This week, a story was in the news that broke my heart and really showed me the problem with the way we treat stray and unwanted dogs in this country.
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a memo came out that police officers were no longer supposed to bring stray dogs to animal shelters, because they were too full. Instead, they could either adopt the dogs, take the dogs outside of town, or they could just shoot the dogs.
This “kill, adopt, or dump” policy was unbelievable to me. Here we are, one of the greatest countries in the world and this is what we do with our dogs? As Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I know I wasn’t the only one outraged, and there were a lot of protests against the Harrisburg police department. But I’m sure they’re not the only ones with this policy, just the ones that became public.
In this election year, we hear the candidates always talking about how we should and shouldn’t use taxpayer money. I would say that one terrible use of taxpayer money is what we pay to euthanize 4 to 5 million unwanted dogs and cats in this country every year. In this economy, that is money that could be so much better used, both for the good of animals and humans.
When I was in Spain over the summer shooting El Líder de la Manada, I got a chance to visit Germany. I was impressed by how many things Germany is doing right with its animals. For example, it is mandatory to have your pet spayed or neutered. If you want to breed your dog, you can apply for a license, but otherwise every pet is spayed and neutered. And you know what? They don’t have the kind of stray animal problem that we have in the U.S. Their tax dollars aren’t spent on euthanizing helpless animals. They have things so under control that they are able to adopt rescue animals from other countries. Can you imagine?
The other thing that impressed me so much in Europe was how willing they were to adopt older or injured dogs. Dogs with broken legs for example, like my dog Argos. When I visit American shelters, what I hear from the workers a lot is that no one will adopt this or that dog, because he is too old or has too many physical problems. In Europe, older dogs get adopted all the time. The people don’t seem to care that the dog might only be with them for a few years or even a few months. They care more about making a home for the animal, and giving him a good quality of life for as much as he has left. That is what charity is.
I want to keep talking about this problem in this country, and I hope you do, too. I know we are a nation that loves its animals and does not want to see them treated cruelly, let alone pay for it with our taxes. We need to keep talking to the people who create the policies and argue for mandatory spay-and-neuter regulations and we need to EDUCATE. We need to educate people about the reasons to adopt older or injured dogs. We need to educate people how to teach their dogs so they can live in harmony with us. In Germany, you don’t need a special therapy dog certificate to take your dog with you. Dogs go with their owners on and off leash. People have been educated to take responsibility for their pets and it shows.
This week started with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I tweeted his quote “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” I hope we all ask ourselves this question when it comes to the animals in this country who can’t speak for themselves. Even the smallest action by us can have a huge impact for our nation’s dogs. After people spoke up in Harrisburg, police built a temporary shelter for the dogs in their vehicle maintenance center. Stray dogs will be safe there while Harrisburg works out a contract with The Humane Society. So raise your voice, it just might work.