Thursday, October 27, 2011

Managing Companion Animals: PART I - Personal Responsibility

Earlier this summer a letter to the editor from the president of our local humane society spoke out on the importance of individual personal responsibility in caring for companion animals, “Dog owners must become more responsible.”

It’s true that so many problems in the world would disappear if people would just be more responsible.  But getting this to happen isn’t easy!  We wrestle with issues of personal responsibility on many fronts of human behavior:  driving vehicles, consuming alcohol, managing finances, managing anger & violence – just to name a few.  People just are not naturally responsible –whether due to a lack of understanding, disagreement, financial
barriers, or just plain apathy.

In order for us to live together in relative harmony we have to build and enforce responsibility in those areas where behaviors of individuals can negatively impact others in the community.  This task falls to individuals as well as to our local governing agencies.  We rely on education to instill an awareness of responsible behavior.   We look to our community leaders, as well as to our family, friends, and neighbors, to set examples for responsible behavior. And we develop laws to articulate responsible behavior that our law enforcement agencies carry out into the community. 

If we ever hope to build responsibility among animal owners, we must begin building and enforcing responsible pet ownership to the same degree that we do so for other areas of human behavior.   What can we, as individuals, do to bring this about?

First, and most simply, we can be an example for responsible pet ownership.  We can be sure to have our own pets licensed, tagged, spayed or neutered, properly cared for and provided with appropriate veterinary care.  We can make sure to have plans in place for our pets in the event that we are unable to care for them so that they do not wind up by default at a local shelter or as an unexpected burden on someone.  And we should learn how to manage appropriate behavior in our pets so that they don't bother others and so that they don't become an unwelcomed burden to ourselves.  In addition, we should become acquainted with and follow the laws that pertain to responsible animal ownership at the state level as well as our community level.

Next, we can encourage our community leaders to set proper examples of responsible behavior. Many community leaders continue to turn a blind eye to concerns and laws regarding animal management.  Sometimes, they are guilty of the very behaviors we seek to correct. Not long ago one of our community’s leaders was a well-known dog fighter.   Some community members, upstanding in other respects, may still engage in backyard breeding and inattention to their own tied-out or roaming dogs and breeding cats.  Through our everyday engagement with our community leaders, we can help them understand the importance of responsible animal care and their role in promoting it in the community.

Thirdly, we can encourage and support the education of other community members, most importantly our children, about responsible pet ownership and compassion for animals.   Educators can find a wealth of resources available to support humane education.  It’s easy to incorporate humane education into the classroom.  Kids have a natural affinity for animals.  Teachers who develop programs and techniques for humane education can also inspire and help others to do the same.  

Assuming our personal roles in promoting responsible pet ownership is an important first step towards building a more humane community.  In combination with effective community support services, our personal commitment to advocating for responsible animal care is a winning hand.

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