October 19, 2016 9:54 AM
Volunteers seeking to change treatment of abandoned pets
CHRISTOPHER STEPHENS | Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. – Susan Blake and Stephanie King Miles aren't content to just let a problem go when they see one.
So when the two Anderson residents found out that the community was overrun with abandoned animals, to the tune of 600 abandoned kittens picked up between January and July of this year, they knew they had to do something to help.
Blake and King Miles met with Maleah Stringer, executive director of the Animal Protection League.
"Just listening; they are just so fragmented, with so many problems, it is like whack a mole," Blake said. "I just had to help."
Each day at the animal shelter is a struggle, Stringer said, because there's little funding and even fewer people willing to volunteer to help care for the more than 100 animals that usually fill the shelter.
"I don't think, unless you go to an animal shelter or are involved, you have no understanding of what's going on down there," Stringer said. "Because we are suffering from rampant animal abuse and neglect in our community."
But if someone doesn't see the issue, it's easy to ignore, particularly when there's so many other things to worry about like crime or finances.
"If (community members) think it's great and everything is going just fine, they will be not as willing to go to help, so I think they need to see that there is a problem," Stringer said.
Hearing that, Blake knew she needed to do something to help, more than just donating some money or food. King Miles and Blake didn't want to put a bandage on the problem, they wanted to solve it.
Or at least work toward finding a solution.
Though Blake didn't have any experience working with animals, other than taking care of her own adopted dogs and cats, she had worked for years as a director for several organizations, most recently at Aspire in Anderson.
So she and King Miles decided to use their organizational experience to plan a community meeting to bring those "in the trenches" with caring for lost animals, like the Humane Society and Animal Protection League, as well as police, and community members from across the county to discuss ways to deal with the abandoned animal problem.
"There's so much apathy in this community, everyone complains but no one really does anything except the animal shelters," Blake said. "I am just trying to step forward, and I am not going to complain about it, I will get involved and work to figure this out," Blake said.
Their first meeting, held in August, was focused on pinpointing the problems for each organization. But for many of the roughly 30 attendees, the meeting was a wakeup call.
"What everybody saw that the problem is so big and it's going to take baby steps to fix it," Stringer said.
Though numbers for Indiana are hard to come by, nationwide 7.6 million animals enter shelters each year, and 2.7 million are euthanized, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It's impossible to know just how many stray animals are in the country, estimates for cats alone sit at 70 million.
The hours-long meeting did lead to some ideas for ways to help, particularly changing the laws in Anderson to punish people who abandon and abuse animals as well as clamping down on backyard breeders.
"Ordinances, they need stronger laws when someone comes in and dumps off the pet and they don't want to give anything to the shelter, that's not OK," Blake said.
For inspiration, the group looked at Pendleton, which recently updated its own ordinances which Marc Farrer, Pendleton police chief, said has helped to cut down on abused and abandoned pets.
The town has also created its own animal protection organization, Friends for Paws, that works within the community to help educate owners.
"We saw the issue here and we and the town and the police department all worked together and we are getting Pendleton abandoned animals somewhat under control," Friends for Paws founder Kellie Borgman said.
Borgman spoke at the group's meeting in August to offer advice and encouragement to the fledgling movement.
"We would love to see Anderson work together to see some changes in animal ordinances and educating the community and the government to see that animal lives matter and they have feelings and they deserve to be treated better," she said.
For now, the group is still in the planning stages, with Stringer working with the City Council to change ordinances while Blake and King Miles work with smaller groups to educate the community. Anyone looking to get involved can contact the Animal Protection League at 765-356-0900.
"(The APL and Humane Society) are doing the really tough work, and Susan and I and whomever else wants to join in, we are really just coming alongside them to support and hold their arms up when they can't do it.," King Miles said.
Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin, http://bit.ly/2es9H7p
Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com