This is a guest opinion column
Wendy Montealegre stood in the pouring rain. She could see the chained dogs that a worried neighbor had called her. She could also see puppies in a crate nearby. “Leave my property or I’ll call the police,” a woman shouted at him. The rain fell harder and a crate full of puppies began to fill with water as they frantically scratched each other. Music was blaring from the house even though it was the middle of the day. Montealegre had no choice but to leave. According to the law, she was a trespasser and she didn’t want to be shot.
It’s not an uncommon scenario for Montealegre or one of the tireless good people involved with county shelters and other nonprofits dedicated to helping save dogs and cats in a state with an explosion of animal population, inadequate enforcement of current animal protection laws and extreme poverty. . Our “don’t tread on me” mentality, lack of animal welfare education and awareness, lack of resources, inadequate political leadership, rifts within an exhausted animal advocacy community and overstretched and a powerful insurance lobby all create challenges when solving overcrowding. problem, the need for resources and education, and the introduction and enforcement of reasonable animal protection laws in Alabama.
When Montealegre, a former nurse who has worked for the past eight years saving animals for the Blount County Shelter and founder of the nonprofit Tails of Alabama, answered the phone last week, a woman distraught informed her that she was being kicked out of her home. “She’s crying and I’m crying because she doesn’t know what to do with her dog,” says Montealegre. But Montealegre posted a plea on Facebook, relating to the rescue, coordinating transport and following up to see how the dog was cared for. A somewhat happy ending in dire straits for the woman and her dog, but for too long and too often, rescue warriors like Wendy, who do yeoman work to save animals in Alabama, there’s no always a simple solution.
That same week, two disturbing events occurred across the state, highlighting the complex and difficult issue of animal welfare here. A woman checking on a pack of stray dogs was mauled to death by the pack, and a young Madison County boy discovered several dead pit bulls and dozens more chained up and malnourished on nearby property. Montealegre says she doesn’t find the situation the boy fell into unusual – dead dogs with others chained up and bred to fight. It is unusual that he and his mother received media coverage.
Where Monteleagre lives now, she says, people rent houses for breeding farms and dogs are sold for fighting. One of the most painful parts of her job is not being able to find a home for these “bully breeds”. Alabama Tails can only save so many because it’s so hard to place them.
Alabama currently has five neutering and low-cost sterilization clinics, compared to Georgia, which has thirty-seven, Mississippi, fourteen, and Florida, one hundred and thirty-seven. The state is fifth in the nation for the highest death rate in shelters. Understaffed and underfunded, shelters have become so overcrowded that they often cannot accept surrenders from landlords. The Greater Birmingham Humane Society recently faced a devastating outbreak of distemper. Fourteen counties in our state have no animal shelter or control, and often one county spans multiple jurisdictions, creating a significant area considered “no man’s land.”
Montealegre recalls a recent call about a battered dog from a county five hours away. The person called the police, but nothing was done. Because Alabama ranks 45th in the nation for poverty, “rescuing dogs always opens Pandora’s box,” says Montealegre. “It’s more important than the dog problem. This is abject poverty. The dog chained outside in excessive heat or freezing cold is just the tip of the iceberg. Lack of public education around pet care, understanding of animal husbandry issues, and voting for lawmakers who focus on burning issues and protect corporate bottom lines contribute to the problems faced animal advocates.
During the shortened 2022 legislative session, no animal welfare bills were introduced. In 2012, Beckham’s Law was passed, which eliminated the gassing of animals, and in 2018, Emily’s Law was also passed, which sets out the procedure for declaring a dog dangerous. In 2019, the Farmers’ Federation objected to HB305, which stated that a person committed the crime of cruelty to a dog or cat in the second degree if he deprived the animal of necessary shelter was not taken out of the committee even though HB 305 had only added a definition of a term in the existing law, which already required that shelter be provided
In 2021, HB551, the tether bill, which was first introduced in 2015 at the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee, was introduced late in the session and did not never been scheduled in committee. Since the extant has required food, shelter, and water since 2000, this bill has defined a method of human tethering. But our agrarian roots often create a generational pattern of viewing pets as livestock and many members of the farming community with a historically powerful lobby known for healthy campaign contributions view these types of bills as a threat that lovers crazy animals will soon demand luxury condos for chicken coops. But throughout this process, there has been no attempt to introduce or enact protective laws that would affect agriculture in any way. The many unsuccessful attempts to define “shelter” in existing law were all clearly written to apply only to dogs and cats and were reasonable and common sense.
The good news is that post-pandemic pet ownership is on the rise, and over the past decade the number of animals killed each year in shelters across the country has fallen from 23 million to 2. million, according to Alabama State Senior Manager Mindy Glibert. the Humanitarian Society. Alabama also has one of the third-strictest dogfighting laws in the country, but then the issue becomes proper enforcement. Gilbert says the goal is to prevent animal cruelty and change future behavior of owners, but police are only trained to write reports and some are more aware of welfare laws than others. to be animals.
Before beginning her rescue work, Montleagre was manicured and pedicured with well-groomed hair and matching outfits. Now she spends every moment saving animals. Just like her, she says there is a brigade of seemingly frail middle-aged women knocking on doors where animals are chained up, abused, over-raised, left out in the freezing cold or scorching sun to suffer. She and others confront abusers and pet owners who are often dangerous and hostile to them. These women with families, jobs and responsibilities, who face indifference and outright cruelty on a daily basis, are often mischaracterized by the public.
In Montealegre’s experience with animal welfare, “It’s like the Wild West in Alabama,” and for every dog rescued, she knows full well that hundreds more succumb to the elements, wander the streets, are hit by cars, starve, or are shot. The character of our communities, our state, and our nation depends on how well we care for the most vulnerable, and we in Alabama must do a better job of funding shelters, educating the public, passing legislation appropriately on animal welfare, shutting down barnyard breeders and protecting all creatures from God. As Jesus said, “What you do to the least of them you do to me.”
Lanier Isom, from Birmingham, is co-author of Lilly Ledbetter’s memoir ‘Grace and Grit: How I Won My Fight at Goodyear and Beyond’.