Quite understandably, readers of The News-Times Sunday story, "Sterilize or Euthanize?" are reacting strongly.
In particular, some readers are disturbed by the photos of Columbia County Animal Care and Control workers taking a little mixed-breed Lab to his death by lethal injection.
Does it make them uncomfortable? Maybe a little squeamish?
The photo depicts one cute little dog, being led away and put to sleep - no, scratch that; being executed - just to make more room at the county shelter.
For readers shaken by such images, ponder this: What did the other 16,113 look like?
Since 2003 through June 5 of this year, that's how many animals have died by lethal injection at Columbia County's facility. Many of those 16,113 were as cute, or cuter, than that little Lab.
But this isn't about how cuddly the animals are. This is about how many of them there are - and in Columbia County, there are far too many unwanted animals, and taxpayers can't build a shelter large enough to hold them all.
Of the estimated 52,528 pet dogs and cats in Columbia County, far too many have not been spayed or neutered. Many of these are puppy and kitten factories, popping out litters of unwanted animals that ultimately wind up at Animal Control - and, from there, to a back room where a lethal overdose of pain-killers ends the unfortunate animal's life.
Amazingly, many cast blame - and vocal criticism - at Animal Control for conducting euthanasia. That is as absurd as blaming deputies for drunken drivers' automobile crashes. In both cases, their thankless job is to clean up after irresponsible people.
Animal Control has some powerful allies in this fight, most notably the county's volunteer rescue organizations. Thanks to their help, even as the county's people population has grown, the number of euthanized animals has steadily declined for the past five years.
In 2003, 77 percent of all animals brought in to the Appling shelter were euthanized. So far this year, just 59 percent of animals brought to the shelter have been killed. That is astoundingly good news of a very promising trend.
Two more things are needed to improve these numbers.
- First, and most obvious, more pet owners must sterilize their pets. Don't buy the absurd folk tales about animals needing to have "at least one litter" to be healthy; every litter of unwanted animals creates a family tree of explosive growth that makes the problem exponentially worse.
- Second, the animal rescue agencies and Animal Control must focus their words and efforts on the common "enemy": irresponsible pet owners. Too many rescue volunteers are themselves irresponsible in their criticism of Animal Control and its staff, who have a difficult job under the best of circumstances. All of them can make far more progress by working together.
Some of that cooperation might be as uncomfortable as seeing those photos of a cute dog being led to his death. But if that means even fewer euthanized animals, everyone wins.
Especially the animals.
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