KIRSTEN BEATTIE: Indifference Is Cruel
In my life, I have been blessed to know and love two very special dogs. My family's miniature schnauzers weren't just pets -- they were part of our family.
I grew up with Mindie, a small, gray dog who slept under the covers with me every night during my youth, who nibbled on my hair when she was a puppy, who stole my family's hearts when we went to pick out a family pet. Her brothers and sisters nervously cowered in the corner. Mindie, on the other hand, tackled a plastic bag in the corner, growling at it and wrestling with it, worming her way into our family in the process. It was love at first sight.
I was 20 years old and Mindie was 14 when my parents and I drove to our veterinarian's clinic to put her to sleep, and the thought of it still brings tears to my eyes.
Losing Mindie left a gaping hole in all of our hearts. While I returned to college in Virginia, my parents were left at home with no children, no dog.
Within months, my parents phoned with the news and e-mailed pictures of our newest family member, Lily, a salt-and-pepper miniature schnauzer.
Lily was (and still is) an entirely different beast from Mindie -- I use the word "beast" deliberately. I met her when she was about two months old, and I learned within minutes always to have a toy or treat on hand if I didn't want to lose a finger to her eager puppy teeth.
My father nearly burst a blood vessel or two, I think, trying to get Lily to go outside, do her business and come right back in, as Mindie had done.
Instead, Lily took to hiding in the bushes by our front steps. When I returned to school in October, I wasn't sure I'd see Lily that Christmas.
By the time I came home for winter break, Lily had blossomed into a (still spunky) adorable, loving puppy. At 6 a.m., she would whine outside my sister's and my bedroom doors in the morning, dying to run into our rooms, jump on our beds, and nibble on our chins and noses with affection. When she tired, she would sprawl in our laps on her back, or she'd lie so close to the edge of the couch that we'd lay pillows down for times when she slid off in her sleep.
A Volatile Issue
From my experiences with Mindie and Lily, I knew I loved dogs. So when my editor at The Pilot asked me to cover the animal beat during my internship last summer, I was excited at the chance to work closely with groups that were trying to better the lives of animals in Moore County.
I was warned from the start that animal welfare was a volatile issue -- no matter where people stand on issues like low-cost spay/neuter or euthanasia, everybody has his or her own philosophy on how best to serve the animals here.
As I delved deeper into the perspectives of the different organizations and shelters in Moore County, I realized how political the issue is. Every article I wrote, I would get a nervous pit in my stomach -- who would I disappoint with this article? Did I err by seeming to advocate one solution over another? Was my wording too strong in this article, or did I imply some negativity about an organization without meaning to in that article?
Along with the stress, though, came a deep appreciation and love for the animals that are forced to live out their lives -- whether that life is another five days or another five years -- in shelters because their owners were irresponsible.
A Huge Responsibility
I've heard a lot of reasons that animals get dumped in shelters, some of which people claim are beyond their control. "I have to move into an apartment, and I can't have pets." "I can't afford to keep my animal anymore." "This puppy is tearing up my home, and I can't train it."
I'm not sorry to say this: That is your fault. Owning an animal is a huge responsibility. That animal has only you to depend on for food and water, for love and compassion.
You wouldn't turn in a child who cried too much or hand it over to someone else if your finances got tight.
I'm not saying there aren't situations in which owners who have to surrender their pets deserve understanding, but I am saying that, however upsetting the situation, that owner needs to accept responsibility for the life of that pet.
Hey, I love dogs, but I've figured out it'll be at least six years (four more years of graduate school and two to work) before I have the time and money to provide a good home for a dog -- and I can guarantee you that dog will come from a shelter.
It is very easy to point fingers at Animal Control and focus on the horrors of euthanasia. Animal Control euthanized 3,081 animals last year, 67 percent of the animals they took in. To be fair, only 494 of them were deemed "adoptable" -- but that means nearly 500 animals that could have had homes were instead euthanized.
But if you think that euthanasia is cruel, all you have to do is go to the Animal Center in Moore County, where Animal Control is housed. Talk to the technicians who are responsible for euthanasia. The people who work there love animals, genuinely love animals. And it tears them up to have to euthanize adoptable animals. From nightmares to breakdowns, they suffer the effects of living in a county that has not taken steps to make itself a no-kill county.
Becoming a no-kill county is possible -- San Francisco County is one of many in the country that have become no-kill.
And no-kill doesn't mean that every animal is kept alive. It means that animals that have a chance to regain their full health and enjoy a comfortable home situation will be kept alive to keep every opportunity for that life a possibility.
What You Can Do
As much as it makes my heart ache to think of Mindie -- who died in my father's arms through a lethal injection -- the thought of her living in pain and not in control of her own body is much worse.
If you really love animals, you won't want them to suffer. And if you're so against euthanasia, then do something to help end it.
Adopt shelter animals. Support the efforts of Moore County animal groups to educate your children about animal welfare. Spay or neuter your pets. Donate some money to a shelter or animal-welfare group, or spend a few minutes a week to walk a shelter dog. Write to your county government, asking them to pass ordinances that encourage spay/neuter. Microchip your animals, so that if they do go missing, your pet won't become another Animal Control statistic. Visit Animal Control to learn what it's really like there.
Above all, don't just think that trash-talking euthanasia or Animal Control will accomplish anything. Don't try to pretend it's not your problem. Indifference is, in this case, cruelty to animals.
Kirsten Beattie, a graduate journalism student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was an intern in The Pilot's newsroom last summer.
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