Education is key to teaching responsibility

Posted: Friday, April 01, 2005

Responsibility is a big word. It means being reliable, trustworthy and accountable. When you're irresponsible, you are none of these things.

The Kenai Peninsula seems to have its share of irresponsible people. Unfortunately, these people also acquire pets — a lot of them.

The 17-year-old girl in Kasilof who recently abandoned her 11 sled dogs, leaving the neighbors feeling it was their responsibility to care for them, took a big risk. As it turned out, the neighbors found it more than they, too, could handle. It never should have gotten to that point, though.

Animal control in the Kenai Peninsula Borough has long been an issue. Voters have had their say — which has been, basically, it's not our responsibility to take care of other people's pets. And yet they continue to step in where needed — for food, shelter or picking up the phone to call law enforcement.

But it's hard to say no. After all, it isn't the fault of the animal that it's not being fed, watered or cared for in humane conditions. The animal is the victim — whether it's intended or not.

There are organizations on the peninsula that can help. That's why the number of incidents is so surprising.

In the case of the 17-year-old, calls were made, but they were never followed through.

People want to help, but there's a limit in what we can do — and how many times we can do it. That's evident by number of full shelters on the peninsula.

Part of the problem is it takes money to help.

In 2001 it was proposed to encourage the borough and Kenai and Soldotna city agencies to work together to create a unified animal control system, but the idea fizzled before gathering much steam.

Money got in the way. No one wants to pay for someone else's irresponsibility. Why should we?

Unfortunately, there's no win-win situation. When someone isn't a responsible pet owner, unplanned litters take place, feeding and veterinary care costs grow and neglect ensues. Some situations just get out of control. But in most cases, it is the animal who pays the ultimate price.

Making owners responsible is the right decision, but too often there is no penalty. There are laws, but the owner abandons the animals or cannot pay the fines and the result — jail time — is not a solution.

There is no perfect solution — that's not realistic — but there are some ideas that can alleviate the frustration, the suffering and the shelters filled to capacity.

Being a responsible pet owner starts with knowing your limits. A puppy is hard to resist, but when it gets bigger, how will you take of it? Getting a pet is a longtime commitment. Can you realistically care for an animal until it reaches its mature age of 12, 14 years or more?

Many people think their pet needs a companion, but do you have the finances to care for more than one?

And what about health care? Pets need shots, check-ups and sometimes surgery. Are you prepared to take on those costs?

Being a responsible pet owner also means making sure your pet doesn't contribute to the overpopulation problem on the peninsula.

Can you afford to have your dog or cat spayed or neutered? You should.

Putting the responsibility of the problem on the shoulders of the borough or cities is not the answer. Educating pet owners will make a difference.

There are several organizations on the peninsula willing to answer questions and offer help. The responsibility of learning falls directly in the owners' lap.

Enforcing responsibility through education is the solution we should be striving for and, hopefully, before the the Clarion headlines read that more pets have been neglected, abused or have died.

It's the least we can do for our best friends.

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