A recent survey by the American Pet Products Association shows that 62 percent of all U.S. households, approximately 72.9 million homes, own a pet.
There are good reasons.
Several different studies (from www.americanpetproducts.org) show dogs and cats can help lower their owners’ blood pressure, reduce stress, prevent heart disease, fight depression and even lower healthcare costs as pet owners appear to make fewer doctor visits.
The least we can do is take care of our pets. That’s where “Be Kind to Animals Week,” May 6-12, comes in.
The week has been celebrated since 1915, and the goal is to “commemorate the role that animals play in our lives, promote ways to continue to treat them humanely, and encourage others, especially children, to do the same,” according to the American Humane Association (www.americanhumane.org).
Although, humane education has evolved dramatically from when Dr. William O. Stillman led the first national anti-cruelty cause in America more than 100 years ago, there’s still work to do.
There are hundreds of animal rescue groups in the Charlotte area.
Most lost, stray, rescued and surrendered animals in Mecklenburg County end up at Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department’s Animal Care and Control (animals.cmpd.org ). It’s part of the Police Department’s support services division.
Animal Care and Control must accept any animal, either dropped off or captured. Last year, they took in dogs, cats, otters, bats, pigs, deer, tarantulas and opossums.
In 2011, 18,572 animals entered the facility at 8315 Byrum Drive, most of them dogs and cats. About a quarter of those canines and felines were adopted, but most were euthanized because they were sick or unadoptable. Cats and kittens were disproportionately destroyed because, especially in the spring, there’s so many of them, and limited kennel space and foster homes available.
Animal Care and Control’s Melissa Knicely says her organization works closely with the Humane Society of Charlotte and about 120 other approved rescue groups.
“They are our partners in all this because we are all trying to find homes for more animals. We may operate differently but our end goal is the same, to save lives, to put more animals into homes, and to eliminate euthanasia,” Knicely said.
Knicely says even though folks may think of Animal Care and Control as “the dog pound,” where animals go to be put down, many of the animals they receive are adoptable and are cared for until they find a home. Often one of the local rescue groups will foster the dogs until they are adopted. The Humane Society of Charlotte is their biggest customer.
“As soon as space is available in our shelter, we go pull from Animal Control. And we want to make their stay here as short as possible. We are looking for quick turnover because the cages are valuable real estate. The quicker we can adopt out, the more lives we can save,” said Donna Canzano, Humane Society of Charlotte’s Vice President of Development.
The Humane Society of Charlotte, like most other rescue groups, depends totally on private donations. They get no federal, state, or county funds.
Barbara Bigham, of the Humane Society of Union County (www.hs-uc.org), says the depressed economy is bringing more animals to their door, but they can’t take all the animals.
“We take surrenders, but we’re limited by the number of foster homes available. We need more animal lovers to get involved,” Bigham said.
Union County Animal Control (sheriff.co.union.nc.us/animalctrl.aspx) is operated by the Sherriff’s office. Lt. Michelle Starnes, Director of Union County Animal Services, says that of the almost 7,000 animals the open admission shelter received last year, about 5,000 were euthanized, even though the facility has an active adoption and foster program.
“We’re a small shelter with limited space, and we can’t turn anything away. We especially need more foster homes for our animals. We have over 200 volunteers, but could use more,” Starnes said.
Though it’s not mandatory in Mecklenburg or surrounding counties, all involved agree that spaying and neutering is the only way to reduce euthanasia.
“Spay or neuter your pets and encourage your neighbors to do so… If you know a neighbor who can’t afford it, or has no transportation, offer to help them,” Bigham said.
Canzano said “The way I look at it, if just one animal is put down, it’s the entire community’s fault.”