Friday, August 19, 2011

Thinking, planning, moving towards humane communities ...

What is a humane community? A simple term that's been around for a long time, I'm always surprised that we hear so little talk about the value and process of developing humane communities. Talk abounds around shelter adoptions and spay/neuter options.  But relatively little talk comes around to considering the full picture of effective, humane pet management in communities.

While I'm not aware of a given definition for a humane community, I'd suggest that a humane community is one which values life, both human and animal, and chooses to promote that value by building and supporting responsible animal management practices that benefit both the animals in a community as well as the safety and well-being of the humans that interact with those animals.  These practices include, at the minimum, education for animal guardians about humane and responsible animal care, enactment and enforcement of laws that promote humane and responsible animal care, and the inclusion of animals in a community’s emergency services plan and operation.  In partnership with responsible community administrations, charitable agencies can provide significant support in conceiving, developing, and sustaining programs to promote humane communities. It is this partnership that is often found lacking. 

Often misunderstood, “SPCA” is merely a term commonly applied to non-profit animal shelters.  An “SPCA” organization has no connection to other SPCA organizations and has no meaning other than that given by the organization applying the term.  Increasingly, the term SPCA has been applied to organizations whose primary and perhaps sole purpose is the management and re-homing of homeless animals.  The original intent of the name – Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – has lost much of its meaning given that so many SPCA’s currently do little to significantly address social issues of cruelty or neglect to animals.   By law cruelty and neglect issues are handled by a community’s Animal Control service.  It’s not uncommon that significant discrepancies exist between the attitudes and beliefs of Animal Control officers and those managing an SPCA shelter.  However, little public attention comes to these issues and the shelters typically have their hands full with the job of managing a shelter and re-homing countless animals.  They understandably have little time or ability to address larger issues of animal cruelty and neglect.

Pet management, and the problems of ineffective management - neglect and abuse, backyard breeding, bite cases, animal aggression, owner-surrendered pets, and disease transmission – are issues of community and individual responsibility and education.  Pet rescue/adoption and low-cost spay/neuter address pieces of the solution, but, as evidenced in the ongoing pet management problems in communities, they don't provide effective solutions in isolation.  While some may espouse a vague notion of responsible pet ownership, few people seem to understand that "responsible pet ownership/guardianship" is a process that is as dependent upon the active involvement and support of a community's administration as it is upon the actions of pet guardians.  This concept is slowly beginning to materialize in forward thinking communities and is embraced by the National Canine Research Council.  It's my hope that we can begin to weave some of these practices together for the benefit of communities and their animals in Central Virginia. 

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