There's been a lot of talk on the forums lately about people's perception & attitude toward furry family members, so I thought posting this article would be appropriate.
By Stella J. Raasch
Loneliness, hunger, fear, confusion, and pain are just a few of the words that describe what many cats and dogs in rescue groups and shelters experience on an everyday basis, and perhaps experienced for much of their lives. The surplus of unwanted dogs and cats is insurmountable and it is difficult to determine exactly what to do with all of them; these precious, innocent lives that no one wants. Some of them find permanent homes through adoptive parents, while others are put down. There are many reasons for which our furry counterparts are filling these humane organizations, and the solution to the problem rests with us! The keys to rectifying this unfortunate dilemma are a) educating people about how to take care of their cats and dogs b) preparing them for what to expect c) helping them determine if a dog or cat is even right for their lifestyle d) engraining a mindset that these animals have feelings too and e) carefully governing who may own and breed pets.
I am one of those people who are out to “save the world.” During conversations with a particular friend of mine, he will occasionally ask me, “Have you saved the world yet?” Of course he is being facetious, but he knows saying this gets me all riled up. If I had my way in the political arena, perpetrators of violent crimes would be punished much differently, and there would be exceedingly strict criteria for people to comply with before they could even attain a cat or dog. I am intent upon changing the perceptions that people have about dogs and cats, by showing them that it is cruel to view them as property, rather than as family members. However, viewing animals as disposable creatures makes it easier to get rid of them, in order to make life more convenient for the human(s). If animals were viewed as valuable family members, such as a son or daughter, then people would keep them, despite all. Would you sell or give away your family member during a lifestyle change? Would you dump them off at a shelter because they were behaving badly? People forget that animals experience all the same emotions that we do. So, when dogs and cats are surrendered by the people they have come to know as their ‘pack members,’ the feelings of loneliness, confusion, anxiety, and abandonment must be almost unbearable for them.
Many people jump into cat or pet ownership before they are fully prepared to take care of the furry creature that is dependent upon them. Unfortunately, when people realize how much time, money, training, exercise, attention, etc. that goes into properly taking care of them, they often end up surrendering the animals. In this situation, it is often the case where the cat or dog displays undesirable behavior and the caretakers do not know how (or do not have the desire) to deal with them. Additionally, there are also times when the animal has serious medical issues that the caretakers do not want or cannot attend to, so it is easier to simply pass the animal onto someone else. But again, many of these situations can be alleviated.
First, people who want to get a cat or dog need to sit down and make a list of all the expenses involved to ensure that they can afford it: routine vet exams, vaccinations, spay/neuter, collars/leashes, fencing, flea/tick/heartworm preventatives, miscellaneous supplies, healthy food (not what is cheapest at the store), obedience school, accidental expenses, etc. Additionally, they also need to put a great deal of thought toward whether they have the time, lifestyle, and patience for a pet. Researching different dog breeds is a great idea because it allows people to find a breed that best suits their lifestyle, since all breeds are different and possess unique needs. For instance, if a couple has multiple young children, then they may be best suited for a dog that does not require a great deal of grooming, possesses an easy-going temperament, easier to train, and is good with children. All dogs need a good home, regardless if a mixed or pure breed; however, not every type of dog works well in every type of familial environment.
Another issue contributing to the overpopulation of dogs and cats in humane organizations is that a lot of people are too impatient with their pets and have unrealistic expectations of them. For instance, when many people attempt to train a dog or cat, they just cannot control their frustrations appropriately and allow themselves to enjoy it! As a result, the dog or cat may become physically and/or verbally abused. Additionally, many people are inadequately prepared for how to deal with certain behaviors or how to go about training them. After a prolonged period of time, the owners may simply surrender the pets as a direct result of those unrealistic expectations and lack of patience. However, a solution to this dilemma is to seek professional help from a personal trainer or animal behaviorist! Why throw your pet(s) away when there are people who are trained to help them become the type of pet you desire!? People could also try relieving their stress and frustration through other avenues, such as exercise or a relaxing hobby, instead of taking it out on their pets and then giving them away because of the damage that they did to them.
