So, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been in and around animal rescue and advocacy for years. Like so many, I’ve been involved with and caring for animals all of my life and the older I become the more aware I’ve become (thankfully). I have this “thing” though, an odd personality trait that has always been with me and has affected just about every area of my life; I’m always (and often unconsciously) waiting for an ending. Anytime I’ve been in a relationship, in the back of my head I’m waiting for it to end. Years ago I tried to play tennis, but if a rally was going on for too long I would actually sabotage the game, just to make it end. I expected any job I was ever in to end. My need for therapy aside, I finally gave in and now I work freelance. Now every job does end, whether I want it to or not. Maybe it’s all because of the way I grew up (things start and end quickly in an alcoholic family), but I find endings somehow comforting. It’s normal to me. So just imagine how uncomfortable it must be for me to be involved in animal rescue! It makes me nuts. IT NEVER ENDS! There’s always an endless supply of animals that need help, always more animals being abandoned, dumped and surrendered. It’s not like we start out with six million animals at the beginning of the year and the numbers go down as the year progresses. It’s that there is a minimum of six million homeless animals (that we know of and that’s a low estimate) EVERY day, of EVERY year. We start out with six million and at the end of the year there are six million more. Thousands of caring people work hard every day finding homes for all those millions of animals, but at the end of a year the cages are still full, just with different animals. It’s maddening. We talk, we try to educate, we create petitions, we sign other people’s petitions, we blog, we wear t-shirts, we decorate our cars with magnets and bumper stickers, we hold adoption events, we hold fundraisers, we put our homeless animals in some of the most visible places for people to meet them. The information about homeless animals is all over tv, Facebook, Twitter, the internet and in newspapers. Common people know about it, politicians know about it, celebrities know about it but yet, the cages are only empty long enough to be cleaned for the next abandoned animal.
So what gives? Well, I think I got my first hint of “what gives” just this past July. I have a little dog – my little Clancy. I adore him. Of course Clancy was a rescue, in danger of being put down because he has issues with aggression. They would only adopt him out to someone with no kids and a lot of dog experience. We were meant for each other. Come to find out that Clancy has a “fear aggression”. He’s basically afraid of everything, but when he feels threatened by a person (which I’m pretty sure is all the time) it comes out in all the wrong ways. Needless to say, Clancy and I have been through a lot. It’s been a long, slow, bonding process with a lot of ups and downs, but each step of the journey brings us closer together. He’s my boy. But one day last July I opened the front door to put out the garbage. Clancy had been trained to back up and stay when I open a door, to not run out, but I put a little bit too much faith in his training and wasn’t counting on the cat walking in front of the door at that moment. Clancy ran out between my legs after the cat, and I watched in horror as he chased the cat into the street at the same moment a car was moving towards them. The cat turned just in time but Clancy wasn’t fast enough. I won’t go into the gory details; it was bad but he was alive, but injured beyond and requiring more care than what my Vet could provide at that point. My wonderful neighbors rushed Clancy and I out to the emergency Vet hospital, about 45 minutes away. They saved his life, quite literally. He actually died on the table and they revived him. I am, and will be, forever grateful. He was at the hospital for a week, and now I have a $10,000 bill that I’ll be paying off for years.
