When Lori Anderson announced she was hostessing an Art of Awareness blog hop, I knew I had to sign up. It sounded like a great way to promote a cause near and dear to my heart.
The idea is to choose a cause, get an Awareness Bean bead specially made by Heather Millican of Swoondimples, and create jewelry or something with it. The beads are called “beans” because, well, just look at them.
I chose homeless animals as the cause about which to bring awareness through this hop. The bean bead I got from Heather says “Kind Heart.” That’s what people who choose to adopt, foster, and care for stray and homeless animals have: kind hearts.
You have probably seen awareness ribbons in a rainbow of colors. There’s an official color ribbon for just about any cause you can think of. The list of awareness campaigns is quite long, and the same color may be used by more than one cause. It can get rather confusing.
The awareness color for “humane treatment of animals” is orange, and the color for “animal abuse” awareness is purple. Both of those colors are also associated with a handful of other causes having nothing to do with animals. There’s also a purple-black-brindle awareness ribbon for “no kill” awareness, which is about supporting No Kill animal shelters.
My Awareness Bean is not any of those colors. It is a lovely spring green, because I saw the color in Heather’s shop and liked it. Heather could have made my Awareness Bean in any color I chose. I decided not to choose an “official” color because it isn’t the color that matters. It’s the message.
The Message is in the Numbers
There’s no good way to ease into this. So I’m just going to get right to it. Each year, a staggering 7.6 million companion animals (mostly dogs and cats) enter shelters in the U.S. alone. (Statistics from the ASPCA.)
Some are adopted. Some are returned to their owners. And more than 30% (more than 6,000 per day) are euthanized. Not because they were terminally ill and it was the humane thing to do, although that is occasionally the case. Not because they were a threat to humans and not rehabilitatable, which is rarely the case. But simply, and sadly, because there are far more homeless cats and dogs than there are spaces in shelters.
In addition to the nearly 8 million animals coming into U.S. shelters each year, it is estimated that there are another 70 million cats alone living on the streets. And these numbers don’t take into account rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, birds, and other animals surrendered to shelters or simply abandoned. And again, these U.S. numbers are just a fraction of the global total.
I decided to pair my Awareness Bean with a black cat and black dog, custom made for me by Rejetta Sellers of Jetta Bug Jewelry. Did you know more black cats and dogs are turned into shelters, and euthanized, than any other colors? (According to this study of the statistics.) The statistics don’t tell us why that is. What they do tell us is that animals of every color and breed can end up homeless or euthanized.
I know many kind-hearted people who have adopted cats and dogs (and ferrets, rabbits, etc.) from shelters and rescue organizations. Not to mention those of us who simply opened our doors to the strays on or under the porch. I also know people who work in shelters or for rescue organizations or trap-neuter-return programs, all doing what they can to reduce the magnitude of the problem.
What can you do to help?
Don’t shop – Adopt
Don’t support puppy mills or other commercial breeders of any type of animal. When you’re looking for a companion animal, visit a shelter or rescue organization. Did you know that even “pure breed” dogs and cats end up in shelters? Or that there are breed-specific rescue organizations?
So if there’s a particular type of dog, cat, rabbit, etc. you have your heart set on, you can probably find a homeless one in need of adoption and save a life. Just do an internet search for “breed specific rescue organization” and you will find dozens of sites. This list has links to pretty much any breed of dog or cat you’ve ever heard of.
Support animal shelters and rescue organizations
No-kill animal shelters that are dedicated to finding forever homes for the animals in their care don’t euthanize animals simply because they’ve been in the shelter for a designated number of days, or because they’re past a certain age, or because they have special needs. But they have limited space and resources, so they can’t take in every animal brought to them.
Shelters that do euthanize healthy animals are not inherently evil, and also need support. It’s not a simple issue. They are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of animals in need of homes. They have limited resources and have to make judgement calls about who lives or dies, based on who they think is most likely to get adopted. It’s a choice they should not have to make.
Your support doesn’t have to be financial. Many shelters will also gladly accept donations of food, cat litter, bedding, and other items. Just contact them or visit their websites to find out what’s on their wish list. Some will also welcome volunteers to help feed, groom, walk, socialize, and care for the animals.
