A FACT OF LIFE IN NEW MEXICO
By Jo-Ann Collin
In my experience, the story “Hardly Humane” by Stuart Overbey in Crosswinds Weekly on 2/20/03 aptly depicted most of New Mexico’s humane society shelters, their questionable policies and procedures, their high turnover of workers with associated low morale, their reliance on mass euthanasia, and the alarm that their agendas produce in many citizens who try to help (save) their doomed animals. But from what I see, the promotion by various defenders of mass euthanasia as an acceptable and “humane” solution to the problems caused by negligent pet owners is the biggest deterrent to improving shelter programs. The euthanasia of thousands of pets in New Mexico every year does not have to be a fact of life.
Public acceptance of mass “humane” euthanasia allows people to believe that animals are disposable. Many responsible pet owners disregard the treatment of other people’s neglected pets as well as ignoring the unwanted litters produced, because they donate to shelters or they pay taxes to have someone else clear their neighborhoods of these bothersome problems. Also, because of this acceptance, our local and state governments do not hear that we need enforceable legislation that restricts commercial and backyard breeding of pets. It is unacceptable to make pets pay for the carelessness of their breeders and/or owners.
When the public accepts the idea of mass euthanasia, we give shelters a license to “humanely” kill our pets. From 75 to 90 percent of shelter animals lose their lives because job descriptions for shelter workers include identifying “good” reasons to euthanize. The public has given them the job of disposing of these animals, and, as I see it, the shelters don’t feel it’s their job to invent a way to stop the killing.
Sheltering and euthanizing our pets is a big business with big bottom lines and billions of dollars spent every year to house and dispose of some 8 million lost and homeless animals. Many shelters have good intentions and hold out-of-shelter adoption days at commercial venues, offer low-income spay/neuter programs, and try not to adopt animals out to irresponsible families. But this does not begin to solve the larger problems. What I suggest is a mobilization of volunteers within their own neighborhoods who can help shelters bring adoptable pets and education programs to where problems are rooted—in communities. Shelters cannot effectively serve both people’s and pets’ needs. The answer is not to build bigger shelters with larger budgets where a few more workers try to solve the problems caused by thousands of irresponsible people.
With shelters working closely with people, seeing them not only causing the problem, but also solving it and using local programs to challenge citizens to participate in their own neighborhoods, with services that directly help families with pets, I believe that more people will become involved and more money will be offered to shelters. The work of caring for abandoned animals will never end. However, what is unacceptable are problems caused by overpopulation and poor nurturing skills being solved by mass euthanasia.
Please take a moment to contemplate what your contribution might be if mass euthanasia were to cease and the shelters offered help with small community-based programs. Maybe you could locate a community building to house these programs, or make phone calls to mobilize your neighborhood. You could help a neighbor build dog fencing, or assist a single-parent family with getting their animals to spay/neuter programs or veterinary clinics. Perhaps you could help raise money for a new wing on your local shelter for moms and their puppies or kittens. Without the grim reality of mass euthanasia looming, you may want to visit the shelter to adopt or volunteer, or you could foster an animal. Or you could canvass your neighborhood with a “pet concerns questionnaire” offering information about newly organized local services. How about lobbying for breeding restrictions or money to subsidize more local pet clinics? Or lobbying to create a New Mexico state government agency for animal welfare? You could support the establishment of subsidy payments for every pet adopted or fostered for re-socializing. Number one on my list is the creation of a program for schools that integrates animal welfare and pet care into the curriculum.
For those of you who would like to get involved (other than mailing donations to help a few small organizations), but feel incapable of doing anything about the overwhelming euthanasia statistics in this country, my personal experience has been that when I take action to help a family and their pet, I feel less like a victim and more like a loving human being.
We have created a monstrous system in which abuse is condoned because most of us do not take responsibility for helping our neighbors and their animals. Let’s join together and show the rest of America that New Mexico is no longer dependent on mass euthanasia, and bring the suffering of pets in this system out of the closet. I urge you to take individual action that will upgrade our humane standards.
Jo-Ann Collin has networked for the past five years with many animal welfare groups including shelters (humane and public) in the Rocky Mountain region, northern and central New Mexico, as well as doing intervention work with homeless animals and families with pets. She is also the PETroglyphs distributor for the Española area. She can be contacted at P.O. Box 9446, Santa Fe 87504.
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