Sunday, January 25, 2009

Humane Disconnections

Why Humane Education Needs a Broader Outlook

In traditional animal sheltering and control philosophy, humane education and outreach usually boils down to visiting schools and trying to reach future generations (children) with a message of compassion and responsibility toward companion animals, and that message is usually very oriented toward the importance of spay/neuter. Usually not included in humane education is teaching children how to understand animals and their behaviors and reasons for these and issues that can arise and how to deal with them, nor bite prevention tips, nor the amount of work it takes to care for animals, etc. After decades of humane education, it is hard to tell how much of an impact this approach has had. There are no studies that have tracked its progress from a practical or statistical perspective, such as tracking how many children in a given humane education program have grown up to be more responsible pet guardians or if they have had an influence on their own families.

I grew up in a small, poor, predominately Hispanic community myself. I can say that many people were neglectful of their animals (or worse), and there are still issues with abuse/neglect, hoarding, dogs running at large, etc., in this town. Yet, I also witnessed transformations, starting with my own immediate family. I have personally influenced friends and co-workers to a more humane perspective in ways that were not accusatory/judgmental. I can say I have seen many people change from neglectful/irresponsible owners to responsible/caring guardians who have learned to accept and love animals as members of their families--bringing them inside the home instead of strictly outside, etc.

I think there is hope, but I think humane education and outreach has to grow and change to reach more people and to not just focus on future generations. I say that keeping with tradition in humane education cannot hurt anyone or anything, but I think we need to also think outside the box and expand the information we impart to the public. We need to come up with ways to reach adults through outreach, hands-on work in the community, stronger pet retention efforts with advice about the realities and strategies of day-to-day life with dogs and cats, as well as savvy and catchy public relations techniques. Advertising is a powerful tool from which animal welfare could benefit much more.

I have talked before about the huge disconnect between animal-welfare workers and volunteers and the general public. I have also pointed out that animal welfare suffers from a very elitist view oftentimes, with too much "othering" of people who are not perfect animal guardians or perceived as such. I think we need to mend these gaps--slowly but surely--and learn how to communicate with people and get past the judgments. How many times do we hear ourselves think and say things like the following: We find a loose dog, assume the worst, and we say, "I can't believe people let this dog run loose without a collar or tag", etc. We assume they are not worthy of the animal without knowing any details about the animal or his/her owner. Well, first of all, we should believe whatever we see because we see things like this every day. Instead of getting caught up in disbelief, we should be trying to sincerely understand WHY and HOW, and not only that, but how we can communicate and reach into a person to bring out more of their humane compassion and understanding or help them reach their own light bulb moments. Most people possess some compassion toward animals. We need to ask ourselves how we can help change their views toward animals or help them be more responsible. Maybe they need to be taught and educated about all the options that exist if they lose an animal or find one, etc. We think everyone knows this stuff, yet if you talk to the average person, many do not have all the information they need.

I have a "Mending Fences" idea that would target outlying/poor areas that show more animal neglect. We could provide supplies such as houses, food, better tie-outs if that is what a dog's life must be for the time being, etc. We could do presentations at community centers that focus on animal behavior, care, expectations, needs, the joy and accomplishment of properly walking dogs and leading them on a leash, etc. While helping people learn how to better contain their animals in their yards, for example, we can talk to them about the social nature of animals and why they need and thrive from human attention and how many of their bad behaviors stem from boredom and neglect. While there, we could interact with their dogs and cats in ways that are different from what they are used to ... teach them how to teach an old dog a new trick ... etc. These would be the building blocks for bettering the lives of those animals we pass by and look at from afar ... wishing we could do something to help them.

NACA article link

As I reported recently, the National Animal Control Association (NACA) and their president, Mark Kumpf, have come out with a complete new policy statement concerning cat management. One of the articles about this recent change is online at HSUS's Animal "Taking a Broader View of Cats in the Community."

In this article and interview, Kumpf shows some wonderful insight to what is meant by a more care and control model for animal control agencies. It's also about a complete philosophy shift in this industry, much like No Kill is a shift in how shelters do business and relate to the public. Kumpf says: "What we're saying is the old standard isn't good enough anymore. You need to be able to be flexible with your community animal management strategies for both cats and dogs. And if you continue to follow the old philosophy, eventually everybody else is going to pass you by. Progressive communities are seeing that being flexible in their strategy allows for economic savings. The cost for picking up and simply euthanizing and disposing animals is horrendous, in both the philosophical and the economic sense. So giving someone the alternative, and telling them it's OK to think outside the litter box ... it's an opportunity for those agencies to be able to sell that program to their administration and work on it. Our goal is to reduce needless euthanasia."

More refreshing words from the leading national animal control association could not have been spoken, and it is good to see them being spoken now ... it is never too late to get on the progressive train that all communities will someday get on board.


I wanted to urge VR to contact SNAP directly to ask all of your questions (at 575-524-9265). They do have answers and are always ready and willing to work with anyone in the community who wants to fix their animal(s). Low-income guidelines are put into place from the City and County grants that SNAP receives, and I don't know all of the details of these guidelines myself. I know that the income requirements are not as low as you might expect ... in other words, you don't have to be living at the poverty level to qualify. The same guidelines used for HUD and other low-cost public services apply to SNAP's services as well.

I understand your frustration at fees charged for some services or for adopting homeless animals whose fate could very well be death, VR; however, nothing is very simple. I think fairness needs to be the guide for how much of a fee is charged for any given thing, and not all people will agree with any one decision. For example, to compete with people selling puppies out of boxes in parking lots, your prices cannot be too high, but the other side of the coin is that when you pay for something, it holds more worth than if that something were given to you for free. That said, it behooves us all to revisit the reasons behind the decisions we make, and people need to have different services from which to choose. You also have to show flexibility and willingness to try new things and track the progress and all the factors that apply to success or failure.

When it comes to low-cost spay/neuter services in our area at this time targeted to low-income families, SNAP is the only organization working in that area. It is my understanding that the Animal Services Center, the shelter, is also going to start offering low-cost spay/neuter and possibly vaccination services to the public again if they aren't doing so already. They needed to hire a new vet to get back into business. To find out when these services will be available, call the shelter at 575-382-0018.