My partner and I are fostering several kittens for our local animal shelter. Two of them are sick with Coccidia and an eye infection. So we brought them to the shelter a few days ago to receive check-ups and medication.
That was when we spotted a man bring in a black Shar Pei. I thought he was bringing it in to surrender it, in the hopes that the dog would find a better life with a different family.
But when we drew nearer, I saw that this wasn’t the case. The dog was covered with bloody wounds and yellowing scabs. Its skin was dry and crusty. Its fur fell out in chunks, and its neck was completely bare – a telltale sign that it wore a too-tight collar for many years.
I overheard the man say, “I want to put it down. My father doesn’t know how to take care of animals.”
I watched the shelter workers take the Shar Pei to the back. The dog was, amazingly, still friendly after its ordeal. Who knows how long it languished on a short leash with no protection from the elements? Though the dog was in rough shape, it certainly wasn’t so bad off that it had to be euthanized.
Many people in my area take on puppies and kittens, failing to realize that these animals are a 10 – 30 year commitment. They are not toys or tools – they have a rich emotional life and can suffer just like humans can. Because of this, they deserve humane treatment.
If you want a dog to guard your property, invest in an alarm system instead. If you want a fluffy cat to look good on your sofa, get a pillow instead. If you want a companion for years to come, get an animal.
On top of all this are the words a veterinarian working for the shelter told my partner and me. They run out of equipment before the end of each fiscal year. They are over-worked and under-staffed – and they are on salary, so no overtime. Every day, each vet is required to do 20 spay and neuter surgeries. But she admitted that if that was all they did they’d be overwhelmed and fall behind – so she herself has to perform at least 45 surgeries every day.
She said, “We’re fighting a losing battle.”
The shelter is inundated with unwanted animals; there are so many that the youngest often are euthanized just for lack of space if no foster home comes forward. [And this at a no-kill shelter!] The youngest ones have no immunity against diseases that infiltrate the shelter, so they must be put down.
People come from distant counties to our shelter, because apparently ours is one of the few that perform free spay and neuter surgeries. While I am grateful and glad that these pet keepers are doing the responsible thing, I’m appalled that their cities don’t have programs like my city does.
However, many people never take responsibility for the animals they take on. They leave the defenseless creatures to languish and suffer, or they fail to get the animal “fixed,” or they never invest time and effort into socialization or training, and then when the creature is too big or too inconvenient, they dispose of it at the animal shelter. The shelter exists to provide a humane alternative to just letting animals run rampant around neighborhoods. But with the sheer volume of animals that the shelter takes in – this shelter even takes farm animals – it veers into cruel and cramped conditions, which simply can’t be helped with their miniscule budget and even tinier facility.
For these reasons and many more, I just don’t know if it’s moral to breed animals strictly to be companions. Some people want purebred dogs and cats because they want an animal that has a predictable temperament and adult size or appearance. I understand the desire to avoid nasty surprises. But the fact is shelters take in tons of purebred animals. Just today I saw many purebred dogs: a trembling Yorkie, a beautiful Irish Setter puppy, a Mastiff, Bloodhound, and several more. Someone also dropped off a neurotic parrot. I wonder how long till that poor beast is adopted?
And I’m not just thinking about purebred animals. What of accidental litters? With the number of irresponsible pet owners out there and the volumes of unwanted animals, is it right to continue breeding pets? The longer I’m a foster parent for my shelter, the more my opinion changes to a resounding NO.