Monday, May 26, 2014

A story about dogs, NYC, the South, and--would you believe it--rural poverty?

And the rural Southerners aren't even the bad guys … not really.  Indeed, this is a story of a rural-urban partnership that seems to be working for all involved.  There is even a positive role for law to play.

It's a wonder I clicked on the link to this story on the list of those emailed in today's New York Times, "Adopt a Dog with a Southern Drawl."  You see, I'm not really an animal lover, but the "Southern drawl" part caught my attention because I am, well, a Southerner.  I'm glad I checked out the piece  because it turns out the op-ed by J. Courtney Sullivan, which starts out with a depiction of the writer's overly pampered and uber-urban dog, is actually a story about rural poverty.  You see, Sullivan's dog, Landon, was adopted after he barely missed being euthanized at an animal control facility in Tennessee.  Sullivan explains that hundreds of thousands of dogs have been transported from "overcrowded facilities in the rural South" to the shelters in the north--like the one in Manhattan where Sullivan adopted her dog.  She explains that much of infrastructure for transferring the dogs is a product of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, when 250,000 pets were stranded.

Sullivan explains why there are so many dogs in shelters in the South, especially in rural places:
An estimated three to four million cats and dogs are euthanized in American shelters each year. People don’t love their pets any more or less because they live in one geographic region or another. But kill rates spike in high poverty areas with limited access to affordable veterinary services for spaying and neutering. In the rural South, unsterilized dogs are often allowed to roam outdoors. Many counties have weak or unenforced leash laws. Shelters in such areas are overrun, with kill rates ranging from 50 to 95 percent. Even where adoptions are encouraged, low population density makes them rare.
In the Northeast, in contrast, "low-cost spay and neuter services are the norm, kill rates are down, and there are exponentially more potential adopters."

North Share Animal League America, based on Long Island, last year placed 6,672 "Southern" dogs with new owners in the New York City area.  Five thousand of those dogs were puppies.  

But now legal issues are arising because those outside the non-profit/municipal shelter system transport sick, unvaccinated, or unsterilized pets that are placed privately, e.g., via the Internet.  This is leading some states and municipalities to crack down on animal importation laws.  Recently, the National Federation of Humane Societies has proposed guidelines.  Among other things, these recommend that shelters involved in pet transfers must be municipal or registered nonprofits.  They also require health records, including vaccination information of course, for the dogs being transferred.  Sullivan writes: 
P.E.T.S. regulations are another gold standard. They require dogs to be at least 10 weeks old and out of a kill shelter for two weeks — the length of time it takes common communicable diseases like parvo, distemper and Bordetella to present symptoms. They also require cages to be cleaned during travel, and for volunteers to meet drivers along the way and take the dogs for walks. Four states have adopted some of the regulations into law.

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