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No fault of the animals

Jack Lessenberry

People have been living with cats and dogs probably as long as modern man has existed. Unfortunately, we  abuse our own species all too often, which, come to think of it, is what much of the news is usually about -- and we aren’t always good to the animals either.

Cruelty and neglect are often tied to poverty, and it’s not surprising that some of our biggest animal problems are on the mean streets of Detroit. There, for more than a century, the Michigan Humane Society has been doing what it can to save and re-home animals.

There’s always controversy, however, and especially perhaps in this age of the pit bull. Some people think all pit bulls and other dangerous breeds should be banned and euthanized. Others think the Humane Society doesn’t do nearly enough to save animals.

Recently I spent time with two very strong women I’ve known for years, who both have dedicated much of their lives to animals. Jeanne Towar is a dynamic retired small newspaper publisher who is a board member of the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance. Their mission is

“to end the killing of healthy and treatable homeless dogs and cats in Michigan.”

They think the Humane Society euthenizes far more animals than they need to, and believe more than ninety percent of them can be saved.

Jennifer Rowell is still in her 30s, but has run the Humane Society’s Detroit shelter for more than a decade. These are exciting times for her, because they are about to move.

For decades they’ve been in a cramped century-old former piston factory. In two months, they will move to a beautiful and far larger, state of the art shelter now being built off I-75 near Hamtramck.

Both sides acknowledge the society is doing better than it once did at saving animals. However, they differ on the numbers. While Towar claims that the society still kills just over half the animals that come in, Rowell contends that the Detroit shelter places 91 percent of the animals that are considered treatable. I’ve seen a little of what she has to deal with. If I had her job, I would probably be an alcoholic.

Rowell instead devotes herself to new ways to save animals.

She gets cats that aren’t completely feral, but aren’t good choices to live in your house either; so she’s working on promoting a

“barn cat” or “warehouse cat” program; they are, after all, great safeguards against rats and mice. She thinks attempting to ban a specific breed is emotional and silly. “I would rather see a ban on how a dog is kept,”

she told me.

Most of the dogs that’ve killed people were essentially yard dogs, she noted, animals that have little interaction with humans outside of the length of their chain or a fenced yard.

Being shackled in a prison isn’t designed to produce a psychologically healthy man or dog. Rowell has saved animals I would have thought hopeless, and helped make some people better too. She now has the happy chore of hiring more staff for the new, much larger shelter.

Nobody gets rich doing what they do, but they do make a difference. Which some of us think is what life should be about.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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