I’ve been racking my brain for creative ways to change this country’s methods of animal sheltering because it does not seem to be working. Every shelter is run independently with no common set of rules and regulations. No solution is coming to me. This week, an incident occurred at my local animal shelter which clarified something, however. It’s not the sheltering system that’s necessarily broken, it’s people’s attitudes about pets that need fixing.

My county’s shelter is open access, or as some individuals like to say it’s a “kill” shelter. No animals are turned away; it’s always full with strays that go unclaimed and owner surrenders for various reasons that are understandable (death of a family member, financial) or completely ludicrous (no time, moving, the pet is old, etc).

This week, a woman surrendered two healthy young dogs to this shelter because she said she was moving and couldn’t take them. She was given no promises that the shelter could find homes for the dogs. At the time, the shelter was very full so they called various rescue groups and other shelters. Surprise, surprise, the “no-kill” shelters couldn’t help because they were full, as were the rescue groups. The shelter called another open access shelter in another county and they offered to help. They took the dogs and several others because this shelter had open space. This action was applauded because good working relationships between shelters is absolutely necessary to help get animals adopted. Sadly, one of the dogs was aggressive at the second shelter, unable to be handled. The shelter made the decision to euthanize the dog.

When the owner found out, she claimed that my county’s shelter promised to keep the dogs for a week and acted as if she was only boarding them there. She started a hate campaign against the shelter and even called the television news. Hate campaigns only drive people away from the shelter that needs help the most. People stop adopting, making an open access shelter even more crowded and the situation more desperate.

The blame here is not the shelter’s in this case and in so many cases where pets are carelessly abandoned. Blaming the shelter for the problem is like blaming someone who mopped up spilled milk. The blame is on the person who spilled it.

Many people in this country are treating pets like technology. They need to have the latest and greatest, and if they get tired of it or can’t afford it, they toss it away. THIS is the change that must happen in our society, not the methods of sheltering. We need to teach people to be accountable for their pets. Don’t buy from pet stores, the Internet, and puppy mills; stop breeding pets indiscriminately; get them spayed and neutered; don’t allow them to run loose; have ID on them; get them properly trained.

So many animals come into crowded shelters and have nowhere to go. One proposed solution is that all shelters declare themselves to be “no-kill” meaning they never kill an animal unless it has severe medical issues. Sounds wonderful, right? Okay, what happens when the no-kill shelters are full which they often are? They accept no more animals. Where do the unwanted animals go if all of the shelters are no-kill and have to turn animals away. People will just dump the animals on the streets to fend for themselves? So much for this solution.

It’s time to stop bashing animal shelters and start turning our efforts to educating people to take responsibility for their actions. Animal control is a community effort, not just the responsibility of the animal shelters. It’s exhausting to be the ones constantly mopping up floors when someone else is always causing the spills.

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