As mentioned earlier, education is certainly something that can help reduce the number of animals that end up in humane organizations. Purchasing books, reading on the internet, picking up pamphlets at veterinarian clinics, etc. are great ways to learn about responsible pet ownership, so that you do not contribute to the problem. Additionally, reading information about animals’ emotions and heart-warming stories could be very influential in showing people that animals have feelings, so they need to be regarded as valuable family members instead of property. People who do none of these things and just decide to get a dog or cat are often the ones that have problems and end up surrendering them, or those animals are included in those horrible abuse/neglect statistics. Unfortunately, those people often wind up getting another dog or cat, thinking that there was something ‘wrong’ with the previous one(s), while hoping that this one will be ‘different.’ However, nothing will be different because it is the humans that are the brunt of the problem-not the pets.
After reading this article about why so many dogs and cats end up in humane organizations, you may be wondering if I consider the surrender of a dog or cat ever to be legitimate. In the last issue of PETBuzz Magazine, there was a wonderful article about preparing for your pet, in the event that something happens to the owner(s). This is a fantastic idea! Certainly, I would be accepting of a surrendered dog or cat whose owner(s) passed away or needed to go into an assisted care/hospital type of environment, but how much better would it be if the owners took the initiative to prepare for this in advance, so that their pet(s) have somewhere to go! One situation I consider unfortunate, but legitimate, is when owners make the ultimate sacrifice and surrender their cat or dog because they want a better life for him/her than what they can provide. However, there is a difference between surrendering a dog or cat to a humane organization versus trying to find a suitable home for the pet(s) on your own. Simply dumping the pet(s) off at a shelter is unacceptable. If I were in that situation, I would work four jobs and sacrifice as much as possible, just so that my pets would not lack for anything; they rely upon us to provide for them.
There are several organizations that offer free spay/neuter surgeries for people who cannot afford to provide this for their pets, along with free vaccinations and heartworm prevention. Although this is a kind gesture, it is sending the wrong message to the public and encouraging people to continue acquiring pets when they cannot afford them; these are the very basic, core fundamental needs of dogs and cats. People who choose not to spay/neuter their pets are the largest contributors to the surplus of animals in the humane organizations. Reasons for which people may choose not to spay/neuter may be ignorance, poverty, or a desire to breed. Unfortunately, there are far more backyard and puppy mill breeders than they are reputable breeders, and it is the backyard and puppy mill breeders who are also largely contributing to the problem. Often, they are producing unhealthy puppies; more puppies than there are people to take care of them. It is not uncommon for dogs produced from these operations to be surrendered because the owners cannot afford all of the unexpected medical problems. In addition, the adult dogs within these despicable operations often lead miserable lives, and are eventually surrendered when they are no longer ‘useful.’
It is a tear-jerking experience for me whenever I go to an animal shelter and walk down the isles where the dogs are kept; when I leave, I sit in my car and cry. Some dogs will wag their tail, as though they are saying, “Stella, please pick me, I am a good dog and will love you forever,” while others do not even have the confidence to look at me; they have lost hope. As I pass by each cage, I can see them watching me out of the corner of my eye; they watch me as I approach other cages. I can just imagine the disappointment they must feel when yet another person passes by them and chooses someone else. They all want a family.
Please do what you can to educate people about responsible pet ownership so that we can reduce the amount of unwanted dogs and cats in humane organizations-it really is heartbreaking. All of these innocent lives were involuntarily brought into this world, all with innate desire to be loved and treasured by a family. Please encourage people to think logically before they get a dog or cat, encourage them to spay/neuter, and encourage them to adopt from these humane organizations who attempt to find good homes for the unwanted furry companions in this country; they truly are the most precious of them all!
PetBuzz Magazine, Nov/Dec 07 Issue www.petbuzzmag.com
, ©2007 Stella J. Raasch