Enabling Responsibility & Discouraging Stupidity
The rise of breed-specific rescues has done more to help abandoned dogs in the country than anything else. It should be said that these groups get ZERO support from the frothing-at-the-mouth animal rights activists who claim to be so concerned about canine and feline euthanasia.
Animal rights groups such as PETA and the Humane Society of the United States do not run a single animal shelter in this country. Not a one. That's right, your local Humane Society or animal shelter does not get a dime from the direct-mail mill called the Humane Society of the United States. As for PETA, they actually take animals from rescue shelters in order to kill them, even as they give substantial sums of money to groups that engage in terrorism. All true.
This is an interesting and distressing story (see links above), but it is a bit tangential to the central question, which is: What we are we going to do with all those cats and dogs down at the shelter?
I am against mandatory spay-neuter laws, but I also think more can be done to lessen the number of dogs and cats that go to shelters and/or are euthanized every year.
The number will never be zero of course. Old, sick and psycho dogs and cats will always have to be put down. That said, it seems to me that soliciting some new thinking in the area of enabling pet responsibility and discouraging pet irresponsibility would be a good idea.
I do not claim to have any answers, but here are four off-hand suggestions to start a conversation and solicit some (potentially) workable solutions. Use the comments link to suggest other, better, options.
Go ahead and criticise these suggestions, but let's try to remember that, as Sam Rayburn said, "Any jackass can kick down a barn door, but it takes a carpenter to build one."
Large numbers of abandoned dogs and cats are being euthanized in shelters and this is a real problem worthy of some public policy consideration. The animal rights lunatics are proposing solutions which I think most people would agree are stupid-on-a-stick.
Can we do better? Can you do better?
Here are my four suggestions:
1. Put a dedicated tax on dog and cat food, leashes, cat and dog food bowls, etc. , with the money collected going to a dedicated fund whose sole purpose is to "unsell" puppies and kittens and remind people that they are actually getting adult dogs and cats that live very long lives and are very demanding.
Why this will work: Just as things can be sold, they can be unsold, and YES advertising does work. Giving people basic information and changing the social cues we send about something can change social dynamics pretty quickly. Cigarettes were once seen as glamorous and sophisticated; now they are seen as a pathetic blue collar vice killing more Americans in a year than all wars this century, while costing all of us billions of dollars a year in additional tax dollars. What changed? A ban on positive-message cigarette advertising on television, a dedicated fund to pay for negative health-based cigarette ads, and a law that said nicotine addicts now have to smoke outside the office building, even in winter. Dedicated point-of-sales taxes are already done on things like guns, and archery and camping equipment where the tax money goes to fund acquisition of Pittman-Robertson land for hunting. The focus of the ad campaign would not be on adult dogs and cats (we want folks to continue to rescue adult dogs and cats) but on the fact that a puppy or kitten very quickly turns into a larger, more demanding animal who comes with more (and never-ending) demands. When you get a dog or cat, enter this relationship with your eyes open wide.
2. Put a $100 per-dog and per-cat sales tax on canine and feline sales and transfers other than shelter or rescue transfers. Some will complain, but who cares? If someone cannot afford $100 they cannot afford another dog or cat, can they?
Why this will work: Nothing has a higher correlation with canine and feline abandonment than a low-priced dog or cat. Generally if people are paying more than $100 for a dog or cat, they are going to keep the dog or cat or make sure it has a decent home. Will some folks try to avoid the tax? Sure, but that's true for all taxes, isn't it? We don't scrap laws because they are disobeyed; most people obey the law all the time. For the record, what we are talking about here is exactly the same thing we do when we change the title on a car right now. Since both parties will be required to participate in the transfer (the original owner will be required to have proof he paid for the transfer, and the new dog or cat owner will be required to have the piece of paper that shows his dog or cat paid the $100 transfer tax), there is a very high likelihood the transfer tax will be paid by one side or the other -- the same reason car transfer taxes are paid. If you make it so the payment and the receipt-of-transfer transaction can be done entirely on the Internet (the way most states ow issue hunting licenses), most people will comply. Make it a $500 per-dog fine if you don't have the transfer paper for your dog, and the compliance will be very high. You say you "found" your dog or cat on the street? Great! Me too! Guess what? You still have to pay the transfer tax; just list "found" in the original owner/breeder slot.
3. Money raised from the dog-transfer tax would go into a dedicated fund to pay for free or low-cost spay and neuter services to pet owners. If you want more dogs spayed and neutered you need to reduce the cost of this procedure. Right now the perceived incentives all go the wrong way; folks perceive some small hope of making money from puppy sales and some certainty of losing money from getting their dog spayed or neutered.
Why this will work: If you change the perceived economics of something, you tend to change the incidence rate. If you want people to be responsible, it helps a great deal if you enable responsibility by lowering the cost of spay-neuter procedures. Ideally, they should be free.
4. Move Dogs and Cats: If you are really interested in reducing pet euthanasia (especially canine euthanasia), the place to start is by moving abandoned dogs and cats from low-demand and high-production areas (like rural parts of the Midwest and South) to high-demand areas (i.e. the suburbs of most major cities, especially on the East and West coasts). This is the kind of thing that donors to the Humane Society of the U.S. and PETA should be demanding their donations go towards.
Why this will work: With a combineed annual budget far in excess of $100 million a year, both organizations are capable of funding massive "pet trains" modeled on the orphan trains of the 19th Century.