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The saga continues with Lake County, Florida in its determination to transfer animal services under the operational control of the Sheriff's Office. We can accept the consideration of this as a new vesting point for animal services, but please don't resort to that age old argument of human interests versus animal interests as Lake County Commission Chairman Jimmy Conner has seen fit to do.

Orlando Sentinel's Lauren Ritchie recently noted this remark from Chairman Conner on animal control, "It's an important component of county government, but not as important as children's services." Did he really have to go there pitting the safety of human children against the safety of animals insofar as government is concerned? Shouldn't government be equally concerned about any victim of abuse or neglect that resides in their community; including both two and four-legged sentient beings?

If that wasn't enough, in discussing a budget cut by nearly half, Ms. Ritchie's column also contains this line, "Should unwanted pit bulls get more cash than kids? Of course not." We realize the reality of funding inadequacies plaguing local governments, but again are we really going to make this about animals versus kids? We can't stress strongly enough how much this tactic of lowering the concern for one species and implying he or she to be of an inferior worth as compared to another species annoys us. It sounds very much like the arguments made during segregation in this country where one set of beings were believed to be inferior to another. We hoped the twenty-first century would start to eliminate that kind of thinking, but obviously we were wrong.

There are many families today that consist of only adults and no two-legged children. In fact, many of those same households have four-legged children only and don't make the distinction that services for one set of children is more important than another; regardless of whether those children are two-legged or four-legged. According to the Humane Society of the United States, "Sixty-two percent of households now include at least one dog or cat". Whether they contain human or animal children or both, animals are considered family members in a majority of households in this country today.

Our four-legged friends are often the one element in our lives we refuse to give up. According to a 2013 survey from Petplan pet insurance, ". . . 67% of female pet parents would end a relationship with a significant other if their partner clashed with their pet, and nearly 60% of women plan to spend more on their four-legged loves than their lovers this Valentine's Day. Move over diamonds – it looks like pets are a girl's best friend!" Sounds like the right move to us.

On the male side of the ledger, according to the survey, men are less loyal to their four-legged friends. However according to Kenny Lamberti, program manager for the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life program, ". . . the situation is gender-neutral. He has seen plenty of men tell new girlfriends their pets are part of the deal." We couldn't agree more. If you want me you want my four-legged kids too. We're a package deal.

Said Lamberti, "Especially with men and dogs, our pets are our sidekicks. It's happened to me with previous girlfriends too. I'm not giving up my dogs; they're my buddies."

Many of us mourn our four-legged children just like we would any other family member who means the world to us. Listen to the words of Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz in talking about the death of his family's beloved Marvin. "I've kept my dog in a closet for 10 months. It's an emotional one, safe and secluded, free from pain. It's called selfish preservation. My Marvin died on May 10, 2013. He was a lovable slug, an 80-pound, slobbery boxer boy who craved attention . . . And then Marvin died . . . I sat in a cold and sterile vet's office, numb, as my wife hugged his lifeless body, sobbing that he couldn't leave us . . . No worries, Marvy. You'll be right there next to us, in our hearts." Even posthumously, Marvin was ". . . the honorary chair of the 2014 Paws for Peace Walk, a fundraiser that also heightens awareness about the impact of domestic abuse on pets and their owners."

Both animals and children are often society's victims who need us to fight for them when they can't fight for themselves. It's not an either or situation with one more important than the other. It's about doing what's right to protect them all. Let's not forget that and cloud our judgment when discussions are being held that may very well decide their fate.

Speaking of fate, the reaction to the so-called bear problem in central Florida continues. Once again there is the call for "managing" the bear population - - translation being let's kill them. We are certainly sorry about the "recent bear maulings in Seminole County." However, those Florida lawmakers who are pushing for bear hunts are trying to resolve a problem that humans created and need to deal with in a less tragic way.

In a poll conducted by the Orlando Sentinel, 65% of respondents said Florida should not establish a bear-hunting season. That majority included comments such as:

  • "Let's try taking reasonable measures to minimize and prevent unintended interaction between humans and bears before we try a hunting season."
  • "The gun nuts only want another reason to pull out their guns and start shooting. To use reason and sanity to stop feeding the bears is beyond them. Shooting everything in sight gets their juices flowing — nothing else does."
  • "We invaded the bears' territory and built a supermarket for them, aka a housing development, and now bears do what bears do: They hunt for food and take it. We shouldn't kill the bears with a hunting season. They shouldn't die for our greedy mistake of building so close to their home."

State Representative Mike Clelland (Democratic-Lake Mary), whose district includes both neighborhoods where the bear attacks occurred, called the push for bear hunting "absurd." Said Representative Clelland, "It'll only add to the public-safety issue we're dealing with now by having people hunt bears between neighborhoods. It's not the number of bears that we're most concerned about — it's bears interacting with humans. The reason they're interacting with humans is trash. We can solve that problem with bear-proof cans, not guns."

