled with compassionate people who care about the animals and absolutely hate euthanasia. They would so much rather see each animal leave in the arms of a loving family than in a body bag. They need your help. Volunteer for a day to walk dogs, clean cat cages, post flyers of adoptable pets around town, do laundry, anything that they need. They'll appreciate your help, and so will the animals.

Next, get in touch with an animal rescue/adoption organization (like AARF). Most of us are all-volunteer organizations, which means we rely on people like you. Maybe you can foster a pet. You'll be amazed at the transformation you see in a dog or cat that leaves a county shelter and blossoms in your home. And what a feeling you'll have when that pet finds a home for the rest of his or her life. Can't foster? No problem. We have plenty of ways to get involved. In fact, we have been able to use just about every person that has ever volunteered. We'll find something for your to do, and every minute you volunteer will make a difference.

Finally, take care of your own pets. Make sure all of your pets are spayed/neutered, up to date on vaccines and are wearing tags. You'd be amazed how many pets enter shelters with collars on, but have tags and aren't microchipped. These pets are loved and missed, but sadly, many are euthanized, too, because the shelter workers have no idea how to get in touch with you.

So, if we build it, will they come? If we build the framework for a no-kill community, will our leaders and the rest of our friends and neighbors come with us. I hope, and believe, the answer is yes.

But the building process will be messy, long and tiresome. Roll up your sleeves and pick up a hammer.

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