The topic of animal welfare in Cherokee County can't be discussed without noting a bit of irony: Folks here are either passionate about the topic, or they are apathetic – and sometimes, even downright cruel.

Fortunately, most of the movers and shakers are in the former category, and they've observed first hand the behaviors of those in the latter group. Those are the college students who take in pups and kittens during the semester, then abandon them when classes end and the parents nix the new family member. They're the nasty locals who chain up their dogs in the yard, in the blistering heat with no access to water. They're the ones who cruise down Highway 10 and shove out unwanted dogs, perhaps laughing as they drive on as the poor animals trying to keep up with the vehicles.

Law enforcement officials have filed charges against people who have chained animals to their rear bumpers and dragged them down roads. They've also charged people who have left their horses and cattle to die of starvation or dehydration. Animals have been beaten, shot, and stabbed. A few years back, six men raped a cat.

It's difficult for normal people to wrap their head around what motivates such horrible human beings to do their deeds, but thankfully, many good-hearted local residents are willing to intervene. The Humane Society of Cherokee County has a team of loving, dedicated volunteers who care for unwanted animals in its no-kill shelter. Some are transported to Chicago and other areas, where they are eagerly adopted by thoroughly screened folks. These volunteers advocate for animals in other ways, too, often pushing for protective legislation.

In recent years, the Tahlequah Animal Shelter has adopted a kinder, gentler attitude. It's no longer called "the pound," a phrase derived from the days when animals were "impounded" in pens until owners came to get them – and in most cases, were shot if not claimed in a short period of time. Though technically animal shelters can and do have to euthanize some animals, most try mightily to avoid that dreaded outcome, and work with other agencies, like HSCC, to find forever homes to animals that have been abandoned or lost.

And in Tahlequah, the animal shelter is getting some much-needed upgrades. Compliance Officer Ray Hammons recently explained that the city is trying to keep the animals cooler in summer and warmer in winter. A metal roof in the kennel area is replacing the former open rafters. Insulation has been sprayed on the walls and ceiling, and flooring is being replaced. And a cattery is being added to temporarily house wayward felines.

The city deserves a pat on the back for doubling down its efforts to see that animals are treated with dignity. The actual human beings in this area – as opposed to those who just look human but act worse than any wild animal – would agree.

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