Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is there a fate worse than death?

We recently held our biggest fundraiser to date - 219: The Show (a big thanks to those of you who donated and attended). While the money we raised was fantastic, there was a bigger message behind the event that I hope everyone understood by the time they left.

The message: 219 pets a day die in Atlanta area shelters.

That is unacceptable to me. Can you conceptualize 219 a day? How about 6570 per month, and over 80,000 a year? Imagine a bin with 219 collars left at the end of each day, only to empty it and start over. And at an average cost of $400-$500 to get each pet rescued vaccinated, spayed/neutered, healthy and ready for a new home, the Atlanta animal welfare community needs $40,000,000 a year, just to get those pets ready for a new home (not to mention the maintenance costs of pets who wait for months in rescue to get a new home). Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? It's actually only $7.50 per person in Atlanta. No kidding -- if every person in Atlanta donated $7.50, we could raise enough money to get 80,000 homeless pets ready for adoption.

Unfortunately, we did not raise $40 million at our event.

So, what do we do? Is 80,000 pets and $40 million more than we can manage? And if the answer is yes, it's more than we can manage, then what?

I have often heard colleagues in animal welfare say, "there are fates worth than death." We see so much, too much, in our work to help homeless pets. We hear gruesome tales of cruelty and neglect, and more often, infuriating tales of irresponsibility, stupidity and lack of compassion.

Because of what we see on a daily basis, it's often too easy to forget that most people, most of you reading this, care as much as we do. You love your pets unconditionally, you provide the best for your pets, and you would spare nothing to keep them happy and healthy. And more often than not, you share our concern for homeless pets, and often want to be part of the solution.

Nathan Winograd is a leading figure in the animal welfare movement. While I don't always agree with all of his positions, he is always thoughtful and though-provoking. His recent blog entry,
The Fallacy of “Fates Worse Than Death,” has made me stop and review my own core beliefs once again. In fact, there isn't a fate worse than death, because there is no salvation or rehabilitation from death. If a pet is dead, it's over. We have failed that living creature in the most offensive and cruel way possible.

What we need to do is stop allowing those other fates that often seem worse than death. If we consider abandonment, starvation and abuse as so cruel that death might be a relief, then it is up to us, as a compassionate community, to stop those things.

If a dog in your neighborhood is chained behind a house and is thrown scraps every few days, don't mutter to yourself that the dog might be better off dead. Do something.

If a cat in your neighborhood has been thrown outside, and the neighborhood children are constantly throwing rocks at it,
don't mutter to yourself that the cat might be better off dead. Do something.

If you see pictures of pets in shelters, waiting for their "hold" periods to end, only to die,
don't mutter to yourself that those pets might be better off dead. Do something.

219 pets will die in Atlanta shelters today. Which one will you help save?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kids and Pets CAN Live Together!

One of the most frustrating phone calls and emails we get are the ones that start with "My dog isn't tolerating my child" or "My cat scratched my toddler." Sometimes I just want to respond with some fairly unkind words.

Most problems between children and pets can be blamed, quite clearly, on the parents. Most parents have unrealistic expectations of the relationship between children and pets. And often, parents miss several warning signs along the way before a nip or a scratch happens. Here are some that I think are the biggest:

1) Dogs and cats are animals, not toys or pillows or stuffed animals. No matter how well you train your dog or cat, no matter how much you personalize them, they are still animals, and will react with instinct when they feel threatened, scared, or lonely. Don't expect dogs or cats to respond to situations like rational adults. Your dog or cat will not just "take it" indefinitely. Would you? Try this - for 2 weeks, don't correct your child if he or she hits you, kicks you, pulls your hair, throws something at you, takes your favorite things, or screams in your face. I bet at the end of the two weeks, you be growling and snapping, too. And you expect your dog or cat to put up with that for years.

2) Children are, well, children. If your child hits a sibling, what do you do? Get rid of the sibling for telling you or defending himself? No, you teach your child not to hit. It's the parents' responsibility to train the children to respect the dog or cat, to teach them that the pets have feelings and boundaries. If you don't teach your child those boundaries, then don't blame your pet when he or she teaches your child.

3) Growling and hissing are GOOD things! These are the most visible and easily recognizable warning signs that pets can offer us. If your child gets too close to your dog when she's eating, and she growls, HURRAY! There is a space between the uncomfortable behavior and the bite, and your dog is giving your child a chance to back up. If you punish your dog for growling, the growling will eventually go away, and the bite will come immediately.

4) Dogs and cats are constantly telling us how they feel. We just miss it. And it's our fault for missing it.

There are lots of ways to learn about what your pet is telling you, and trying to tell your child. And there are lots of ways to teach your child how to treat a pet. If you don't do any of these things, and your dog or cat eventually can't take it anymore and responds like a dog or cat, it's your fault.


Doggone Safe
Humane Society Youth Bite Prevention
Selecting the Right Pet for Your Family
Teaching Kids to Play With - and Care For - Kitty