2009-Making a Change, Making a Difference

Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Baby Emma, adopted from the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri.

Change is the theme for 2009. For those of us involved in animal welfare issues, 2009 has the potential to be the year when owner responsibility and common sense will be at the heart of that change.

It has become common place to accept policies and opinions that may or may not be based in fact. The tendancy of local governments to enact legislature aimed at dog breeds, instead of being designed to solve the problems created by irresponsible owners, is one example. Another example would be the misconceptions surrounding the organizations fighting the battle to save companion animals whose only crime is being homeless. This is something easily changed.

This area is blessed to have a large rescue network, as well as, open admission and no-kill shelters. Southeast Missouri is quickly becoming an area known for its dedication to bettering the lives of our companion animals. We are no longer turning a blind eye to the plight of homeless or displaced pets. Southeast Missouri, as a whole, is stepping up to initiate real change that can be used as an example or prededent for the rest of the nation to follow.

There has been much talk about the rescue organizations. These are not the groups shrouded in the most misinformation, or that meet with the most hostility. That distinction belongs to the open admission shelters. These are the organizations that are labled as "kill shelters" or "pounds". Neither description is accurate, nor is it an indication of what these shelters do.

To understand the need for any of these organisations, you must first stop and try to fathom the shear numbers of dogs and cats that are displaced each year in this country. For comparison purposes, imagine the Super Bowl crowd at the Tampa stadium. Instead of it being filled to capacity with people, imagine it filled with cats and dogs, then multiply that number by at least five. That is still a conservative estimation but it does convey just how huge this problem has become.

The "no-kill" shelters accept animals until such time as they have no more room. They accept these animals knowing that in some cases the animal will live its entire life in the shelter. They not only have to provide food and protection from the elements, they must provide comfort that can only come for the human touch.

The rescue organizations do what they can to move animals to locations that can provide foster or permanent homes. In most cases, rescue organizations only handle specific breeds or types of pets. While their hearts go out to the ones left behind, they have to set a strict criteria for the animals they work to save.

These are wonderful organizations, that are key to providing care for so many animals, but they are still limited to the numbers of pets they can handle. That leaves the unimaginable numbers of pets that are still being displaced for various reasons that are rarely due to the pet itself. That is why the "open admission" shelters are so important.

These are the shelters that do not turn away any animal that requires sanctuary. They accept animals found as strays by animal control officers, they accept pets that have been found by individuals and they accept the pets being relinquished by owners. They do not stop to question whether this pet is up to date on shots or whether is is of a particular breed or if it is cute enough to attract potential adopters. Their goal is to see that no animal is left to fend for itself. No animal is left to negotiate traffic or scavenge for its next meal. No animal is allowed to suffer because of lack of veterinarian care. They are "open" to all animals in need.

This open policy is where so many of the misconceptions surrounding these shelters have originated. It is also the reason for the additional burdens experienced by these shelters.

One of the biggest misconceptions of the open admissions is that their only function is to "kill" animals. Other fallacies include, these places are staffed by people who have no regard for animals. All of the animals are there because they are undesirable or sick. This is not the place to find a pet to bring into your home. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The purpose of the open admissions is to insure animals have a chance at life. If at times is seems the standards are set high to adopt a pet, it is only to insure a quality life. It in not with the intention of turning away potential adopters. The rules and regulations have been developed to insure that pet has a loving home for the entirety of its life.

There is not way to imagine what the employees of an open admission shelter experience on a daily basis, unless you walk in their shoes. These people cope with the tragic reality of the irresponsibility of the human race. The things they must endure during the course of an average work day, can have a crippling effect on a person's soul. Do they chose to do this work because they are so well paid or because they hate animals? Absolutely not. On the contrary, these people have dedicated their lives to the care of homeless pets. They have to see first hand the results of unaltered animals producing litter after litter of unwanted young. They have to be able to deal with animals suffering from abuse or neglect, without falling to their knees in tears. They do this for wages that barely cover living expenses. Their biggest reward is the successful re-homing of a pet or the reunion of a lost pet with a loving owner. Their love of animals knows no bounds.

There are many reason why an animal ends up in an open admission shelter. They are lost, without identification, and shelter until their owner comes forward. The owner relinquishes them because they do not have the time to provide proper training or they are moving or a family member has passed away. In this present economic climate, many pets are being relinquished because the owners simply can not provide proper care. The reasons pets become part of the sheltering or rescue network are endless. But do not think for a minute the animals shetered at an open admission are there because they are the bottom of the barrel.

Shelter animals are a wonderful choice when considering a pet. They seem to have an extra dedication to their new owners. When you consider an adult pet, you have already eliminated the chewing and houstraining stages of young animals, and can get straight to the pure enjoyment. These pet are truly a wonderful addition to a family and will provide solid companionship for the rest of their lives.

With all of this said, the way to eliminate these misconceptions, and to become an active partner in the reform of the way our pets are managed. is really very simple. Become responsible pet owners. Spay/neuter to eliminate the endless stream of unwanted pets being euthanized all over our country. If you return to the imagined picture of the Tampa stadium being filled with pets, take the image further and imagine that approximately five hundred of those animals are killed every hour to allow another five hundred to enter.

Insure that if your pet is lost, it has identification that will allow it to be returned to you immediately. By attaching tags to a collar or having your pet micro chipped you eliminate the need for shelters to euthanize animals in order to make room for pets that need not be sheltered indefinately.

Vaccinate your pets. Open admission shelters have no way to moniter the medical history of the animals brought in. Unvaccinated animals are a threat to all shelters and rescues. These animals bring highly contagious disease into a facility and threaten the lives of all. A simple vaccination can mean the difference between an animal living long enough to meet its new owner, or dying because of a preventable, fatal illness.

When bringing a pet into your home, be sure you will be able to care for that pet for the rest of its life. One of the most heartbreaking sights is a poet that is being relinquished by a loving family because of a move or a change in circumstance. There is no way to explain to an animal why it is no longer a member of the family.

Seek training for your pets to avoid behavior issues. In the case of pets being relinquished because of undesirable behavior, most of the time it is something simple that could have been easily remedied. Do not wait until you are frustrated beyond the point of wanting to work out a solution. Address issues as soon as they surface.

Educate yourself and become active in the education of others that may just not know the proper way to care for a pet. The old saying about you are either part of the problem or part of the solution is so true. Even if you only reach one person, that is one more person working for a soluntion than we had before.

Lastly, find out what your shelters and rescuers need to continue working effectively. Even if you can not give monetary support, offer whatever talents you may have or just offer an extra set of hands. Even a kind word can have unlimited benefit to someone feeling the strain of animal welfare work.

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