There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Greatness of a Nation - 1

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
- Mahatma Gandhi

This is going to be a long one. Try to hang in there.

I do volunteer work for Dachshund rescue. I got into this because I got a great dog from a dachshund rescue organization and wanted to give something back. My original thoughts when joining my organization were of helping find loving homes for homeless animals and this is in fact a fair description of what I do. What I didn't count on was the constant head on encounters with selfishness, insensitivity, mind boggling cruelty and sometimes just gut-wrenching horror. (Disclaimer: My experiences are with dogs so I'm writing about dogs. I'm sure that things are just as bad for cats. So cat people please refrain from any accusations of dog chauvinism. Further disclaimer: My experiences are with dachshunds. Pit Bull aficionados be sure to write your own rant.)

How many people are involved in Dog rescue? It's hard to find a figure for this but consider; a search on Google for "dog rescue" returned 1,390,000 hits. A search for "dachshund rescue" returned 167,000. And what is the need? The American Humane society supplied these statistics for the year 1997:

* Of the 1,000 shelters that replied to the National Council's survey, 4.3 million animals were handled.

* In 1997 roughly 64% of the total number of animals that entered shelters were euthanized -- approximately 2.7 million animals in just these 1,000 shelters.These animals may have been put down due to overcrowding, but may have been sick, aggressive, injured, or suffered something else.

* 56% of dogs and 71% of cats that enter animal shelters are euthanized. More cats are euthanized than dogs because they are more likely to enter a shelter without any owner identification.

* Only 15% of dogs and 2% of cats that enter animal shelters are reunited with their owners.

* 25% of dogs and 24% of cats that enter animal shelters are adopted.

That's nearly 3,000 animals per year per shelter or 15 animals per working day. If you are an animal lover; and most shelter workers are there because of their love for animals, not the generally low pay; imagine that your job includes taking 15 animals a day into a room and killing them. These are animals, who because of thousands of years of domestication, have learned to depend on and trust human beings. Many are abandoned or lost pets who lick the hands of the workers who administer the gas or deadly injection so starved are they for human affection.

But this isn't about the shelters, this is about those of us who try to keep pets out of shelters, who try to intercept the unwanted pet before they get to the shelter or try to help pets already in the shelter. After all, the pet in the shelter only has a 1 in 4 chance of avoiding the hand of the euthanizer.

Let’s start with the merely selfish, insensitive and stupid. When one acquires a dachshund one gets an animal whose lifespan can extend to twenty years. Fifteen is not unusual. This is nearly as long as it takes to rear a child from infancy to independence. Recent studies indicate that dogs have intelligence comparable to that of a three year old child. I have my doubts about that, it may be an underestimate. When they want to dogs can demonstrate remarkable reasoning powers, when they don’t want to they just truck along on instinct – this tends to confuse humans who frequently equate intelligence with “what I want it to do”. My conclusion is that dogs are smarter than you think and far more laid back than humans. But that’s another rant. As mentioned previously, dogs have been domesticated to the point where they are no longer equipped to support themselves without human assistance. In addition to having had a lot of survival skills selectively bred out of them, they also have to cope with less than optimal physical traits. Thus the low profile of my breed, the respiratory problems of the pug, the bad hips of the shepherd, the size of the Chihuahua and I’m sure you can think of others. In addition to all this, dogs have been bred to bond with human beings. I’m not sure that I’m being all that anthropomorphic when I say that if this does not actually equate to affection, then it is very close to it. Watch a dog playing in the park with its master or welcoming the master home after an absence be it only a brief one. To say that the dog is experiencing something close to joy is certainly no stretch.

So we’ve established that dog ownership implies a long term relationship with a semi-intelligent species that is dependent on you and is capable of something close to emotions. Below is a list of the most common reasons that people give when they contact me to help find their dog a new home.

1. Moving
2. Landlord issues
3. Cost of pet maintenance
4. No time for pet
5. Inadequate facilities
6. Too many pets in home
7. Pet illness(es)
8. Personal problems
9. Biting
10. No homes for litter mates

I’d like for you to look at the first nine items on this list as if you were the parent of a three year old human and ask yourself “for which of these reasons would I give up my child?” A ridiculous question, right? If you were moving you’d look for proper accommodations, you’d move if the landlord gave you grief, you’d make time for the kid, you’d make whatever alterations in your living arrangements you needed. You’d deal with all your offspring and their illnesses. Whatever your problems you’d deal with them. Behavior issues would be addressed.

So what is it in the minds of so many that when they decide to get a pet, the unspoken assumption lies there hidden in the dark, swampy recesses that if situations change they can always get rid of it? Is it because you can pass this little piece of selfishness off on a stranger? “Roscoe doesn’t get along with the baby. Can you find him a new home?” Can I find him a new home?? CAN I FIND HIM A NEW HOME!!! How about a new home for the baby? How about you spend a little time to modify both Roscoe’s and the baby’s behavior. My guess is that Roscoe is not happy about having his ears and tail pulled. But wait, I forgot, you are probably going to let the baby pretty much raise itself until you can pack it off to daycare or school and hope someone else cleans up your mess there as well. But I digress. Got a problem? Just find someone to take the dog off your hands. No matter that he is emotionally attached to you, you that he depends on for everything good in his life. No matter that he will be nervous and frightened possibly for weeks after you change his whole world. He may get sick from the emotional shock. If he is already sick he will get worse.

Think that the dog will get over it? Let me tell you something. I have dealt with rescue dogs for years. I have two in my home right now. They know! When I go into a stranger’s home, if they have a dog I can tell in a few minutes whether this is a rescue dog or not. In the best case scenario the dog is almost pathetically grateful and devoted to the new owner, much more so than a dog that has been raised in the same family all his life. This is the greatest reward of rescue, you sense that gratitude, that indisputable attitude you see in the dog that something traumatic happened in his life and the new owner is his deliverer. It is a humbling experience. The other sadder case is that the dog is forever traumatized and hides and cowers from strangers and runs and hides from unfamiliar experiences. For this dog life will never be entirely good because at any moment he could lose everything. After all, it happened before.

I want to talk some about irresponsible breeding and puppy mills, but I think those are going to be rants of their own. It’s a lot to take in. Thanks for listening.