By guest author, Kristy Hughes
The glow from 400 flickering tea light candles lined along the sidewalk just after sunset is both beautiful and haunting. That’s one candle for every 10 animals killed at Memphis Animal Services between January and August 2014. Over 4,000 companion animals in our community have lost their lives and that number will only continue to grow for the remainder of this year.
Soon, 2015 will be upon us and the figures for animals euthanized in shelters and animal control facilities around the world will literally pile up around us. It’s a gruesome image to entertain. It’s so overwhelming that most people choose to not even think about it. It’s easy to repetitively quote percentages and statistics, but to truly wrap your mind around the real meaning of those numbers you have to see it with your eyes and your heart.
Week after week Memphis Pets Alive! photographs a portion of the dogs and cats at Memphis Animal Services (and any other animal unfortunate enough to end up there). Most of the animals we will only see once. The next week they will be gone. Some we never even get to set eyes upon as they are held in an area that is not open to the public. Each week a few are returned to their owners and some are adopted or taken in by animal rescue organizations. The vast majority of these pets never leave the building alive. Their lives are ended simply because they are homeless. Maybe they were lost or maybe they were left to roam free. Maybe they were neglected, abandoned, or abused and arrived at animal control via a police officer’s squad car. Litter after litter of puppies and kittens are brought in by people who don’t want them. Some people don’t know those tiny kittens and puppies will be killed after they are dropped off, oftentimes the very same day they are dropped off. Some people simply don’t care what happens to the animals they surrender. Some just can’t afford the surgery to spay and neuter their pets, the vaccines they need, or the food to feed them. They end up at the animal control facility because no one accepts responsibility for them. And so now all of these animals are homeless. That is their only crime, and sadly, they will pay for this with their lives in most cases. A city employee will be paid to unceremoniously stop the heartbeat of many animals every day. Regrettably, this has become our norm. In reality it should be viewed as immoral, unethical, and criminal. The fact that this practice is still accepted shows how much work is ahead of us. We have to change our point-of-view. We have to change our behavior.
Last night before dark a Canine Unit police officer stopped in the cove by the Remember Me Thursday vigil to give his German Shepherd partner a bathroom break. He told me that this dog was “his baby”. He asked why the media wasn’t there to cover the event. He commented that people don’t realize that there are thousands of dogs in our city. He said, “It’s a shame they have to put all of those dogs down.” He’s right. It is a shame. It is absolutely shameful. It is embarrassing and horrific that we so readily take the lives of animals simply because they have no home. It is shameful that our priorities are so out of order that we kill for convenience. We place more value on television shows, celebrities, sports “heroes”, a newer car, a bigger house, a more expensive wardrobe, a shinier iPhone. None of these “things” will ever be as valuable or worthwhile as the lives of our companions. It is disgraceful that we take their short, precious lives for granted. It is reprehensible that we have such little respect for the thousands of little miracles that have to occur to even create each one of those lives.
One day our children will look back on what we’ve done and they will be disgusted by our behavior. One day the thought of killing a healthy pet just because it is temporarily homeless will be completely unconscionable. One day spaying and neutering will be common practice thereby preventing scores of “unwanted litters” overwhelming a shelter where the status quo is to snuff out the life of those deemed “too young” to live. One day humans and community cats will coexist peacefully, no more trapping and killing out of spite.
A change of perspective and education are the keys to getting to that day. And those are things that everyone can embrace and participate in no matter their physical, intellectual, or financial abilities. An investment in a change of values costs nothing, but the dividends will be astonishing. There are people out there clamoring to educate others and share their knowledge and resources simply because it is their joy and privilege to do so. This kind of education is priceless and it is available to anyone who wants it. Nothing will change until enough of us change our value system. Please help us reach the tipping point sooner rather than later. Some very special creatures are counting on us to do the right things, not just so they can survive, but so that they can have the really great lives that they deserve.
If you’ve ever had a dog or cat or any other animal that changed you – one that literally changed the trajectory of your life and your spirit – then you already understand how thoroughly appalling the visual representation of these 400 tea light candles truly is. If you still think “It’s just a dog” or “It’s just a cat”, please know that this plea was written specifically for you.
“The people that are trying to make the world worse never take a day off , why should I. Light up the darkness” – Bob Marley