Rescue organizations also welcome this kind of support, and many are in desperate need of more volunteers who can provide foster homes for animals until they get adopted. Many rescue organizations take animals from shelters (not the no-kill ones, the other kind), effectively saving them from death row, or giving another animal a little more time because it frees up space and resources.
Support Trap-Neuter-Return programs
Feral cats, the ones born on the streets (or in the woods, etc.) and not raised and socialized by people, are generally not considered adoptable by shelters. If you bring a feral cat to a shelter, chances are it will be euthanized almost immediately.
Trap-Neuter-Return programs, or TNR, aim to reduce the size of feral cat populations humanely by capturing cats, getting them neutered (or spayed) and returning them to their colony, where they will live out their life without adding more cats to the population.
Studies in multiple countries have demonstrated these programs are more effective than euthanizing the cats. This is because there are so many feral cats (thanks to people abandoning their un-neutered cats, or letting their intact cats roam freely) that when one is removed from a colony, another moves in to take its place.
The ultimate success of these programs is dependent on their expansion. Their goal is basically to put themselves out of business by making sure every feral cat is neutered. You can support these organizations with financial donations, and some will accept volunteers to help trap and return cats or monitor colonies.
Oppose breed-specific legislation
Legislation that prohibits ownership of dogs of specific breeds is another reason animals end up homeless or euthanized. People are forced to surrender their dogs, or dogs may be seized outright by local officials. And the reality is, there’s no such thing as a “vicious” breed. Are there aggressive dogs? Certainly. Are some breeds larger or more powerful than others. To be sure. We made them that way through selective breeding.
Does that mean you can tell which dogs are likely to attack people or other animals based on their pedigree? Absolutely not. I was bit and severely injured by a neighbor’s Saint Bernard. You know, the big fluffy goofy drooling dogs from the Disney Beethoven and Peter Pan movies. Yep. One of those took a bite out of the side of my face when I was a toddler.
There is zero evidence that breed-specific legislation is effective at making communities safer for people or their companion animals. Neither the Centers for Disease Control nor the American Veterinary Medical Association support breed-specific legislation.
Breed-specific legislation, in addition to having flaws too numerous to list here, shifts resources away from effective enforcement of laws that have the best chance of making communities safer, like leash laws, animal fighting laws, and laws that require guardians of all dog breeds to control their pets. Encourage lawmakers to emphasize these types of laws, and vote “no” on proposals to enact breed-specific laws.
Be a Responsible Pet Guardian
If you are the proud guardian or pet-parent of any kind of animal, let your furry (or finned, scaled or feathered) companions and your actions be good-will ambassadors. Show landlords, neighbors, legislators, and others that responsible pet guardians equal cats, dogs, bunnies, etc. that don’t destroy property, disturb the peace, or otherwise become nuisances.
Lead by example. Keep your critters indoors, in a carrier, on a leash, or otherwise contained. Domestic animals should never be allowed to roam free. The ASPCA reports that many strays are lost pets who were not kept properly indoors or provided with identification.
Spay and neuter. Seriously. There is no valid reason not to. Not one. Intact animals will go to extreme measures to escape and roam the neighborhood in search of mates. And if you are successful at keeping them indoors, they are likely to be driven by their hormones to engage in destructive behaviors like marking. They truly can’t help it. But you can. There are low and no-cost spay/neuter programs and some local veterinarians will charge on a sliding scale based on what you can pay. So, no excuses. Get it done.
Remember being a guardian (or pet parent, if you prefer) is supposed to be for better or worse, in sickness and in health, ’til death do you part. Don’t adopt if you don’t have the time or are not able or prepared to give an animal a forever home. (And please don’t give animals as gifts to anyone without making sure it’s a responsibility they want.) There are still ways to get your furbaby fix without adopting. You can volunteer at a shelter, be a foster parent, or be a dog walker or pet sitter.
And now, the hop
Thank you so much for stopping by. While the statistics on this issue are depressing, there are lots of simple ways we can help make things better. Many thanks to our hostess, Lori, for coming up with this idea, and to Heather for making the very special beads. Be sure to visit Lori’s post, which will have links to the rest of the hop participants. And remember to hug your furbabies. Or not, if they’re not the furry or cuddly kind of critter.
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