Again, I am FOREVER grateful. I would kiss the ground they walk on at that hospital. But $10,000? That didn’t even include a surgery! Last week I had to bring one of my cats to the (regular) Vet, because he just wasn’t acting right – $400. He still has to go back for his shots. I don’t even want to think about it. I have 4 cats that all need their shots. There are no group discounts. All of this got me to thinking that it’s a miracle that a lot more people AREN’T abandoning their animals! I mean, how can we ask people to give homes to and care for these beautiful animals when the majority of people are struggling to make ends meet to begin with?! How can we hope to ever see the day when there is no need for shelters or rescues because no one has to give up their pets? I’m not talking about the people who dump their pets because they are moving and chose a place that doesn’t allow pets (Oh puhleeze, so move somewhere else!), or the pregnant woman who “just won’t have the time” to care for the pet after the baby arrives (Will you get rid of your first child when you have the second one?). I’m talking about the people who, legitimately, just don’t have the money to pay Vet bills and maybe had no idea that it would cost so much to care for a pet. The people who are in danger of losing their homes because they can’t pay the mortgage, so how in the hell are they supposed to spend a hundred dollars a month on pet food? That are wondering how they are going to afford to buy groceries to feed their kids, so how in the hell can they be expected to pay fifty dollars for a box of flea meds? I know that everyone has to make a living, including and in my opinion especially our Veterinarians. But they got into this business because they cared about animals which means, to me, that they have to see the bigger picture. That if they want animals to be cared for, they have to keep their prices reasonable for the average Joe and Joan who are trying to do the best for their pets. Many Vets (like mine) do try to give discounts to help people out, but then their hands are tied when it comes to things like medications, lab work and flea meds. Omg, will someone please tell me why the price of flea meds is so high? I have to keep four cats and a dog in flea meds for at least six months, and I know a lot of people with even more pets than I and more seasons to cover. What the hell are we all supposed to do? How the hell are we supposed to take care of our pets the way we want to, and the way that is necessary?! Which leads us now to the pharmaceutical companies, and everyone else that is benefiting big-time from the boom in the sale of pet products, which by the way is happening in large part because of the efforts of all the animal rescue people preaching love and empathy for animals! Talk about a Catch-22! Apparently, the more we “get through” to people about loving animals, the more the pet industry big-wigs take advantage of it, raising and raising their prices and making it more and more difficult for those same people to be caring, responsible pet owners! So what do you think happens then? People start dumping their pets of course, because they can’t afford to care for them! The day I went to pick Clancy up from the shelter to adopt him, I was heartbroken to see two more people bringing their dogs INTO the shelter because they couldn’t afford them anymore, and that was just in the five minutes I was standing there. That goes on all day, every day. And round, and round, and round we go!
Last but not least, the topic that is often the most infuriating to those of us who have known countless animals needing homes, is the unnecessary BREEDING of even MORE animals and (in my opinion) the ignorance and selfishness of the people who pay for them! My God people! With over six million homeless animals available, why, why, WHY would anyone go and pay a thousand or more dollars for a pet? And the flip side to that is all the breeders who claim to be “animal lovers”. Let’s call it like it is – if you REALLY loved animals, you’d be caring for all the ones who actually need you – the HOMELESS ones, instead of adding even more pets to the already over-populated population and with each new puppy or kitten, taking a home away from an animal that is already in need of one! If you REALLY loved animals, you’d be giving them your money for their care instead of using animals to MAKE money! Then there are some people who are just ignorant (or stupid?). I have neighbors who no longer speak to me because I offered to take their cat to be fixed for them. Let me say that again; I OFFERED to take THEIR CAT to be fixed! They said I was sticking my nose where it didn’t belong, that it was none of my business. Mind you, I have two large signs on my lawn, one asking people to “Adopt, not shop”, and another showing photos of a number of homeless dogs I have known and asking people not to breed more animals. These signs, as well as my car with the rescue magnets stuck to the back, all face the house of the neighbor I’m talking about here. Let me say at the outset that I really am a “live and let live” kind of person. I truly believe that everyone should be able to do what they want, and live the lives they want, as long as they are not hurting anyone or anything else. When it comes to animals though, all bets are off. They can’t speak for themselves. I admit I am a self-appointed judge and jury and will stick my nose in and run my mouth anytime and to anyone I think is doing wrong by an animal. And to me, if you are breeding animals irresponsibly you are hurting a lot of other animals, as well as the people who work so tirelessly to trap and fix feral cats and find homes for them and for so many dogs. So, these particular neighbors have a cat that, at the time of my offer, had had at least 3 litters that we know of. The cat was not fixed but they would let her out into their yard. What did they expect would happen? Anyhow, all of the rest of us neighbors (including the other people across the street who had 9 stray cats that they had fixed and were feeding twice a day, to my six stray cats also fixed and fed twice a day) kept waiting and expecting our neighbor with the unfixed cat to finally do the right thing. We all talked about it but tried to mind our own business for a very long time. We all bit our tongues and waited for her to do the right thing for a very long time. But when I heard the last time that her cat was pregnant YET AGAIN, I threw caution to the wind and asked her if she was ever going to get her cat fixed. She said she knew that she should, but she “just didn’t have the time”. O.k., if that’s what you’re going with. That’s when I offered to take the cat for her, which she agreed to at first but then changed her mind. That’s how, a few months later, her daughter threatened to slap the shit out of me for sticking my nose where it didn’t belong. (Don’t even get me started on the fact that their two dogs have been getting out of their yard and into the street at least once a week for years, but they have YET to repair the fence.)
