The "Sterilize or Euthanize?" article and photos printed in The News-Times on June 22 have created more community dialogue about the overpopulation of unwanted animals than any other single effort made in the nine years that I have been the division director of Animal Care and Control in Columbia County.
When I first read the piece and saw the photos, I, too, felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The overwhelming sorrow, compassion and anger that followed have remained with me. We would likely be hard pressed to find a single person who did not have a similar reaction. That is what makes it so hard to understand why we have this problem in the first place.
I admit that euthanasia has been a topic that I have avoided because it is such a hot-button issue, but when The News-Times approached us, we knew that it was time to be up front with our community about a problem that keeps getting worse every single day. We were hopeful that raising the consciousness of the community could greatly reduce -- and eventually eliminate -- the need for euthanizing perfectly healthy animals.
A solid truth is that there are not enough homes for all of the unwanted animals dropped off by the roadside, let loose to survive alone while roaming the streets looking for food and shelter, or released to the shelter by their owners every single day. We cannot keep them at the shelter indefinitely, and as much as they try, the hard-working rescue organizations do not have enough space to come and get them all.
Are we asking people who do not really want a pet and are not willing to give the love and care required to own a pet to feel bad enough to come and adopt? Absolutely not! We are asking people to stop the problem where it starts and get any pet you own -- or an animal that just hangs around at your door -- sterilized.
Every time you see a sign posted that says, "Free Puppies" or "Free Kittens," you know the mama has not been altered and the people getting the "free pets" will not have any requirement to have them altered and the problem just keeps perpetuating itself. The outcome for these animals is inevitable unless the people who get them have them sterilized and the owners of the mother do the same.
The emotions that I felt that Sunday morning after reading the article related to both that sweet dog that had to be euthanized and the Animal Care and Control staff who actually have a job description requiring them to perform the heartbreaking task of euthanizing animals. If we felt upset at reading about it, imagine what they feel every day.
Much of the community dialogue that I mentioned before has been wrongly aimed at the shelter staff instead of where it rightly belongs, which is with the irresponsible pet owners who do not get their pets altered. Some of the comments I read stated that it looked like the kennel technician was dragging the dog in the photo, but that dog had never been leash-trained and was resistant to walk on a leash. The kennel technician you saw in that photo is the same one who cares for the shelter animals every day. A sweeter and more caring person you will never meet.
Animal Care and Control is managed by 12-year veteran Linda Fulmer, who was recently selected by her peers from nine states as the president of the Southeastern Animal Control Association. The animal control officers consistently excel in their exam scores to become certified by the National Animal Control Association, and the entire staff was recently selected as the "Columbia County Team of the Quarter" for outstanding performance of their numerous duties. These are honors that are only bestowed to high-performing and professional individuals.
I am very proud of all of our shelter employees. They are deserving of public praise for their love and kindness toward animals. Without them, what would our county look like? Fortunately, we do not have to find out because, in spite of the criticism they face, they are there every day as true advocates and protectors of all animals in our county, especially those animals that are being abused, neglected and are simply unwanted.
Yes, the article and photos were hard to take. But "out of sight, out of mind" is the wrong mind-set.
I hope that everyone will turn whatever emotions they feel about the article and photos into determination to join the county staff and our wonderful rescue organizations to educate everyone at every opportunity to have their pets spayed or neutered.
That is the only solution to this problem.
Pam Tucker is director of the Columbia County Emergency Services Division.
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