Mention ''pets'' to some people and wonderful stories pour forth about animals' companionship, their intelligence, their mischievous ways, their helpfulness.
Mention ''pets'' to others and they're just as likely to regale with tales of the dogs down the street who threaten the kids, tear up the garden, chase cars and harass wildlife.
The difference in the heart-warming and horror stories involving pets is people -- not the ones telling the stories but the ones who own the animals.
Responsible pet owners care for their animals, and it shows. Their pets are well-fed, well-watered, vaccinated, and safely and comfortably restrained.
Their pets are spayed, neutered and supervised. Their pets receive lots of loving attention. Their pets have identification tags.
Irresponsible pet owners may say they care for their animals, but their actions show otherwise. It is not caring to let pets run loose, putting them at risk of being hit by a car or snowmachine or causing them to be the primary cause of an accident. It is not caring to let animals reproduce unwanted litters, for which there is no home. It is not caring to own an animal and then ignore it, letting it fend for itself.
Irresponsible pet owners not only show they have no regard for the animals in their care, but they also reveal their lack of respect for their fellow human beings. The fact is, irresponsible pet owners cost everyone else money.
Consider these numbers: A fertile dog or cat generally produces a litter or two every year. Within less than a year, those offspring are reproducing. Figuring a conservative four surviving offspring a year, a female dog or cat would have 4,372 descendants by the time she was 7 years old. A male could generate about a million kittens or puppies in a decade.
Why should anyone care? Because it's estimated that about $400 million is spent annually in the United States destroying unwanted pets. More than 1,000 animals were destroyed at the Kenai and Soldotna animal shelters last year.
In Alaska, irresponsible pet owners also cost the rest of the state enjoyment of wildlife -- so much so that this year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has sent out a warning that it will enforce its zero-tolerance policy on any dog that chases, attacks or harasses a wild animal in any way.
That means the department will shoot loose-running dogs in a known caribou calving area or those which are seen chasing or harassing wildlife.
We applaud the department's move, but we regret it's come to this. If people would take responsibility for the animals under their care, this would not be necessary. Protecting the wildlife, however, should be the department's priority.
Animal control for the Kenai Peninsula Borough currently is not a burning issue, although there are many excellent reasons the borough should implement limited animal control. The most important reason is that it's a health and safety issue. Loose pets damage property, kill wildlife and injure people.
Approximately $340,000 is spent in the borough's organized cities to pay for catching strays, quieting barking dogs and destroying unwanted animals. Not all of that business, however, comes from within the city limits. There are some steps both the borough and cities could take to help reduce the problem of irresponsible pet owners:
--Subsidize spaying and neutering clinics. Spayed and neutered dogs tend not to roam and are much less likely to bite. The low-cost spay and neuter clinics provided by the Alaska SPCA are credited with reducing some of the borough's animal control problems.
--Provide tax incentives for pet owners who do spay and neuter their animals. On one hand, it hardly seems fair to reward people for doing what they should be doing, anyway. On the other hand, responsible pet owners and people without pets are currently paying the price for irresponsible pet owners.
--Institute a three strikes and you're out rule at the animal shelters. Animal shelters have lots of repeat business; to stop the repeat offenders, animals who end up in the shelter three times should be destroyed. It's unfortunate to make the pets pay for their owners' stupidity, but why should the same animals be allowed to keep causing problems -- and wasting money spent dealing with them?
--The borough also should provide money to the animal shelters for the work they are already doing in dealing with pet problems outside the cities. That money should not come with any strings, such as rural enforcement.
The best answer, of course, to animal problems is to deal with irresponsible pet owners. It's too bad they can't be locked up for a few days in one of the animal shelters for the problems their pets cause.
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