There are many ways of acquiring a pet. We have impulse buying, pets being given away as gifts, pets being used as promotional prizes and a variety of other circumstances under which a pet finds its way into a new home. Many of these combinations work out to the mutual satisfaction of the owner and the pet — by that I mean that the pet has found a home with a responsible person who takes care of the animal in the way in which the animal should be taken care of. We also know that many of these combinations, for whatever reason, do not work out. Perhaps there are changed circumstances, a family might move, or the person is unwilling to assume the responsibility of pet ownership and permits the animal to run at large, or the animal becomes sick and is abandoned because it is becoming a financial burden. It is in my capacity as an animal control officer that I want to air some thoughts about the acquisition of a pet.
Of paramount concern to anyone engaged in animal control is the steadily rising population of pets — be they wanted or unwanted. I don’t think that I am telling you a secret when I say that what we are facing right now in every State of the Union is a staggering overpopulation of pets. Even though animal control officers have long recognized the existence of this problem, to date we have been singularly unsuccessful in achieving any kind of solution to solve this challenge. I am, of course, cognizant of the many endeavors to deal with this problem. The principal battle cry has been “education.” I think I can say without fear of successful contradiction that this approach has failed. The population of pets has continued to increase to the point where estimates of their numbers differ by the tens of millions. The time has come where we have to recognize that we must do something which will be effective and perhaps this something lies in the “acquisition of a pet.”
At the present time, the acquisition of a pet — be it a dog or a cat — is shamefully easy. A trip to some of the Humane Societies, and the answers to a few questions, will get you a dog or a cat. Following the ads in your local newspaper will invariably turn up a “pet to a good home” ad, and if you are a real big spender — a trip to the farmers market will get you a fluffy puppy for the horrendous sum of $5.00. We could begin by establishing a license for the acquisition of a pet. This license, which should be imposed by the State, should be significant enough to make the prospective acquirer think very seriously about whether he really wants this pet, be it a dog or a cat. A good starting point would be $50.00. Common sense tells us that such an approach will be far more meaningful than the extraction of promises of a loving home and perpetual care. In addition, there should be an annual license fee of sufficient magnitude to let the owner know that what he has represents an object of considerable value. For example, in a number of European cities this fee is in excess of $50.00 a year. By this very simple expedient, these cities have solved not only their animal control problems, but the attendant problem of overpopulation. I would also suggest that this approach be adopted on a uniform basis. Most current legislative proposals make a distinction between the irresponsible and the responsible pet owner, or the breeder and the non-breeder. It is my opinion that such distinctions are totally irrelevant in the context of the problem we are facing. I should add that adoption of this proposal would also alleviate the financial problems which all animal control agencies are having today — MONEY. Such a licensing structure would not only raise the monies required for an effective
animal control program, but would also provide the necessary incentive to enforce such a program.
My second proposal relates to dogs and is as follows: anyone who violates a dog ordinance must either take the dog through obedience training or pass an obedience test such as the novice routine presently used in AKC licensed trials. A failure to do so would result in a substantial fine. The reason for such a requirement is quite obvious. Much of the concern over the dog population centers around uncontrollable and loose dogs. Such a requirement forces a dog owner who has violated a dog ordinance to go through the type of educational experience that we have been so unsuccessful in pushing over the years. Not only would it result in the dog being trained, but his owner would become more cognizant of the responsibilities of dog ownership. It is not enough to proclaim the need for an educated class of pet owners — we must provide them with a means of obtaining this education. This idea is by no means without precedent. Witness Traffic School.
My third proposal relates to animal health and care. I believe it is gross folly not to require a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian for the issuance of a license of whatever nature. Up to now the only licensing requirement — and this is not even Statewide — is that of a rabies inoculation. To say that a rabies inoculation is a bare minimum is an understatement. Again, the reason for this proposal is obvious. With the increased mobility of our society and the resultant increase in exposure between animals and animals, and animals and people, you can readily see the reason for this proposal. The opportunities for the passing on of infectious diseases are limitless. One European city, for example, has banned all dog from the inner city for health reasons.
In conclusion, let me say that up to now we have been unwilling to address our problems in a realistic way. We have examples all around us of the results of our inaction. We also have examples from other countries of what can be done to solve these problems. I am not suggesting that we necessarily aim for their solutions as a way out of the “slough of despond.” I am suggesting, however, that we study what others have done to extricate themselves from this quagmire. Our Yankee ingenuity will come up with a mechanism which will enable us to preserve our pets as we know them today so that they can fit into our way of life. If we are truly our pets’ protectors, let us protect them by making them something worth protecting.
©1975 E. McShane