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Stop the Slaughter

Charlotte has resources to solve stray pet problem

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My neighbor didn't appear to notice the half-dead puppy she kept stepping over on her way up the porch steps. The woman had starved the puppy's worm-infested, emaciated mother long enough that when I finally came looking for her puppies, I didn't expect to find anything left alive. Instead, I found not one but two six-week-old puppies sweltering in the heat of the summer, too weak to raise themselves on all fours. They lay not 25 feet from the front door of the owner of the golden retriever that fathered them. He couldn't have missed seeing them. So what does this genius do? The very day I found the puppies, he brings home another purebred retriever puppy. With papers. The other puppies weren't his problem, he explained to me.

I haven't lived in a transitioning neighborhood before and therefore hadn't witnessed up close the inhumane way in which some animals are thrown away. No matter how hard I've tried, I can't erase from my brain the sight of a skeletal pit bull and a cat whose skin hung off its ribs eating out of the same bowl on my porch, hungry enough to gulp the food down but too weak to fight each other for it. My street is overrun with stray cats that several of the neighbors pitch in and feed. At one point this year, I'd typically come home from work to find no less than three animals lounging in my yard, waiting patiently for food -- the grown puppies my neighbors had lost interest in.

There comes a point when you simply can't bear to witness the horror at the end of your driveway any longer. I reached that point a year ago. Before I was through, a handful of vets and other individuals had donated hundreds of dollars in time and services to cleaning up the mess at the end of my street and helping with other animals people brought to me.

Together we paid for the spaying or neutering of four animals, de-wormed two more, and vaccinated and adopted out six dogs and two cats. But mine is only one street. There are hundreds more just like it in Mecklenburg County. Ever wonder what happens to those animals?

Every morning around 7am, a plume of smoke wafts into the sky behind the Animal Control building at 8315 Byrum Drive. Sometimes, when the carcasses have been hastily stacked, you can see heads and feet sticking out as barrels filled with an average of 60 animals euthanized the day before are dragged to the incinerator. By the end of the year, around 15,000 dogs and cats will be turned to ash, about 80 percent of which came from neighborhoods just like mine. The vast majority of these animals aren't put down because they're aggressive or have personality defects. Most would make loving pets. There's simply no one to take them. With only 330 cages and 20,000 animals coming into the shelter each year, there's no room to hold most of them, even for a few hours.

We should be ashamed as a community, even horrified that we allow this slaughter to continue. This is no Third World country or rural backwater. This is the city of Charlotte, the second largest banking capital in the United States, in the year 2003. This is a place of civic pride, opulence and wealth, of multi-million dollar donations to the arts. And it's a place where, at the current rate of growth in our animal population, close to 100,000 unwanted animals will be executed in the next half-decade largely because people neglected to spay or neuter their pets.

We're breeding and bleeding unwanted animals at such a rate that they're overflowing into other counties like York, where the Humane Society Shelter would have gone out of business this month if not for $33,000 in donations, mostly from Charlotteans. The money will keep the shelter going for four-and-a-half more months, but it's not the answer. The only thing that will make a dent in this problem is an aggressive, geographically targeted spay/neuter program that will cost around $300,000 a year to run. Within six years, it could slash the number of animals entering our shelter by 70 percent, as similar programs have done across the nation. The program is already up and running at Mecklenburg County Humane Society. This year, with a $5,000 grant and the work of dozens of volunteers, 120 animals were altered.

I'm certain that this community can easily raise the rest of the money it will take to run this program. MCHS needs donations and folks with fundraising talent to volunteer their skills, even on a limited basis, to help them set in motion an annual fundraising plan to expand this program and keep it running. Those who work for companies that donate to charities annually should ask their employers to add the Mecklenburg County Humane Society spay/neuter program to their list of charities. Donations can be sent to PO Box 30484, Charlotte, NC, 28230. To volunteer, call 704-533-0851.

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