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This morning, I picked up my smartphone and glanced at my Instagram feed.
I was heartbroken to learn that Ramona was killed.
Who was Ramona, you ask?
Ramona was a five-year-old dog in a San Antonio, Texas, high-kill shelter. After being dragged through its doors as a stray, workers waited the requisite three days. She sat there terrified and confused, disoriented and sad. Unclaimed by anyone who could have bothered to care for her, the rescue dog advocacy movement posted of her plight on Instagram for any rescue nearby to come get her before her time was up.
This morning, the community—nationally connected through Instagram and on Facebook (in the south, mostly)—is angry and grieving.
I know that someone’s first thought is, “But Ramona was a pit bull terrier. These dogs have a reputation for harming and killing things, don’t they?”
I’m not advocating for the breed (or mix thereof) itself—much has already been written on the subject—and it’s been well-established that “pit bulls” are not even any particular breed, but a term as derogatory as “race.” (My favorite anthropology professor argued: “There is no such thing as race, but ethnicity.”)
I digress. Back to Ramona: the act of killing any one dog, regardless of breed or age, causes harm of irreparable nature to the human community, not just to the dog deprived of its life.
Ramona was a healthy, young dog with 10 more years, on average, in her future. No medical issue may lie claim for her death. As for behavior issues—you tell me: how would you feel if you were thrown into a cage, cared for by no one, unknowing of your fate, and surrounded by others similarly situated?
People setting policies at the shelter feel justified—for reasons of space, economics, and behavior—and legislators feel vindicated, in regarding vulnerable, loving, sentient beings as inventory to be shuttled along and discarded of when properly aged, to make room for more.
Then, there’s the tired platitudes: People must spay and neuter their pets!
But is anyone in rural Texas or the woodlands in Oklahoma truly listening? I believe: no. In socioeconomically-deprived areas, spay and neuter feels like a luxury. More low-cost clinics are desperately needed.
I’ll spare the horror stories of what’s been happening to these vulnerable animals when people decide that their use is worn out, their value expired, or that they are no longer convenient—economically, physically, emotionally—to have in their home. The incidents of animal abuse, neglect, and death-by-shelter are occurring in large part in the Southern states, while in largely Democratic states as Colorado, dogs are being pulled from high-kill shelters at impressive rates.
Is there any answer to help save a dog like Ramona, and allow her to have a chance at enjoying the remaining 10 years of her life? Was it necessary, or even humane, to deprive her of her right to live? Was it even right to capture and throw her into a shelter against her will, knowing that the only outcome for her was death?
I don’t wish to lecture or judge. I wish to encourage all of us to open our hearts. We are in a time of transformation where our country, replete with greed and disregard for the well-being and health of others, is in a free fall state of decline. It may feel a luxury, even, to take the time to consider the disposition of a dog, dear Jesus, when people are dying of COVID-19 and unable to access life-saving affordable dialysis treatment.
Here’s the one thing that differentiates Ramona’s situation from our own human-induced plight:
Like all animals, she was vulnerable and voiceless. Powerless and subject to our intentions.
That distinction, in a nutshell, is the vulnerability that animal-loving women and enlightened men make when they look upon her image. That sinking feeling of dread and fear, stress and anxiety, is what causes harm in the human community and keeps us up at night when they learn of her tenuous status in a high-kill shelter. That kind of urgency is what drives the rescue dog advocacy movement to act—as they know the harm awaiting a dog like Ramona.
That kind of harm, whether you love animals or no—be it “pit bull terrier” types, mutts, golden retrievers, jack Russell terriers, or Labradors—is what is harming the human community at large. From a moral perspective, we all owe each other a duty not to cause harm to each other. And inflicting suffering is real, irreparable, impactful harm. Regardless of whether we feel animals are sentient beings with consciousness and feelings or may be casually disregarded for the utility they provide, the harm we are doing in depriving a healthy dog of her right to enjoy life makes for a less compassionate culture, indeed.
We are all suffering at this particular time in the growth of our young nation. Must we add the unnecessary suffering of inflicting harm on innocent animals to the experience?
When you contemplate that question, remember this:
Humans created the shelter system. And they have the power to change it, to consider the well being of all involved—chiefly, the animals they were intended to serve.
Namaste, and thank you for reading.