Thursday, November 20, 2003

9. Post office has sound advice

I was pleased to learn that the United States Postal Service has introduced a campaign promoting the neutering and spaying of pets. It has rolled out postcards, pins, and even notepads featuring the story of an adorable dog that was taken in from a shelter. The products note that an estimated 8-10 million of unwanted pets are taken to shelters each year, along with the "tens of millions" of strays that roam our neighborhoods. They also note that neutering and spaying your pets can help address behavioral issues, has health benefits, and prevents unwanted animals from being born.

The adoption of a pet can be a wonderful experience, a lasting relationship and a demanding commitment. While everyone enjoys the warmth and charm of a new puppy or kitten, often this initial affection wears off- leaving the pet ignored, unappreciated, neglected or bored. Before adopting, one should consider if he or she is willing to accept the challenge of bringing home a pet. Sometimes the training, attention, and care a pet requires can be overwhelming.

One question to be answered is why one wants a pet. Hopefully it is for the right reason; alas many have ulterior motives. Most are kind, caring individuals with the intention of smothering their pet with compassion and love. However, a few use their animals to serve them, bring them attention, as part of their image, or for profit. While some love their animals like a member of the family, others regard them as no more than a material object.

The adoption of exotic animals is often based on novelty, and is unfair to the animal. The capture and transport of these animals can be difficult and many die before even reaching their new homes. Snakes, birds, and as we have seen lately, tigers and alligators, just to name a few, are animals that do not belong in cages (or apartments). Equally as unfair is the feeding of these animals, such as mice to snakes. In nature, each animal is afforded a fair opportunity for survival. A mouse, in a cage with a snake, has been stripped of this opportunity. Some have these exotic pets because they enjoy the attention the rare or untamed animal brings onto them or, worse, they indulge themselves in the savagery of nature.

Unfortunately, some have pets primarily to service their egos. Dangerous animals, such as pit bulls, and animals that project an image, such as rottwillers, are, for some, owned only to portray their idea that "image is everything." Others use their animals to communicate wealth or elitism. High priced breeds are owned, because, well, just "any" dog wouldn't be good enough. Some people spend lots of money on "show dogs." Is this for them or the dogs? Who is really competing here? Would the dog rather be at the park eating hot dogs and chasing squirrels or standing perfectly still with his or her tail at just the right angle? Show dogs and those of "AKC registry" ensure value and potential earnings for their owners, should one ever decide to breed them.

I've found no difference in the unconditional love offered by pure breeds and "mutts." (One book on mutts subtitles them, "Pure of Heart, Not of Breed). Frankly, I don't understand the commitment to pure breeds by many owners when so many other animals are available for adoption. It is estimated that for every puppy born, three die in shelters. Furthermore, the pure breeding of animals often accentuates not only desirable traits but also undesirable. Often, due to selective breeding, some types suffer through vision, breathing and other physiological health problems. Many of these breeds would never survive in nature- sure they are cute, but nature didn't select them, breeders did. They suffer from a lack of genetic diversity, and therefore problematic genes are bred over and over. However, they will continue to be bred as long as people continue to purchase them. It just saddens me to think that dogs are being bred and purchased for upwards of $1200 when so many needy animals sit homeless in shelters.

My naturalistic viewpoint is perhaps extreme, but I don't believe any animals should be in cages, on chains or in tanks. These are not pets; these are prisoners. And one way to keep them out of the cages of our animal protection leagues, pounds and humane societies is to take care of them. This involves treating them as humanely as possible, not as novelties, for show, or for profit. This also involves limiting the number of unwanted animals that are born. The post office has delivered a very compassionate message- please spay and neuter your pets.

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