Dog lovers — and I'm one — tend to divide the world into two categories: dog lovers and everyone else.
My spouse and I have six children and 18 grandchildren (by coincidence, we're tied with Mitt and Ann Romney in both categories), but we spent Thanksgiving alone at home. No, it's not because our children are cold and unfeeling — they live and work thousands of miles away. And we weren't really alone; we spent the long weekend with our big, playful, lightly disciplined and much-loved throwaway dogs.
We adopted Dudley a couple of years ago. He was a scared, skinny young animal who quickly became a powerful, protective, unruly dog.
Daisy was an emaciated stray whom we found running collarless on a busy street. We called, she came, we brought her home and searched for her owner. Despite our posting on Craigslist and at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, no one claimed her. Today, she's a typical Catahoula — smart, affectionate, and tough enough to roughhouse with Dudley.
Dudley and Daisy were lucky, as were 80 percent of the dogs that passed through the doors of the local Humane Society last year. As shelters go, that's a pretty good record. Compare it to the shelter in Montgomery County, N.C., which kills 98 percent of the dogs brought there (and 100 percent of the cats).
Raleigh TV station WRAL broke the story a few weeks ago. On its website, the station reported that "Montgomery County manager Matt Woodard said he isn't surprised by his county's high kill rate, which he attributes to funding problems and a different mentality about animals among people in his county. Less than 1 percent of the county's $29 million budget goes to the shelter. It receives about $95,000 a year."
HSPPR, by way of contrast, has an annual budget of about $7.6 million.
There are plenty of folks with "different mentalities" out there, but there are many more who might find happiness with a rescued animal. That thousands of adoptable dogs are euthanized every year in Colorado is a function of the market, not the fault of local shelters.
Shelter kills are largely determined by supply and demand. Commercial breeders supply millions of dogs every year, branded and marketed like so many cases of soft drinks. Saccharine TV commercials featuring puppies, Christmas trees and delighted children sentimentalize dog ownership, and create more customers for the puppy mills.
Recognizing this problem, HSPPR has successfully lobbied the county for a ban on the roadside sale of animals, many of which come from puppy mills.
Racism may be disappearing among humans, but "breedism" governs dog purchases. Seduced by the propaganda of dog breeders and the American Kennel Club, most buyers insist upon "purebred" dogs. Not only do they believe that breed characteristics are immutable — A vicious Labrador? A gentle pit bull? Impossible! — but they shy away from second-hand dogs, fearing that adult animals will have "problems."
And consider the language of breed classification. All dogs are not equal; purebreds are of a higher order. The rest are mutts, mongrels and mixed-breeds. Descended from dogs brought to the New World by Hernando de Soto, Catahoulas may be the oldest breed in America, but those dogs are too various in size, appearance, coat and color to be recognized by the AKC — so they're usually called "Catahoula curs."
Alysabeth Clements Mosley, a fierce and uncompromising advocate for throwaway canines, says that local governments in the Pikes Peak region can save thousands of dogs by passing ordinances that completely outlaw puppy mills and commercial dog sales.
Clements Mosley walks her talk. She and spouse Dylan Mosley have rescued four pit bulls.
Where, I ask, do they all sleep? "In our bed," she says cheerfully. So much for the myths about incurably vicious pit bulls, I guess.
I suspect that Christmas this year will be like Thanksgiving. We'll be home with the dogs who, unlike grandchildren, won't play loud music, sneak beers out of the refrigerator, control the TV remote, and expect complex electronic gifts.
Dudley and Daisy are just dogs — strange and beautiful creatures who have partnered with humans for tens of thousands of years. Given the chance, they protect us and love us. We need only give them one thing.
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