When I first laid eyes on her, I felt a mixture of emotions.

Even though I had heard the whole story about how a female husky mix named Mya had been shot at close range with a shotgun and was making a pretty remarkable recovery with help from the folks at the Texas County Vet Clinic, it still didn’t set well in my gut to see the open wound on the left side of her head and the green goo oozing out of it. I felt sad, angry, shocked, amazed and surprised.

And like everyone who has witnessed Mya’s cheerful, happy-go-lucky demeanor in the face of such travesty, I wondered why. Why would someone try to blow a hole in this obviously cool dog’s cranium? What led to the decision of holding a rifle to her head and pulling the trigger?

While I can’t come up with clear-cut answers to those questions, I think there’s one thing that’s fairly apparent: Mya wasn’t wanted.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

And again, the question isn’t answerable of why such a neat animal wasn’t wanted and somehow became considered worthy of having the contents of a shotgun shell emptied into its noggin. As The Animal Shelter of Texas County’s manager Marsha Martin would point out (and has), the reasons she ended up in that predicament could involve finances, family problems, or a myriad of other factors. Her shooter wasn’t necessarily a crazed wacko on a diabolical mission to execute an innocent animal (although that’s certainly possible), but could have been a downright nice person (although my cynical side has a hard time accepting that).

Mya’s plight notwithstanding, the issue – as Martin would be quick to say – has many layers, but sometimes people with good intentions end up over their heads, so to speak, and the result can be unfortunate.

Here in Missouri’s largest county, pets being “dropped off” by owners no longer wishing to care for them is unfortunately relatively commonplace. Some people are unlucky enough to live in popular “drop-off zones” where animals are seemingly brought in by conveyor belt, and the numbers can and do become unmanageable.

The story is always the same. The effects of taking in stray after stray become increasingly difficult to bear with each one that shows up. Food bills mount, as does time spent tending to what started as a couple of cute companions but has grown to a burdensome crowd. Viable means of handling the situation narrow as time goes by, and eventually desperate measures might be taken.

Possibly even involving a firearm.

Now I’m not saying – and neither would Ms. Martin – that Mya was a victim of this scenario. But the equation does exist that would lead to such an end.

To be sure, dogs are sometimes shot in these parts for what could be considered legitimate reasons, like harassing or even killing livestock. But it’s also true that others take a bullet for simply being considered “expendable.”

While there may be no cut-and-dried, all-encompassing, 100-percent fail safe solution to the dilemma of what to do about unwanted dogs or cats, there is one thing – and one thing only – that addresses the problem in a can’t-miss fashion: spaying and neutering.

Yep, there it is again, the most frequently offered recommendation in the modern world of pets. It’s so familiar that it’s now like a cliché that goes in one ear and out the other. But the crucial importance of spaying and neutering can’t be overemphasized. The simple fact is, it’s the only way to insure a significant reduction in numbers of unwanted animals – period. There’s no denying that fact, and no debating it.

If a dog is fixed, it’s not going to “accidently” have a baby. If a cat is sterile, it’s not going to introduce offspring into an environment where they’re not entirely, unconditionally welcome.

Conversely, if a dog or cat is fertile, look out – here come the kids, guaranteed. And if the kids show up in the wrong place, they’re likely to end up in a box at the front door of an already overcrowded shelter. Or worse yet, in a ditch on the side of a dirt road.

I know there’s a cost involved to spay and neuter pets. So does your local shelter, and the people there are trying their best to accommodate as many people as possible with discounted procedures. But cost or not, the price of not spaying and neutering is far worse – on many levels.

I guess for some people it’s a shame that having a dog or cat comes with so much responsibility. But it does – they’re not decorations that just sit on a shelf and need to be dusted off now and then, and anyone who plans to have one needs to first realize that.

If she could, Mya would echo that sentiment. But she’s not talking at the moment.

I, however, am. And here’s what I have to say about the subject: the best way to prevent another unwanted litter from showing up in a shed or an outbuilding is to call the shelter and get an appointment. Unless a pet is deliberately being bred, it’s the right thing to do.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Veterinary assistant Hailey Dodson of the Texas County Veterinary Clinic looks at Mya, a female husky mix that sustained a shotgun wound in Shannon County.

Veterinary assistant Hailey Dodson of the Texas County Veterinary Clinic looks at Mya, a female husky mix that sustained a shotgun wound in Shannon County.

Mya's head wound.

Mya’s head wound.

 

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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.