This is the third and final segment in our series Becoming a No-Kill Community. Previously, we looked at the role of Education. Then, we looked at a new or expanded role of Shelters. In this segment, we will take a close look at the role of local government and the laws, ordinances and funding that either enhance or inhibit a community’s ability to become No-Kill.
As before, you are encouraged to add your voice to the conversation by using the Comments section that follows the article. Remember, it takes a community. So, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed individuals to change the world.”
Much of what’s been written about the “No-Kill Revolution” runs contrary to what’s embodied in these three articles. The ideas and opinions expressed in this series are based on the premise that, with very few exceptions, the people involved in running and staffing our local shelters and rescues do not want animals to die. Without question, the men and women who work to save animals do so with a singular purpose -- find them good homes. They work tirelessly in that pursuit and shed real tears and feel real heartbreak whenever they fail. They take it personally, because they make a silent promise to each animal that comes through their doors; a promise to give that animal another chance at a good life.
In many ways, it is because of the rules and regulations that govern the relationship between humans and animals that rescuers are inhibited in their ability to save every animal entrusted to their care. In some cases, the rules are well-meaning but based on misperceptions, myth and bias. In other cases, they are simply rules that have been around so long that no one bothers to question their relevance to current knowledge about animals and their guardians.
Here, then, are some of the rules that could benefit from being reconsidered in a more enlightened and commonsense fashion.
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)
Typically based on irrational fears or as a response to an angry component of constituents, Breed Specific Legislation has absolutely no basis in fact. The disposition or behavior of almost every companion animal is a direct result of how it has been treated or trained. Any dog, from the smallest to the largest, can become dangerously and unpredictably aggressive. BSL will not change that and simply results in animals being needlessly seized and destroyed. Instead, focus on creating a culture of responsible pet ownership. Cracking down hard on dog-fighters and those that tether their animals either permanently or for excessively long periods, would be great places to start fostering meaningful change. ITOS – It’s The Owner, Stupid, so don’t blame the animal.
Household Pet Limits
These ordinances actually serve a useful purpose to local government. They give authorities a legal basis for addressing problem situations, nuisance situations or situations that pose a threat to the health and safety of a community or neighborhood. However, often these arbitrary limits simply present a threat to good-hearted people that would otherwise have multiple pets. The result of which are more adoptable animals living in shelters rather than homes. Besides, who decided that 2, 3 or 4 was a defensible number? What is it based on? Certainly, there are some people who struggle to properly care for one pet, but there are many others who have the time, energy, desire and resources to provide wonderful homes to many more pets than the laws currently allow.
People should be able to apply for an exception to the pet limit laws in their community. By registering those households with pets in excess of the limit, they can be periodically monitored to ensure that the animals continue to receive proper care, are healthy and happy and hoarding situations are not developing. If those people and their pets are being good neighbors and not becoming a nuisance or detriment to the neighborhood, then they should be allowed to live in peace and fewer animals will face death because of an overcrowded shelter.
Spay and Neuter help
The Health Department and Animal Control could better live up to its name by being more proactive in the effort to stem the tide of unwanted pets, by collaborating in the effort to spay and neuter companion animals. Some municipalities offer reduced license fees for altered pets. However, that does not address those people who cannot afford the cost of neutering nor the higher license fee for unaltered animals. So, they do neither and the litters keep coming. However, by working with and promoting organizations like C-Snip, Pay it Forward and West Michigan Spay and Neuter, local government can help sponsor spay/neuter events, provide transportation services or direct grants to people who otherwise cannot afford the cost of altering their pets. This could ultimately prove to be a much more effective use of limited government resources, while reducing the surge of newborns that often overwhelm local shelters once or twice a year.
Something as simple as a tax credit for spaying/neutering a family pet might encourage more people to do so willingly.
No unaltered animals bought or sold
One step local government could take would be to simply prohibit anyone from buying, selling, adopting or owning an unaltered animal. That won’t stop some people from trying but, if the penalties are great enough, it would discourage the vast majority of people who otherwise might see nothing wrong with keeping their pet intact.
Crack down on backyard breeders and puppy mills
Anyone who chooses to breed their animals, should be required to be registered, licensed and regulated by local authorities. The cost associated with being a licensed breeder must be set high enough to not only discourage all but the most responsible, determined breeders, but result in the cost to purchase from a litter being extremely high as well. Ideally, this might result in breeders being discouraged from even allowing a litter, until all potential pups are spoken and paid for prior to being born. With well-regulated breeding operations kept to a minimum, it is less likely that unsold pups will be dumped at shelters.
Rename the Animal Control Department
A simple, easy, yet profound change would come from renaming the Animal Control Department to the Animal Welfare Department, because what they do is more about welfare than control. There is something more decidedly humane about being associated with animal welfare activities. So, bearing a name that reflects that will demonstrate that the officers are not as much enforcers as they are partners in solving the issues of homeless pets.
Provide proper funding for animal welfare and sheltering
It’s no secret that local governments are in a constant battle to keep their budget balanced, and animal control always seems to be forced to get by on leftovers. The question is, why? A large portion of the voting public believes that companion animals deserve the very best we can do for them, that mankind created the problem of homeless animals and mankind has an obligation to solve that problem. So, why not put that to the test by putting animal welfare and sheltering on the ballot as a millage proposal? Let the voters decide if it’s worth an extra few dollars per household per year to provide first-class care, spay/neuter services and housing to those animals who did nothing wrong.
Regardless of your political leanings, government has an impact on our daily lives and the lives of our community’s companion animals. It creates the framework for civilized people to live in harmony, each pursuing their own path to happiness. For many, that path is paved with the sweat, tears, joys and sorrows of animal rescue and the love of companion animals
Through thoughtful, well-reasoned and enlightened regulations, coupled with judicious enforcement and supported by reasonable funding, becoming a No-Kill community will no longer be your dream. It’ll be your world.
If you would like to receive an email alert whenever a new article related to West Michigan Dog Rescue is posted, please click on the “subscribe” button near the top of the article. It is free and anonymous. Thank you for reading and sharing this article. If you have story ideas related to West Michigan Dog Rescue operations or events, please send them to email@example.com. Please help be a voice for the voiceless.
To read other recent articles related to West Michigan Dog Rescue, just click on "Thom Reisterer" at the top of the page. On behalf of all the abused and abandoned dogs in our area, thank you for keeping their hopes alive.