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07/16/2003 Archived Entry: "Her dog Spot -- and a hopeful revoltion by the lunatic fringe"

MARY LOU SEYMOUR GOT ADOPTED BY A GREAT DANE, as she describes in this week's Liberty Action of the Week column. ML is a cat person. Taking on a giant dog would be a challenge in any case, but take a look at the condition of the poor stray dog -- if you have a strong stomach.

If ML didn't live thousands of miles away, I'd hug her.

Her LAofW column is about responsible pet ownership and free-market solutions to the appalling problem of unwanted and euthanized animals. It's a good one.

ML's column reminds me of a small revolution that's taken place in the last 10 years. Even if you don't care a thing about animal welfare, this revolution holds hope for every idealistic outsider.

Ten years ago, if you advocated a no-kill philosophy with unwanted dogs and cats, you were part of the "lunatic fringe." Go to a foundation and seek funding for a no-kill shelter and you'd be turned away, possibly with covert eye-rolling and snickers. And rightly so, according to common wisdom. The volume of unwanted animals, so "wisdom" said, would so quickly outstrip your ability to care for them that you'd soon be unable to function.

But the people who advocated no-kill knew they were ethically right, even if the practical problems were overwhelming. And they persisted -- not in preaching it, but in practicing it. Gradually, more and more private no-kill rescue groups arose. And they showed that it could work. And others thought about the moral issues. And the movement grew. And today, if you ask a foundation to fund your shelter, "no-kill" is the magic phrase that opens checkbooks. Powerful, well-financed foundations like Maddie's Fund won't even talk to you if you plan routinely to euthanize healthy, non-aggressive animals.

Millions of dogs and cats are still being slaughtered. Enormous problems are yet to be solved, especially the ultimate problem of ignorant and uncaring humans. There might never be a perfect solution, an end to all arbitrary euthanasia. But the changing of hearts, minds, and practices is well underway and has already prevented millions of deaths. Today animals are given longer chance at adoption, "problem" animals are sometimes rehabilitated, foster-care networks lift part of the burden off of shelters, expanded spay-neuter programs cut down the number of unwanteds born, the Internet matches perfect families to perfect animals across the miles, and volunteers in various "canine underground railroads" transport special-needs animals from coast to coast to families willing to bear the extra burden of an elderly, crippled, mistreated, or ill dog.

Even the government shelters that do most of the killing are gradually changing. The manager of one small city-run shelter told me that, with the help of no-kill rescue groups and Internet services like PetFinder.com, they've cut their kill rate from 50 percent to less than 10 percent.

It's important to note that virtually nobody in government shelters ever wanted to kill animals. One of the horrors of shelter work is that the very people who love animals most are forced to kill them.

It's even more important to note that no part of this humane revolution began in the government shelters -- which were too locked into policy, or law, or "this is the way we've always done things" even to envision the possibility. And the revolution didn't begin among the "respectable" humane establishment, either. All those people knew that no-kill was a pie-in-the-sky notion that absolutely couldn't work. So the whole revolution was created by "fringe-oid loonies" with hardly any resources and damn little hope of success ourside their own little groups.

... Fringe-oid loonies who just happened to be right. And who persisted in acting on their principles, as well as preaching them. And who won out even as the "sensible" people continued to scorn their ideals. Sound familiar?

Posted by Claire @ 11:01 AM CST

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