Commentary

Caring for animals doesn’t only mean adopting one

August 26, 2021 6:00 am

It’s not the answer that most people are ready to hear, but to save more lives and make a lasting change, we must dig deeper into why these animals end up needing us in the first place and respond with resources for people too. (Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash)

“Out of the mouths of babes” has special meaning for my family. My kids and I started volunteering at a shelter where my daughter Kendall created a special bond with a dog named Athens. While we couldn’t take him home because our house was already full, Kendall wanted to do everything in her power to find him a place to belong. Out of this passion and desperation, a dream was born. And we’ve been hell-bent on making our valley a kinder and safer place for animals ever since.

In 2013, we founded our nonprofit adoption and fostering center, Hearts Alive Village, which last year opened a low-cost nonprofit veterinary clinic. Early on, one thing became abundantly clear: We cannot rescue our way out of animal homelessness. Just like human homelessness, the issue is complex and requires a comprehensive approach, being far more proactive than reactive. 

It’s very compelling to watch a sweet video of an animal getting a second chance, an opportunity to heal and find a home. Most folks assume we just need more adoptions. But anyone in animal welfare will tell you, rescuing is like drinking from a firehose. There are too many animals and never enough homes. It’s maddening, and the problem is overwhelming.  We need to continuously search for new ways to address the crisis and new models for life saving. 

One of the most powerful things found to help animals is to be inclusive in our kindness. We need to care as much for people as we do pets. That’s not the answer that most people are ready to hear, but to save more lives and make a lasting change, we must dig deeper into why these animals end up needing us in the first place and respond with resources for people too.

A new perspective

Our society needs to buy into the progressive concept of community sheltering for animals. What’s happening to animals in the shelter is just the tip of the tragedy. We must help pets stay with the families that love them by offering resources to keep them in place. I’m sure you’ve heard it too: “If a person can’t afford to feed their pet or pay for a vet visit, they don’t deserve to have a pet in the first place.” Most people would think I’d agree, but they’d be dead wrong.  Over 5,000 families have enrolled in our pet food bank this year. Most of these families have multiple pets. What if even half surrendered their pets because they are struggling to make ends meet and could save $50-$100 a month in pet food? Our giant local shelter and all the rescue organizations put together wouldn’t have resources enough to respond. 

People suffer when their pets suffer, especially when they feel helpless to make things better. This human-animal bond should be nurtured in every family, regardless of their tax bracket. We see the clients of our low-cost clinic and our food bank as an important part of the solution to pet homelessness. In many cases, they’ve taken an animal off the streets, from a family member who died, went to jail, or lost their housing. They are more than sheltering that animal. They are the biggest piece of the puzzle. A HOME. 

Spay and neuter

I often dream about what it would be like to have an animal shortage in our community instead of witnessing thousands suffer and die each year. We see our neighbors in the Pacific Northwest who have prioritized spay and neuter initiatives years ago, now importing animals from states like ours because what they did worked. The blueprint is simple, and it’s been achieved in other communities. Our local government needs to invest significantly in free and low-cost spay and neuter services for a sustained period. Preventing the births of unwanted cats and dogs through spay/neuter assistance programs cost less money per animal than paying to catch, transport, shelter, and care for unwanted animals, who all too often will be killed. It’s a good investment for the government and a much better use of our tax dollars. As citizens, we need to demand it. 

Hope for the future

Just like my daughter was passionate about finding Athens a home, I’m passionate about creating resources that make a lasting impact for all animals in our valley. Pet homelessness can’t be solved by our local shelter, animal control, or the multitude of rescue organizations reacting to the problem. It takes all of us working together at every level and taking on every angle to make a difference.  YES, adopting, fostering, volunteering, donating all matter so much. YES, exposing children to humane education is critical. As a society of animal lovers, don’t forget we must open our minds and hearts to new concepts, drop our judgment and bias, and do our best to keep families together. We must push our leaders to invest in spay/neuter and address the root of this problem. In one of the most challenging times for our community, we have the chance to build a new system for serving pets in need and change things for the better…for good.

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Christy Stevens
Christy Stevens

Christy Stevens is the founder and executive director of Hearts Alive Village.

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