by Joya DiStefano
“If your dreams do not scare you, then they are not real.” – quoted by Adam Braun, “The Promise of a Pencil.”
Of “euthanasia,” the Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language says, “also called ‘mercy killing.’ The act of putting to death painlessly (or allowing to die by withholding extreme medical measures) a person or animal suffering from an incurable, esp. a painful disease or condition.”
Currently there are three animal control jurisdictions in Aiken County; that is, if we don’t count the animals from Edgefield County handled by Aiken County Animal Shelter under contract. During the first quarter of 2015, 1,288 dogs and cats were impounded between City of Aiken, North Augusta and Aiken County and 428 were put down. The City of Aiken’s kill rate was 27%; Aiken County, 33% (a remarkable accomplishment given their intake), and North Augusta came in at 55%; not surprising, given they still use the “dirty secret” approach to animal control. We refer to the deaths of 33% overall of the county’s impounded animals as our “kill rate,” because the definition of euthanize is an act of mercy for the victim. These animals are not dying out of mercy; their demise is the result of collective human failure.
Last fall my husband and I sent ourselves to The Best Friends Animal Society’s National Conference in Las Vegas. We spent four days in the company of 1,700 folks who came together to talk about how to Save Them All. Attendees came from 48 states and more than half a dozen countries, seeking to share visons, strategies, goals and methods, projects, programs, and opportunities to save the lives of impounded and endangered pets doomed to die for no other reason than that they are homeless. To say the very least, Michael and I came back changed. To be more accurate, we both are more determined than ever to help realize PAWS’ No-Kill vision for Aiken County, South Carolina and the nation.
What should truly amaze us is how much of what Aiken County needs to do to join those inspiring examples already exists. We have established $10 million worth of animal shelters in the last two years. The City of Aiken contracts with the $7.3 million Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare to house its Animal Control facility run by the SPCA, and a year ago the County just opened its $2.7 million dollar shelter and hired more critical staff including a shelter manager and an adoption coordinator. North Augusta has a small operation and, although calling its current facility a “shelter,” would be significantly overstated, rumor has it that even that may be about to change.
Back in Vegas, Best Friends had placed large standing billboards throughout broad passageways offering opposing perspectives on each side:
be a naysayer in denial, like the guy who said rock and roll wouldn’t last two weeks, or the ones asserting that radio and air travel were fads; or be inspired by the possibility represented in examples like Reno, Nevada; Austin, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; or the state of New Hampshire, where the live-release rate in open-admission shelters (read, “public”) was still growing beyond 90%. And many more No-Kill efforts across the country are nearly there.
All three jurisdictions, Aiken County and the two cities, have set aside funds in the past to help qualifying residents with the costs of sterilizing household pets and some free-roaming cats. While the county continues to expand its support for spay/neuter, it is unclear what the two cities are committed to in terms of policy or implementation.
Where are other gaps? What else needs to happen so that public policy incents private practice, and vice versa, enabling Aiken County to lead South Carolina to Save Them All status?
This year the Best Friends Conference is in Atlanta in July. This year, at least six more PAWS advocates and allies will be attending the conference representing three local animal welfare efforts who are Best Friend partners in the Save Them All mission. What does that mean?
Here are a couple facts-to-inspire learned at the Best Friends Conference last year: 45 out of 46 of Michael Vicks’ brutalized pitt bull terriers were rehabilitated and able to live out a happy life, almost all in adoptive families; and, there is a young veterinarian running a parvo ward for puppies in a vacant municipal building in Austin, Texas. Her save-rate is 85%, and the cost per puppy is under $260.
Let’s dream that together we can save them all, and if that doesn’t move you out of your comfort zone, then you know what side of the “Save Them All” signboard you’ll be on.
A retired organizational problem-solver and radical educator, Joya Jiménez DiStefano is an artist, Servant Leader, and co-founder of FOTAS and founder of PAWS, Inc.