“It’s the week of the dog for me, I guess,” Jock observed.
“Sweetheart, you clearly have some sort of dog lesson coming at you,” I agreed. “Does this mean Rabbit is coming to stay with us, too?”
“No, no—Rabbit is not coming to stay with us.” Jock shook his head.
Rabbit, the second dog in need—who had been by Jock’s side less than a week—was on his way back to be reunited with his person. Apparently, one half of the couple had been in a car accident with Rabbit in the car. She was on her way to medical treatment and Jock went to assume responsibility for the dog in its hour of need (because hanging out in the back of a police car is not where anyone wants their loved one, be it canine or otherwise). So human and dog were reunited, which is fortunate. However, with Jock’s latest adventures, we are running out of options.
For approximately the last year and a half, Jock has been buying dog food for Otis, a small terrier who lived near the Full Belly Project HQ. Otis’ person—a sweet, little old lady—was hospitalized over the last year and is not coming back to her house.
She adored Otis and lavished him with love and affection. Clearly, all Otis really wants to do in life is sit on someone’s lap and snuggle. If someone would let him sit on their lap for eight hours a day, he would be a happy dog. The remaining family member is currently searching for housing and cannot provide Otis with a roof, two meals a day and a couple of walks. So a very dirty, lonely and traumatized little dog found himself in Jock’s truck on the way to the vet last week.
“We’ll give him the adoption special,” the vet tech promised as she disappeared to get Otis cleaned up, checked out and up-to-date on vaccinations.
It got me thinking about the history of animal rescue in the United States. Clearly, there are different perceptions about acceptable treatment of animals. It has evolved just in my lifetime. When I was little, my parents thought it was perfectly acceptable for my beagle puppy to have an outside doghouse, a pen and a 100-foot chain. Hilda sleeps in bed with Jock and I, and if anyone ever suggested she spend a night outside alone or chained to a tree, the results would be … dire.
Now one hopes altruism is a basic human trait, and in some form or fashion there have been people always standing up for the rights and needs of animals as long as it has been necessary. But in a formalized sense, the creation of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) signaled the advent of animal welfare as a priority in England. They were recognized by Queen Victoria in 1840.
The American adoption of a similar society, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), traces its beginnings to 1866 and the work of Henry Bergh, who was inspired by RSPCA. ASPCA’s major early accomplishment was getting anti-cruelty laws passed. In the 1800s horses primarily were still used for transportation of goods and people. The treatment of horses was a necessary focus of their early work in a way that, though it is still important, is not as pertinent and visible today as it was 150 years ago.
Apparently, one of Bergh’s big accomplishments was to get clay pigeons introduced into shooting sports. People actually used to fling live pigeons into the air for shooting sports.
Readers might be interested to know Bergh’s success with anti-cruelty activism for animals led to his joining anti-cruelty work for children. The work of the ASPCA led to the prosecution of a child-abuse and neglect case in New York, which also led to the creation of the first child-welfare protection organization in the United States. The case, which went to the New York Supreme Court, grew out of a neighbors’ concern for the welfare of a little girl. One woman who became involved in the case heard Bergh speak and enlisted him and his colleagues at ASPCA. Together they pressed the case. The abuser received a one-year jail sentence and lost custody of the child (thank the gods!). The New York Times archive has several fascinating pieces about the case, and though they’re compelling, it also angers me—the kind of anger that makes my blood curdle. It’s hard to escape the realization that human life is valued so little.
But I digress.
Other groups have followed since ASPCA’s creation, including American Humane and The Humane Society of the United States, among many others. Some nonprofits lobby for legislation to protect interests of animals from testing, factory farming and neglect; others actively try to provide shelter and medical care (spay and neuter). In addition the rise of foster networks, enabled by the internet age, have become a pillar of animal rescue and rehoming operations.
According to the 2016 Public Animal Shelter Report from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in New Hanover County in 2016 at Animal Control Services 1,359 cats were taken into the shelter. Of that number, 101 were returned to their owners, 487 were adopted and 734 were euthanized. Thinking about Otis, I checked the stats on dogs: 1,238 taken into the shelter, 378 were adopted to new owners, 427 returned to their owners and the number of dogs euthanized was … 413. Mmmmm. More were euthanized than adopted? Well, we’re not taking Otis to animal control.
In other interesting news, they euthanized 17 opossums, two rabbits and 281 raccoons. Sixteen rabbits were adopted to new owners, so that is good news for them (we hope). Still, the stats are not encouraging. More dogs euthanized than adopted out to new owners?
Nope, not taking Otis there.
As an older dog with some blindness, and shall we say, a bit of wear to him means he doesn’t win awards on the cuteness scale. And it is going to take a special person to look past his appearance and see a very sweet, kind family addition underneath.
ASPCA estimates 6.5 million pets enter shelters in the U.S. every year. So that does not include horses, wild animals, birds of prey or farm animals. They estimate 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats. About 1.5 million animals in shelters are euthanized each year in the U.S., but twice that number (about 3.2 million) of shelter animals are adopted annually (evenly split between dogs and cats).
The statistics are so distressing, almost immobilizing. There are many good-hearted souls working on rescue in our area and trying to change numbers for the better. Meanwhile, Jock and I find ourselves staring at Otis and facing a conundrum: We can’t solve the entire problem, but we can try to make a difference for this one dog. For Otis.
Otis, frankly, deserves better than he has gotten so far. While we try to find a good and loving home where Otis can be safe and secure, Jock is trying to socialize him with our dogs, Horace and Hilda. Because if we can’t find the right place for Otis, guess where he is going to live out his days? I’ll give everyone a hint: It doesn’t involve any possibility of euthanasia.