ESCANABA - Delta County - images that make us proud come to mind, don't they? Picnics, parades, baseball, hockey, the U.P. State Fair, and more are images of Delta County we think of. Yet some of our dirty little secrets are hidden in plain sight behind 41 Lumber right off U.S. 2 and M-35. They're hidden at the Delta County Animal Shelter. But our "dirty little secrets" aren't the building or the staff or the many innocent animals housed there. One dirty little secret is the number of irresponsible Delta County citizens who keep the shelter in business by not having their pets fixed or who treat their pets as toys to be thrown away or exchanged when they tire of them.
Another dirty little secret that isn't really a secret is what goes on behind the walls at the shelter. Have you been there? Every taxpayer should visit the shelter. It's a county shelter supported by county taxes It's your shelter. Go visit. It's filled with abandoned dogs and cats, all frightened, and some underweight or with health problems or injuries. It's filled with animals that won't be there if you were to visit the shelter a week later. Some will have been adopted. Kittens and puppies that are brought in already weaned are usually adopted quickly. Are they getting spayed and neutered when they are eight weeks old, or do they start the cycle all over again? In a few months the adopted puppies and kittens will be dogs and cats. Will they end up back at the shelter? All too often the dog and cat mothers that come in with the babies are left behind at the shelter and not adopted. What do you think happens to them?
The three pregnant cats that came in separately last week all gave birth within a day or two of their admittance. There is no room to keep the mother cats and the kittens for the next couple of months until the kittens are weaned and ready to be adopted. What will happen to all of them? What do you think will happen to them? What will happen to Ferb, Vamp, Piper and Bandit, all gentle adult cats that are overlooked daily when people pick kittens? They've already overstayed their welcome at the shelter.
What about the little dog that had been used up by a breeder, abandoned and possibly beaten? Are you willing to work with him to provide him a safe home, or will you buy his offspring from the breeder instead? How about the frightened dog in her isolated kennel that is shaking from fear? Is that the dog that you'll want to adopt? Or will you pick the dog barking loudly who has been locked up long enough to begin going "kennel crazy"? What do you think will happen to either one if they aren't adopted soon?
The shelter is nearing capacity once again. After raising and spending much money on shelter building improvements (a county building), after much hard work including volunteering, fund-raising, fostering animals, teaching educational programs and more, the members of the Delta Area Animal Society felt progress was being made. However, in the last two years the number of strays admitted has almost doubled, and the number of animals euthanized has jumped from 174 in 2007 to 290 in 2009. 2010 is looking bleak. Where do the euthanized animals go? Think about it, as unpleasant as it may be. There is no kitty or doggy graveyard.
What can each of us do as concerned citizens to help reverse this trend? Your donations made out to the Delta Area Animal Society, P.O. 158, Wells, MI will help, but it's only a start. The neglected animals of Delta County need your heart more than your money. Please advocate for them.
Consider adopting an adult pet from the shelter. Refuse to take or buy kittens and puppies from irresponsible owners who have no incentive to spay/neuter their pets as long as they are able to give away or sell the offspring. Some pets may need to be re-homed, but the buying and selling or giving away of kittens and puppies is unconscionable. Refuse to respond to those ads in our local newspapers or on local websites such as yooperyardsale or craigslist. Ask pet owners if their pets are fixed. If they aren't, don't be afraid of expressing your opinion and offering your help. If you see a pet neglected or abused, talk to the owner or call the police and report it.
If your neighbors and friends have pregnant pets, talk to them about the necessity of having the pets fixed. Early pregnancies can be terminated by a vet and the animal can be spayed at the same time. Ask your vet for financial help through the DAAS program that assists with the cost of spay/neuter surgeries based on income.
Visit the shelter. Do you have any ideas on how to reverse this terrible trend or to help those animals currently housed there? Please let the Delta Area Animal Society know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling Barb at (906) 474-9219 or Lorene at (906) 428-3482. Sheriff Ballweg and the staff at the shelter, along with the members of the DAAS and the abandoned pets, all need your help. It's your shelter. They're our animals.
Ghandi said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated." Based on that standard, Delta County is failing.
Wendy Pepin is a member of the Delta Area Animal Society