Applauding efforts to help shelter pets

This letter is in response to the Jan. 6 letter submitted by April Pederson of Reno about "the problems shelter-obtained animals cause," and to the Jan. 8 letter submitted by Sam Foster of Carson City stating that "pets should be trivial" and that "sixth-graders donating blankets to pound mutts is barf-inducing."

First, rather than condemning or trivializing the efforts of the Jacks Valley Elementary School students, we'd like to applaud them and express our sincere gratitude for working so hard to provide much-needed food and bedding for the shelter animals. Rather than being "naive" as Ms. Pederson states, they are not only aware enough to recognize a very real need, but are wise enough to establish and execute a plan to do something about it. We say, "Bravo!"

Furthermore, in the process, they had the opportunity to learn about community service, compassion, and responsible pet ownership-including the need to spay/neuter, train and socialize pets. This is a wonderful age to expose children to the care and humane treatment of animals so that their interaction with animals, now and in the future, will not contribute to the kind of animal behaviors to which Ms. Pederson referred. Our shelters would not be full of unwanted animals had these lessons been learned by others.

As to Mr. Foster's contention that "Christmas is not for animals" but "for people," our opinion is that Christmas-and hopefully every other day of the year-is about the spirit of giving and of caring for and treating kindly all the creatures of our world. Sharing your life with these incredible creatures and receiving their unconditional love is a life-enhancing experience. Further, it is known that people who hurt other people often start out by hurting animals in their youth. Does it not make sense then that loving and caring for animals in youth, like these students at Jacks Valley Elementary, will result in loving, caring adults. So once again we say to these students, "Bravo! Keep up the good work!"

As to Ms. Pederson's indictment of shelter-obtained animals (most specifically of dogs), the simplest response is the old saying: "There are no bad dogs, only bad owners." It is not, of course, only shelter-obtained animals who "bark, chase cars, poop, pee, chase wildlife, harass delivery employees, and skulk around the yard making it look like a Third World country." These behaviors can be exhibited by all dogs, be they mutts or purebreds, shelter-obtained or store-bought.

To discover the reason for this behavior, you need only look to the owners. This is, of course, true about pit bulls as well. pit bulls raised in a loving responsible home make as wonderful family pets as any other breed, whether mixed or not, from an animal shelter or not. Public education and compassion, with a little help from elementary students, is part of the solution

We at Douglas Animal Welfare Group suggest that adopting animals from a shelter is actually another part of the solution. Most animal shelters no longer operate as they did in the past when they were often just short-term warehousing of stray animals followed by euthanasia. Today, many shelters, often with the help of rescue organizations such as DAWG, operate on a more humane and progressive basis. Let us use the Douglas County Animal Services shelter, in cooperation with DAWG, as an example of some of these advantages:

(1) A lack of spays/neuters results in pet overpopulation-the most critical factor in problems with dogs and cats. While most animals come to the shelter intact, no adult animal leaves the shelter without first being spayed or neutered. For pets too young, adopters sign a commitment and pay up front for the spay/neuter. And when funds are available, DCAS and DAWG offer low-cost spay/neuter opportunities for dogs already in the community and feral cat trap-spay/neuter-release programs.

(2) DAWG microchips all shelter animals so they can be easily identified. This not only allows reuniting in the case of a lost animal, but identification of irresponsible owners who will then pay the consequences for their bad behavior.

(3) DAWG provides medical care above and beyond the emergency care provided by DCAS to assure that animals are in tip-top shape when they are adopted. This includes senior exams (often resulting in extensive dental work) which gives these pets a new lease on life and also makes them more affordable for fixed-income seniors whose lives are greatly enhanced by these 4-legged peers.

(4) DCAS contracts with a professional trainer to assess and work with dogs with behavior problems. This trainer also works with the DAWG volunteers so we are better able to provide training and socialization along with love, care, and exercise.

(5) DAWG also works with other professional trainers to help rehabilitate dogs with behavior problems such as fear aggression, separation anxiety, fear of loud noises, and house training to name just a few, and will even arrange for help from these professionals in the home after adoption.

(6) DAWG provides an adoption package for each animal leaving the shelter that is packed with pertinent information and tips, a reimbursement coupon for completing a basic obedience class, and most important, DAWG contact information so we can help with any problems that may come up.

(7) DAWG does follows-ups, contacting adopters several times to assure that everything is going well and to offer help if there are any problems.

This list could go on and on, but you get the idea. In today's world, the goal of shelters and rescue groups is to bring together healthy, happy, well-balanced companion animals with healthy, happy, well-balanced people. Are we always successful? No, of course not. But most of the time we are.

We believe that most people have animals in their lives because of the joy they bring. We further believe that most people go to the shelter for their animals because it is an added joy to provide health, happiness, and love to these innocent creatures who have been tossed aside like a dirty paper bag.

So make the world a better place. Adopt a shelter animal. They rock. If you'd like to join DAWG in its efforts to improve the lives of animals, please go to

Tina Dillon is the vice president of the Douglas Animal Welfare Group. She wrote this in collaboration with other group members.


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