Tuesday, August 30, 2011


      Most of the time, when you’re an animal rights advocate, you find yourself feeling very discouraged and helpless. It always seems like there is more work to do but not enough people to do it, and it’s especially hard when you want to help but can’t for whatever reason. In the end, though, there are solutions to many of the problems faced by people in the animal rights movement. Implementing these solutions is the struggle. The reason for the struggle is usually attributed to lack of support from legislators, and too many animal-abusing corporations lobbying and pretty much buying their way into laws that support what they do and disregard the efforts of the good people who are fighting for those who have no voice.
       The first step for anyone who cares about animals is pretty obvious, and that is to become vegan, avoiding all or as many animal products as possible. This doesn’t just mean not eating meat and dairy products. Being vegan goes far beyond that, into purchasing goods that were not tested on animals and contain no animal by-products. It’s a lot of hard work, with research and budgeting, at first, to figure out how to replace everything from your kitchen cabinet to your medicine cabinet, but in the end, you know that you’re purchasing products that aren’t just better for the animals, but better for you and the planet on a whole. Yet, there are plenty of people who support animal rights and don’t have the wherewithal to go vegan. I could go into all the excuses I’ve heard, all the misinformation that people have absorbed and taken as gospel. These people may support conservation of certain wild animals, or they may volunteer in an animal shelter, and that’s wonderful, but they could take their activism a giant leap forward by going vegetarian, if not vegan. At that point, in their daily actions, they would be contributing to the lives of all animals, from those that are farmed to those that are affected by the environmental destruction caused by factory farms, to those dogs, cats, primates, etc. that are tested on in research labs, and those animals used for entertainment in circuses, for example. Going vegan is the first step in ending the suffering and exploitation of animals around the globe. Being vegan doesn’t stop at saving some species; it saves all species. A ¼ cup serving of red lentils contains 13 grams of protein. A ½ cup of black beans contains 15% of your DV for iron. Supplements and fortified foods provide Vitamin B12. Pursued correctly, a vegan diet can provide far greater benefits than an omnivorous one. Once we get rid of the misinformation that’s been put out there by the profit-hungry meat and dairy lobbies, more people will see even more reason to go vegan.
       But what I really want to focus on in this article is a solution to the overpopulation of dogs and cats in shelters across the nation, and around the world. Every year, millions of animals are euthanized in kill shelters just in the U.S., and it seems like every few weeks, a new headline appears that exposes these shelters’ cruel, unsanitary, inhumane practices, often involving workers doing horrendous things like using a kitten as target practice. Going vegan won’t solve this problem, unfortunately. Much more needs to be done for these animals.
       With a degree in Business, a certification in Non-Profit Management, and a genuinely entrepreneurial spirit, I would love to find my way into a career that has me working with animals in a shelter. Problem is, I don’t have the strength in my heart to work in a government-funded kill shelter. I firmly believe that you need to have a cold heart to work in those kinds of places, and that is probably why so many stories of abuse and ill treatment abound from these pseudo-shelters. I will never discount, however, the genuine people who work at kill shelters and who post about urgent animals on social networking sites in order to coordinate rescue before the animals are killed. Healthy, vibrant creatures are put down every day, oftentimes for no reason other than lack of space. Kittens that aren’t yet weaned are put to sleep along with their mothers, and pregnant dogs and cats are seen as a burden and euthanized, never given a second chance. Decisions are made to put down an animal if s/he merely catches a cold, easily cured by some antibiotics. It seems that any excuse to euthanize is used. Yet the public, perhaps ignorant to all of this, continues to surrender animals, whether their own pets they no longer care for or strays off the streets, to kill shelters, where they are most likely doomed to die. Better they had stayed on the streets, wouldn’t you say?
       Although there are no-kill shelters and a growing movement towards a no-kill society, these smaller shelters tend to run solely on a few dedicated volunteers and donations. What you’ll often find is that no-kill shelters don’t have enough money, especially these days, to rent a brick-and-mortar location. Even the ones that are lucky enough to find space to house their animals don’t always have paid employees. But these are the true shelters, the havens until these animals find their forever homes, and sometimes the homes of animals who cannot find adopters. Some animals spend their entire lives in these places, thanks to the love and consideration of the people who implement these no-kill policies. Given love, freedom time outside cages, and adequate nutrition and socialization, these animals are able to comfortably live their lives at these shelters, for as long as necessary. But we need more of them, a lot more. We can’t just convert the kill shelters into no-kills because disaster will ensue when these places become overpopulated (and possibly unsanitary and inhumane all over again) and too many animals would then need to be turned away. So we need more facilities, more places people can bring animals to be sheltered and cared for indefinitely in the most humane ways.
       Would it be possible to change the ways of our society and convert all the kill shelters into no-kill facilities? Would it be possible to take the funding provided to kill shelters and put it towards no-kill environments? Can we get more government funding to open more no-kill shelters? Can we funnel more funding toward small non-profit businesses, and less money and bailouts toward banks and corporations? Can we actually create jobs by employing workers in these new no-kill shelters, screening them more stringently while providing more oversight for the welfare of the animals? Is it possible for our government to step in for once in favor of the animals and not against them? Can we help our economy by creating jobs for individuals—there are so many out there—who want to work in animal care? These are possible solutions, just ideas. Again, the hardest part is making the changes.
       Trap-Neuter-Return also works. Colonies of feral cats are able to live out their lives after being spayed and neutered, and there’s no need to take them to shelters to be killed after a few weeks, or days, even. Before cats were domesticated, they were wild. Opponents say TNR works at the detriment of wild bird populations. But what if we provided wild birds with more nesting places, more trees, maybe put some food out for them, provide them with more habitat since we take so much away? Small, manageable cat colonies that will eventually die away because they’ve been neutered cannot compare to the destruction caused by humans, with their towering buildings of glass that lead to deadly collisions, for example, or the pollution of land and water with pesticides and herbicides.
       Yet another problem that leads to the overpopulation of domesticated animals is people who breed their pets for profits. It is certainly bad enough that breeding mills haven’t yet been made illegal. Can we get stronger laws in place that will require pet owners to spay/neuter their pets to avoid so much breeding, especially the accidental breeding that leads people to dump the animals they don’t want to care for? Can we also entice the public to adopt instead of buy animals from pet stores that are supplied by mills by telling them about all the purebreds they crave being available in shelters too?
       John Lennon used to say, “There are no problems, only solutions.” This article serves up some of my ideas, however small or grandiose. However theoretical, who knows, maybe they’ll be possible one day, if we all work on them together. What are your ideas for saving the lives of more animals? Let’s work together to actually do something. Scholars have said for centuries that humanity must evolve towards a way of life that does not involve consuming or controlling animals. How much longer must we all wait? But what can we all do in the meantime?   

- Lisa Selvaggio

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