Wade on Birmingham

The Future of Birmingham: Compassion

Maya and Tina

Photo: Liz Parker (reprinted with permission)

Tina, left, and Maya are pet stars on Instagram. They are
among thousands of companion animals in Birmingham.

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By Joey Kennedy

The future of Birmingham has to involve animals. A progressive city — and our city is a progressive one — can’t put animals, especially companion animals, in second place.

The Future of BirminghamA society can be judged on how well it treats its animals. If so, Birmingham would be judged poorly.

Many people dump their dogs and cats in neighborhoods, knowing that somebody is likely to take care of them. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Animal control is a hell into which they go. Often, they never come out. Animal control officers take strays to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, where they’re more likely to be adopted than under previous systems. Still, most strays that enter the system are put down. Killed. Doesn’t matter if they’re healthy and adoptable. So many animals come in that they have to be killed for space.

Most animals in Jefferson County taken in by animal control come from the City of Birmingham. Many are pit bulls, the Satan of dogs. That’s a shame, because pit bulls are among the most gentle breeds. Golden retrievers, cocker spaniels and Chihuahuas are much more aggressive. Yet, the pit bull gets that bad rap.

Part of the problem is that pit bulls are used for fighting. Collateral dogs — pugs, cockers, other pit bulls, Labrador retrievers — are used as bait dogs, to make the fighting pits more vicious. I can train pugs to fight; that’s a human flaw, not an animal one.

This happens in Birmingham every day.

So for our future, the city council needs to adopt these measures to make life better for all animals:

An anti-tethering ordinance. Homewood recently passed one, setting a time limit that dogs can be chained outside without supervision. Keeping them on chains 24/7 makes them mean. Birmingham should put limits on how long dogs can be chained outside without adequate food, water and shelter.

A licensing program for pets. Owners who have them spayed or neutered would pay a nominal cost, say $5, for licenses. Those who insist on foregoing this process would pay a much higher fee, $25 to $50.

Feral cat colonies. Instead of ignoring this persistent problem, let’s encourage TRN: trap, neuter and return. This would fund rescue groups to trap these cats, spay or neuter them and release them into their colonies. They won’t reproduce, eliminating the problem.

Recognition of animal rights. We must acknowledge that dogs and cats are sentient beings. They deserve life like we deserve life. They think and plan, feel pain, hope and love. Birmingham’s future must include companion animals as part of the culture and positive benefits of the city. These animals need love, not derision. They need care, not indifference. They know what we’re doing.

No-kill policies. No upside exists for killing thousands of dogs and cats a year when they could be saved. It’s not a budget question; it’s a humanitarian question: Are we humans, or are we something else? The city should include the Greater Birmingham Humane Society in all levels of animal control and care. The organization has the resources and know-how to save these animals from certain death.

We need to treat the city’s animals as we treat ourselves. They want to live. To simply collect and kill them is not what we want the future of Birmingham to be. That’s a cruel future. That’s an unacceptable future. That’s a future of demise for the city we love.

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Joey KennedyJoey Kennedy is a Pulitzer-winning editorial writer and a veteran journalist for four decades. He teaches composition and American literature at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, serves as the back-page columnist for B-metro magazine, writes a weekly column for Alabama Political Reporter and is co-founder of Animal Advocates of Alabama.

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The Future of BirminghamEssays from other contributors are available in the free ebook, “The Future of Birmingham.”

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  1. Wade on Birmingham » #sundayread for Sept. 20, 2015
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