2011-01-05 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

The first “Pets” of 2011 requests “reader participation”, especially from residents of the Town of Babylon. Are you ready? Your message will only take you a few moments, but the collective pet pay-off can be priceless.

The Request: I am going to ask you to send your Town Hall a short email or note that could go a long way to curtailing the suffering of pet overpopulation, in particular to stop the flood of dumped Pit Bulls and Pit mixes. Take this simple sample. As Randy Jackson says on American Idol, make it your own. Babylon residents, please email your request to emcveety@townofbabylon.com. Here goes:

“Dear Ms. McVeety, I’ve heard that kennels in our Town shelter are often filled to capacity and at times the shelter has to euthanize dogs to make room. Wouldn’t a Town subsidized spay/neuter program for residents’ dogs be a more humane and pre-emptive solution to such a heart breaking problem?”

The Rationale: It is time for the Towns to be proactive and institute low cost spay/neuter programs for owned animals so fewer unwanted animals will be born; and so fewer dogs and cats already languishing in shelters will have to compete for a limited cage space and available homes.

People have to make tough choices in this economy. Some owners forego spaying and neutering their pets, because they can’t afford the high surgery prices on LI. We don’t have true low-cost clinics. Most canine spay/neuters cost several hundred dollars. The fee escalates with the size and age of the dog. For example, a St. Bernard costs more to spay than a Shih tzu. Owners get sticker shock. (That is, another benefit of mandatory spay/neuter of pets adopted from town shelters. The surgery fee to the public is one size fits all.)

About 80+% of all stray and surrender dogs entering our town shelters are Pit permutations. For the most part, they are the only dogs still rampantly breeding. Nowadays, a vast majority of pregnant shelter dogs or discarded litters are Pits. (Presently “Lily” a brindle Pit Mom is nursing seven pups in Babylon’s maternity.) Pits are also more apt to be suffering from neglect- tethering, cuts, mange, and other scars of existence outdoors.

There are callous people harboring Pits for dog fighting or backyard breeders cranking Pit pups out for profit. The number of Pits at a shelter is tied to socioeconomics. When a Town has more low income areas, the Town has more homeless dogs, specifically Pits. Islip, Babylon, Hempstead, Brookhaven have greater Pit totals than Oyster Bay and North Hempstead because of demographics and income levels.

To make matters worse, Pits do not kennel well and take much longer to find responsible placements. Sadly, good homes for Pits are few and far between. Visitors walk through the kennels and are overwhelmed by a sea of Pits that flows together, making it harder to distinguish one dog from another. Potential owners are often discouraged when insurance companies or landlords prohibit Pits. Rescues are less apt to pull Pits because they linger with private humane groups too.

When a longtime Pit mix leaves the shelter, we celebrate; but not loudly, because in what seems to be a vibe vacuum effect- as soon as one Pit exits, a clone fills the empty cage. Despite all the unrealistic No Kill rhetoric, sometimes shelters are forced to make space by euthanizing the least adoptable residents. Adding a wing or a second story to the municipal shelter to house the never-ending entrants is neither an ethical or fiscally prudent solution to this ongoing problem. Neither is sentencing Pits to a life without parole in a shelter. Town sponsored programs to spay/neuter residents’ pets would prevent much of this needless suffering and tax payer expense. Some municipalities already have feral cat Trap Neuter Return programs but reaching out to owned pets is crucial too.

NYC and other urban regions have spay programs to aid lower income owners, geared toward halting the Pit plethora. The campaigns combat the “macho antineuter” attitude. In July, the ASPCA launched “Operation Pit” offering free spay/neuter of Pits three months to six years every Thursday. As added attractions, free vaccines/ microchips plus military style parting gifts (camouflage bandana and tank top); and for the first time vasectomies as a more discrete veterinary sterilization option are added to the free package deal. Elsewhere there are “Customize your Pits” and “Pit Stop” initiatives with racing car tie-ins; or “Bucks for Balls” where in addition to free neuter the owner receives $10 for each dog altered.

Some ideas: LI has several mobile hospitals, such as Suffolk SPCA’s MASH unit and the Helping Paw trailer, sitting idle. Towns could lease them at a convenient location for economical spay days. On January 1, the state gave the task of licensing dogs to the Towns. Until now, there was a NYS Animal Population Control Fund subsidized by dog license money. Towns were allocated funds based on revenue they generated. Supposedly needy owners could obtain state spay/neuter certificates. However, the vouchers were delved out like diamonds. In my shelter tenure I only saw one state certificate. Things could change for the better now with local license control.

Towns now must determine how to issue dog licenses. They can add a small local fee to support a designated spay/ neuter fund rather than enriching the Town general fund. It is still law that dogs be licensed and rabies shots verified but few folks listen. Presently there is about 14% owner compliance. A license is a lost dog’s fast track ticket home. If the Towns actively assessed the dog population and required licensing and annual renewals, more spay funds would be raised.

Do the math. Based on the 2000 census, there were 69,000 households in the Town of Babylon. To estimate the number of dogs in a community, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) says to multiply households by .372, which is 25, 668. An extra license fee of $3 a dog, raises $77, 004; or $5 per dog, puts $128,340 a year into the designated spay/neuter fund. That’s a “Bucks for Balls” bonanza.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Hamilton” in Cage 17 was found as a stray with a Puggle. They got along well but his buddy was adopted. The female “Smudge” kitten #20429 in the lobby grew up at the shelter.

More Patient Pits: “Davy Bruno” #93520; brindles “Louie” #93668 & “Duke” #93580; “Lydia” #93376; “Trixie” #93345.

Other Breeds: Shepherd mixes- “Steve” #93710 & “Ashton” #93692; “Caroline” #93726 small Lab mix.

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