There once was a boy on the beach shore, where there were thousands upon thousands of shriveling Sea Stars – life ebbing from them with the tide’s ebb. They would always be there washed up and dying in the sun. Every day, they’d line the shore so that you could barely see the sand beneath. He’d pick one up – and chuck it back into the sea. He’d pick up another – and chuck it back in the sea.
Finally, someone walked up to speak some sense into him – to speak of the futility of it all. “This is insane, there are millions of Sea Stars here, you’ll never save them. What you are doing here – it doesn’t matter…” The boy picked another up – and chucked it back into the sea. “It mattered to that one,” he said.
That story is popular among church pastors – maybe they all heard it in seminary. But one version I’ve never heard is how the boy called animal control to drive over them with a land rover, scoop them up and incinerate them.
That might sound absurd, but a few morals can be drawn from the original story: 1) your choices matter greatly – your protection matters to the vulnerable; 2) You steer the ship, you have the ability. Doing something or “being the change” starts with little things, sometimes in your own backyard. “Washing our hands of it” is an attitude that may have gotten us into the seemingly insurmountable mess we’re in today; 3) Even just one being helped, instead of outsourcing that responsibility to bigger conglomerates and being naive of the dire consequences to them – is a big deal.
The evolution of animal control in the U.S. has been around as a part of governance since the 1800s. Now the lines between police and local animal control have been blurred, as animal control is most often a part of police departments (sometimes parks and rec or the health department). This doesn’t necessarily apply to other entities that deal with nuisance wildlife – for which an application and commercial license is required and sanctions the use of chemicals and weapons with silencers. (If you try to deal with wildlife on your own terms, you will get some serious heat from the DNR and get slapped with serious charges).
Municipality animal control officers are not elected, but are appointed. Their job is to control. This is a service people are relieved for if a deadly snake is in the yard, but not always comforting if the family pet escapes. Or, if you should find yourself in the same store as this poor squirrel.
You can determine if an animal is dangerous, injured or safe – it’s not that hard. But make a phone call over some feral kittens and you don’t know whether they will be relocated with care or executed on site in front of children. Animal control officers are compelled to have at least 80 hours of training with the National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA, formed in 1978) which includes euthanasia, chemical immobilization, and using a bite-stick. (The kitten execution was considered acceptable “euthanasia” by the police chief) Again, this often amounts to controlling the animal, possibly destroying it or handing it off. When an officer shoots a dog, an animal control officer might show up to write a report. Sometimes they or the officer kill loose animals on site. The claim of “officer safety” is becoming an overused excuse to shoot and the threat often turns out to be untrue.
It should be noted that the incident with the kittens probably would not be endorsed by the NACA, even though it was done by a “humane” officer. NACA claims to seek professionalism through their training. But check out a part of their mission statement: “We believe only carefully selected and properly trained animal control personnel can correct community problems resulting from irresponsible animal ownership.” Really? And really?
Furthermore, animal control works in tandem with rescue societies and shelter groups – so it appears that one way or another, lost or abandoned animals often wind up there. There is no such thing as a “no-kill” shelter no matter how friendly it appears. When over-housed, animals can end up down the road at a shelter that will kill them. More buck passing that makes the original donor feel warm and fuzzy. In either house, if they are sick, old-ish, aggressive or among the hated-breed-of-the-decade, they are either declined or killed.
Here is just one city’s description of the animal control department (which consists of a full-time officer). The whole of it is even more reprimanding and ominous, but here is just an excerpt:
When citizens do not exercise responsible pet ownership, the Animal Control Officer steps in and enforces the city ordinances that govern this aspect of community responsibility.
As with all Police Department services, we encourage you to call us regarding problems with pets, either yours or your neighbor’s. Remember, it is not the pets that violate the law, it is the owners.
Yet in an ironic twist, they want this responsibility and dependence to remain with the officer. But it’s all your fault! And please do think twice before calling them on your neighbor’s dog. It might not be pets who violate the law, but they just might pay for it. (It’s your fault we shot it! – give me a break!)
I’m not advocating that you don’t alert someone if there is a dangerous animal on the loose. I’m also not suggesting that rounding up animals, some of them diseased and dangerous – is easy, or that you should take that risk. And wardens, of course, have helped a lot of people reunite with their pets. I’m saying that state-sponsored killing happens and it’s okay to use discernment and take initiative with abandoned animals (or talking to your neighbor about his pet first) – instead of making a phone call you might later regret. What started out as a service for people has gotten “out of control.”
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A stray dog showed up on my property last week. I know it was heaven-sent, so to speak. Where did it come from? Why this yard? How did it know it would find help here? It was so unequivocally positive it had found the route to closure. Something was special about her arrival and yet not so extraordinary at all. Many people come across abandoned animals all the time.
Depending on the circumstance, the options could be: 1) Nothing 2) House it 3) Call animal control 4) Shelter drop off and 5) Give it away. Giving it away, like on Craigslist, could be the worst thing that ever happened to the animal. It could end up at a research facility, eaten, used for fighting or some other twisted end. Most of those are lazy options with not much thought about what happens next. Housing it could be impossible due to rental restrictions or inability to meet the commitment.
One thing was intuitively sure, the responsibility for it was not to be taken lightly and outsourced. Not to the State, not to the municipality and not to bloated organizations that create the aura of “no-kill.” Not for this Sea Star.
Wait, why should we take responsibility for other’s people’s recklessness? Well, you don’t have to, that’s the point. It’s been “taken care of” for you. Can you accept the consequences? No one would bat an eye if it was a vicious dog terrorizing neighborhood kids. But what if it’s the beloved family pit bull who chewed through its collar and you have 48 hours to scurry around and locate it before it’s exterminated? Someone will “take care of” it – if a officer with a questionable past doesn’t reach it first or use it as target practice if it’s injured.
Oh, but wait, we have microchips that do the finding for us now – how convenient! Soon, it’ll be considered socially irresponsible and later illegal to not get the pet microchipped, and a microchipped dog who becomes aggressive can be tracked to its owner for punishment. A non-chipped animal could be put away. Because the price for all this paid-for responsibility outsourcing is still blame, punishment and force.
It takes a village to raise an animal and since they have failed it must be left to us to clean up your mess. Community talk my eye – when individuals try to help they get blocked at every turn. Like this family who attempted to take an injured deer to an animal hospital – but were threatened and stopped by an officer who blasted it on site with his gun in front of their child.
Such a double-standard that we are so irresponsible and must be at fault for cruelty. Cruelty is okay if State-sanctioned, entertainment-sanctioned or protected in corporate agriculture. If an “average” person were to do those same things, it would mean prison time.
At this point it was my call for the dog because it was vulnerable and it “asked” for help. So if I went with any lazy option including telling it to “go somewhere else and ask someone else!” I could be sealing a gruesome fate for it. Plus, it’s a pleasure, not a duty to be able to do something tangible (while it’s still legal). Unfortunately, this is how I discovered just how difficult it can be for a seemingly insignificant undertaking – to keep an animal out of a “rescue” shelter.
Not everything I researched about finding and rehoming an abandoned dog proved useful – I had to figure a lot out on my own. In fact, a lot of people would claim I “have no right.” I feel I have no right not to – no right to dispense with it, wash my hands of it and hope for the best by leaving it to “authorities” or pawning it off to people who continue the cycle of abuse. I learned more by actually going through the process.
Tomorrow I will share what we did to find it a home without breaking the bank or endangering its future. Think twice before calling animal control…before leaving an animal at a “shelter.”
See the Sequel:
How to Rescue an Animal from a ‘Rescue’ Shelter
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