In the last ten minutes I threw away two paper cups, raced to grab a coffee from a local deli, and caught a taxi to travel cross-town. Once I got out of the cab, I threw the plastic cup away in the trash, never to be seen again. Sounds pretty simple, but I must say…we sure live in a convenient society.
Yesterday, while sitting at my favorite New York City breakfast diner, I caught a few sideward glances from other morning visitors peering over their New York Times. They seemed to be looking at the touching photographs of the animals featured in the engaging and socially relevant book I was reading, One at a Time, a Week in an Animal Shelter, by Diane Leigh and Marilee Geyer. This book is a non-fiction photo journal chronicling the fate of animals during one week in an American animal shelter.
Right after I noticed the common intrigue, the waitress came over and took my order. Once she asked what I wanted, I began to impatiently wonder, when would I eat? Like most New Yorkers, I like to eat fast. As I waited, I realized the emotional impact of this book lingered beyond the cathartic experience one has while simply reading a book. It was a lesson on humanity; an astute look at shelters and a society that allows a “system that disposes of animals as if they were trash.” This sentiment was especially noted in a story about a Scottish Fold mix cat named Jack.
After reading Jack’s vignette, my cereal arrived. Before I even took the first bite, I had wondered why, when there were plenty of other animals featured in the book that met tragic ends, this short quip about a cat that was actually adopted from the animal shelter was affecting me so much. Jack was one of the animals in the book lucky enough to be adopted by a loving couple. I think what was interesting about Jack’s story is that the couple, when walking into the shelter, asked for an animal that “deserved their adoption the most.” My response, reflecting that of the authors’ was, “aren’t all the animals in the shelter in need?” For me, Jack’s story illustrates a major defect in today’s society: our dependence on convenience.
So, as I was sitting in the diner, tapping my foot and wondering how eggs could take more than ten minutes, I asked myself: “Did Jack’s adopters simply transcend most of contemporary society? Are they simply better people than we are?” Well, maybe. But maybe they had a better understanding that this injustice we are serving to our pets is really our responsibility. Maybe the question I should be asking is: “How can we expect our animals to conveniently live in a world filled with Instant Messaging, BlackBerrys and Tivo?”
We have created a cyclical system. Surrendering our animals if they are unruly, a significant other is allergic, or our landlord won’t allow us to keep them. All of these excuses lead to, too many animals in the shelter, and too many animals with the possibility of losing their lives. The growing problem in the shelters illustrates that a lot of us put our animals into the same category as our day-to-day conveniences. As long as the animal plays by the rules, much like our cell phones or our digital cameras, they can fit into our lives.
Here in Manhattan where there are thousands upon thousands of registered animals, our pets truly live in a human-created urban palace. I am part of the society in which these authors are so aptly begging for a revolution: a revolution of heart. One, that if we change now we can begin to reverse the devastation we have caused in our American animal shelters. As outlined in the book, if we, as a society, understand that the problem of overpopulation, feral cats, and the terrible fate of euthanasia lay in our hands, we can see that yes, change is possible. What I was not prepared to realize was that I too lived this way. It made me loose my appetite.
After I paid for my uneaten eggs, I walked down the summer streets of New York City and sadly asked myself: “How do we begin the self-motivated task of correcting this problem?” The insightful authors, Diane Leigh and Marilee Geyer, make a plea for education. Where do we look for answers? The local animal shelter offers a variety of ways to help animals like Jack avoid the terrible uncertainty of the animal shelter. One way is to securely ID your animals, as well as spay and neuter them as soon as they are of the age to do so. There are so many ways to educate oneself; it may be easy to start with these basics. Your local animal shelter has an array of helpful information…at your convenience.
Companion animals live in our world. Perhaps we should give them the same respect and importance we give our lattes and busy schedules. If this happens, one day no couple will ever walk into an animal shelter and ask which animal is most needy. There will be no need because the answer will hopefully be, “I’m sorry, but the shelter is empty.”
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