Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stop the Killing – Solutions Part 2

In Stop the Killing – Part 3: Solutions, I listed a number of things that can help reduce the kill rate at our nation’s shelters.

Part of the solution is one that is very simple in concept, but more difficult in doing … keep the animals from entering shelters in the first place.  If dogs and cats are not going to shelters, they’re not being killed.

And like the problem and solutions I already wrote about, this one is multi-faceted.  I covered education in Part 3.  Educating current, soon-to-be, and potential pet owners can help reduce the number of companion animals in shelters.  But that’s only a part of it.  We must also help pet owners KEEP their pets rather than surrendering or dumping them.

While no exact figures exist, we know owner surrendered animals make up a healthy chunk of the shelter animal population.  Those of us who advocate for animals on Facebook see this term far too often. 

Cases where the reason just really wasn’t valid, or where there was no reason, makes us angry.  Some people just dump their pets and leave.  There have been cases of boxes of puppies left at the door in the middle of the night.  There has even been one case of a dog tossed out of a moving car in the driveway of a shelter.  There are cases where the anger comes from an invalid excuse – “We’re moving” (could you not look for a place that allows pets?) or “She’s old/sick/pregnant” (seriously?).

There are the cases that cause empathy and sadness.  Owners who tearfully surrender their beloved pets due to illness, personal crisis, unemployment, homelessness, limited income, or just not being able to afford vet care.  They don’t want to give up their pet, but feel they have no other choice.  Often our military personnel are transferred to an area or country where they cannot bring their pets.  If they don’t find a new home, the pet can end up in a shelter.

Our nation’s current economic situation is contributing to the problem.  More pets than ever before are being dumped or surrendered because people cannot afford them or their proper care.

Outreach programs can help reduce the number of companion animals entering shelters by providing assistance that allows people to keep their pets. 

Pet Food Assistance

There have always been those who have not been able to afford enough or proper food for their pet.  The current economic situation has dramatically increased the number of people in this situation.

There are some programs across the country, but not nearly enough.  Some are run through shelters, such as Casper’s Cupboard in Tampa.  Some are state organizations, such as Save Our Pets Foodbank in Georgia.  Others, such as Autumn’s Harvest, are private initiatives.

Some of the programs allow qualified people to pick up food at one or more distribution points.  Some programs deliver food to those who are housebound.

Whatever form the program takes, however the food is collected and distributed, we need these programs.

Vet Care Assistance

Medical care for pets can be expensive.  Those on limited incomes have difficulty providing even the most basic care, such as vaccinations, heartworm prevention, and spay/neuter.  Sometimes a pet becomes seriously ill or is injured.  Such medical care is expensive, and some owners bring their pets to a shelter believing it will be given the care it needs.

Many areas already have low cost vaccination and/or spay neuter clinics.  These need to be expanded so they are available everywhere.  I believe they should also offer free “wellness checks” for their clients.  Catching a problem early can reduce the cost of medical treatment.  Many retail stores offer these monthly clinics for people.  Why should companion animals not have them too?

Veterinarians need to establish reduced cost services for those who qualify.  They also need to set up a payment plan system for those who can make monthly payments but are not able to pay large, upfront, lump sum fees. 

Veterinarians should also provide free or low cost heartworm preventative to those who qualify.  Heartworm, a condition that can be prevented with a monthly pill that costs $10 or less, is expensive to treat, especially severe cases.  Keeping the pets healthy costs less.  Low cost clinics should also offer this to their clients.

Going hand-in-hand with the low cost clinics is government and state veterinary boards allowing them to continue helping people and their pets get the care they need.  The low cost spay/neuter clinics in Alabama are under attack.  Some have been closed, others are still fighting.

Crisis Assistance

Imagine your house burning down … or having to be hospitalized for an extended period … or any one of many personal crises that can occur at any time.  What will happen to your beloved pet in this circumstance?

A crisis assistance program would allow people to keep their pets while they deal with emergency situations.  This should include low cost (including free or subsidized for qualified people) boarding or temporary fostering.  Imagine the peace of mind knowing your pet will be cared for while you get your life back together or recover from illness or surgery.

Helping Military Members

When a service member is going to a war zone, a pet must be left behind.  When a service is transferred to a new duty station, sometimes they just cannot bring their pets.  In times like these, service members need and deserve help with the re-homing or fostering of their pets. 

There are a few private organizations, as well as some shelters will temporarily foster or board a service member’s pet.  But there’s not nearly enough.  Every state needs such an organization since our service members come from all 50 states. 

Helping service members keep their pets is the least we can do for those who serve.

New York City has a program that should be copied in other cities.  Pets for Life is a broad program with the goal of keeping pets with their owners.  In addition to food, veterinary, and life crisis assistance, it also a number of other services such as behavioral training and information.

“Pets for Life” is a concept that we must advocate for, educate about, and assist when necessary.  We need these outreach programs in every county in every state.  If we keep pets with their owners, we keep them out of the shelters.  If we keep them out of the shelters, we reduce the kill rate.