Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Learning to Think Outside the Shelter

Be honest.  How many times have you either silently or openly lashed out at pet owners who seem to thoughtlessly give up their pets to a pound?  Of course, it is the endless relinquishment of these pets to the pounds that results in the high euthanasia rates of shelters throughout the Central Virginia region.  Non-profit rescues are currently able to rescue only a fraction of the animals from our region's pounds.  You might think, if only we could stop people from giving up their pets. Well, if we put our collective minds, hearts, and resources to the task of helping people learn and be able to properly care for their pets, we just might be able to do so!

This blog post from the ASPCA is on target with the current goals and focus of the PAWS Safe, Responsible, Humane Communities Initiative in recognizing that we must find ways to help those who acquire animals but find themselves unable to manage them effectively.  Our tools are those of education - on every front possible, and providing access to the knowledge and resources that can help pet owners resolve problems and become effective guardians of their animals.

If you would like to join us as we work to create and offer avenues of support for community education and assistance for compassionate and responsible pet care, please contact us. Help us start the transformation of all our communities in Central Virginia into Safe, Responsible, Humane Communities.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Helping your community: Where to start?

If you are one of the many people who care about animals in our communities and the importance of building safe, responsible, humane communities then you may be wondering how you can help your community move forward.  Anyone and everyone can help our communities become safe, responsible, and humane and your participation is critical!

Step one is to learn what you can about basic factors affecting the management of companion animals (i.e. pets) in your community.  Animal management takes place primarily at the local level. That means that your community’s animal control officers, county or city administration, and/or sheriff’s office are crucial to the administration of effective animal management.  The state provides guidance and a foundation of applicable laws but otherwise provides relatively little oversight of local practices.  Your community administrative agencies are the ones that define the nature of animal management in your community. If it is good - thank them.  If it is not so good, ask for their attention and assistance.

The Companion Animal Survey Report provides a fairly thorough review of the key factors that affect companion animal management and helps to create a stable framework for understanding the challenges and the opportunities. It also provides some detailed information about the specific practices and nature of each of the fifteen counties surveyed.  It is designed to be easy to read and access and to give a broad overview of relevant issues.

The landscape of companion animal management:
One important thing you will learn is that the practice and promotion of humane management of companion animals can be a somewhat contested process. Old customs and attitudes towards animals may oppose the practice of humane management.  For this reason, some communities will avoid openly addressing barriers to humane animal management. In all honesty, such avoidance is not only needless but is in fact, counter to effective government and to the administration of justice and public safety. However, it’s always important to know well any issue that needs to be addressed, to communicate respectfully and clearly with community officials, and to be persistent!

Most of the non-profit activity around companion animal management is seen in efforts to re-home shelter cats and dogs and to reduce the rates of euthanasia for unwanted animals.  If you are one of the volunteers that support these valuable services – THANK YOU!  However, not everyone that cares about animals is prepared to work with fostered animals or shelters.  In fact, the focus of the Safe, Responsible, Humane Communities Initiative begins with preventing the need for animal sheltering.  With an emphasis on enabling our communities to provide education, effective animal law enforcement, and access to pet care resources we strive to reach and teach pet owners to help them provide good care for their pets and, in so doing, keep these pets out of the shelters, off the streets, and away from neglect and abuse.

Your awareness and your voice in support of Safe, Responsible, Humane Communities is the foundation that will help us achieve this goal!  The easiest way to sum up our process is that we seek to encourage all community members to become learners and teachers about effective companion animal management and humane education. The principles are simple and effective and their application can transform the nature of animal welfare in any community that cares to do so.

Below are some tips for getting started.  Start wherever you are and build your skills and knowledge. You may be very surprised at how much you learn and what ways you find that you can make a difference!
  • Be the example you want to see in others.  Have your pets licensed, provided with identification – collar, tag, and microchip, spayed or neutered, and provided with appropriate veterinary care. Learn how to care for them properly and respect their needs: for security, for companionship, for quality nutrition, for exercise and housing, and most of all for your patience and love.
  • Become acquainted with and follow the laws that pertain to responsible animal ownership at the state level as well as the community level.   Knowing these laws – even just a few of the key ones such as those addressed in our survey – will give you the foundation you need to support and build your community’s progress in animal welfare.
  • Know the resources available to your community. There are many non-profit assistance organizations and animal welfare services around the Central Virginia region these days.
  • Hold the expectation that your community will honestly enforce the laws that pertain to and protect animals.  Voice this expectation at every opportunity and encourage others to do the same.
  • Get to know your supervisor or council representative.  You can request a meeting with him or her or talk with them at public board or council meetings. These representatives are there to serve your interests in the community.  Share your knowledge and concerns with your representative along with some proposals for feasible solutions. If you can, consider offering your help to work with community agents to address the issues. 
  • Ask questions and require answers.  Give yourself permission to learn all you can about policies and procedures in your community’s management of animals.  Public awareness and sound guidance are the keys to bringing about the best behavior and practices in any community.
  • Keep issues alive by TALKING about them!  Share concerns and information about animal issues in your community with others: friends, family, neighbors.  Don’t let your concerns be swept under the rug – out of sight and out of mind. 
  • Put it in Writing.  Do you like to write? Identify specific issues in need of change in your community – for instance a need for a ban on dogs-running-at-large or to increase enforcement of licensing laws because too many dogs are found stray with no tags.  In the wake of a specific occurrence or public disturbance ask your local paper to run a story.  Once an issue is in the papers you can also build on it with well-written, timely letters to the editor.  If you really like to write, consider proposing a series of public information articles on responsible pet care topics that you could write for your local newspaper.
  • Enlist friends to work with you! Engaging in your community is much more fun as well as more effective when you can voice your interests in concert with others who share those interests.  A growing chorus of knowledgeable and respectful voices making a reasonable request is difficult to avoid.  Your leaders need to hear your persistent sincerity and that others share your concerns. 
I'm happy to offer you suggestions, direct you to information, or provide other assistance I can to help you in your efforts.  The critical point is that you find ways to make your knowledge and expectations known to your community members and leaders and that you be respectful, reasonably well-informed, and honest.  You can contact me: Alice Leigh at alm@myrtlerun.com or 540-967-0999.  Your thoughts and additions below are welcomed!