Puppies, kittens, dogs, and cats—65,564 of them—can bring a lot of happiness. That quantity—65,564—is also the number of companion animals saved in King County since a landmark PAWS-sponsored spay and neuter ordinance was passed in 1992. It has been especially gratifying to look back at ten years of clear success and be reminded of what a profoundly positive effect PAWS has had on the animals in our community.
Before PAWS became the Northwest’s largest wildlife rehabilitator, and before we adopted a single cat or dog, PAWS was an animal advocacy organization that promoted spaying and neutering as a remedy for the euthanasia crisis in local shelters. In 1967, when PAWS was founded, an estimated 25 million cats and dogs were euthanized in the nation’s shelters. Virginia Knouse and the other PAWS founders were horrified by this number and decided to promote a pretty radical notion: the best solution to this shelter crisis was to ensure that animals were spayed or neutered and not producing more litters. Thirty-five years and thousands of spay and neuter surgeries later, the number of animals put to death in shelters across the nation each year has decreased to an estimated 4 to 8 million.
I adopted my beloved dog Fred from the PAWS shelter one day in 1982. The friendly and insistent PAWS adoption counselor taught me my very first lessons about spaying and neutering, and it was a revelation. I was just a kid; I had no idea then what spaying or neutering was, let alone how important it was. I left the shelter that day with a new best friend, and as lifelong advocate for protecting animals.
Ten years later, Fred was in the last stages of his life. Suffering from cancer, Fred’s body couldn’t hold out any longer. At that time, PAWS was again advocating for companion animals in a very public way. Working with King County council member Ron Sims, PAWS was pushing the nation’s most progressive animal control policy, which was designed to encourage spaying and neutering through measures such as increased animal license fees for unaltered animals and mandatory alteration of shelter animals. So while I struggled with Fred’s death, I was also proud that he was a PAWS dog and that PAWS was leading the way to protect thousands of other companion animals.
So a decade after Ordinance 123 passed, it is clear that it helped save tens of thousands of lives. Unfortunately, the death toll at places such as Everett Animal Shelter has remained essentially the same over that time period. We would like to see Snohomish County animals have as positive a coming decade as the animals of King County enjoyed over the last tens years. As PAWS works to get Snohomish County communities to adopt progressive animal policies, it is my hope that we can look forward to many more animals’ lives being saved by 2012.
Director, Advocacy and Outreach