Finding solutions to reduce the number of unwanted pets

Alabama Living Magazine

I promise next time, I will go back to a safer topic of diseases in pets. But please be patient, and let’s see if we can do something for many of our unlucky companions.

On a cold February morning this year, we were driving north, running late for an appointment. I missed it, but my wife Julie noticed on the southbound side of the highway there were three loose dogs surrounding a bag of dog food. The two young dogs had their nose in the bag and the older dog was not eating but staring at the flowing traffic, wondering what just happened. Someone had just dumped off three dogs with a bag of dog food! 

Sadly in our area, this happens a lot. People may believe that abandoned dogs and puppies can fend for themselves; the truth is that some die a quick death by car, but most just starve to death, lingering on for months scrounging for food while being cussed and chased or shot at by annoyed folks. 

Of course, some of these creatures find good homes like all three of our dogs did. We have so many excess dogs here that the rescue organizations are routinely shipping them to the north. That makes me feel a little ashamed. I want my state to be a place where the northerners are sending their excess unwanted dogs because we provide them with such good homes! 

Why do we abandon cats and dogs? This is a complex question. Maybe because we don’t quite understand what it means to take care of a dog or a cat before getting one. Then with time, the magic and the cuteness wear off and they become a burden due to social or financial reasons.
But writing this problem off as a complex social issue does not solve anything. 

What do we do? One simple answer is to rescue them. Many noble human beings do just that. But I am going to go out on a limb and say that rescuing these poor creatures probably does not make a dent in the end. 

Over the last 25 years, I have worked with many kind and generous folks who worked as rescuers. They feel satisfied and fulfilled but many feel in the end, they may not have made a difference in terms of the big picture. If rescuing these creatures does not address the big picture, then what does? Not have to rescue any to begin with – because there are no dogs or cats to be thrown away.
How do we achieve that? I would say education and legislation. 

Educating people to change their attitudes and values definitely works, but I cannot imagine how many decades it will take to change the mindset of our society.

I think legislation is the key, and of course, there has to be public awareness through education, along with continuing rescue efforts. 
Where do we make legislative changes? Most of us are not savvy in politics, which is often a cage-fight of various conflicting interests. We may think we should prevail because we are asking for the “right thing,” like the well-being of fellow creatures, and through that create a kind and responsible neighborhood. 

This may trigger a warning bell in some lobbies where people profit from animal use. Others may decry that not allowing a dog to be chained outside all hours of the day may infringe on someone’s personal property and rights. 

What else can we do?

  • Join a mainstream organization like the Humane Society of the U.S. After many years of following them, I feel like there are many sane and wise people in this organization. Of course, others will disagree. 
  • Seek and follow Facebook pages of organizations like Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation (AVRAL).
  • Lower our expectations. Instead of aiming for lofty goals like ending all animal suffering, focus on something more attainable, like local leash or tethering laws or ordinances.
  • Establish proper licensing requirements. For example, every pet has to be licensed, and loose or roaming pet owners could face consequences. 
  • Fine people for abandoning pets.
  • Increase our taxes by just a few dollars every year to hire well-educated, caring, and intelligent animal care officers who advocate for the animals (not just “dog-catchers.”) I bet you will not mind paying a few extra dollars if you knew where that money was going. 

I want to end with a nod to “Hardy” Jackson, Alabama Living’s very own historian and humorist for his May 2021 column on his beloved dog Bo and also for ending the column by saying that Bo would have liked him to rescue another dog. Rest well, Bo!

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He owns High Falls Holistic Veterinary Care near Geraldine, Alabama. To suggest topics for future discussions, email him at drg.vet@gmail.com

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