"That's 20 to 30 tons of animal carcasses that end up in the landfill each year."
- Carl Woodland, spokesman for the Castaway Animal Rescue Effort on city euthanizing of animals.
This week's posts are going to focus on the most tragic of things that end up in our nation's landfills - household pets.
For a country that prides itself on its humanity, it's the most horrific and disgraceful type of waste. The above quote was from a story ran by the Springfield News-Leader last week on the problem of unwanted animals in one of the largest cities in the Ozarks. According to the article, the city of Springfield, Missouri municipal animal shelter killed in excess of 2,700 unwanted pets last year - or 68 percent of the poor souls who found themselves unlucky enough to be considered disposable. To see the entire article, go to:
But make no mistake about it, the problem isn't confined to Springfield, or any other small, medium or large city or small town in America.
Depending on who you ask for an estimate, between 6 - 15 MILLION unwanted pets are killed each year because they do not have homes.
To put that in perspective, one would have to add the total human populations of Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas to come up with the low ball figure of how many pets our government is putting to death each year.
But don't blame our government. They are only having to perform this unimaginable (and expensive) task because of a combination of irresponsible owners, puppy mills and backyard breeders.
This problem has once again made front headline news in recent weeks because of the mortgage crisis, which has forced many homeowners into foreclosure. As a result, many of these people are leaving behind their pets, further overburdening an already overpopulated system of unwanted animals.
But this problem is not a new one. While researching story ideas to pitch to editors this week, I happened upon an article in Mother Earth News about the pet overpopulation problem. I was sitting here nodding my head in agreement with the article and thought it was a recent one until I read a statistic in the story from 1972. I then realized I was reading one of the magazine's newly archived articles from past decades. It was dated January 1973.
So why can't rescue groups and animal lovers get a grip on this problem? Because people love their pets. They love them so much, they often treat animals as an impulse purchase. How many times have you seen that cute little puppy in the window and wanted to take it home? Not only are our faithful companions displayed as impulse buys like the latest tabloid we can't resist, parents often feel the need to show their children the "miracle of life" by allowing their pets to have a litter of cute little puppies or kittens.
As one manager of a munipal shelter once told me, "For every parent who has told me they wanted their children to see the miracle of life, I tell them to come back here on kill day and have them also witness the tragedy of death."
For any animal lover who has had the very unpleasant experience of being around a shelter for "kill day," it's something we never forget.
The other obvious problem are puppy and kitty mills, which churn out "purebred" cats and dogs for pet stores (It's no surprise that Brittney Spears' dog she purchased in a boutique in Hollywood was recently linked to a puppy mill in the Midwest). As well, backyard breeders, or people who hobby breed is another problem. People feel if they buy "just one" it isn't perpetuating the problem.
I admit that in 1982, I bought my first dogs from a backyard breeder - someone who didn't care about the health, welfare or continuation of good genetics in a breed. I went to get one Maltese puppy and ended up with two because I felt so sorry for the other one, who was in the back of a kennel shivering and alone. I also allowed my two Maltese have two litters of puppies in the 1980s when the information on the pet overpopulation problem was not as accessible (although according to that 1973 article in Mother Earth News, was just as problematic).
In 1996, after I lost the first of those Maltese, Angel, we went to look for a truck and ended up coming home with a fun-loving 6-year-old weiner dog named Hershey. The owners were going to take her to the pound because she "didn't fit into their lifestyle." Hershey had the bad luck of being purchased by this couple's daughter and son in law. When they had children, they decided Hershey wasn't welcome and passed her off to their parents who worked long hours and really didn't want a dog to take care of.
Hershey was lucky. She found her way to us before going to the shelter, where the local Dachshund rescue may or may not have found her in time. I'm not sure, given her attitude toward children, she would have even made it past the temperment testing and on the adoption list. She may well have been marked for certain death.
Hershey went with us everywhere for 9 years before she died. She traveled, she fished and became a fixture when we went out on the boat. She is now buried on our land here in the Ozarks. In the meantime, 4 more dogs found their way to us. Emma wandered up to our home one balzing hot day in 2001. She had recently had puppies, but they were no where to be found. She still has an extreme fear of being left after she takes rides in the car. Molly is a little red weiner dog. As her owner handed her over to me to give her up, she grimaced and said, "We don't like dogs that lick." Dakota, our weiner/beagle mix, was living in filth in a poor neighborhood in KCK when we heard she spent most days chained to a pole outside by herself. When she barked, the "man" of the house usually came out and kicked her around. When I went to pick her up, I saw their children had learned from their father when one of them, about 5 years old, knocked Dakota off the couch for barking at me. They couldn't even find her food or water bowls when they handed her over. Finally, as we were in the middle of our move last year, we saw a pitbull being dumped on the side of a road in a city where there's a strict, no tolerance policy of the breed in force. When I looked in the rear view mirror, the dog now known as Sade to us, was chasing the car that abandoned her down the road. When we went back for her, she was curled in a fetal position, alone and afraid. She had multiple cuts on her face and her ears were almost unrecognizable pieces of chewed raw meat.
Right now, all of 4 of my dogs are curled in their beds, and underneath blankets warm and safe from their pasts.
I chose not to buy "just one" puppy from a breeder or a pet store because for each puppy just one person buys, there 6-15 million more already here that don't have loving homes.
Please don't buy "just one," because if you and just 1 million more people adopt a dog that's been deemed disposable, rather than buy "just one," you are not only helping relieve an overburdened system, you are not adding to the problem by creating more demand for an already flooded market.
I didn't start rescuing dogs until the 1990s, but I did get my first rescue cat, Tabitha (who died last summer at age 19) in 1988. Cats are even more endangered because they are even less likely than dogs to be adopted from a shelter.
Believe me, all 5 of my dogs and all of our rescue cats were good pets. You can find pets in any shape, size and breed (even purebreeds) from shelters and rescues.
On Wednesday, I'll feature an author who has written a book about "Recycled Pets" and give some tips on how to find the perfect recycled pet for your family.