Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cruel Joke -- On Us (New York City)

"We have an 8-year-old cat who we need to put up for adoption because we're relocating."

The call came in the other day, ironically, mere moments after I had just been discussing this type of situation with another woman working in a shelter.

"You know, Ma'am, I just got off a call with a colleague and we were discussing the dilemma of those people who move and look for shelters or rescues to dump their pets. When did it become acceptable in our culture to move and not take our animals with us?"

The woman was clearly insulted and indignant with my use of the term, "dump."

"You don't understand! We're not looking to DUMP our cat! We are seeking a loving home for her!"

"I apologize, Ma'am, but regardless of what term we use....'Put up for adoption, surrender or dump,' the reality is that 'moving' is the number one reason pets die in shelters. We just don't have the all the 'loving homes' to send these animals to."

This is a call that did not obviously go well.

After it ended, I asked myself if I could have been a little more empathetic to the woman or, at the very least, offered her some suggestion or remedy?

Well, not really.

I don't believe in trying to "dump" these calls on other rescues or no kill shelters who I know are in the same boat I am in.

Nor, do I believe in trying to sugarcoat the realities to people.

Could I have been a bit more "sensitive" or "diplomatic?"


But, the reality IS, that "moving" is indeed, the #1 reason why abandoned pets die in shelters.

How does one in fact, "sugarcoat" that FACT?

Moreover, why should we?

Last week, I was reminiscing with a good friend about how, "when we grew up" shelters were primarily places one went to look for a lost pet. They were not perceived as dumping grounds for animals when our families might move.

When did cultural attitudes change on this?

Now, admittedly things can appear much rosier in retrospect than they actually were.

Nor, were we, as children or teens fully aware of actual shelter realities during the 50's or 60's when we grew up.

Truthfully, millions more cats and dogs were killed in shelters during these periods because, primarily, we didn't have spay/neuter in the "good old days." The sheer overpopulation of cats, dogs and strays caused our shelters to be little better than slaughterhouses for pets.

But, did people routinely (yes, I am going to use the term) "dump" their pets in pounds for things like "moving" and "no time for?"

I don't recall anyone doing that who I knew. Rather, I recall my own family and the people in my neighborhood keeping their animals for life.

City shelters were perceived as yes, places to seek out a lost pet or institutions that took in strays. --- Nothing more.

But, modern animal shelters are seemingly perceived as a great deal more. They are places that "hold" the animals (at least for a while) of the arrested, the ill, the evicted, the cruel or the deceased.

They are places that "evaluate" and "Behavior Test" animals and are expected to offer accurate "predictions" and guarantees on how any animal will behave in any situation (Not, in fact, possible.)

They are places that now fully vaccinate and neuter animals (because we can't trust the public to do these things) and are expected to give guarantees for eternal bliss, health and long life spans for adopted pets. (This despite the fact most people don't keep pets for the natural lives of the animals. )

I recall the first time I adopted a dog from the city pound. The shelter told me nothing, did almost nothing with the animal and guaranteed nothing. "If it doesn't work out, bring the dog back" was all I was told. -- I had Sheppie for the next 16 years.

Yet, despite all the new and greater responsibilities of shelters (and rescues), about 6 million pets still continue to be killed in shelters each year. This despite spay/neuter availability, advances in veterinary medicine and greater understanding of animal behavior and training.

What's gone wrong?

Could it be that in accepting and taking on so much responsibility for animals, we have, in essence, relieved the public of seemingly any and all responsibility for its pets?

Could it be that in trying to make or keep everyone "happy" or even giving fully vetted animals away for "free," we have created a situation in which little true happiness is found? -- or at least that happiness and fulfillment that occurs when people truly love, sacrifice for and commit to something in life -- including their pets?

Last night I was speaking with a colleague in cat rescue who related a story to me.

"I got my first cat adoption inquiry in months today!" Christina said.

"Congratulations!" I said sincerely. "I can't even remember our last cat adoption offer!"

"Well, the congratulations is premature, " Christina added. "I rescued the cat last year. He's a wonderful cat who has only one eye. The woman insisted that she should not have to pay any adoption fee for what she referred to as a 'deformed' animal. Can you imagine that? It was like she was seeking 'damaged goods' marked down in a bargain basement!"

"Oh my God," was all I could answer to that. "That's like some sort of cruel joke."

The question is: Is this "cruel joke" now played on us, something that we in fact created the day we said to the public that it no longer had to feel any responsibility for pets -- including taking their animals with them when people "move?" ---PCA

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