In the prophetic words of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech:
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream …”
Like Martin Luther King I too have a dream. My dream is that one day animal shelters will no longer have to euthanize thousands of unclaimed and unwanted pets every year due to numbers and lack of capacity. I have a dream that one day animal shelters will be empty and that every animal will have a place on this earth, in someone’s heart … in someone’s home.
Animal overpopulation is EVERYONES’ problem. Most people haven’t witnessed the euthanasia of a frightened and confused dog who was once someone’s pet only to be discarded like garbage in a strange, noisy and harsh environment. It’s heart breaking. His only crime … he was unwanted and one too many. In Greensboro, North Caronlina (USA) Sheriff BJ Barnes, frustrated and upset at learning that more than 75% of the animals entering the local shelter were being killed, decided to televise the euthanasia of a dog on his weekly show. Viewers were shocked, but they also got the message and as a result there was an increase in sterilisations and adoptions from the local shelter skyrocketed. We too published a non graphic video clip this week (Buy 1 … Kill 1) which may have upset some people, but successfully drives this point home on our PetPickings.com Facebook Page.
Statistics both locally and abroad show that of the millions that enter shelters, only about half make it out alive. Figures coming out of the USA where statistics are more readily available, show that more than 12 million cats and dogs enter their shelters annually, an endless tide of incoming animals. Of these, nearly a quarter million animals are euthanised each and every month. That’s 405 every hour. One every nine seconds.
The Wikipedia definition of “Euthanasia” is “Euthanasia refers to the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering.” It literally means “good death” which is usually interpreted to mean a quick, painless and humane method of dying. It is self-evident that death should also be in the best interests of the animal. The decision to euthanize a chronically ill or overly aggressive (ie: unadoptable animal) is relatively uncomplicated to make. The sad reality however is that millions of healthy, friendly, adorable, loving and very adoptable animals also end up in shelters … but there just aren’t enough homes available for all of them. It is the heartbreaking task of shelters to select those who will be placed in the adoption kennels. Animals who have been in the adoption kennel too long … and all the rest who never had the chance, are taken to the euthanasia room.
The local shelter is too often the last stop for a dog or cat. Shelters around the country have been put into this unenviable position by the irresponsible breeding of far too many animals. Puppy mills, pet shops, backyard breeders and “responsible” hobby breeders, people who simply won’t, don’t bother or “forget” to have their animals spayed or neutered, pet food companies who subsidize unregistered breeders with free samples and discount coupons, and the cat and dog breed “clubs” that encourage breeding – all contribute to this massive problem. These shocking statistics don’t include the countless thousands of animals who never make it to the shelter, but are abandoned to live and die on the streets or in a back yard.
It is a sad fact that when a human being chooses to create a relationship with another living being, then fails to live up to the responsibilities that go with that relationship, we allow the human to simply walk away guilt-free – it is always the animal who pays 100% of the price for the human’s errors. The animal pays with his life.
We all have to work together. With continued hard work, dedication and public education, I believe that the problem can be minimised, if not solved. If those who are creating the problem would take full responsibility, we could reach the ultimate goal, which is to eliminate the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals much faster. This can realistically only be done through legislation and although it is being pushed by the local rescue centres, it is unlikely to happen any time soon.
The solution is very simple, but requires the participation of everyone, including you. It all boils down to the most fundamental laws of economics – supply and demand. If there is no demand, the supply will dwindle as there is no financial gain.
So, what can you do to help?
- Buy animals from vendors on the street – there is an overbred, malnourished, abused mother where they came from.
- Buy animals in pet stores, as there is a puppy / kitten mill where they came from.
- Buy animals from backyard breeders. If you do, you’ll only be encouraging them to breed more to make further profits.
- Adopt from a registered non profit rescue organisation / local shelter. You’re saving two lives in the process – the life of the animal you have just adopted and the life of the animal who has filled the freed up place.
- Sterilise your pets BEFORE they reach sexual maturity.
- Foster a pet on behalf of a non profit rescue organisation. If more individuals stepped up to foster pets until they found their permanent homes, there would be more space made available at the shelters, resulting in fewer euthanasias.
- Become a hero and sponsor a sterilisation with your local rescue organisation. In Cape Town there is a rescue organisation for whom we foster kittens called Aniwell that have a ‘sterilisation club’ called Steriwell through which you can sponsor a sterilisation for just R250 and actually get to meet the animal whose life you changed on their Facebook page and receive credit for it.
- Educate your neighbours, your colleagues, your family, your friends. Advise them to adopt from a local shelter. Discourage them from breeding their pets and encourage them to sterilise them instead.
Together, we can make a difference. Please … help me make my dream and that of thousands of suffering / abandoned animals come true.
All of the photographs in this article were taken by Photographer Andreas Holm who made a small collaboration called Shelter Dogs with The Toby Project in New York. www.tobyproject.org
The cartoons in this article are by NHR Cartoons.