Finding My VoicePosted by Paula Mullen, ALDF's Executive Assistant on May 21, 2007
Several years ago, a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance came before the Santa Cruz City Council. I worked part time as an animal care technician at the local SPCA, and euthanasia was, unfortunately, part of the job. I decided I needed to speak at the ordinance hearing.
When it was my turn, I was very nervous. I was in my early 20’s at the time, and very shy about speaking in public. The dog and cat breeders who were present weren’t about to let anyone (let alone a 20-something kennel worker) tell them that purebred animals were part of the overpopulation problem. But despite the hostile environment I found myself in, something compelled me to put one foot in front of the other and make my way up to the microphone.
What pulled me to the front of the room were the memories of the hundreds of shelter animals I had euthanized while working there. Theirs were the faces I saw before injecting, faces that the general public doesn’t get to see. Those faces are burned into my memory forever.
At the time, the SPCA used paper collars to identify the animals that entered the shelter. I had been saving the collars of the animals I had euthanized for some time, as a way to honor and remember them. I decided to take the collars with me to the city council meeting. I wanted to give those animals a voice, and what better way than to have my coworkers hold the linked-together collars up, so the city council could see with their own eyes how many animals someone who only worked part-time had euthanized in just one year. Many of the collars still had tufts of fur on them, a bittersweet reminder of the animals’ descriptions. I was sure to tell the council that a percentage of the collars represented purebred animals, including purebred cats.
I also made sure they knew what shelter workers go through, even for someone only working part-time like me: nightmares, stress-related illnesses, never-ending grief, insomnia. Shelter workers care for the animals, and become attached to them as if they were their own (and sometimes even make them their own, because they cannot bear to kill them). Then they are asked by an apathetic, throw-away society to euthanize the very animals they have lovingly cared for. Millions of animals are euthanized by shelter workers every year in this country because there are still too many people who don’t spay and neuter their animals.
I told the city council that if they could see the hundreds of bodies I had to put into a cooler, when just minutes before those bodies were warm with precious life, then they, too, would support the humane and ethical ordinance before them.
My voice was very shaky at first. But then a funny thing happened. My need to tell the animals’ stories took over, and my voice became strong and clear in spite of my fear and in spite of the opposition’s hostility.
And, I am happy to report that the ordinance passed, thanks to the hard work and dedication of many caring people. Since implementation of the ordinance by the County of Santa Cruz in 1995, the shelter’s intake numbers have been reduced by 64%, and many of the animals entering the shelter are already spayed and neutered.
This was the first time I realized that my voice can be a powerful force for change.
Currently before the California State Assembly is AB 1634, otherwise known as the California Healthy Pets Act, a mandatory spay/neuter bill with exemptions for elderly, sick, service, sporting, or show dogs, among others: http://www.cahealthypets.com/. This important piece of legislation is largely modeled after the successful Santa Cruz County ordinance. I hope all California residents will contact their assembly members and urge them to vote yes on this common sense, much needed bill. California’s companion animals depend on it.
What experiences have you had that have deeply affected you? Hearing about companion animal overpopulation? Reading about the billions of farm animals who are tortured on factory farms? Witnessing a specific act of animal cruelty that has happened in your community? A long-ago visit to a slaughterhouse? I urge you to find your own voice and channel your anger and sorrow by writing letters to your elected representatives, volunteering at your local SPCA or humane society, or, yes, even speaking at a city council meeting.
If someone as shy as me can do it, you can too.