Just saw this tweet which celebrated a shelter success: a good home check for a pit bull puppy. I really, really have better things to do right now than snipe on this blog, like work on my freaking dissertation or knit or scrub the toilet, but this is one itch that is demanding some attention. What exactly are shelter workers looking for when they do home checks prior to placing pit bulls? "Home check" is nothing but code for "class check." The last home check form I saw asked whether or not there was trash in the yard, cause, y'know, that's really key in determining whether a person will be a good caregiver.
One icky subtext to shelter adoptions is that they are basically taking animals from poor people and either killing them or giving them to middle-class people (or in the case of the penthouse pup, possibly the upper-middle-class or upper-class, or maybe even status-conscious assholes who live on credit cards and pills, who knows). I am so sick of hearing how it's the low-income people who are the problem in pet overpopulation because they refuse to spay/neuter or contain their pets. And it seems to be true that most of the loose dogs picked up by animal control come from lower-income areas. But let's explore some other reasons for that...it's easy to blame poor people for everything, we do that all the time. But if we are in fact trying to end shelter killing (apparently not the goal for every animal welfare group), we need to clearly understand how all these animals end up at shelters in the first place (and how they leave).
Here's just a few facts and thoughts:
*Most animal controls can and will seize an animal that is loose on private property. This includes a dog that is sleeping on the porch of its own home, minding its own business. Now some few ACOs will knock on the door, or put a dog back inside a fence if there is one, but most will go ahead and impound an animal even if they know where it lives, simply because there has been a complaint and that will complete out their call. In most places, the performance of ACOs is judged by efficiency and numbers, not humane results. Once the dog ends up at the shelter, it's pretty much over. The logistics associated with finding the dog and the fees associated with reclaiming him or her are just prohibitive for many people, especially those who are challenged by health and transportation issues.
*Gentrification causes *many* of these calls to animal control, as do well-meaning animal lovers and anti-tether activists who have nothing better to do than troll poor neighborhoods clutching their tissues along with their spay/neuter pamphlets and boutique dog treats, ready to call AC the minute they see a dog, any dog. In one urban area, a PETA activist moved into a loft overlooking a junkyard and she alone keeps the ACOs busy with calls. Now, this all seems well and good - why shouldn't AC check on these poor dogs belonging to poor people? Because there is a (very) small percentage of cases in which an animal needs help and AC can provide it, such as when an animal is in distress. But in a much larger percentage of cases, the animals are really quite fine, but are now put in danger of seizure by virtue of the call. Because when people bitch enough, it's easier for everyone (including the owner) just to get rid of the poor dog than to deal with the repeated calls and harassment. (It's also not unheard of for activists to go ahead and steal these dogs, especially when they don't get "satisfaction" from AC - as in, the dog is still there.)
Just as an aside, folks in middle-class neighborhoods are not as susceptible to this kind of harassment because they are not targeted in the same way. They also seem more likely to crate their dogs while they are not at home, out of sight and earshot of neighbors. The space requirements of most dog laws (something like 100 square feet or so for dogs, depending on the jurisdiction) do not apply to crates - mainly because they are inside and so the requirements are unenforceable - and also because crates are the domain of the middle and upper class. What else, exactly, makes a crate better than a chain?
It's understandable that animal lovers get upset when they see a dog living in a junkyard, on a short chain, sleeping in a car, losing its hair, and so on. But usually, the dog's owner is similarly situated: without good housing or healthcare. We can't continue to look at animal issues in a vacuum; we can't help animals without trying to help caregivers. Child and family services learned this lesson a long time ago. A friend said something really brilliant to me recently: that social services for children quickly gave up on any model of ideal parenting, and the same logic should apply to animals.
People really need to remember and keep it in the forefront of their minds that when dogs and cats are impounded, there is a very good chance they will be killed. There are few places more fascist than an animal shelter. Do I sound bitter? Fuck yeah I am. Because shelters are not about helping needy animals, despite what they tell themselves and the public; they are all about cleaning up - picking up and disposing of the animals on the side of the road, digging in people's trash, and living in the woods - and keeping the public happy, or at least quiet. Any critter who deviates from the ideal of a healthy, happy, friendly, hegemonic youngster is quickly killed. Disabled? Mange? Old? Feral? Pissed off? With few exceptions, you know the end result, that penthouse in the sky.
And another aside: most shelters do not make it easy to adopt. There is no reason for most people to go to a shelter to look for a pet when they can purchase almost any breed for less money. Even if they would like to save a life, most people leave once they witness the crappy conditions. The ones who get beyond that are likely to leave once they are insulted and subjected to racism and classism when applying to adopt a pet, or once they learn that they will pay more and wait for an animal that is likely already sick to be hacked up on a spay/neuter assembly line. Sorry, but that's still the reality of most shelters. Oh, and these stalwart adopters also have to be willing to open their private homes for someone to judge how they live if they happened to fall for a shelter "pit bull" as opposed to a lab. Bless the people who get through it. But until shelters become more people-and-animal-friendly, many people are more likely to get a pet somewhere, anywhere else.
I know there are other reasons for the disproportionate number of animals impounded from low-income neighborhoods - but the institutional and legal structures around animal care and control are creating or at least adding to the "pet overpopulation problem." And, if our society and our government did not view these animals' lives as expendable, the structures would necessarily shift.
I loved Robin Hood when I was a child, still do. At least in the Disney cartoon version, he was a dog, which of course made me a fast fan. It also made perfect sense to me, in my child-sized universe, why he would steal from the rich and give to the poor. When did the collective fairy tale become to steal pets from the poor and give them to the rich? I still remember when Robin says to Maid Marian: "Marian, my darling, I love you more than life itself." Our modern-day Robin Hoods are loving the life out of a lot of dogs.
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