I was recently involved in transporting pets from Oklahoma to Washington state. It was a really wonderful experience to see all these dogs and cats from an area with a huge pet overpopulation problem entering an area where they will be able to find forever homes and not be in danger of euthanasia due to shelter overcrowding.
But something else also stood out to me, and not in a good way.
On the Facebook page of the organization responsible for this life-saving project, a post about the transport described some ways that unwanted pets are killed. It was heartbreaking even to those of us who are aware of it. But what really twisted my whiskers was someone who commented in response to that description, “Those rural POS!” (In case you’re not familiar with the acronym POS, it means “pieces of, er, manure.”)
Really? What the hell?
Those “rural POS” are also arranging life-saving rescue and foster care for pets sent to overburdened municipal and regional shelters. Those “rural POS” are volunteering their time to fly and drive pets all over the country. Those “rural POS” are building trap-neuter-vaccinate-return programs for feral cats and building low-cost spay/neuter initiatives in an effort to stem the tide of unwanted cats and dogs into shelters.
“Rural” is not a bad word, and it’s not a synonym for ignorant, heartless, or sadistic.
Yes, the way pets are euthanized at shelters, particularly those in the South, is horrendous. There’s no saying otherwise. But do you honestly think these people really enjoy killing unwanted pets? Do you honestly think people who live in rural areas get a thrill out of providing an endless supply of unwanted pets to go to those shelters?
I’ve lived in rural as well as urban areas, and I can tell you from experience that urban people take many things for granted that just simply don’t exist in rural areas. Even something as supposedly simple as transportation can be a huge problem for people who live in the country. Does that mean rural people don’t care enough about their cats to get them to the vet for spay/neuter or checkups? Nope.
In many parts of the U.S., veterinarians are few and far between. It’s awfully hard to find the time to get your cat spayed or neutered when you have to drive an hour to get to the vet. And what if you don’t like or can’t afford the closest vet, and there’s no such thing as a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in your area? Will you drive an hour and a half to the next closest one — that is, if your car will get you an hour and a half away from home and back — or will you do the best you can with what you’ve got?
People who work at open-admission shelters in these areas of vast pet overpopulation don’t take any joy in having to kill animals just because there’s no room. They certainly don’t take joy in using techniques of euthanasia that are anything but pleasant and peaceful. They’re people doing the best they can in the face of an overwhelming problem, and trust me when I say that they are incredibly thankful whenever pets are rescued and transported to an area where they’ll be able to find a forever home rather than death at the end of a needle or in a gas chamber.
The problem in rural areas isn’t ignorance or an inherently cruel attitude toward animals: The problem is lack of access to affordable spay/neuter services, underfunded municipal and county shelters … and urban people who would sooner curse country folks as heartless barbarians than do something to help solve the problem.
Sure, there are plenty of jackasses in the country, but there are plenty in cities, too. Instead of demonizing people who live in the country as “rural POS,” remember that the transporters, rescuers and foster families are country folks, too. Instead of hiding behind your keyboard and making sweeping generalizations, be part of the solution and do what you can to help the people in rural areas who are trying so hard to save pets’ lives.
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline authors, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.