After a full day of school, the ten-year-old, brown-haired girl filled the two dog dishes with kibble and sprinkled water to coat and soften the food and gave a head scratch to each pup as they began to eat. Next, she went to the three rabbit hutches, and refilled food pans and water bottles as needed. She also scooped the cat box every other day and refilled her calico furry friend’s dishes. This was her job – caring for the small animals on the 14-acre Iowa farm.
That girl was me. From age seven, when the cat followed me home and I begged my parents to keep her, the care for the family pets became mine (overseen by the adults, of course). At a young age, I learned pet ownership responsibility – and kindness toward animals. Dogs were part of my growing up years, but, like many young children, I also had turtles and goldfish. Although my parents took care of the dogs at first, my mother modeled caring for the turtles and goldfish until I learned to feed them by myself. As I grew older, and especially after the blessing of the calico cat whom I named Precious, the pet care shifted to me.
The is Be Kind to Animals Week. Kindness is a learned, modeled trait. There are numerous people, including children, who are NOT kind to animals and NOT kind toward other human beings. Animal cruelty exists in many forms, from neglect and abuse to dog fighting and torture. The national organization, American Humane, began during the early 1900s; they started Be Kind to Animals Week, geared toward children and families. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals started even before American Humane in response to horses used to pull carriages almost to the point of death. Together, these organizations, along with the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society International, promote kindness toward animals, putting a stop to animal cruelty, and pet ownership responsibility.
We can all show greater kindness, and we can all do something to educate others about kindness, not only toward animals but toward one another. Education is the key. If you’re an animal lover, speak out about cruelty and abuse. If you’re a parent or grandparent, model kindness to your kids and grandkids and teach them pet ownership responsibility. Kids mimic what they see and hear – show them that kindness makes a difference in the lives of pets and other animals, as well as in the lives of people.
The late Glen Campbell had a music hit called “Try a Little Kindness.” This world needs more kindness. Let’s start together, in light of this special week. Volunteer or donate at your local rescue mission, animal shelter, women’s shelter, daycare center, or pet rescue organization. Take the kids with you and make it a family endeavor. Ask the kids to help care for your pets at home, take Fido for a walk or to the dog park, spend time petting and playing with the cat. There are many ways to show and model kindness – let’s all be a little kinder this week, even more the week after that and the week after that. Kindness shown is kindness appreciated – and often kindness shared. Animals and people are the same this way – they need kindness in their lives. Let’s be the ones to give it, teach it, and pass it on.
Living in the 21st century has many perks, from technological gadgets to how, as a society, we view animals. According to the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of people living in the United States own a pet, with the majority (60.2 million) having dogs and 47.1 million having cats. The organization estimates that nearly $70 billion was spent on pets by pet owners in 2017, up from 66.75 billion in 2016. Americans certainly seem to love their pets!
Still, improvements are greatly needed, especially in the areas of animal adoption and pet ownership responsibility.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), nearly 6.5 million animals enter shelters and rescues every year; they are comprised of owner surrenders, strays, and animals rescued from hoarding, dog fighting, and puppy/kitty mill operations. Only about half are adopted. More than 700,000 strays are reunited with their owners; sadly, less than five percent of the cats that come in as strays are reclaimed, and many of the animals brought in are not spayed or neutered.
Pet ownership responsibility includes caring for one’s animal, providing food, water, shelter, and medical treatment. In addition to vaccinations and teeth cleaning, medical care should include spaying and neutering. Such procedures curb the number of litters born, and therefore, helps cut down on the number of animals needing homes, either through the owner giving/selling the youngsters or taking them to rescues and shelters. Cats and dogs can breed two to three times a year, having an average of six babies per litter. Multiple that out over the course of five to seven years, and you have thousands more animals per unsprayed female. For every kitten or puppy sold or given away by owners, that’s one less adopted and therefore, one more possibly euthanized.
Until there are less strays, less owner relinquishment, more adoptions, and more spaying and neutering, no more animal hoarding or puppy/kitten mills, there will be the need for animal shelters and rescues.
We all can do our part to positively impact responsibility and rescue. Here are some suggestions:
Although America has come a long way since the 1970s when 12 to 20 million pets were killed in animal shelters across the country, there a great need still exists for pet ownership responsibility and, therefore, for animal rescues and shelters. Let’s all do something to help continue the downward trend of euthanasia rates and increase pet ownership responsibility. Maybe one we will realize the #NoKill dream many animal welfare organizations envision – that no healthy, adoptable animal is euthanized – but it takes responsible pet owners to get there.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.