Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Social Implications and Importance of Urgency

(Picture Left: "Tiki" --Delightful and loving "lap dog" with shelter volunteer. Could anyone think a dog like this could be on shelter "euth list?" Well, he was. But, Tiki is safe now. Currently in boarding at a local vet. Question is, can we find a committed and responsible adoptive home for this popular breed dog, as easily as pulling the animal from a kill list? Unlikely, as so many of the people seeking these types of dogs buy them instead.)

Yesterday I wrote about an encounter with a woman who, over a decade, seemed to undergo some kind of "metamorphous" from one time helping to save animals to now contributing to animal abuse (however unintentionally).

But, was it a matter so much of personal change or more a situation of someone being unduly influenced by pop culture, media hype and community trends?

This is an interesting question in terms of assigning responsibility and trying to understand how these setbacks to animal welfare truly occur.

"Wendy" (the woman in question) is a typical Upper East Side, Manhattan resident: Well to do, educated, cultured, successful, seemingly happily married with two teenage sons. One might suppose the family contributing to popular liberal causes (without becoming emotionally involved) and regularly reading The New York Times.

The community in which Wendy resides (Park Avenue, Upper East Side) is one which rarely sees a stray cat or dog or any outward signs of animal abuse or neglect. It is well sheltered from the miseries of city animal pounds, (located in poorer areas of the city) inner city overbreeding of Pitbulls or midwest puppy mills. As the Pitbull is the breed of dog most closely associated with the poorer and tougher parts of the city, the Shih-Tzus and Maltese seem to be the breeds of choice among Manhattan's elite. And yet, because these small breeds have become massed produced through puppy mills and are easily available in pet shops (or through backyard breeders) many of them arrive in city pounds on a daily basis. -- Usually, in filthy, matted and neglected conditions.

The only way residents of Manhattan's loftier neighborhoods get any inkling as to what is really occurring in city animal shelters, or puppy mills in the Midwest or Pennsylvania is if they read about these issues in the New York Times or see a report on CNN.

But, major media rarely covers these issues.

And those times the local media grants any time to our animal shelters, it is usually a quick and positive, one minute time-filler highlighting a few particularly cute animals for adoption.

Local media virtually never mentions the term, "euthanasia" or the fact that our animal control shelters are underfunded, overcrowded (especially with half the Manhattan shelter being closed for more than a year) and having to kill hundreds of cats and dogs a week primarily for lack of space and lack of available homes for the animals to go to.

If local media covers the "issue" at all, it is usually to parrot all the "positive spin" from shelter leaders and PR flaks: "Adoptions up! Euthanasia down! New York City on the road to no kill!"

Thus, why should people like Wendy get any sense of urgency or even social responsibility in terms of trying to save adoptable animals dying at our city pounds, rather than buying them? Why should they even be aware that mass produced (pet shop sold) Shih Tzus, Maltese and other small beed "lap dogs" routinely come into city pounds?

That is, in fact, the difference between now and ten years ago when Wendy and her family fostered pound-rescued cats for our organization.

Ten years ago, there had been a plethora of truthful and informative media exposure to the plights of animals entering our city pound system and the fact that most of them died there. There had also been much more activity among animal "activists" and even rescuers (like us) to bring these issues (as well as those dealing with pet shops and puppy mills) to the general public.

But, in the last few years there has been either dead silence or worse, "positive and distortive spin."

Residents of the city's more affluent areas are thus "sheltered" from most of the realities occurring to animals entering and dying in our city pound system.

"Out of sight; out of mind" one might say. (Unfortunately, complacency and naivete can and often is, deadly.)

Many, if not in fact, most of New York City's otherwise well educated and upwardly mobile residents wind up buying their pets either from breeders or (like Wendy's family) from a pet store.

The real tragedy is that the wealthy and affluent are often in the best position to be able to provide life-long committed homes. They can well afford costly veterinary care, grooming and when necessary, training and boarding.

That the affluent in New York City so often make the destructive choice to buy a dog or cat (from back yard breeder or pet store) rather than adopt is something we in the animal community need to be seriously looking at.

Something in our message isn't getting to the people in best position to actually help and make a difference to New York City's lost, stray or abandoned pets.

We have seemingly lost or abandoned the sense of urgency that is so often necessary in motivating people to do the right thing. -- PCA



Shadowlight said...

Speaking of which,
Very,very sad. :((

Shadowlight said...

PS I just realized my first post was a bit abrupt. I've been a hidden lurking fan of yours for such a long time it didn't occur to me that I was a complete stranger to you... My two cats and I were living in DC for some years, and now partly due to economic conditions, we've had to move back to NY. I'd thought I would love to foster for you, but unfortunately I think my poor long suffering father has drawn the line at just Simba and Trooper. Anyway, here are their (very outdated) Catster pages with their stories: Simba and Trooper Please keep up the great work! I would not have been able to get to know my cats without people like you...