In many communities, animal control still means dog catcher. And everyone knows what that means. It's no surprise that animal rescue groups and others have had an uneasy relationship with the municipal facilities whose solution to the problem of stray cats and dogs can often be a very final one.
But as a 'no-kill' movement continues to spread, animal control departments across the country are rethinking their traditional role. In the Phoenix area, for instance, rescue groups, shelters, and veterinarians have joined together to help end the killing of healthy homeless pets. Leading this radical experiment is Ed Boks, a former pastor who headed Maricopa County Animal Care and Control and was recently named executive director of New York City Animal Care and Control. He recently shared a few thoughts with the pet lovers' magazine Best Friends:
You've said that animal control should lead the no-kill movement.
Absolutely! Since we play the unfortunate role of having to euthanize homeless animals, we provide each community with a benchmark for determining how well they are treating their animals.
Do you think city governments should be putting more money into animal control?
In the current fiscal climate, the idea that municipalities should be spending more is not going to fly. If we view Maricopa County as a model, it shows that there are people in every community who care very deeply and are willing to help with donations and grants. For our animal care side, we developed our own 501(c)3 charity, called Friends of Animal Care and Control, to raise money for animal welfare programs. I don't think we have to tax people more to solve this problem. When the community comes together and solves the problem, everyone feels good about it.
What's the most important element in what you did in Phoenix?
Our Big Fix program, which provides free or low-cost spay/neuter services for the pets of anybody on public assistance.
Is the Big Fix working?
In 2002 we saw our first decrease in animal rescues in 15 years. We attributed the decline to our spay/neuter and education programs. . . . Adoptions have gone up, too. Maricopa Animal Care and Control finds homes for nearly 22,000 animals a year, making it the number one pet adoption agency in the world.
For more information, go to www.maricopa.gov/pets. Adapted from a longer interview in Best Friends (Jan./Feb. 2003). Subscriptions: Donate at least $25/yr. (6 issues) to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, 5001 Angel Canyon Rd., Kanab, UT 84741; www.bestfriends.org