A commitment for life

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, December 17, 2009

As an animal lover who has taken in strays and raised rescued dogs that soon became beloved family members, I can understand the feeling of being impelled to provide a home for an animal in need. And I’ve been blessed by each of the animals I’ve raised through the years, whether they were bought from a store or just showed up on my doorstep and refused to leave.

Clearly, I’m not alone in my love for four-legged creatures.

According to results of a study released in 2007 by the American Veterinary Association, nearly 60 percent of American households have at least one pet. Dogs are the more popular choice, according to a different survey the same year by the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association. But cats outnumber dogs, since cat owners are far more likely to own multiple cats than dog owners are to own multiple dogs. (There’s an interesting psychological conclusion associated with that fact, I’m sure.)

As members of Suffolk’s own Humane Society can attest, not all of those dogs and cats find happy, permanent homes, and a distressing number wind up abandoned on the streets or left elsewhere for animal control officers to take care of. Far too often, “taking care of” those unloved animals ultimately means having them put to sleep.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 6 to 8 million dogs and cats enter animal shelters each year. Fully half of those animals are euthanized in the shelters, because homes cannot be found for them.

Considering the statistics, it’s pretty easy to understand how someone with an especially sensitive nature could feel responsible for every furry creature that crossed his or her path. News stories about folks with dozens of cats living in a tiny apartment are appalling, but there’s often a sense of “There, but for the grace of God go I” whenever I read one.

The same is true of Suffolk’s recent case of a woman who was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals after five of her horses were found starving to death and seemingly abandoned in the woods. Her attorney says she’s a woman with a good heart who just wanted to help the animals and found herself overwhelmed by their demands. It’s easy to see how such a thing could happen.

Really, though, it doesn’t matter if she maliciously set out to harm the animals. What matters is that her lack of care for them resulted in their suffering, and in one case led directly to officials having to euthanize a horse.

“If people get in over their heads, they need to find someone out there who can help them,” prosecutor Susan Walton said Thursday. “You just can’t allow these animals to starve to death.”

Walton is right, and folks who find themselves in similar situations have a responsibility to look for help from rescue organizations, Humane societies or even the department of animal control. For folks who find themselves overwhelmed by the responsibility, getting that help is a true demonstration of love.