My rescued Rosie
He had red hair, amber eyes, and a heart as big as the sky. When he was just four months old he was brought in to the Humane Society shelter in the city where I used to live. His name was Woody, and like his fellow inmates, his home was a 3′ by 6′ cell.
Woody had issues. Woody had lots of energy. Woody needed to be adopted by someone who was willing to spend time running and playing with him every day. Woody was a Pit Bull. For months no one offered to commit that much to him. He waited.
I met Woody when I began volunteering at this shelter. I started by walking dogs a couple of days a week, but I soon realized I’d have to do more when I found that at any given time there were over 100 dogs living in that shelter, and there were only a handful of volunteers. There are a total of 15 shelters in the county where I lived then, and about 58 counties in that state. If every shelter housed only half the numbers mine did, the number of dogs living in shelters across the country every day is staggering
Because there were so few volunteers sometimes 10 days would pass before Woody could be taken out of his cell; over time he slowly lost his mind. For exercise, he used to run up the sides and over the top of his small space…over and over and over again.
Every animal, human or otherwise, reacts differently to incarceration. Some have been so abused that a kind voice, a safe place to sleep, and food and water is a huge improvement in their lives. Some animals are adopted quickly, especially the kittens and puppies. Some are adopted and then brought back because, for one reason or another, they didn’t fit into the family dynamic. And some, like Woody, get up every time someone comes down the row and wonder, is today my day? Will someone want to take me home? Will someone love me now?
So, I asked myself over and over again…what will change this situation? What can I do?
I’d like to see children and adults educated on the depth and breadth of the responsibility of pet ownership. I’d wish it could be mandatory that anyone who wants to adopt a pet has to work in a shelter for a month before they can. I’d like all people to know that every dog’s personality is different and not every dog will get along with every person. I’d like people to know that each dog requires different attention; some need lots of exercise and personal care, such as daily brushing or weekly grooming. I’d like people to learn the breed characteristics before committing to a dog (the Dalmatian or the Jack Russell Terrier, for instance, are extremely hyper dogs and requiring lots of play). I’d like people to know that, just because you have a back yard doesn’t mean you need a dog, and that all animals are born pure with no preconceived ideas as to how they are to act. As their owner…their pack leader…YOU influence who they become.
Let’s take the infamous Pitt Bull. I have a beautiful rescued Pit named Rosie. She wasn’t born knowing how to fight viciously, and if she were a fighter, she would have been trained to do so. Naturally, she did not learn that behavior from me. We set the tone for our animals’ temperament through the amount of love and attention we give them. We are responsible for their health and safety.
So what happened to Woody? It was inevitable; he ended up snapping at a shelter worker and he was euthanized. I believe that he’s in a better place, but I can’t help being sad that he spent nearly all of his entire time on this planet in a cage. I am sad that he never got to sleep at the foot of his owner’s bed. I am sad hat he never knew the joy of greeting his master at the door – that he never experienced the warmth of his own home – that he was never part of a family.
In my opinion, in order to prevent the fate of thousands more Woody’s, the solution to the millions of unwanted, abandoned, tortured, and discarded animals, is to have your pet spayed or neutered by its six month birthday. Puppies and kittens are adorable, but they grow into adult animals, and they require daily love and care and a lifetime commitment.
Shelters and rescue groups require that your new family member is spayed or neutered before it can go home with you. That helps with those animals, but you should know that one intact female dog can start a cascade of over 11,000 dogs in one year’s time, if she and her offspring remain unaltered. Unless you are a responsible licensed breeder, there is no reason for your dog or cat to produce more animals, some of whom will become a Woody right in your town. There are hundreds of abandoned and unwanted Woody’s being picked up or owner-surrendered every hour of every day right in your backyard, and thirty-five percent of them are pure bred. So, make a pledge today to have your pet spayed or neutered before its six month birthday, or if your pet is an adult and still intact, get it done today. Many municipalities and counties offer low cost or free spay and neuter services…and free surgery if they are a Pit Bull. If there is nothing like this available why not start a Spay and Neuter campaign of your own? Begin with your own veterinarian; he or she may be willing to charter a non-profit group under your lead. Or, if you wish, donate your time, money, or both, to your local Humane Society, animal shelter, or rescue group.
And please do it in Woody’s name.