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Rescue Groups Unite . . .

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The lifeline for many animals in our society are local rescue groups who take the initiative to save our furry friends as if on a survival mission. Far too many animals are abused, neglected and discarded in this world and the dark indifferent side of the human species is responsible. Fortunately, there are caring and compassionate people in communities throughout the country who are there to make a difference for the damaged animals they find.

Most of these groups do some very heavy lifting and a terrific job with scant resources. Government entities like Orange County Animal Services (OCAS) in Florida rely heavily on local rescue groups to help them find forever homes for many of the animals that come to them through their enforcement or shelter services. Often rescue groups are the last resort before another animal is euthanized. They are an invaluable resource, and act very much independently without the advantage of collective thought.

There are large and small non-governmental organizations whose mission it is to help animals. Often they can focus only on the very moment as they are constantly being called upon to provide their services to yet another animal in need. On January 25th, Pookie's Pet Nutrition & Bow Wow Bakery held their 6th annual RescueFest to benefit pet adoption and services throughout Central Florida. In their festival booklet, there are at least forty organizations listed dedicated to the rescue, adoption and well-being of animals.

We're sure these organizations are respectful of the work each does on their own, but what might happen if they were brought together in the same room to learn from one another and plan for the future as a binding force? Of course there may be differences of opinion and approach, but wouldn't it be fascinating to see the energy that each brings to the other to benefit animals as the ultimate goal. This is not to say these organizations don't do great work now because they do, but how much stronger would their work be on behalf of animals if there were greater communication, planning and sharing of ideas if they formed a working group committed to an agreed upon mission and goals?

We've always believed that government needs to take a greater responsibility for the animals and the people who care for and about them in their communities. Perhaps OCAS had that in mind when they recruited for a new Animal Services Program Coordinator a few months ago. Recognizing that their rescue program is growing, they are now taking steps to greater involve themselves as a governmental representative with rescue groups to help fulfill a role that has begged for greater involvement to better serve animals.

We have always believed that animal related issues and services should be on equal footing, if not more, with all other important considerations that face government daily. We need for government to put a public face on the protection and care of animals that depend on us for their survival. Say what you will, but government still rows the boat in the communities they serve.

Relationships need to be built and a working trust established that will be supported by government highlighting the needs of homeless animals and resources to get the job done. Governments and the non-profit sector need to work together!

Like many non-profit entities devoted to animals, Florida Little Dog Rescue, a 501(c)3 Charitable Organization, "rehabilitates unwanted, abused and abandoned little dogs and places them in loving and responsible homes to live out their lives as cherished family members." They are an integral part of the Central Florida rescue network, but with any group effort there needs to be a leader and a central coordination point to keep the group focused and interested in what can be accomplished working in tandem as pieces of the whole puzzle.

We believe government needs to push this effort forward in partnership with the non-profit community. Perhaps it is the time for Orange County to take initiative by forming a central coalition with surrounding governments and the non-profit community to benefit animals by calling upon each other to build a collective strength. OCAS should be represented by a coordinator who recognizes the value in establishing a meaningful working relationship with rescue and other animal related groups. Someone who is a great communicator, understands the rescue community, and is an animal lover with great compassion.

Of course, it is important to understand not to expect an immediate turnaround in existing attitudes within the animal community. There has always been a certain amount of tension between government and different rescue groups on how to conduct their business and what they can and cannot do. For that matter, there is often a certain amount of tension between different non-profit animal groups too as they each have their own philosophy of how things should be done. Perhaps that is natural for human beings who interact, as we all are flawed in one way or another, and can create a certain level of mistrust. However, the time is well overdue for us to come together and build a bridge to the greater good that will benefit the animals we serve.

Our advice to the new OCAS coordinator is to invite members of the rescue community and governments in Central Florida, and perhaps beyond, to a meeting for the purpose of organizing a coalition that will advocate unity, planning into the future, and a process in which people meet people face to face, begin to talk and start sharing each other's experience and strengths.

At first, set up reachable goals to set the stage for greater integration of philosophy, trust and potential solutions to the many issues facing our care and concern for animals every day. Recognize strength in numbers and the power of acting together to effect change in addressing the public issues of homeless animals, abuse and neglect. Caring for animals should be a front page issue in everyone's community and it is incumbent upon government and the non-profit community to act upon that together.

From our past, we remember the first time the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Animal Services Committee met to organize and plan its role in the Washington Metropolitan Region. Rodney Taylor, Director of the Animal Management Division in Prince George's County remarked at the time, "In my 18 years of experience, this was the first time I saw all that knowledge in one room. I knew something good was going to come out of this." That same "something good" can happen here in Central Florida.

We know this will be a challenging endeavor to launch and maintain interest, but one that will be worth the hard work if we help the animals we love have better lives and a chance at survival. We know that sometimes this sounds like a broken record, but still believe in the strength gained from bringing disparate efforts together where everyone is focused on the ultimate mission of saving animal lives.

Readers, if this working group comes to fruition, what should their priorities be? How can they better effect the goal of adopting animals to forever homes and protecting them from abuse and neglect? Let us hear your thoughts . . .
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Dateline Sochi, Russia:
According to a recent Orlando Sentinel column by George Diaz, "On the aesthetic front, the city of Sochi has hired a pest-control company assigned to kill hundreds of homeless dogs and cats. A local activist trying to rescue some dogs estimates that 5,000 to 7,000 already have been killed." When dogs and cats lose their lives because of aesthetics fronting a sporting competition that is enough said about the Olympics being held in Russia.

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