Talking pets: How much do we love our animals?

August 3, 2012 

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Mohandas Gandhi:

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

Luckily, we live in a community that values its animals and is gaining a reputation around the country as a very pet-friendly place to live.

Consider that:

* Manatee County has been officially designated by the county commission as a no-kill community. It didn't just express the desire, it made it official.

* Our Animal Services department is well on its way to the goal of saving 90 percent of the cats and dogs that arrive at its shelter, achieving an 81 percent save rate with five full months left toward the target date of the end of December.

* We have four (count 'em -- four) what I call "public shelters" -- Animal Services, Bishop Animal Shelter, the Humane Society of Manatee County and the fledgling Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch. For a community this size, that speaks volumes.

* All these public shelters are proactive in adopting out animals in their care. They don't just sit back and wait for people to come through their doors. They all "pound the pavement" to get pets adopted with adopt-a-thons, specials and an interactive presence through such media as Petfinder and Facebook.

* Manatee County is blessed with a multitude of rescue groups that "step up to the plate" to take in animals for sheltering either through their own facility or by way of a network of foster homes.

* Local pet lovers give of their time and effort to help animals. A few weeks ago, Animal Services held an innovative event where more than 100 volunteers showed up at the Palmetto shelter to bathe dogs and play with cats.

* Local veterinarians speak with their hearts by working with advocacy groups such as the Animal Network of Manatee County to provide affordable health services for animals that otherwise may languish or die without care.

* The State Attorney's Office for this district has gotten on board by actively prosecuting and seeking meaningful punishment for animal abusers, who in years past would have slipped under the radar.

* Wild animals are cared for, too. There are groups that rescue everything from squirrels and possums to turtles and seabirds.

Every single day in Manatee County, animals are cared for in one way or another. Maybe it's time the county start promoting itself as a pet-friendly place to live.

Trust me, there are plenty of communities that are not.

One such community is Miami-Dade, which enacted Breed Specific Legislation in 1989 and bans residents from owning American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Basically any dog that even looks like a pit bull can be confiscated.

In December, Major League Baseball pitcher Mark Buehrle signed a four-year, $58 million contract to play for the Miami Marlins. But his family can't live anywhere near the Marlins' new ballpark because they happen to love an American Staffordshire terrier.

They now live in south Broward County, (which, by the way, is the second official no-kill community in the state of Florida), and Buehrle has been quoted as saying he would not have signed with the Marlins if acceptable alternative housing could not be found for his family and their four dogs.

On Aug. 14, the citizens of Miami-Dade will be asked on their primary ballot to have the BSL ordinance removed from their county.

Anti-BSL groups have been working hard and have amassed some pretty impressive endorsements from the likes of government and city leaders (and one particular ballplayer).

Here's hoping they succeed and put discrimination where it belongs -- back in the dark ages.

Thankfully in Manatee County, we live in the light.

M.K. Means, Herald copy editor, can be reached at 941-745-7054.

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