Overcrowded Shelters Symptom Of Our Disposable Society

FOCUS ON PETS

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So often, my columns are inspired by something I read. Many people supply me with articles that appear in papers across the country. This column was inspired by a feature article on the front page of The Arizona Republic on June 28.

The article title is "Valley animal shelters sparing healthy pets." Every healthy dog or cat turned over to the Maricopa County Animal Control for the past 18 months has escaped euthanasia.

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These dogs are waiting at the Payson Humane Society for a new owner to take them home and love them.

The key word here is "healthy." We always like to hear about animals being saved. Ideally, they will all find wonderful, forever homes. According to the article, written by Yvonne Wingett, "Despite the plan to save all healthy animals, the total number of pets being put down is growing because more sick animals are coming into the system. Some animals with relatively minor symptoms are being euthanized." There is only so much space.

Maricopa County's animal control system is the second largest in the country next to Los Angeles County. The article says that last year, 104,000 dogs and cats were taken into Maricopa's system.

Just think about those numbers. How in the world can a caring people in a prosperous nation care so little about living creatures?

Maddie's Fund is a national organization dedicated to ending euthanasia of adoptable animals. Maddie's Fund: The Pet Rescue Foundation, (www.maddiesfund.org) is named for Maddie, a very special miniature schnauzer, whose owners loved her so much they started a $240 million foundation in her name. The goal is that millions of dogs and cats could live and have the opportunity for a better life.

Maddie's Fund works in cooperation with local organizations throughout the United States, such as the Arizona Animal Welfare League and SPCA. The organization provides grants for pet rescue projects and spay/neuter programs. The goal is that by 2012, Maricopa County will be a community in which every healthy or treatable dog and cat in its shelters can be guaranteed a permanent home. That is a big order.

Maricopa County is presently euthanizing pets that could be easily treated. Puppies and kittens that are too young and might have a crusty eye or sniffle are put down. There is just not enough room.

In 2004, 53,000 animals were turned into the county shelters -- 2,665 healthy dogs and cats were euthanized. Formerly, the health of the animal was not the primary motivation for euthanizing. It was all a matter of space. How many kennels needed to be emptied to make room for the "new batch of unwanted animals"?

Maricopa County Animal Control euthanized a total of 25,342 animals in 2004 and 28,806 in 2005. In 2006, 30,887 animals were euthanized.

According to Stephanie Bikel, executive director of Maddie's Project in Maricopa County, "The animals that are coming into our system are a symptom of what is happening to our society. Sometimes, the things that are important to us become disposable. We need to help people understand they should keep their pets as companions for life."

Dr. Rodrigo Silva, director of the county's animal control said, "They come in every day, truckloads of them, and we need to stop the flow. We can't do this on our own. This is a community problem."

The Payson Humane Society tries its best to be a no-kill shelter and they are making progress. The problem is not the shelters, but the people who allow their dogs and cats to multiply continually. There are also people who decide they really do not want a dog or cat in the first place or they are moving or have a baby and do not want to be bothered, or the dog they adopted got too big.

If people would spay and neuter their pets, the problem of unwanted pets would pretty much solve itself. The shelters would not have to struggle with the awful task of euthanasia.

There are lots of ways to help the Payson Humane Society and other shelters throughout the country. Volunteer, spay and neuter, encourage responsible pet ownership and help your neighbors, friends and relatives make wise, permanent commitments before adopting a pet. A pet is a lifetime commitment.

-- Christy Powers can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.

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