Look up charitable giving in the United States (Google, Guidestar, etc.) and there you will find us, at the very bottom of the list. That’s right, the area of animal welfare/environment receives just two cents of the charitable dollar. When I think of that, and the many changes that have occurred in recent years in animal welfare, especially regarding companion animals, I am amazed at how much has been accomplished with so little.
One of the largest changes has been the elimination of the pound. The move to true sheltering, caring, and adoption of stray animals through innovative and targeted services has made a deep and lasting improvement in the lives of companion animals. Everyone within animal welfare knows that estimates in the 1970’s of animals being euthanized in shelters was astronomical (15 to 25 million deaths annually, depending on who you read). That number has been drastically reduced to 3 to 7 million thanks to the rise of volunteer rescue groups, emphasis on innovative adoption and return to owner programming, and increased public awareness by national and local sources on reducing the number of unwanted litters through low-cost spay/neuter efforts. It really is quite impressive for two pennies.
But it has also been the mindset change within many public animal control departments that has added to this success, usually without any fanfare or celebration for any positive changes made. In many areas, mostly urban, animal control officers carry a wealth of informational flyers, business cards, and brochures, to share with pet owners who are struggling to keep their pet. These usually include contact information for local subsidized or free spay/neuter, resources for medical assistance, help with problem feral cat colonies, and other helpful hints (micro-chipping, vaccinations, behavior training). Far from being the Disney image of the local dog catcher, animal control officers can be a blessing to pets and pet owners alike, and have reduced the number of animals going into private and public shelters. If you are part of the 2% and support or offer a service for needy pet owners, whether it be trapping/spay-neuter/return, or medical assistance, specific breed rescue, or other helpful (and free) service, let your animal control department know, and offer flyers or other contact information. They are best equipped to get the word out to where it is most needed.