The animal welfare industry is rapidly shifting an developing, Betsy Saul, founder of Petfinder.com told the audience in a keynote address at BlogPaws 2012. Beginning with an overview of the history of animal welfare activity for the past couple of centuries, Saul prepared the audience to consider the current challenges animal welfare faces today.
At the time Saul started Petfinder, which is now a major tool to facilitate adoption of animals, the pillars of animal welfare were to provide conditions in which animals would be free from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress and to allow them to express their normal behaviors.
In the 1970s, groups of volunteers had started to facilitate adoption of companion animals. When Saul launched Petfinder in 1995, when the Internet was in its infancy, she was trying to unify efforts of local groups to connect people and pets with less restriction by geography. Millions of pet adoptions and 16 years later, Saul knows the current issues that are most important for improving animal welfare now.
Saul told the audience at BlogPaws what she considers the topics that need the most attention right now. Top on her list is cats. The number of community (sometimes called feral and stray cats who live freely) is unknown and estimates range from 9 to 90 million just in the United States. More cats are in shelters than are dogs and more than half of the cats die in the shelter as opposed to 27 percent of dogs. Saul turned to CATalystcouncil.org for her information on the state of cats and suggested that those who want more information should turn there too.
Pitbull-type dogs are the second most urgent problem in animal welfare right now, Saul said. Communities and insurance companies discriminate against this type of dog. These dogs are subject to breed-specific laws that ban them. They also wait longer in shelters for adoption than other breeds of dog and are at greater risk of mental and physical deterioration or death in shelters than other dogs. Saul called on pet bloggers to help educate people about the bully breeds.
Saul asked the audience to think a bit differently about “no-kill.” She said no-kill seems like a “no-brainer” but can lead to unhelpful division among animal welfare groups. First, she reminded the group that protection of human society from rabies and dangerous dogs, for example, are just as ethical goals as is saving the lives of dogs and cats. She asked the audience to think about what happens to animals when no-kill shelters are full and other unintended consequences of dividing into “kill” and “no-kill” shelters. Saul suggested new language to go along with this new thinking. To avoid the divisions that arise from the current vocabulary, she suggested limited admission and open admissions as the terms to describe shelters.
Saul also urged the audience to consider how to maintain acceptable standards of care for animals in any shelter. The role of shelters has changed as the number of organizations working to adopt animals has grown. The shelters are now receiving fewer easy-to-adopt animals, for example. The move away from euthanasia of adoptable pets has also increased costs at shelters.
While cat and dog overpopulation is a huge problem in many areas, areas like the U.S. Northeast have had such success with sterilization of companion animals that the region isn’t producing enough animals to provide companions for every human who wants one. This imbalance in animal population provides an opportunity to find homes for those in overpopulated areas by transporting animals. Saul urged the BlogPaws audience to figure out ways to safely transport companion animals to places where they have the most chance of adoption. She also raised concern about the strength of the species of dogs in the future if genetic diversity is too far decreased by mass sterilization.
Saul’s message to the bloggers concluded with asking them to throw themselves more deeply into the questions of ethics in animal welfare and to use the blog platform to promote the fundamental position that pets are family in every post and to make connections with those who are working at the heart of all of these major issues and support them in the important work they are doing.
Photos by official BlogPaws 2012 photographer Rebecka.