We believe one of the best ways to protect children and animals — and on a broader scale, create a more humane world is through humane education that teaches kindness toward other people, animals and the environment. —American Humane Association
For more than a year, I attended the County Animal Shelter Community Outreach meetings, which are open to the public, held quarterly at the shelter located at 561 The City Drive South, Orange CA 92868. I listened to the reports from the dedicated staff on the various shelter programs (much improved since manager Ryan Drabek took the helm) and occasionally an update on the proposed new shelter by the Orange County director of community resources.
In fact, since 1997 the county officials have continued to advise the public they are trying to obtain ownership of the Tustin property vacated by the Marine Corp Air Station in order to construct a new animal shelter to replace the current 73-year-old shelter — yep, for 17 years!
I also had the opportunity to go behind the scenes of the Orange County Animal Shelter operations. I was there when residents who chose not to keep their pets or had found a stray animal, relinquished him or her to the shelter.
I saw through the eyes of a frightened and confused dog, head hanging low and tail between his legs. First a quick photo is taken to post on the shelter’s website, and then he is gently led on to be examined by the shelter veterinarian. The shelter’s contracted veterinarians perform over 5,000 spay-neuter surgeries a year on the premises, because too many residents have irresponsibly allowed their pets to breed and California law requires spaying or neutering be done before animals can be released for adoption.
On the way to the vet exam we smell the barrels filled with the carcasses of euthanized animals awaiting pick up by a rendering company. Animals who never found that permanent home or were considered too ill or aggressive and so our society deemed their lives not worth saving. This is a sad reflection of our “throw away” society and how some people have made money their “God.” Have we as a society become too complacent when we hear of the hundreds of thousands of animals, living, feeling beings, whose lives we have ended just in our state alone every year? If only all pet owners would spay or neuter their pets.
I also accompanied an animal control officer out in the field for the day to answer calls from residents such as an alleged dog bite, feral cats, a tethered dog, dogs running loose in a neighborhood and a dead opossum with her babies still intact in her body — and educating the public at every opportunity. A quiet day compared to some others, I’m told. (By the way, opossums can be beneficial for your garden and are not aggressive. They are about as harmless an animal as you can find in nature.)
I found each and every staff member with whom I dealt during all my experiences with the shelter to be compassionate and professional. But the thought I came away with is the need for more space and equipment and more public education, not just about pet responsibility or animal behavior but also compassion.
We can’t make people treat their pets like a member of the family, although most people I know do. But I know teaching children about compassion for animals helps not only animals but all living beings. Studies have shown there is a link between animal abuse and family violence.
The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University is studying the neuroscience of compassion and altruism. They have stated most of us can probably benefit from some kind of intervention or training when it comes to our ability to be altruistic or compassionate.
As early as 1933, the National PTA Congress issued the following statement in support of humane education:
Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind, and considerate in their relations with each other. Character training along these lines will result in men and women of broader sympathies, more humane, more law abiding, in every respect more valuable citizens.
I have heard the invocations spoken at the beginning of each Board of Supervisors meeting. I also read the secular invocation delivered by Atheist Dan Nerren at a Tulsa City Council meeting in 2012. A common thread through all religious denominations is compassion, and even Dan Neren encouraged everybody to think for themselves and use reason and compassion when making decisions.
So I am wondering what it will take to get the Board of Supervisors to move forward on their promise of a new shelter — a Higher Power; the scientific proof of animal consciousness (which I personally provided to the board last year and now is on public record); their constituents?
I recently invited supervisors to a sit-down meeting for an informal discussion with their constituents on this issue at this week’s Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.
Supervisor Bates, who has been telling her South County constituents for many years a new shelter is a priority, and Supervisors Spitzer and Nelson, whose districts burden the county shelter with the most animals every year, all declined the invitation.
Of what are they afraid? And why after all these years, haven’t city officials stepped up?
The population the shelter was initially built to serve has grown tenfold. It is time for Orange County to finally have a new shelter, a state-of-the-art animal shelter with a proper spay and neuter clinic and educational facilities with humane education curriculum to foster compassion in the children of our communities. (Perhaps the supervisors themselves need their compassion genes nurtured.)
And if you think this issue may not affect you personally, if you have a pet (statistics of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation indicate 52.9 percent of households in California do), do you know where you will take your own pets for temporary shelter in case of a disaster, such as an earthquake?
Displayed on a wall of the county executive offices building at 333 Santa Ana Blvd. in Santa Ana are pictures of supervisors of days gone by.
One such picture is of Willis H. Warner, who was a supervisor from January 1939 to 1963. I did some research on Mr. Warner and discovered he was responsible for having our county animal shelter built in the first place in 1941! In fact, he was known as “Mr. Orange County” for all the great things he did for Orange County.
So who will be the next “Mr. Orange County,” or was Mr. Warner the last one?
Rose Tingle is an Orange County-based animal rights activist and also serves on the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.