I wrote this story about this beautiful and frightened little girl a while back, when I was saving dogs by ‘adopting” them because I wasn’t “official” back then (2014). It was Audrey’s story and it really made me think about what would drive people to take their dog to a facility where euthanasia was the eventual and sometimes inevitable outcome.
The holiday/Christmas season (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s) is a tough time of the year. Many people are financially ‘strapped’ and emotionally stressed, and the animal control facilities begin to fill up with owner surrenders, “strays”, and puppies from irresponsible backyard breeders/owners. The rescue world is always horrified and infuriated each time a dog is surrendered to the pound. Blanket judgmental statements and universal condemnation are aimed at every owner who surrenders his or her dog, or does not reclaim the dog after impoundment. Sweet Audrey, who is still with me, helped me look at this through different glasses.
The sad truth is that poverty is a fact of life, everywhere, including this nation, and people are faced every day with difficult choices. Each “owner surrender” is a unique story. We’re not talking about the heartless owners who surrender their dogs because they’re bored, or the dog is not “perfect,”, or they want to “exchange” for a younger dog. An attitude like this has nothing to do with economic status . . . rather, it’s a symptom of narcissism, and these kind of people don’t deserve a pet.
What we’re referring to in this article is the plight of the poor, the old, or the sick, who love their pets and are faced with sometimes insurmountable challenges, and who feel that they have no other option for the sake of their pet. This also includes victims of domestic violence who feel that their beloved pet is in danger of being harmed or killed by the abuser they are trying to escape. For many of our poor, it comes down to a choice of feeding a child or giving away a pet, and as they hand the leash to the facility worker and walk away from their equally heartbroken pet, they silently pray that someone will give their dog one more chance at a good life.
Some of you may mutter, “well, if they can’t afford a pet, they shouldn’t have one.” That’s not so.
Dogs choose their homes and they “claim” their humans, not the other way around. Just because you “own” a dog does not guarantee that the dog has claimed you as his or her human. If you’re lucky enough to have been “claimed” by a dog, he or she does not care how rich or poor you are, they just want to stay with you forever, even if it means living in a car or on the streets. It’s one of the reasons I oppose over-zealous advocates “confiscating” pets from the poor and homeless.
I want all pets to be fed, cared for, warm, safe and happy. But I also want the same thing for humans, especially children. If the entire family is in the same situation . . . ALL of them are sitting in a cold house together with their pets beside them. . . these are the people who deserve help, because they demonstrate love and camaraderie . . . “we’re all in this together, for better or worse,” . . . their pets are part of their family. These are the kind of owners every pet needs.
Contrast that to the owners who live in comfort and chain the dog outside with no food or shelter while they sit fat, sassy and warm in their houses and watch football on their big screen TV’s. The poor dog outside is chained for a reason, viz. he or she would take off and leave their heartless “owners.” I have rescued, rehomed and lived with enough dogs to know that dogs do not just permanently walk away from a home where they are loved and treated as part of the family.
So, I’m asking all of you reading this, to look around your community at the people you know who are going through hard times and who are doing everything possible to keep their pets with them. Maybe instead of sending a donation to a big charity, donate a bag of dog food to a struggling family in your community, prepay for a vet visit, especially if their dog is a little older . . . they always need teeth cleaning and it’s one of the last things that people afford. Donate a bed, toys and/or treats. . . dogs appreciate gifts, too.
Let’s help some good pet owners keep their pets with them so that they don’t have to make that hard choice and break not only their hearts, but their pet’s.