The Michigan Animal Adoption Network’s street team, The Animal Care Network, held their bi-annual low-cost shot clinic yesterday. This is an exhausting, but amazing event that I’ve really come to look forward to attend. In just 4 hours, approximately 75 volunteers will help vaccinate anywhere from 750 to 1,500 animals against deadly diseases. Yesterday, 998 were vaccinated!
This event has not only made an impact on me, a massive animal lover, because of the sheer magnitude of the event, but because of the opportunity it provides us volunteers to try to touch a few lives. I love to help the underdog, which in this case is not only these animals, but often their owners as well. There are a group of pet owners who come to our low-cost shot clinics who don’t have a lot of money, but want to “do right” for their pet(s). These folks have been educated (most likely by one of our volunteers on the streets) that vaccines are REALLY important. And that the parvovirus kills pets quickly. So these folks show up every year to protect their pets.
There are also attendees who come who may or may not necessarily poor, but don’t necessarily value their pet the way I’d like to see them value them. So I take this event as an opportunity to try to help these people as well. Let me explain.
The people who attend these shot clinics in Pontiac come from all over town and are from all different ethnic backgrounds. But what most have in common is that they could benefit from some basic information on being a responsible pet owner. The duty of a volunteer at a registration table is to take the $10 donation for the shots and fill out a vaccination certificate for each animal getting its shots. This form includes owner contact information and important information on the animal: its gender / age / breed and whether or not the animal has been spayed / neutered. I also take on the duty of attempting to educate if I can.
While I may have been a shy kid, I am NOT shy now. So when each person who came through my line told me their pet was not spayed / neutered, you can bet that I gave them my “30 second elevator speech” on the importance of this procedure. I handed them the Animal Care Network business card and told them that when there were ready, to give us a call so we could direct them to either our low-cost spay/vaccination program, or one closest to where they live. I also tried my best to tell every one of them that spaying / neutering helps your pet behave better and live longer.
I’m not naive either. I know many of these people cannot afford or don’t care enough to fix their pets. Hell, I know people with a master’s degree that have not gotten their animals fixed. But that won’t stop me from trying to help one more person “get it.” I also have to assume that some people just don’t know the importance of spaying / neutering yet because no one has told them about the benefits. If the only time their animal receives veterinary care is that this shot clinic, then you damn better believe that I’m going to take the opportunity to at least get a few words in about it!
There was one gentleman who came through my line yesterday who seemed very proud of his purebred male dog. When “the question” came up and he told me his dog was not neutered yet and he began talking about the dog’s genealogy and that he might want to breed it, I looked him straight in the face and said, “I want you to know that in this current economy in this state, many people cannot even afford to adopt a homeless dog from a shelter.” His jaw dropped.
I’m quite certain that man expected “the girl from the suburbs” to say something about how much money he’d get for those puppies he was dreaming of. But instead, I was painfully honest. I felt like I owed that to him…and more importantly I owed it to the animals to tell the truth! He may have been the one person I got through to yesterday. At least I hope I did. The older I get, the more I think I take after my dad, “Mr. Straight Talk Express.” (I believe my dad is watching over me. I hope he’s still proud of me!!)
I do want to thank every person who came out yesterday simply because they needed a deal on vaccinations and do care about their animals. These people were easy to pick out. They come every year and when we ask if their animal has been spayed or neutered, they proudly tell us “Yes!” I’d also like to thank the vets and vet techs who volunteered their time to do such a good deed.
The big picture for pets in this county…
If you were to ask me for the “easy” answer to what would solve the animal welfare / pet overpopulation problem, I’d tell you of course it is education. Every time that I volunteer at this event, I continue to be floored at how many people do not understand the true responsibility of having a pet. It’s painfully obvious that many people in lower income areas view their pets as protection. I lost count of how many pit bulls or other “bully” breeds (That is a total misnomer, but we’ll save that topic for another blog entry…) were brought in with literal chains around their necks or were on a chain leash. These are probably the ones our street teams see living in back yards. It’s hard to not have your heart broken when you see this. It’s hard not to ask yourself, “Why does that harmless animal have to be treated that way?” It’s hard to not ask yourself, “Why doesn’t that person value their pet the way I do?” Pets give unconditional love and ask for no more than food/water to survive. I think they deserve much more.
After being a volunteer with this organization for several years and hearing the statistics over and over about how many animals have to be euthanized in Michigan each year, you’d think I’d be used to how many people just don’t spay/neuter or properly take care of their pets. But I’m not. I won’t ever be. This is why I don’t have the guts to go out with our street team to visit the dogs in back yards. My heart couldn’t take it.
To give you a visual of how many animals have to euthanized in Michigan each year due to not enough education, not enough spaying/neutering and not enough households to adopt all these homeless animals, you’d have to fill every one of the seats in the Pontiac Silverdome…twice. The Silverdome has a capacity of over 80,000.
My takeaway: proper education takes time. So I’ll keep working at it.
At each and every shot clinic.
If I’ve inspired you at all and you’d like to help educate people on proper pet care, foster an animal, fundraise or donate to the cause, please visit http://www.mi-aan.org. Thanks.