SPOTTING STRAYS: OPTIONS FOR ACTION By Helga Schimkat and Java-Reid Schimkat
You are driving home from work, it’s hot, and you can’t wait to get home and turn on the swamp cooler. You’re three blocks away, when you spot a stray dog. A million thoughts hit you at once: pull over and get him, what if I can’t, he might bite me, how can people do this, maybe I can call Animal Control, no it’s after hours! What do you do???????
New Mexico has countless stray or homeless cats and dogs. A study by No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico showed that at least 80,000 cats and dogs are taken to animal shelters in New Mexico every year. Rescuing a stray frequently causes frustration as the rescuer discovers that people aren’t rolling out the welcome mat to take in these homeless animals.
No simple answer presents itself to the would-be rescuer, although certain considerations may guide his or her decision on how to handle individual cases.
· Is it safe to capture the animal? The animal may bite or otherwise cause serious injury.
· Is the animal friendly or feral, dangerous, or just too scared to be captured?
· Will you turn the animal over to animal control or your local shelter to make it easier for the guardian to find the animal?
· Is the animal really lost or stray or has he or she merely wandered from home?
· Will removing the animal from the site protect the animal from danger?
· Do you have a proper carrier for transporting the animal?
If you have picked up the animal, Michele Rokke of Animal Protection of New Mexico advises that you start by checking for identification tags or writing/embroidery on the collar itself. You may also walk the dog around the neighborhood. Watch closely for signs of recognition and ask around, but be careful not to turn the dog over to just anyone.
If you decide to call for assistance, you might call your local animal control agency, animal shelter or rescue groups. Consider these factors:
· Animal control agencies are law enforcement agencies responsible for stray animals. Animal control agencies in New Mexico are severely underfunded and do not have the resources to provide long-term care. They may not be able to respond immediately and if the animal is difficult to capture, may not be able to get it. A few New Mexico counties lack any animal control agencies at all.
· Rokke and other animal welfare advocates recommend bringing all stray animals to the local animal shelter because shelters offer the best chance for reuniting lost animals with their humans. Shelters are also capable of handling large numbers of homeless cats and dogs.
· Most shelters and veterinarians have scanners that can read identification microchips free of charge, even if the animal will not be left in their care.
· Although animals turned over to shelters may be euthanized, the prospect for cats and dogs in shelters in New Mexico overall does continue to improve. It is advisable to learn of the current policies and resources of the local shelter. Rokke urges that, at a minimum, rescuers contact the local shelter to let them know about the found animal; the law may require it in some areas.
· Many rescue groups adhere to a limited admission policy. They will not euthanize any animal that is treatable. But neither will these organizations take in every animal and have to turn away many. These organizations may also have certain requirements regarding age, size and health of the animal.
If you decide to handle the animal on your own, consider these points:
· Most stray animals are unwanted and an exhaustive search for the owner may be futile. · The animal may miss being located by his or her companion who is looking at the shelter (although putting a “found” ad in the newspaper helps).
· Danielle Bays of Animal Protection of New Mexico/Animal Protection Voters cautions against using “free to good home” ads because the animals could end up being “adopted” by a buncher, a person who sells animals to research labs, by someone who wants to use the animal as bait to train fighting dogs or who will put the animal in other cruel situations (unbelievably, some people even seek “free” dogs and cats in order to eat them).
· If you do seek to find an adoptive home on your own, employ safeguards that will guarantee a good home and give you peace of mind. Require an adoption fee, draw up an adoption contract, have the animal spayed or neutered, and visit the home of a prospective adopter both before the adoption and after the animal settles in. Adoption is hard work.
Ultimately, the problem is that we have too many unwanted animals because not enough people spay or neuter their animals.
If you want to help put an end to the plight of our homeless animals:
· Volunteer for and/or donate to your local animal shelter or a rescue group.
· Volunteer for organizations that run spay/neuter programs.
· Make sure your own cats and dogs are spayed or neutered and tell everyone you know to do the same. Don’t be shy about speaking up when lives are at stake!
Helga Schimkat is an animal and environmental protection activist and lawyer. Java Reid-Schimkat is a formerly homeless black cat who was adopted from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter 10 years ago.
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