By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
As a Tribe, we continue to struggle with pet care. Individually, we love ‘em. Most of the responses we get when we inquire about the thoughts of the public are positive when it comes to ensuring the health and safety of animals on the Qualla Boundary. People are very vocal about their desire that stray animals are given the opportunity for life and placement, including Cherokee Animal Control. We all want to do what is right for the animals. We just don’t seem to know how to get moving.
Most municipalities have Animal Control. The old timey, unsexy word for it when I lived in Jackson County was “the dog pound”. They are who you call when you see a stray lurking around your neighborhood. As our Animal Control officer has told us on multiple occasions, one of his biggest concerns is that many pet owners do not put an emphasis on spaying and neutering their animals, partially because of the expense of getting it done. The price can be from $60 to nearly $200, and that is if there are no complications. Most puppies (the cat population sees even more proliferation due to lack of preventative care) that go to households are not thoroughbreds. They are mutts that cost little or nothing to own, so most owners are not thinking about the investment of time, money and love required to upkeep a puppy or kitten. Some don’t even think about the life cycles of these animals; how long they will live; how big they will get; how much they will eat; how much grooming will be required; how much exercise they will need; and more.
Animal Control in Cherokee does an outstanding job within the parameters that they have been given by our government. You have read in the past few months the story of basically a pound puppy that became a NRE service officer because Cherokee Animal Control saw the potential in the dog and contacted an officer with the heart for spending his time and patience to work with the dog in its training and realize the great potential for community good that could be realized if this dog could be trained to do police work. And the combination of the Animal Control officer’s caring and the dedication of the NRE officer produced more than one exemplary canine officer who has served right here on the Qualla Boundary.
The stray population on the Boundary stays out of hand because we continue to ignore the primary concern. Unwanted pets are being set loose to become strays and even wanted, unfixed dogs and cats are allowed to roam loose and mate without control. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize that overpopulation forces Animal Control (not just in Cherokee but anywhere there is overpopulation) to make some tough choices. If they cannot find homes for them and they cannot release them back into the community, it leaves them very few, and heartbreaking choices.
And the responsibility for all the overpopulation does not fall on government. It is pet owners who are dropping the ball and sentencing pets to an early end or a fate worse than death. If you have ever watched one of the ASPCA messages on television, you know the pain and suffering animals go through at the hands of mankind.
But, we are not just any people. We are the Principal People. We lay claim to a heritage of honoring the Creator’s creation. We, as a people, love nature like few other people groups in the world. And we are especially fond of animals, even writing them into some of our most treasured and revered cultural stories. If anyone should have a burden for treating animals with respect and honor, it is us. We have no excuse for allowing the overpopulation to be a cause of concern in our community. Yet here we are.
Cherokee Animal Control does what it can with the resources that it has to curb the problem. They are not an animal rescue. They are an arm of the government with a specific purpose. They are good people. Cherokee people, tasked with an impossibly difficult responsibility. When you have a moment, go to municode.com and review the animal control ordinance. They have no small job.
In most municipalities around us, it has been community members, like you and me, who have been active in the promotion and care of lost, unwanted, and stray animals. Common folk with and uncommon love for pets, be it their own or un-homed. Grassroots organizations that turn homes into animal shelters and volunteer hours of labor and donate thousands of dollars to make whatever dent they can in the challenge of overpopulation. They are the ones you see in the ASPCA videos rescuing the beaten, the starved, and the lost pets and bring them to places where their health can be renewed, and they can be placed in loving homes. Government can only do so much on that end. Our Animal Control can have the biggest hearts in the world and still not have enough hands and resources to cure the problem. It is truly up to each one of us.
The following is from a story titled “Someone Else’s Trash: Rez Dogs Saved and Lost” by Kathleen Stachowski: “From tragic to jubilant in eight short words: ‘Puppies left to die in garbage bin reunited.’ The headline pulls you into the story-you already know it ends well, but still, you have to confront the fact that someone callously trashed a box of 10 newborns during a frigid Montana winter. Instead of freezing to death, the babies-some had not yet opened their eyes-were rescued by RezQ Dogs, a volunteer rescue operation ‘committed to helping the unwanted and abandoned dogs from the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy Indian reservations in north-central Montana. Tiny Tails K-9 Rescue stepped in to help, and the rest is happy history.
“A little more than a year after their rescue, eight of the now-adopted 10 dogs were reunited, the joyous occasion documented in an article picked up by the Associated Press that recently appeared in our local, west-central Montana paper. ‘I love her story,’ one of the adopters told the reporter. ‘I love that we get to be a part of her story now. These puppies were someone else’s trash and they’re a treasure to us.’’
I won’t go into what kind of heart, or lack thereof, it takes to abandon newborn puppies in the dead of a Montana winter, except to say that is not the heart of our ancestors. You won’t find an account of our elders discounting life like that. And yet this kind of abuse happens all too frequently. And this type tragedy is so easily curbed with a little education and prevention.
We all say that we care and that we want to do something. When the opportunity comes to make a difference in the way we on the Qualla Boundary deal with unwanted and stray animal populations, will we roll up our sleeves and get to work? Will you and I be at the forefront of a genuine animal shelter effort? Are you the one the animals are waiting for?