Tahlequah Daily Press

May 13, 2013

Punishing the animal dumpers


TAHLEQUAH — Animal dumping is not a problem unique to Cherokee County, but anyone who’s been keeping up with current events for the past decade or so will acknowledge it’s especially prevalent here.

Scarcely does a two-week period go by that the Press doesn’t receive a phone call or email from a chagrined local resident complaining about animal-dumping, and asking us to expose the problem. We have written many stories about animal-dumping – at least four or five a year, and usually more, if incidents warrant. Many people may not have seen these stories, though, and in their frustration, they  don’t know where else to turn when the problem lands on their own doorsteps.

Most recently, a Stick Ross resident reported seeing more than a dozen animals abandoned in that area over a few weeks. Then a Jamestown resident said his cat fell victim to what he believed was a trap set by a neighbor. Another report told of a case up north along the river, wherein a homeowner heard a car pull over in a driveway, a door open, and three sharp yelps from a dog, before the car door slammed and the vehicle peeled out and headed on down Highway 10. The dog was then seen standing beside the road, looking forlornly in the direction the vehicle took.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that impetus has driven otherwise good-hearted people to commit disturbing acts. One example is the young man who killed a stray pit bull a few months ago, and made the mistake of posting a photo on Facebook. The post went viral and wound up drawing death threats against him and his family that continue to this day. Then there’s the individual who may have set a trap that caught a neighbor’s cat, with amputation of a hind leg being the result. While we are not trying to excuse the setting of traps, it was likely precipitated by an abundance of strays in the area that were preying on birds and other wildlife.

Animal rights advocates were outraged by the pit bull killing, and we expect the same is true for those who read about the “cat trap” in Friday’s paper. But the lion’s share of wrath should be directed at the people who abandon their animals – and thus started the sad cycle.

Even the most well-meaning folks are ambivalent about what action to take. In an online poll conducted last week on the Press website, 245 people responded to a question asking what they’d do if someone dumped an animal in their yard. The largest group – 33 percent, or 81 voters – said they’d find a home for the animal. In an ideal world, that may be true, but anyone who has volunteered at the local Humane Society shelter knows this is not always possible.

Thirty-six respondents, or 15 percent, admitted they would kill the stray or have a relative or friend do it. While that might sound callous, it could be better than letting the animal starve. Another 15 percent, 36 people, said they’d keep the animal – but again, while a nice sentiment, it’s not always possible. Three percent, or seven people, said they’d take the animal to a vet to have it euthanized. And most troubling, 11 people, or 4 percent, said they’d take the animal elsewhere and leave it, hoping for the best. Finally, the second-largest segment of respondents – 74, or 30 percent – said their action would depend on the circumstances.

One thing’s for certain: People will keep dumping animals as long as they’re not called into account for it. Animal lovers can do their part by keeping an eye out for offenders, and reporting them to law enforcement. Officials should pursue charges against these irresponsible people; a stiff fine might make them think twice about dumping again.

In the meantime, advocates can help the Humane Society in its ongoing campaign to educate pet owners about spaying and neutering – and perhaps donate money to support the low-cost clinics. To put it bluntly, a pet owner who can’t afford to have his pet spayed or neutered can’t afford to have a pet, period. Failure to take care of your pets is a mark of irresponsibility – not just to your pet, but to your neighbors.