Last week I responded to an ad I saw on Craigslist. This guy wanted to dump his sweet cat because his dog had just had another litter, and his wife wanted to keep one of the puppies. I don’t think I even have to tell you what I said to him; it’s probably self-explanatory at this point. Suffice it to say that he responded by telling me to “Go f— off!”, at which point I told him that I was happy he had at least found 3 words he could spell correctly!
So what do we do with THOSE people, people like this guy and my neighbors? There are so many of them out there. Craigslist, for one, is full of ads from people trying to sell or give away puppies and kittens. What do we do about the people who call themselves “animal lovers”, yet who are too lazy to educate themselves about the reality of what all of our animals are dealing with? The information is everywhere, in every format, so there’s really no excuse for not knowing. It comes down to not WANTING to know, and for me that comes down to not caring!
But again, the bottom line is that animals suffer because of us. They suffer because of the ignorant people who just keep breeding more and more animals; they suffer because of the people who simply MUST have a pedigree dog with papers and so they line the pockets of the breeders, thereby rewarding them for exploiting animals. The American Kennel Club is one of the biggest promoters of dog breeding and so one of the biggest contributors to the over all problem of homeless animals. They try to make it look so glamorous; they stage highly publicized (useless) dog SHOWS, with owners strutting around their many beautifully coiffed and manicured dogs, taking credit for their perfection (as if they personally gave birth to them and the dogs are a product of their own gene pool). But let’s think about how many puppies were born and discarded in the breeder’s quest for the perfect specimen of the breed, repeated over and over again for countless breeds. How many new puppies were born and therefore took homes away from dogs already sitting in cages, waiting for a family? I’ll bet we could never find a statistic on that! Ironically now, the animals suffer because of Vets who’ve forgotten their roots and charge so much that people CAN’T properly care for an animal. They suffer because of the pharmaceutical companies, and the pet food companies, who are also cashing in on the exploding interest in animals. Again, these companies and Vets have taken advantage of the interest in animals raised by the very people trying so desperately to help animals. It was an unforeseen, unexpected and certainly unwanted by-product of raising awareness and educating the public about the joys and plight of animals. We care about animals more, we are more aware of animals, we are more “animal conscious”, but because of all that ironically, we can afford them less and less and there are more and more born each day. The movement was only supposed to create empathy, but all this new found interest and awareness has unfortunately made animals big business.
And round and round we go. And the animals are the losers, again. As the title states, the work of all the animal rescue people is like digging a hole in the sand, swimming upstream and rowing against the current. They never get anywhere. They’ll never achieve “the goal” because there are too many forces working against them. They are putting the cart before the horse because before we can hope for a “no shelters necessary” world, we have to live in a world where everyone can afford to care for a pet and where everyone is smart enough to not breed MORE animals! It depresses me to even write that, because it sounds so impossible. As we see now, for every animal sitting in a shelter, there are MANY humans responsible for it being left there.
But the many dedicated rescue people will keep trying, and fighting, and chipping away at the constantly over-populated world of abandoned animals. As the saying goes, “Saving one animal won’t change the world, but it will change the world for that one animal”.
It’s just not enough.