Last week, I heard from one source in law enforcement in the community and another in animal care that the number of “animal hoarding” cases that have taken place this year in Texas County was up to four.

I guess I had lost track, but when I heard that I was kind of taken back. That’s a pretty big number, even considering the size of the piece of real estate involved.

So what the heck is up with that? Why do sheriff’s department officers spend so much time dealing with situations involving neglected or abused dogs and cats, and why does the local animal shelter have to so often be over-capacity because of those situations?

Well, that’s easy – there are just a whole lot of ignorant and apathetic folks in these parts, right?

Not so fast.

The issue is much more complicated than that and has many overlapping layers and levels, all of which affect the end result.

But I tend to agree with the animal care representative who said, “it all comes down to spaying and neutering.”

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Now, I’m not about to begin a debate about the big picture of how spay and neuter should be handled in society, especially from a government standpoint. And I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers to what really are some extremely difficult questions.

I just want to give my two cents (which could arguably be worth less than that) on how the lack of spaying and neutering can and does lead to problems.

After a KSPR 33 TV news crew came to The Animal Shelter of Texas County near Houston last week to do a piece on the county’s latest animal abuse case, both the law enforcement officer and the shelter rep made similar comments. They each said they basically believe that people sometimes start out with good intentions, but end up buried by an animal landslide.

How?

Let’s say a person lives in a remote, rural location, far down the dirt roads and far away from pretty much everything. That same location – for many potential reasons – is also a favorite place for people to “drop-off” unwanted dogs or cats.

The resident has a heart for these abandoned pets, and begins to take them in and feed them. But the person has a low income. They can’t afford to even travel to where all the animals they take in could be spayed or neutered, let alone pay for the procedures.

In turn, a litter or two happens, then more litters follow, and what started as a few animals becomes a whole bunch – a hoard, if you will. The price of food then becomes unmanageable to the low-income person with a good heart and the hoard is then of the neglected, undernourished variety.

Of course, that doesn’t excuse behaviors like penning animals in cages that are too small, tying them to trees on ropes with only inches of slack, or locking them in rooms in a house and then moving out (not that anyone in Texas County would do anything like that…). But those are other issues.

So let’s say the first few animals that were dropped off at our example-person’s home were spayed or neutered. That being the case, the unfortunate, exponential population increase (and subsequent neglect and abuse) couldn’t possibly occur.

And as the lucky, fixed animals lounged on the bright green grass, colorful birds would be flitting about in a light breeze, flute music would be playing, and it would be a sunny day with temperatures in the 70s. Yay, a perfect world!

As if.

Here’s where the levels and layers begin to pile up.

We’ve established that our example-person can’t afford to take that initial preventative step. That leaves some options that the person probably isn’t ready to exercise – options involving guns and the like.

So, what then?

Low cost, mobile spay and neuter services that seek out and cater to low income pet owners living way out in the boondocks? That probably wouldn’t work, since the animals would need attention immediately following surgery and the mobile crew probably couldn’t stay long enough. Not to mention the question of how such a program is funded.

What about strict spay and neuter laws that require more accountability from pet owners? Sure sounds good, and maybe it works in urban areas like New England and California. But I don’t know how enforcement of those kinds of laws is supposed to work in a place like the Ozarks, where dirt roads outnumber paved roads and where pets are far more common than jobs.

Like I said, I don’t have the answers. I just know it’s a problem.

I guess one thing that would probably help is to have some tweaking done to the way many people perceive the issue of spaying and neutering. What I mean is, we should probably change some of the ways we think about it.

For example, one good way to create unwanted litters is thinking “aw, I’ve got a boy dog – he ain’t gonna have no puppies so he don’t need to be fixed.” The problem with that line of thinking is that that boy dog has a nose that’s hundreds of times more sensitive than any human’s, and he’s going to know just when the time is right to meet up with that female two miles down the road. And those measly miles aren’t going to deter him from his romantic rendezvous.

Similarly, a good way to increase the number of unwanted pets on your property is thinking, “I’ve got a girl dog and there isn’t a boy within two miles of here.” That may well be true, buy when the time is right, there’s a good chance that boy dog will be in a much, much closer proximity to your female. Like on top of her.

While I don’t profess to have the end-all solution to preventing animal abuse and neglect and I haven’t yet devised a viable method of making big cuts in the number of unwanted dogs and cats in Texas County (or the rest of the country), one thing I do believe is that anyone who has a dog or cat and has the means to have it spayed or neutered should do just that. Maybe, just maybe, there are a few exceptions. But for goodness’ sake, if someone doesn’t have every kitten or puppy spoken for prior to a litter or isn’t fully committed to doing whatever it takes to find every last one a home, then it’s just wrong to let that litter exist.

You know, we’ve all been advised a billion-zillion times in our lives to have pets fixed. And for good reason – the possibilities and ramifications of the alternative are bigger than they appear at first glance.

Maybe long-time game show host Bob Barker, actress Cloris Leachman, and current NASCAR driver Greg Biffle know what they’re talking about as spokespersons for the cause.

But let us not think there’s a simple way to make it work.

And may we not jump to conclusions when we hear about the lady down the road having 20 dogs.

But may the lady down the road with 20 dogs not become the evil lock-down queen.

Like I said – big issue, many layers and levels.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer, copy editor and advertising representative for the Houston Herald. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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