By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
A few facts from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):
- Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year (3.3 million dogs and 3.2 million cats).
- Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
- About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners (620,000 dogs and 90,000 cats).
- It is estimated that 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States.
I have been a dog lover and owner since I was a boy. Back then, I had a dog named Dino. He was a mutt, mostly Feist. Dino and I shared the world together, fleas, ticks, worms and even a case of the mange. One of the few joys in a poor mountain boy’s life is a good dog. Since then, I have had dogs in my life for over 40 years.
When you have a dog or a cat, especially a house dog or cat, they become a part of the family. In fact, I spend more time with my dog than I do many of my relatives. Because of my relationship with my pet, I am particularly careful of other dogs and cats that pass my way.
I have a 45-minute commute to work every day from Haywood County. Sometimes, it’s via the four lane on US Hwy 23/74 and other times it is US Hwy 19 (the Soco Road). If you travel the Soco Road, you know that there is a lot of dog and cat traffic. These critters commute the road too, looking for food, companionship, and basically just sniff around. Mountain folks really don’t care for or believe in leashing their pets, so, in addition to the strays, abandoned, and wild animals you will meet on the road, you will also see someone’s hunting or children’s dogs and cats.
So, combine loose pets and animals with a curvy mountain roadway that drivers take as a challenge to their ability to speedily navigate, and you end up with a routinely bloody trip. Many days of my week, I pass by the remains of what was once a living, breathing animal. Many times, it is an unfortunate squirrel, opossum, or snake that ventured out into the roadway and met its end. Still other times, it is a domestic animal that couldn’t match the reflexes of a speeding 2-ton vehicle.
I guess I am getting soft in my old age. It is sad to me that we are a society that is so careless as to not protect our pets from obvious danger and that our priorities are so messed up that it is more important to try to shave a few minutes of drive time than to spare a life. And, for a few demented folks, it is a sport to target these animals for death by vehicle, intentionally running over animals.
Answers to this seemingly simple issue are not that simple. As the ASPCA numbers indicate, overpopulation is a big factor in the equation, with stray animals roaming our streets and owners either having too many animals to care for or just not caring enough to properly contain or restrain them. Many of these animals are not spaded or neutered, so they are left to roam and procreate.
It has always bothered me that our tribal animal shelter is a kill shelter. I am sure that it bothers those who manage and operate the shelter. They work hard and do a job that is thankless and must be heartbreaking. They have to deal with the unwanted animals based on tribal policy and funding, which does not leave them with many options. My understanding of the process is that an animal, picked up by Animal Control or left there by the public, has 10 days before it must be euthanized.
I hope that, soon, the tribal government will get serious about providing the Qualla Boundary with the means to operate a no-kill facility. We always talk about catching up with the times, being economically diverse and millennial savvy. One of the areas that surrounding counties are surpassing us in is their focus on animal care and the creation of no-kill animal shelters. They are expending more funds to enlarge capacity with some including animal hospitals as a consideration.
The argument always comes up when discussing animal care that we should spend our money on our elders and children first. I totally agree that they should come first in spending and attention. But, that does not mean we must exclude everything else. As our leadership is fond of saying, the Tribe has a nearly half billion-dollar budget; a budget that outpaces the municipality of Charlotte, North Carolina. Used properly, there should be no reason that our elders and children are lacking and still have plenty to spend on the relatively small cost of improving animal care and shelter kill policies.
If we want to look at the economic benefit, pets and pet care are a huge industry. Per the American Pet Product Association (APPA), pet owners in the U.S. spend nearly $70 billion annually on their pets for their food, medicine, veterinary care, and live animal purchases. We keep talking about thinking outside the box in our economic development…
We can push for our leaders to change the way we treat pets corporately, but what can we do personally? If you are considering pet ownership, don’t go to puppy mills and pet shops to buy your dog or cat. There are plenty of legitimate breeders and there are plenty of good animals waiting in shelters for homes. If you have a pet, be responsible. Provide for the safety of your pet. Don’t expose it to dangerous situations, whether it is alone on a highway or the back seat of a hot car. And, join movements that promote no-kill shelters and support the efforts of groups whose mission are to stop animal cruelty.
Finally, be wise. Don’t think that you are doing your dog or cat a favor by setting it free rather than letting Animal Control take it. If those are your only two choices, it is better to let Animal Control humanely deal with the animal than allow it to slowly starve to death or bleed to death on the side of a road somewhere. Without human care, domesticated animals are sentenced to a life of fear and disease. And, not reporting strays only exacerbates the problem because they will breed and create more strays. If possible, make sure unwanted pets get to a shelter, preferably a no-kill, but any shelter is better than roaming, homeless domesticated animals.
As I said earlier, I just I am getting soft in my old age. I just think the world is a happier place with our furry friends in it. Let’s try to keep the killing to a minimum.