Last night I attended a Pet Lovers Speaker Series at PAWS Chicago. I always enjoy being surrounded by people who love animals just as much as I do. There is a magic to it, a power you feel when a group of people dedicated to animal welfare come together.
I knew Cari Meyers would be one of my favorite speakers because she founded The Puppy Mill Project and, well, puppy mills are what I am MOST passionate about. Tears streamed down my face as she talked about holding a mill dog who has never felt compassion, or had someone pet her with a gentle hand. A mill dog whose eyes squint at the slightest bit of sunshine and whose paws dance on green grass. “A mill dog is not like a rescue dog. It is so much different,” she said at one point. I could not agree more.
However, it was Laurie Maxwell, PAWS Chicago Community Outreach Manager, who truly inspired me when she said, “I walk in assuming the person loves their dog just as much as I love mine.” Laurie does outreach for PAWS in a Chicago neighborhood called Englewood. It is one of the most underserved areas of the city with little opportunity for jobs. Most of the people live in complete poverty. Most families make on average $19,000 while the IL average income is $53,000.
They believe there are about 25,000 animals living in the Englewood neighborhood and PAWS has chosen to do direct outreach, going door to door, informing people about spay and neuter and vaccinations. If the dog or cat owner agree to it, PAWS will pick up their pet bring it to their clinic to be spayed or neutered, give it the necessary vaccinations and bring it back to their home. PAWS is also bringing leashes and collars and bowls and food. They bring whatever people need to keep their pets healthy and IN THEIR HOMES.
Laurie explained that it is NOT about judging people, but educating them and giving them the opportunity to get the resources. She showed us a map of vet clinics and pet supply stores and there was neither anywhere near the area of Englewood. In fact, the only hope of getting dog or cat food is at the corner store, and they charge 3 times more than anywhere else.
Her words inspired me because I have spent a lot of time in the midst of private rescue. I have listened to them bitch about the lack of quality applicants and nitpick faults of potential adopters. Many times “rescuers” do NOT assume anyone loves their pets as much as they do.
Laurie said that the way Englewood residents cared for their pets might not be like she would, but she said after meeting so many of the people, she knew they loved their pets just like she does.
Another interesting moment during the night was when one person asked the police officer, who was a speaker, about how to take away a dog from a homeless person. I could feel the angst in the air as so many other people cringed. Laurie was quick to point out that, that pet in the homeless person’s care is probably all they have left in the world. How cruel would it be to take that way? Yes, the dog might have to endure a harsh environment, but unlike many companion animals whose owners are gone for 8-12 hours a day, a homeless person’s pet is with them all of the time. They are never left alone. That must mean something.
I had the chance to talk to Laurie at the end of the night and tell her how much what she said meant to me. I told her about some of the rescue horror stories I had. She said she had seen some of the same things. She has met many people in Englewood who were denied adoptions and then went out and BOUGHT a dog elsewhere. Clients, who, she said, love their dogs, like they are their world, yet weren’t worthy enough of the adoption process.
There is such beauty in assuming the best in people. Such peacefulness in not judging. As a group of animal welfare people, I think we need to embrace what Laurie said. We need to go in to each animal-owner situation and assume they love them just as much as we do.
I believe the rage and anger we feel towards people is our own fault. We set standards so high for animal care that few people can achieve them. As a result, millions of dogs and cats are unjustly killed everyday. I think for the sake of the animals and for the sanity of ourselves, it is time to be inspired simply by the love between animals and their owners.