Wednesday, May 19, 2010


The Great Falls Tribune on May 18 made a “modest proposal” just before a vote by the city council.

“Here’s a creative solution to a nagging problem: Stop rounding up and sheltering lost, runaway and abandoned dogs and cats in Great Falls.

“City officials have been wringing their hands for months about whether to enter into a partnership with the Animal Foundation to provide an adequate place for such animals to wind up.

“But where does it say that governments should provide this service?

“The easiest -- and surely the cheapest -- solution might just to be to turn their backs on the whole deal.

“Think about it. Roving packs of dogs and thousands of feral cats around town could actually solve a few other problems -- for example, mice, rats and small children running loose around the city could be a thing of the past.

“Does your neighbor have noisy chickens in the backyard? Not for long!

“If the furry critters get out of control -- or if they get rabies -- then the police could just shoot ‘em. Tidy.

“Great Falls would become the libertarian poster child of the West.

“Our motto could be: “We don’t need no stinkin’ animal shelter in Great Falls.

“Oh, wait, we already have a stinkin’ animal shelter in Great Falls.

“So maybe the motto could be: “Great Falls -- where even the dogs are free.”

So what did the council do?

Cancel the partnership.

This is part of a whole shift in mentality perhaps caused by the child-raising practices (or parent-controlling practices) of the three year old: if you don’t want to do something, pitch a fit. Right now the fit being pitched is spending money on frills, defined in varying ways. In fact, one could make a case that this sudden thrift obsession has some whiplash relationship to the previous wave of insisting that nothing is too good for our little furry pals, the pets. It’s not that the continuum of opinion is a bell curve with most people in the middle and a few outliers on each end -- it’s a dumbbell curve with everyone out on the two ends and a thin strand of reason in the middle.

What would happen if reasonable people were thinking through this issue? First they could make a list of problems. Actual harm to animals and people, like dogs in traffic, horses starved to death, cats with rabies. Then they could keep a lot of statistics. Before they could begin to do that, they would need to come up with some definitions, probably including some new ones and probably requiring some research. For instance, I don’t know of any category more useless than stray dogs. It only means unconfined dogs with no accompanying human, but they might be escaped pets, feral dogs, lost dogs, abandoned dogs -- each of which has its own set of causes and cures.

Then they could think about what citizens could do without assistance: spay/neuter pets, confine unaccompanied dogs for pickup or transport them, fence yards, walk dogs on leashes, research dogs before acquiring one, maintain shots and provide care for injuries, learn to do proper training to prevent noise and lack of sanitation, and feed their animals properly.

Thinking through what is expected of shelters is another important step. One school of thought is that any old barn will do since the dogs are unwanted and can’t possibly belong to nice people. They’re going to be euthanized anyway. At the other extreme is the shelter as a kind of playground with a nice facade, cheerful people in smocks who do pet match-making to offer cute little puppies, and school classes who come to “see” the animals in order to learn about kindness.

If I were making a pitch for a shelter, I would put a set of graphs somewhere obvious that showed: number of dogs currently in the shelter, number quarantined for observation because of biting, number euthanized for injuries or disease, number of loose animals impounded by animal officers, number impounded by police officers arresting people accompanied by animals or coroners responding to a citizen death or taking into custody combatants at staged dogfights, number of dogs impounded with licenses and therefore returned to known owners, and number of animals impounded because of cruelty and animal hoarding -- therefore being held pending court action -- and number of dogs euthanized. (Not euthanizing dogs soon creates animal hoarding perpetrated by the government agency charged with preventing such situations.)

An animal shelter is NOT the answer to animal control problems nor is it a solution to humane issues. It is a place to keep animals. But in many minds, probably because a shelter is something concrete (sic) and requiring a budget, the three things get conflated.

There is no way the animal control function can be dropped without causing a public outcry. If there is no specialized crew of responders, the police and sheriff will end up taking time to address problems, but with no way to transport animals and no place to take them to. If animals are in traffic, injured, and taken to veterinarians with no way of paying for them, the veterinarians cannot be expected to donate their resources: they’re running a business. If animals are lying dead in the street, the street workers will have to collect them. If these situations are not addressed by animal control, citizens will INSIST that someone else do them.

A humane society can be run out of a home office or a P.O. box, but as soon as it begins to respond to specific situations, often tragically laden with emotion, they will need to have a shelter or else press members into using their homes. The trouble in large part is that citizens want a charity to take care of governmental functions. There is a constant demand for volunteers to address drug problems, poverty problems, education problems, disease problems, and rehabilitation problems. Save money. Let the churches do it.

Luckily, many people are generous, but when the economy is bad, it’s not just money that’s short. Time and sympathy are also in short supply while people struggle to keep their own households afloat. This animal shelter problem is only the leading edge of a tendency to withdraw support from everything that doesn’t make money or doesn’t benefit those individuals who have the power -- the ones protecting their own interests.

Why transport animals to the shelter to kill them? Why not just euthanize them in the streets as they are caught? Shooting guns is much too risky. Maybe a truck with a gas chamber on the back. It’s only a matter of time before someone realizes that humans are also animals. It’s not unthinkable. No papers? Get in the back. It’s been done before. it’s rational. It’s also Evil. A loss of civilization.

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