Helping the pets of the poor.
Throughout history, art and literature have depicted humans in all walks of life with animal companions, illustrating their widespread acceptance in everyday life. Closer to home, our own culture is populated with examples of the well-established place animals have found in our hearts and homes. People of all ages, but particularly the elderly and the young, enjoy their companionship. For people who live alone, animals offer companionship and for some, a welcome relief from loneliness. For children, an animal in the home contributes warmth and unconditional love, and teaches consideration for the needs of another creature. Those who suffer from disease or injury experience a therapeutic, even emotional, benefit from their presence.
Animals do so much good for the community: they give us a sense of optimism, safeguard us from depression and loneliness, and break down the barriers that isolate us from one another. Their presence improves our health, protects us from danger, and teaches us about caring and responsibility. And they ask for so little in return.
In 1869, when the late-Senator George Vest of Missouri was a young lawyer, he represented a client who was suing a neighbor for killing a pet dog. This is what he argued to the jury:
“The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and good name, may become traitors to their faith.
“The money that a man has he may lose. It files away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog.
“When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wing and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives his master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even unto death.”
And yet, there are some who argue that only people of means should be allowed to open up their heart and share their home with an animal. Thankfully, that view is changing. More people are working to ensure that when the animals of poor people need help, our society ensures that they get it. The Los Angeles Times reports on the efforts of animal organizations in that city to do so: http://goo.gl/nF1mV4
Back in the 1990s, when I was at the San Francisco SPCA, we provided free food, sterilization, and medical care for the animals of the homeless. And, sometimes, a place for those animals to go in times of crisis. It is great to see such programs expanding to other cities.