This week the "Pet of the Week" has no name. She is a nameless, faceless unclaimed stray. She is one of 138 animals in the first six days of this month alone that have already been euthanized at animal control. I know what you are thinking but don't ignore or dismiss that figure. Don't stop reading. Don't suggest we not talk about it like so many people believe we should. It won't get any better that way. I know that the easy target of frustration for the unfortunate outcome of so many is animal control. But today I invite you to let me help you consider an alternative.
Besides staff, I would safely bet that I've spent more time at animal control than anyone else in our community over the course of the last three years. It is rare that more than a day passes between my visits and when I am there it is often for a few hours. I have personally witnessed some of the most compassionate and dedicated animal welfare professionals respond to animals in crisis and offer them comfort and refuge. Sadly, I have also seen and heard those same people be the recipient of vulgar and inappropriate behavior and vicious verbal attacks. Is it deserved? No.
Think about it for a moment. If not for animal control, what would we do with the thousands of free-roaming domestic animals found lost and abandoned in our community every year? How would we effectively and efficiently reunite innocently lost animals with their worried families? Where would we house animals needing protection during prosecution of their 'caretakers' in cases of abuse and neglect? Who else would serve our community by offering safe and reliable quarantine services for animals that have bitten? And when all other options have been exhausted, does anyone really want to begin their day euthanizing those animals that have no where else to go?
This is the role of animal control yet often they are persecuted for doing it.
How can we change the perception so we can begin to offer a different outcome for so many unfortunate animals? It starts with telling and accepting the truth.
Last week a local media outlet reported on a situation they referred to as a "custody battle" over a cat between animal control and the alleged owner. There were so many inaccuracies and incomplete statements that I actually lost count, and requests by many to correct the story were ignored.
A good Samaritan found the cat roaming and, while transporting it to animal control, was bitten. Law requires a 10-day quarantine period for all bite cases. Since the animal did not have a current rabies vaccination, the quarantine was required to be completed at animal control at a reasonable cost for boarding and observation. In some cases, quarantine can be completed at home but not usually in a situation where the animal does not have proof of a current rabies vaccination. The media outlet was very unforgiving and judgmental of animal control but are they the ones responsible for this situation and others like it?
Why didn't anyone ask how or why the animal was roaming and for how long? Why wasn't the animal current on required vaccinations or properly licensed according to law? Why shouldn't the owner be held accountable? It was actually suggested that animal control reduce or waive the fees or offer a payment plan - in fact, this is often requested by owners of animals held at animal control. But did you know that animal control is already operating from a budget nearly half of what it should be to serve a community of our size and scope? The community reaction toward animal control was completely unwarranted but I have to wonder if the people who ridiculed animal control for not immediately returning the cat had all the information they needed to make an informed opinion. What an amazing opportunity the media had to report on the real tragedy; the epidemic of irresponsible pet ownership in our community as well as the myths and truths of rabies quarantine.
When are we going to start to hold ourselves accountable and thank animal control for the service they provide? When are we going to say to ourselves and our neighbors and our family and our friends that enough is enough? The time for spay/neuter is now. The time for indoor housing of companion animals is now. The time for responsible pet ownership is now. The time to support those individuals and agencies dedicated to offering an alternative to euthanasia is now!
100 percent of the resources of the Companion Animal Resource and Adoption Center are dedicated toward saving unclaimed strays from animal control and providing a series of outreach options for the community to create a safe environment for all. Please visit us in the upper level of Southridge Mall during open hours to see how YOU can help make a difference by volunteering, adopting, donating, or educating! Visit us 24 hours a day at www.companionanimal.org.
Amy Christiansen is the Executive Director of the Companion Animal Resource and Adoption Center (CARAC). CARAC is located in the upper level of Southridge Mall and is dedicated to saving the unclaimed strays from the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission.
Amy grew up on the South Side of Milwaukee and now lives in Muskego with her husband and son and their three cats and three dogs. She also takes in the occasional foster dog.