By Gina Spadafori
September 4, 2008
More than a million homes are in foreclosure, which means a million families of all kinds — including those with pets — are struggling to figure out how how to survive. While the media has reported on many of the sad cases of abandoned pets, the even sadder reality is that people who try to do the right thing may run into the buzz-saw of the culture wars when they try to take their pet to a shelter.
Our Christie Keith explores this situation in her “Your Whole Pet” column on the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com Web site:
Reasonably, pet owners who don’t want to abandon their pets to an uncertain fate seek help at their local shelter. But rather than being offered assistance, they sometimes are lectured about their “irresponsibility.” Some are simply told that their pets will be put down. This harsh scenario exposes a weakness in this country’s reigning animal-shelter philosophy, which may not be serving the unwitting animal victims of the foreclosure crisis well. But luckily, as in most crises, there are also signs of emerging strength and compassion.
The sheltering philosophy that has dominated animal control policy in this country since at least the 1970s is one that lays the blame for every pet problem, including large numbers of animals being killed in shelters every day, squarely at the feet of irresponsible pet owners.
Proponents of this approach believe that high kill rates in shelters are simply their best attempt at cleaning up after an uncaring and careless public. Their efforts to change people’s behavior come in the form of policies such as mandatory spay/neuter legislation, strict limit and licensing laws, restrictions or outright bans on breeding, and compulsory microchipping. They also rely on their own version of “shock and awe” to punish the public for bad behavior, as when the former director of the Peninsula Humane Society, Kim Sturla, allowed the killing of four kittens, a cat and three dogs to be seen on the evening news back in 1990. She justified her shock tactics by saying that if bad pet owners wouldn’t shape up, “It’s time to take a 2-by-4 and hit them over the head.”
They may have been trying to hit the pet owners, but it should be noted that it was the animals who died. And it’s no different now as they’re using the same tactics on the human and animal victims of the foreclosure crisis.
Here’s the rest. Links to Christie’s complete interviews with Bonney Brown, Cheryl Lang, Betsy Saul and Nathan Winograd, as well as her communication with Traci Jennings, are here.
Also: See Christie’s earlier post discussing how the shelter industry, its staff and volunteers almost universally embrace positive training methods — but respond to people in need with the human equivalent of a sharp and painful jerk of the collar. Guilty until proven innocent.