The post is written by Lori Weise of Downtown Dog Rescue -- an organization that does outreach in one of the toughest, poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The post is really insightful, and gives a look at poverty in America, of what urban animals shelters see regularly, and the constant struggle of "us" (the animal welfare community) against "them" -- define that however you want but in this case, it's those who live in poverty.
From Lori's post:
"This is not a "pet problem", this is a poverty problem. Lack of jobs, lack of secure and affordable housing, lack of services. When services are available, they are often difficult to access. Other services require people to live in a target zip code or prove how little money they make to qualify. Even reclaiming a pet at the shelter can be a challenge since it requires identification that matches the address where the people live -- a challenge for people in transition."
It gets better. With stories of successes, and 'failures', in the 'revolving door' at the shelter.
For several years, I spent a couple of evenings per week working with a group of inner-city youth in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kansas City. I learned a lot over that 4 year stretch.
I learned that ethics can be situational -- and things like not paying your utility bill and then starting up new utilities under a different name is commonplace. And while it sounds obviously wrong, if the alternative is to have it shut off and your family be without heat in winter, or pay it, and your family go without food for the week, then it's a choice that sometimes gets made.
I learned that sometimes dropping out of school to get a job at a fast food restaurant to help mom pay the electric bill is sometimes the preferred alternative.
I learned the language of asking "where are you staying" instead of "where do you live?" -- because kids moving from family member to family member's home looking for a stable home life was so commonplace.
When discussing dating and relationships, I had a 13 year old boy tell me that he thought marriage was "something only white people did" because there were so few role models of married families in their community to draw from.
In the United States, the poverty level is set at $23,050 annual income. For a family of four. If you're living alone, the poverty rate is $11,170, $15,130 if you're a couple.
Think about that for a minute.
That's VERY little. Now consider that in the US, roughly 16% of the population, and 20% of children live BELOW that number. And that doesn't even account count the people making slightly more than those figures that are still struggling to get by. When you're living in this type of situation, sometimes ethics are situational.
From Lori's post:
"I know that many of you might say that you would be homeless, living in your car, before you would surrender your cat or dog. But think about it: Would you really? Could you survive living in a violent area, constant noise, graffiti, trash, gangs controlling the streets, controlling the times that you can go out after dark?"
Unfortunately, I think too many have removed themselves so far from the problems, that they don't even realize what they're saying. When I was volunteering with the inner-city youth, every year some volunteers would drop out. That's to be expected. But one of the common reasons why people quit was that they felt that the volunteer sight was TOO FAR AWAY FROM THEIR HOMES. And I think it tells an interesting story -- I think most Americans have moved themselves so far away from the problems (for fear, safety, whatever) that they no longer even realize it's a problem. The areas simply become statistics, or the location of the latest tragedy being covered on the 10:00 news.
The impact of the poverty impacts virtually all aspects of living...including their dogs.
"Third, add the higher rate of violent crime like home invasions, assaults, robbery, carjacking and streets being controlled by gangs. It's no wonder that residents of the community often have dogs to protect their homes. They tend to have large breed dogs, who are often very much part of the family, but their main function is to keep the home protected."
It's a lot to think about. But I think as you read Lori's post you start to get a clearer picture of the needs. As she wisely states, "This is not a pet problem, this is a poverty problem".
And impacts the desire for people to own dogs. It impacts the types of dogs that people choose to own. It impacts the types of dogs that end up at the shelter, and the types that end up making newspaper headlines.
And if you happen to own a dog in one of these neighborhoods, good luck finding vet care. Unless someone has decided to open up a free/low cost clinic in the area, there are no vet services available. And given that many don't have cars, and public transportation doesn't allow dogs, good luck getting your pet to a veterinarian even if you did have money to pay for the services.
The problem isn't the dogs. It's society.
Understanding the problem, and having human empathy, is the first step toward repairing it.