Letters to the Editor

Published the week of March 1

CAUSE AND EFFECT

Laura Higgins' article "High Society" (RFT, Feb. 23) was insightful and helped scratch the surface of a growing local and nationwide animal-welfare issue regarding euthanization and the big dollars surrounding it.

As the former executive director for one of the largest no-kill animal shelters in this region, I saw firsthand how many Missourians throw dollars to the animal cause. However, managing and using these dollars for the needed innovative programs meant taking new risks.

The readers need to understand that the governing infrastructure of a nonprofit (and those especially found at animal-welfare agencies) are genuine but not visionary. Their love and passion to "save the animals" does not transcend to the bigger picture; rather, it generally lingers on the day-to-day cause of saving and adopting Fido or Felix. To even begin to tackle pet overpopulation, euthanization or basic community education, these agencies need to look at thinking outside the box (or cage). This is an extremely difficult task to accomplish when trying to balance the needs of donors, volunteers and, most important, the public. The last 50 years of the animal-shelter industry taught us that bigger does not necessarily mean better; it just means more pets to warehouse and (generally) more to kill -- not adopt. Humane shelters should not be in the big business to create the demand for more adoptions but rather create less unwanted pets in the first place.

Like with any social cause, the solution can only be found in the changing of a society through legislation and education. I witness people donating to private animals shelters in an effort to wash away the ever-growing truth of community irresponsibility. No St. Louis animal-welfare fundraising executive wants to speak about the increasing animal abuse, dog bites, strays or euthanization when trying to get a check for a brand-new building or to sponsor a new program. (And, unfortunately, the public does not really want to know about it, either.) So how do we begin to tame this beast?

The accountability comes from the source of the money! Donors, before they give, need to be educated and savvy. They need to earmark and demand results when giving dollars. If contributions held more animal agencies accountable for actual results, I think we would all see the creation of successful programs that actually lower the animal-kill rate at St. Louis private and public shelters.

Edward Reggi

When Ms. Higgins first came to the Humane Society of Missouri, we were elated that The Riverfront Times' readership would have an opportunity to learn more about the pet-overpopulation problem that plagues our community. Unfortunately, the article that appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of the RFT reads more as a forum for uninformed critics.

In comparing us to the San Francisco SPCA, an organization located in another geographic sector of the United States, Ms. Higgins failed to explain that we are located in the agricultural belt of the nation and constantly combat the attitude that animals are merely property. Missouri has a national reputation as one of the largest puppy-mill-breeding states in the country. We service a community that has vastly different financial and human resources than those found in San Francisco. What fair comparison can be made with such different circumstances shaping the cultures of these communities? In addition, we service an entire state, while San Francisco is responsible only for their city. Readers might also be interested to know that San Francisco's label as a "no-kill" city is a misnomer, as they annually euthanize 6,000 animals. This information, compiled by the Humane Society of the United States, was provided to Ms. Higgins.

Furthermore, it was not explained that the Humane Society's $55 million in assets are restricted. The donors for an endowment have restricted nearly $30 million of those assets. Therefore those funds cannot legally be used for operations or to establish new programs. The other assets listed include land, buildings and equipment that are put to work for the animals each day at our three locations. In addition, the same legal restrictions hold true for the park. My family made the donation to the Society specifically to build the park. Our intention was to have a place where the St. Louis community could go to enjoy spending time with their pets while serving as a tribute to the more than 1 million animals helped at our 1210 Macklind Ave. location. No Humane Society of Missouri funds are being used for either the construction or maintenance of our park.

According to Dr. Lon Dixon, our director of veterinary services, we do provide low-cost spay/neuter services for the poor under the Spay/Neuter Assistance Program. Additionally, we do not normally spay/neuter animals 8-12 weeks of age because we are concerned with the health of the individual animals. With this age group, we primarily focus our efforts on preventive-health-care procedures. We feel the extra stress of surgery impairs our efforts to ensure these animals are free of parasites and properly vaccinated against a variety of infectious diseases. These young animals have enough stress in their fragile lives due to separation from their siblings and their mother, relocation to strange places, change in diet and exposure to many new people. We feel it is better for the health of these very young animals to allow them to equilibrate to these stresses, be fully protected by vaccination and dewormed prior to surgery. We do spay/neuter animals coming from our shelters beginning at approximately 12 weeks of age -- again, depending on the individual animal. We have had great success in providing for the health and well-being of our animals by waiting until 4 months of age to spay/neuter animals adopted younger than 12 weeks of age.

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