Welcome back for Day 4 of the Jim Willis interview! Jim is the author of best-seller “Pieces of My Heart” and he has spent a good deal of time in Europe and today he shares some of his perspective on the American and European animal protection systems.
If you have missed any of Jim’s interview, here is a link back to Day 1.
Joy: You lived in Europe what are some of the differences between there and the USA?
Jim: Well, for instance with livestock and poultry more attention to how the animals are housed, more humane killing practices, and rigorous requirements for transporting, including not allowing transports above or below certain temperatures.
For companion animals in many countries it is illegal to declaw a cat, dock a dogs tail or crop a dogs ears, or debark a dog. Even before the advent of microchipping many Europeans had their dogs and cats tattooed so they could be identified and they had national databases that made it easy to locate the owner of an animal. Stray animals are rare. Dog laws are strictly enforced, dog owners are expected to pick up after their dogs, control nuisance barking, and keep dogs under control therefore bite incidents are uncommon. Most dog owners carry liability insurance and most landlords who allow pets require it. Laws regarding breeding are very strict and puppy mills are almost unheard of. Accidental breedings are frowned upon. Most dogs are purebred, very expensive, and breed clubs are very active in ensuring standards and health. Dog licensing is strictly enforced, rather expensive, and much of the money goes to funding no-kill shelter systems. I visited many shelters in beautiful, park-like settings and saw numerous volunteers walking the dogs. What a difference to the hopelessness we feel about many of the shelters in the US.
Consequently, in many countries, dogs are welcome on public transportation, in restaurants and in shops. The Europeans have hundreds of years of a cultural relationship with dogs, they respect them, and they require that dog owners be responsible.
Joy: You mentioned the hopelessness of our animal shelters. How do you see the no kill movement?
Jim: Realistically! I was no kill before the term was created and have never had an animal euthanized for other than untreatable illness. I see that as part luck, part Divine Intervention, because I took in many animals without benefit of knowing their histories, or whether they could be made adoptable. Several years ago, I created a campaign for a federal humane euthanasia act that not only received little attention, a few animal activists saw it as a recommendation of euthanasia as a solution. Thats as ridiculous as claiming abortion is a method of birth control.
Some of the realities are that in the present legislative climate, in the absence of laws such as the EU has, the lack of enforcement of current laws, in the scramble for funds, the understaffing and the lack of volunteers, we would need no kill shelters the size of shopping malls to house all the unwanted, including the 46 million companion animals who are euthanized each year in the U.S.
Any no kill shelter that opens in America will be full to capacity the first week. Then the public will dump their animals on the kill shelter across town and expect them to do the dirty work. I pity their staff, who suffer from burn-out, depression, and high turnover. Kill shelter is not a nice term, but I use it, because it gets the publics attention. It makes them realize that not every unwanted dog or cat goes to a farm in the country. The truth is painful, which is one of the reasons How Could You? has been published in about 45 foreign languages in some countries, it causes shock about Americas solution to the animal welfare problem because all of their shelters are no kill and they would expect better from the wealthiest country in the world.
Its a sad reality that in order to remain no kill, some shelters end up warehousing animals. There arent enough sanctuaries for the unadoptable to live out their lifetimes. Because our society and government have paid so little attention to spaying and neutering, to quality breeding instead of puppymills and petshop sales, to the importance of proper training, to what dogs and cats need, to the fact that animals shouldnt be disposable when they become inconvenient, and to the education process, change is going to be slow.
Its also true that by allowing this situation to develop, weve introduced a competition between no kill facilities and others, whether they call themselves limited admission, or by any other term. Some of the public cant stand the dismal atmosphere of a kill facility while looking to adopt an animal, some couldnt volunteer or work for one, some choose to donate to only no kill shelters. That is unfair to everyone, especially the animals.
Our system contributes to the creation of animal collectors/hoarders, because some kind hearted people have more heart than sense or resources, and some become misguided and believe that any life is better than any death. We have very few enforceable criteria for private animal rescuers and the few bad apples complicate the good work that responsible rescuers are doing. Every Good Samaritan who finds a stray animal with no identification has to dread calling animal control for fear of sending the animal to a certain death. Animal control officers are often seen as the bad guys, when most chose that line of work for love of animals and most provide an important service. Euthanasia technicians are misunderstood and I doubt many of us could perform that sorry duty, but our societys ignorance created the need for them. Im sure all of them would say that they can hardly wait to become obsolete.
Joy: What do you see as the solution?
Jim: First, absolute support at all levels of spay/neuter programs. Id like to see a statewide, low-cost spay/neuter program in every state. We need more support of organizations that operate mobile spay/neuter units. We need more volunteerism, including by veterinarians, and maybe a new training program and designation such as certified spay/neuter technician.
Second, the overall education effort, especially programs for school-age children. Were leaving a mess behind for our children and grandchildren. We need to educate the general public. We need to educate our legislators. I give a lot of suggestions in the appendix of my book for what every one of us can do to make a difference. For just a small investment of time, such as a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about animal issues in your community, we can each make a difference.
Third, we need more and better laws. We all need to participate more in legislative campaigns and elect animal-friendly legislators. For however long we must endure it, euthanasia should only be by lethal injection, and all other forms, such as gas chambers, have got to go. Petshop sales of puppies and kittens have got to end, and puppy/kitten mills have to be dealt with swiftly and harshly. There needs to be stiff penalties for animal abuse and neglect.
Please join us tomorrow for the last installment on this interview series!