Peace for Pets is an organization with which I have become involved as part of the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) effort in Canton, OH. I am helping with their community education focus, and I will be one of the presenters for their TNR training program. If you are local to the Canton area and would like to learn more about TNR, here is your chance. Hope to see you there!
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I and other animal welfare advocates have been appearing at Canton, OH City Council meetings for a couple of months now, speaking on behalf of feral cats in the city.
We are trying to overturn a city run Animal Control program that saw 353 feral cats euthanized in 2011, most of which were only destroyed due to being unadoptable. It is a very draconian program that incentivizes the Animal Control Officer to trap a large number of feral cats and wild animals whose lives are ended needlessly.
Advocates have captured the attention of Canton City Council and the Mayor’s administration. After weeks of contentious debate, Council finally passed a resolution to form a TNR exploratory committee, bringing citizens and government officials together to study the issue and recommend a program. The Stark County Humane Society has decided to cease their contract with the city to euthanize feral cats beginning April 30, 2012. This is progress!
This sort of community effort will require a lot of work. Bringing together community leaders and volunteers from diverse perspectives has its challenges, but I am hopeful that a positive outcome is imminent.
As I have engaged in the process, a question keeps being asked. Why are the cats so important when there are so many other issues of importance to the community?
For a dedicated animal and cat lover like me, the answer is easy. But to people less connected to animals, they do not see how intertwined pet ownership is to the majority of citizens in every community across America. For them, I have one word for explanation.
When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Americans became acutely aware of how deeply embedded pets are in our lives and in our culture. Never before had it been made so clear that human beings will inevitably take risks to their own safety in order to save their pets. Rather than seek their own safety, residents of New Orleans and other cities refused to evacuate because they could not take their animals with them. Some lost their lives as a result, as did their pets.
Even if you do not care about animals yourself, you have to realize that other people do. Minimizing the value of animal life minimizes the depth of an animal lover’s emotional connection to animals. A lack of concern for animal welfare touches off some very deep emotions for people, and it will ALWAYS be met with hostility.
In addition to that, the way we treat animals, particularly domestic ones whose DNA has been purposely adapted for human purposes, is indicative of how we treat the needs of any living being. When the needs of animals are minimized or neglected, our arrogance leads to a disregard of other vulnerable beings in our culture.
The purpose of this blog is to bring about awareness to the connections between animal abuse and the abuse of vulnerable human beings. The needless slaughter of feral cats when there are better ways to manage them IS ANIMAL ABUSE. I cannot sit quietly by and let this happen in my own community.
I have been asked to participate in the Canton City Council TNR exploratory committee. I will do so with pride, and I will post updates here about the process.
What is happening in Canton is the status quo for Animal Control in the United States. My hope is that I can promote change both within and beyond my community.
Will you join me in that process? What is happening in your community, and what can you do to bring about positive change?
In recent weeks, numerous friends have brought to my attention concerns about the way feral cats are treated in my community. The city of Canton, OH has one of the most draconian animal control policies around, and many friends have asked me to get involved in the process of making change.
“Just think, had someone called Animal Control on Okey, she would never have become the star that she is,” one friend posted on my Facebook wall.
The city has a contract with an individual to perform Animal Control Officer duties. This individual reportedly takes complaints from the community regarding nuisance animals, including feral cats and assorted wildlife (skunks, raccoons, etc.) and he removes them from the location of the complaint. Wildlife apparently are relocated and released back into the wild where they will be less of a nuisance. Feral cats are taken to the Humane Society and euthanized. A handful of kittens and adoptable cats are rehabbed and placed for adoption, but unsocialized cats are deemed “ill” and destroyed.
Aside from the ineffective and inhumane method of dealing with the animal control problem, there are also complaints about inappropriate and inhumane treatment of animals by the individual in the role of Animal Control Officer. There is a personnel issue here – complaints from the community that the officer is doing his job in an inhumane manner – in addition to the problematic policy in place.
Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society, ASPCA, Found Animals Foundation, and every other major animal welfare organization in the United States advocate for TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) as the most humane and the most effective means of controlling feral cat problems. Neutering and providing basic vet care to feral cats typically reduces the nuisance behaviors that cause problems, and returning a neutered cat to it’s previous location leads to a reduction of non-neutered cats entering the area. Progressive cities are instituting TNR programs and seeing great benefit.
With all of this in mind, I accompanied my friends to the City Council meeting on Monday, February 6, 2012. Ten other advocates and I spoke at the meeting to implore our City Council to consider: 1) discontinuing the current contract, and 2) developing a TNR program for the city.
Surprisingly, we encountered interested and open minds on the Council. They continued the current contract for a shortened period of time (90 days), however, they also agreed to work with advocates to develop alternatives to the current method of animal control.
Although I am concerned that the city contracted with an individual who has active complaints of animal maltreatment from the community against him, I did receive personal assurances from 4 council persons that the complaints would be investigated immediately.
I will keep you posted on the progress of the effort in this space. What follows are the remarks that I shared in the Public Speaks portion of the City Council meeting on February 6, 2012.
My name is Vicki Boatright. I speak to you as a counselor, as an advocate for children and as an advocate for animals. I also speak to you as an artist who has personally contributed to the redevelopment of Downtown Canton with 2 murals depicting the bond that exists between animals and human beings. I am currently working on a third public art project along the same theme with funds provided to me by my community.
In my 20 year career as as a counselor with children, I saw clearly that there is a link between the maltreatment of animals and violence towards children. Considerable clinical research backs up my own observations. When animals are treated poorly, children are often treated poorly as well.
As a counselor, I worked with parents, teachers and other child advocates to help children develop empathy and wise methods of problem solving. My objection to the renewal of a contract for very inhumane and ineffective feral cat control practice follows that trajectory of my purposes.
I believe that we must set an example for our children in our actions and in our public policies.
Trap-neuter-release has been proven to be the most effective, efficient and humane method of managing feral cat problems. Trap and euthanize programs have been proven to be ineffective, inefficient and inhumane. We should not even be having this conversation.
We often talk of attracting young professionals to Canton as a place to make their home. With the documented rise of pet ownership among young professionals, progressive cities are working to become more animal friendly communities. What is Canton doing? Killing cats. As a result of this contract renewal issue, pet writers across the country have already begun to black-list Canton as a very pet-unfriendly community. Yes, we are on their radar. I first heard of it from a writer in California.
This issue is not simply about whether or not to appease some bleeding heart animal rights activists. This issue is about how we as a community demonstrate the empathy and the wise problem-solving that we desire our children to embrace. It is about the economics of making this city a place where people want to live. I urge you to stop this ineffective and cruel practice of killing cats today, and show our children what empathy and wise problem solving really means. Thank you.
Public art to make our world a better place for all creatures great and small.