Rescue Remedy: What Is the Best Use of Human Resources in the Fight Against Pet Overpopulation?
Yesterday I made a pro-bono house call to a rescue organization’s home base. The sprawling melee of cages and runs—mostly open to the stifling Miami summer heat—left me cold. Is there nothing more we can do to help these unwanted pets? Does it have to come to hard labor under daunting conditions to deal with society’s failure to control pet overpopulation?
At this facility, the volunteer staff was working as hard as humanly possible. No sane person would question their dedication and work ethic. But the sheer magnitude of the job, given the limitations of their resources, financial and otherwise, was reminiscent of Sisyphus and his eternal battle with the boulder.
Most small animal vets have made visits to rescue groups` facilities. We have witnessed first-hand the tremendous efforts of the founders and volunteers against the continuous onslaught of needy pets at their doorsteps. The animal rescue job is so huge as to appear insurmountable. Considering the magnitude of the pet overpopulation problem and the relatively puny impact of these rescue efforts, I believe it is.
I hold the efforts of rescue organizations in high regard. I have even vowed, should a financial windfall befall me, to establish a foundation that supports the best among these; perhaps, ambition permitting, to create one of my own. In the meantime, I make occasional on-site veterinary visits and take home one or two foster pets every year—no small task considering my schedule, I assure you.
And I’m not alone. Most vets take on more than their share in the fight against pet overpopulation, knowing their skills are well utilized here, just as rescue groups and their volunteers see this as their calling.
But those of us with our elbows deep in the muck of this work are well on our way towards burnout. I daresay nearly half the rescue volunteers on duty today will relinquish their jobs by year’s end. It can be demoralizing to work so hard on the depressingly needy with no end in sight. When we experience society’s disregard for the defenseless, whether it be for humans or animals, we lose an innocence we’d rather not have forgone and, with it, our drive to make a difference.
Perhaps there’s a better way. Given the stress and hardship inherent to the front lines of any fight, should we perhaps not aim higher on the food chain in the crusade against pet overpopulation? Should we not find ways to increase our efficiency—let’s say, on K Street—and wage a real war instead of the multitude of decentralized, inefficient battles we now fight?
I realize this is not a new concept. Rescue organizations have always supported legal measures to enhance their efforts. The success in Rhode Island, where the legislature has passed a law requiring the castration of all cats, is a recent example. This legislation is sure to yield measurable effects in the pet population within the year—while countless rescue groups and people like me play a futile game of catch-up. And yet, in terms of both man-hours and money, work at the legislative level is dwarfed by the time we toil in the kennels and the expense we shoulder within the rescue community.
So why does this happen? When a community suffers a problem—from an excess of street garbage to a huge influx of traffic—a group typically forms to petition the local government. When the problem is an explosion in the cat or dog population, government appeals seem either ineffective or dismissible; powerful coalitions are not formed and any public pleas seem to fall on deaf ears.
I have a theory: Although growing in strength, rescue groups and animal welfare organizations in general have historically been comprised of marginalized, individualistic actors whose beliefs have been relegated by society to the realm of the eccentric. No doubt, some of us are. But more to the point: we have traditionally perceived ourselves as underdogs, more comfortable taking action directly and by our own means. In short, we haven’t always played well with others.
While there will always be a need for those who, of our own choice or particular calling, will continue to minister to the dispossessed pets of our communities directly, I believe we will soon have the ability, within our ranks, to come together with more ambitious goals in mind: to address the problem at its source. Although we will first have to dispense with our egos and parochialisms—no mean feat, I’ll concede—I believe the movement is gaining ground as our pet-centric culture becomes ever more so and as the Rhode Islands of this country prove themselves at a national level.
But no amount of personal griping as we clean cage after cage—and certainly no gnashing of teeth within our own circles—will lead to any change in legislation. After yesterday’s visit to this dirty rescue facility, I have decided upon a new way to allocate my lottery winnings: I will establish a foundation that financially supports lobbying efforts long before I’ll throw one dime in the direction of any animal rescue group.
And now you’ll have to excuse me—I have to go clean the pee off my living room rug.