Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dropping the ball

A couple of nights ago, I was doing my nightly reading and research and ran across a blog post that one of my fellow tweeps, @MelzPetPals had written. The post included a gut wrenching letter from a Shelter Manager that details the not-so-pretty side of reality in a dog shelter. Read it here - but I caution you to grab a box of tissues; you're going to need them.

For quite some time, I've had this sort of thing on my mind, and have been trying to organize my thoughts to pull together a concise blog. I cannot figure out why people are not "getting it".

Why is it that there continues to be a steady stream of unwanted pets relinquished to shelters, unplanned litters of puppies and kittens who were result of an 'accident' and cases of abuse toward animals? Why do people insist on having exotic pets - ones that they have no idea how to, nor ability to care for properly? The plight of  "designer dogs" is distressing, too - and unethical breeders not employing careful breeding practices, or breeding for "desirable characteristics" in their business often leads to physical anomalies, behavioral problems and the like in the resulting litters. Beverley Cuddy chronicles this topic in her piece for The Bark, Breeding for Beauty.

It certainly cannot be that people are not educated enough about the plight that pet overpopulation and greed causes.

The numbers of unwanted pets are exemplified in the annual shelter fundraisers, endless adoption events, donation cans near the cash register at merchants' stores, flyers on bulletin boards and online ads and pet adoption websites (PetFinder is a great example). They're everywhere.

Why is it that spay/neutering isn't as focused on more? Or, maybe it is and people aren't getting that, either. As far as the rights of animals go, it seems that sterilization is a highly effective, far more economical and humane approach to controlling pet populations.

Working in a shelter in Monroe County, MI many years ago, I saw the sad reality of dogs (and cats) that are relinquished by owners. I would often read the detail cards on the outside of the animals' cage and just shake my head. Most of the reasons, honestly - not all, mind you, were workable I think. But as usual the pet always suffers the unfortunate consequences of lack of forethought on the humans part - and the inadequate training of the owner. (Yes, dog training has little to do with actually training dogs - training humans is more like it.) I hated seeing the abuse cases, especially. One cat had the pads of their paws burned intentionally. And the relinquishment of senior pets - that was common, too. I remember one sweet, old black lab - he was in dire need of a simple bath, nail trim and attention - and I made sure that he got it. In looking at his detail card, he was healthy overall, but his owners relinquished him because they were having a baby.

Can you imagine being dumped off someplace strange after years in one family, or be shifted from one home to another frequently - or to be tortured or abused?

Gretchen & Bruiser
My partner Chris and I acquired our three pets, not from a breeder or a pet store, but because they were in dire situations, respectively. And, we've resolved to always keep the tradition going - when we are ready to welcome another pet into the family.

I think that most people want to do right by their animals, don't get me wrong. There are certainly situations where a significant life change - not limited to an ongoing profound financial hardship - necessitates relinquishing a pet for good. There are programs out there to help, but for some families, they know that it's not enough - and it's all too common right now in Washtenaw County. But for far too many others, it's just a case of not enough thought into what things will be like once they get a pet... or where it comes from.

Mel Freer's blog post really brings the issues surrounding the plight of homeless and abused animals into the forefront. I'm fairly certain that all humane societies, shelter and rescue workers would love to see the need for their facilities and services come to an end. To stop the influx of unwanted and neglected animals coming through their doors. To never get another call about an abuse case that needs investigating. That they never need to ask for another dime from people to run their facility. To never have to euthanize another animal.

Please, stop and think your motivation about getting a pet - or giving one up. These animals did not ask to be put on this earth, or in their given situation. We make these decisions for them. I've heard the comment from others that "humans have dominion over the earth". For some, that means different things. I see it this way: because we have the ability to make decisions in ways that animals do not in our society - and because we have the capacity for speech, unlike animals - we have the inherent responsibility to make decisions for animals that put their best interests first. Simply because we have these capacities, does in no way mean that we can do whatever we feel like, because we can't deal with an animals' breed-based behaviors that are in their DNA - or because simply, it suits us. We need to stop dropping the ball. We as a species can do better.

Lorrie Shaw resides in Dexter Township with her family and lives her passion as professional dog walker and pet sitter for many species of animals. Staying up to date on the pulse of pet-related topics, she blogs about them frequently on More Than Four Walls and is a regular pets contributor on If you have an issue or topic that you would like to see addressed, contact Lorrie at

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