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Animal shelters need our support

By STEVE WILSON Executive Editor

Like most cities, Paducah has scores of dogs and cats looking for a home.

The McCracken County Animal Shelter on County Park Road currently has 90 dogs and 30 cats. Less than a mile away, the McCracken County Humane Society on Coleman Road has 78 dogs and 64 cats. Shelters across western Kentucky and southern Illinois have more.

That's a lot of homeless animals, and we want to help reduce the numbers. Starting today on Page 2A, The Sun will highlight a pet of the week. We hope to not only help connect that animal with a new human but also increase awareness about the need for more shelter adoptions.

Nationally, tremendous progress has been made over the past 40 years in animal welfare.

In the 1970s, some 20 million animals were being euthanized annually. That toll has steadily fallen, and the Humane Society of the United States' estimate for last year is under three million.

The two biggest reasons for the dramatic change are a tripling of pet ownership in the U.S. and a huge increase in the percentage of animals being spayed or neutered.

Here are a few U.S. pet ownership statistics:

n Number of owned dogs - 83.3 million.

n Number of owned cats - 95.6 million.

n Households with at least one dog - 47 percent.

n Households with at least one cat - 46 percent.

n Households with at least one pet - 62 percent.

n Average number of dogs per household - 1.47.

n Average number of cats per household - 2.11.

Accompanying the rise in pet ownership has been a big jump in sterilization. Today 83 percent of owned dogs and 91 percent of owned cats have been spayed or neutered.

That's the good news. The bad news is that some seven million dogs and cats are still entering the nation's shelters each year, and 2.7 million adoptable animals are being euthanized annually. That's one dog or cat every 11 seconds.

My passion for animal welfare runs deep.

I grew up with Brownie, a wonderful spaniel mix who wandered into our yard as a stray, and have rescued many others. During my years in Arizona, some philanthropic friends put $2.5 million into building the Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff. I served as its first executive director and as a board member with the Arizona Animal Welfare League.

So I'm familiar with the challenges of shelters and homeless animals, including the difficult issue of euthanasia.

It was the inhumane way animals were being put down that prompted McCracken County's split with the Humane Society three years ago. Even though the Humane Society has a new staff, a new board and a new euthanasia policy, I'm told the issue remains an obstacle to the county forming a new partnership.

It needn't be, and an agreement is overdue. The policy now in place at the Humane Society is sound. It states that the organization is "committed to ending the euthanasia of adoptable animals whenever possible" and that it is performed "only after a reasonable and appropriate pursuit of all other viable options."

I'm aware, however, that no matter how carefully written the policy may be, thoughtful people will sometimes disagree about what's "reasonable and appropriate."

My shelter in Arizona was committed to euthanizing only in extreme cases, and my most anguished moments were spent deliberating whether a medical or behaviorial problem was so severe that an animal should be put down. We didn't always feel the same, but we worked out our differences. People here can do the same.

Neither shelter in Paducah wants to euthanize a single dog or cat. But both have large populations, and the county's inadequate facility, where five dogs died from heatstroke last month, is seriously overburdened.

You can help. Both shelters are open Monday through Saturday - the county's till 5 p.m. and the Human Society's till 3:30 p.m.

Butch (our first pet of the week) and plenty of others would love to see you. You might want to bring a leash.

Steve Wilson is executive editor of The Paducah Sun. You can reach him at

swilson@paducahsun.com.

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