Monday, November 10, 2008

What if? (off the subject, just this once)

I was thinking about the recent tragedy at the SPCA, when a staff person accidentally backed her car over a kitten and a pregnant cat someone placed behind her wheels. Both kitties succumbed to their injuries. The staff were understandably upset, and the unknown person behind it is now the target of anger and hatred.

Now that my own horror and shock are beginning to subside, a few nagging thoughts have floated up that I'd like to share here, as an exception to my Brindi focus. The prevailing assumption in this story is that it is the result of an intentional act. But something else occurred to me, mainly because I can't help asking, is it really true? Is there a Nova Scotian so incredibly mean and cruel that they'd deliberately do such a thing? How awful would it be if they had a very different intention, and just messed up royally? What if they meant to bring the cats to the SPCA for adoption - and for some reason choked, because they were too shy or ashamed to go inside, and just left them in the parking lot and ran off? Or similarly, what if they had gone in, were told the shelter doesn't accept "owner surrenders", and didn't know what else to do? Did they take a chance that the SPCA would have to take the cats in as strays - and the bag or box ended up getting shoved too close to the car as others walked by?

Frankly, I don't know which scenario is better, on purpose or "on" accident. But if in fact it was unintentional, I doubt that person will never be able to come clean. Nobody would believe it or forgive them.

Aside from this unpleasant speculation, the story also made me aware that the Metro Shelter doesn't accept "owner-surrendered" pets. They estimate an additional 30 extra cats a day would turn up. Where do all those cats end up instead?? Does it mean that every day, people are drowning litters of kittens - or dumping a dog on the highway - because they can't drop them at the shelter? I don't know.
What also stuck with me was the judgmental - and a bit contradictory - overtone about those pesky "irresponsible owners" who want to give up their pets. The term always hits me hard, having been called an irresponsible owner myself lately. I realize lots of people have a low opinion of their fellow humans, even their neighbors. But surely not every person wishing to give up an animal at a shelter is just a selfish, shallow twit who failed to grasp or appreciate what pet ownership really means! I mean, come on!!! And even if they were - is that a legitimate basis for turning them away? Who really suffers then? A.: The animals.

The truth is, however, there are plenty of good reasons for giving up a beloved pet. Work schedules make keeping a dog impossible; allergies crop up and/or become more severe from one day to the next; a new member of the family, by birth or marriage or adoption or whatever, has allergies; the household budget can no longer afford a pet due to job loss or the addition of new family members, young or old; seniors become too weak, ill, or poor to care for their animal companions; single people of any age contract an illness and/or disability; couples divorce, both move into apartments that don't take pets; employees transferred out of town for a year or two with no one to take their pet; and so on. These are all legitimate scenarios that any "responsible owner" may have to confront one day, and in my opinion, somebody ought to be there to help. Like many others, I had always assumed that somebody is the shelter.

Saying goodbye to a pet is awful enough; having no shelter to bring it to is a sad discovery indeed. Sure, there are private shelters, but too often they're filled to the brim (and no wonder). Running an ad in the paper or online is all well and good, but doesn't always work, and how do you invent your own screening process? And if illness is the reason, how do you find and interview prospective owners, or even use word of mouth?

What's the answer? Fortunately, many others have gotten there before us. When there's not enough room in a shelter, they continue to accept animals, and send them to foster homes, which are vastly preferable to a kennel. (That's how I ended up with Princess Amelia - I fostered her when she had her kittens, and we found we just couldn't part.) There are networks of shelters across the continent that can help redistribute the extra "animal wealth" instead of destroy it. This cooperation happens a regular basis, not just after natural disasters.

I don't have any way to learn the truth about those poor cats at the SPCA last week. We may never know. I just so hate the image of some poor soul mustering up their courage and strength to give up their pet, walking into the shelter, ready to face disapproving looks and answer a lot of personal questions, only to be turned away. What do they do then? I hate to think. But somebody better!