South Paws in the North
This is a continuation of my Reading Series for the non-fiction book, Dogland, where I blog my thoughts and reactions to each chapter as I read through the book. Please feel free to read along or comment on the topics below!
This chapter, South Paws in the North, discusses the contested issue of bringing dogs from southern shelters to get adopted in the north. (As a refresher, in the two previous chapters author Jacki Skole’s newly adopted dog, Galen, had been transported from the South and Skole was tracing Galen’s origins and learning about the shelter system.) In South Paws in the North, Skole meets rescuers Linda Wilferth, Buff Bar, and Wanda Bohannon.
I really liked this quote from Buff, where she says of animal rescue: “I tried to ignore it, because I knew if I got involved, I’m really going to get involved.” I can relate to that statement very much; as soon as I began paying attention to the plight of animals it became an all-consuming issue for me, as evidenced by blog, which I never would have started if it wasn’t for getting my feet wet in animal rescue. That’s why my twitter and blog is named The Paw Report — when I started tweeting, it was all about cats and dogs!
According to the statistics in the chapter, four million cats and dogs are euthanized in the United States every year, yet 90% of those killed were healthy and adoptable. To save the lives of animals, rescuers in the south (alongside northerners who do transport and the adopting out) work as fast as they can to get these animals to the north – like New Jersey – where, according to some, not only are cultural attitudes toward pets more welcoming but also that there are more homes for these cats and dogs. I don’t know exactly how factually true either of those things are, but anecdotally, I do know from my own personal experience of living in New Mexico and in the northeast that it does seem like concepts like spay and neuter are more accepted in the northeast.
A couple of points that were brought up in the chapter I really liked: One, the fact that the animal rescue/animal welfare community is prone to in-fighting; and two, the issues with cats, including Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and adopting cats out. In regards to cats, I thought it was interesting how the rescuers said they got more success in adopting out cats when they began offering dogs for adoption, too. When I read that part in the book, it got me thinking: Assuming it to be true that dogs are easier to get adopted than cats, I think cultural attitudes play a role here, too. Cats are generally deemed to be suspicious, feisty, impersonal and even a source of bad luck. It’s not really fair to cats that they got this bad reputation because I’ve had very close relationships with cats, and in any case, just because they don’t behave like dogs doesn’t mean their any less lovable.
The in-fighting and dramatics of the animal rescue community is overwhelming and notorious. I have witnessed firsthand groups popping up because they want to fix everything themselves and groups that die out because people can’t agree on how to approach issues. In fact, the very first activist group that I became involved in basically imploded because our “leader” was argumentative, aggressive, and accused others of being “detractors” while being accused of animal hoarding herself. I eventually got out of that group when I saw how other people were being treated by her; it started to feel more like a cult than a true movement.
But it wasn’t just that group that had its flaws. Since I started getting involved in activism around 2009/2010, I’ve learned that everyone in the animal community thinks they know the best way of dealing with issues and sometimes they really do have great ideas. Some people really do know better! But a lot of times when groups splinter off or when new groups come to fruition, it’s about ego and attention or criticizing people when they make mistakes. I totally agree with holding people accountable for things they say or do, but at the same time, not every situation requires pitchforks and an Internet mob. The non-stop drama of the activist community is mostly why I stepped back from it this past spring, deleting my Facebook and focusing on other ways I can help animals. Because while us humans are bickering and disagreeing, animals are dying.
Linda, one of the rescuers interviewed in the book, believes that if we address the problem of spay and neuter, particularly in the South, then we can reduce the number of animals in shelters, therefore reducing the amount of animals who are euthanized in shelters. This sets up nicely what will be explored next; in the following chapter, the issues of southern culture, spay and neuter, and animals as property will be discussed.
Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Dog Problem can be purchased directly through Ashland Creek Press. Interested in a preview? A book excerpt is available here.