However, State Representative Jason Brodeur (Republican-Sanford) maintains that hunting is "a piece of the solution." In sensationalizing the issue Representative Brodeur said, "What I'm concerned about mainly is that this continues to happen without intervention and the bears walk up on children who are playing and drag them off into the woods." Yes, let's just put all the blame on the animals who are only following their hungry instincts to find food that humans purposely or inadvertently lure them with.

In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, one reader challenges Representative Brodeur to document his sensational claim:

". . . Can state Rep. Jason Brodeur provide one documented case of a bear dragging children off into the woods — besides a South Park episode on Comedy Central? My research has found zero instances of a bear dragging a child off into the woods in our area.

Toys left out overnight do not attract bears — unsecured garages and trash cans provide the lure to hungry bears. Simple measures like education, locking garbage cans and later trash pick-up schedules for bear-prone areas — as well as fining those who feed bears purposefully or accidentally — are solutions that don't require killing creatures that predate our arrival here.

We are supposedly an intelligent and advanced species capable of rational thought and ingenious solutions to challenges threatening us and our children. Are we not smart enough to come up with solutions that don't entail destroying something that has as much right to exist as we do?"

It's amazing how simple it seems to be for the human species to solve our problems by proposing violent acts instead of using our collective brains to find nonviolent solutions.

We, the human species, caused this problem as we often do with animal related concerns. As one commenter notes in the Orlando Sentinel once the developers got hold of the land the bears lost their home:

"I live about a mile from where the black bears were killed by state officials. I have lived here for more than 40 years. When we moved here, it was a dirt road with a sparse human population. My children and I hiked, camped, canoed and rode our horses all through this area and didn't see a bear for more than 30 years.

Then the developers found this beautiful wooded area and marched down Markham Woods Road, and with the exception of a few homes with acreage, it is now subdivision after subdivision.

The bears have lost their home and the land they needed to forage for food. Humans have created this situation. It is so wrong that some people think the only species that should have a home is the human species.

Seminole County is wealthy and should have set aside land for the native wildlife population. I hope greed does not stop the county from acquiring from the state whatever land is left for wildlife.

We should not only be looking for tax revenue, but for quality of life — all life."

We understand that people are scared about what happened with the bear attacks, but we also cannot distance ourselves from human responsibility for causing this to happen in the first place by encroaching on land where bears have lived for a long time.

Perhaps no one understands this better than Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz who lives in bear territory in Seminole County, Florida. He knows firsthand what it's like to live in close proximity to these "guys".

In a recent opinion column Diaz notes, "Bears don't have the right to stand their ground in Florida – only humans." In other words, bears are at the deadly mercy of humans even "when humans behave badly". He recognizes that bear and human interactions are our fault:

". . . Some people who live in bear country don't seem to get that. They think it's dandy to leave bird feeders out, or take the garbage out at night instead of the appropriate time during the day. Garage doors? Let's leave them open. Why be inconvenienced, even if there are some tempting treats for you guys?

Some have even gone beyond ignorance and laziness to plain stupidity. They leave food out because they think it's cute. Not really. All together now: 'A fed bear is a dead bear.'

. . . I still hold out hope that the FWC (Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission) and humans will do the right thing. Please contact the office at 1-888-404-3922 if you see someone putting food out for a bear. It is against the law.

But I still fear those dark storm clouds brewing, too, bears. There is talk of culling the herd and killing those of you who are behaving badly.

I'd prefer to cull the human herd simply by asking them to move if they don't want to play by the rules in bear country.

It's tragic to see a beautiful species compromised by humans behaving badly."

We can only hope that Diaz reflects many of those living in bear country who actually get it. We, the human species, caused this problem and it is only we who can fix it even if it forces development to stop or people to move if they can't co-exist with animal species who share their land.

Remember we have a responsibility to all life not just our own!
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A reader from Mt. Rainier, Maryland has requested we share an upcoming event on feral cats. On May 27, 2014, Alley Cat Rescue (ACR) will be hosting the fifth annual Feral Cat Spay Day.

The purpose of this event is simple to ". . . offer free and low-cost trap-neuter-return (TNR) services to those who care for feral cats to encourage the veterinary community and individuals to get involved in putting an end to cat homelessness and decreasing euthanasia rates at local shelters."

ACR believes the key to getting control of the feral cat population is a relationship between veterinarians and rescuers. "Cat rescue organizations cannot tackle this problem alone; we need the support of the veterinary community. By establishing long-term relationships between vets and rescuers, together we can help each town's stray cat population."

For more information on Free Feral Cat Spay Day, please visit www.saveacat.org.

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