Oregonians like sharing their homes with critters.
The American Veterinary Medical Association reported this year that the Beaver State ranks fourth nationwide in pet ownership, with nearly two-thirds of our households featuring at least one animal in the family roster.
It’s understandable if Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Lee Bartholomew feels as though he’s taken a call about each and every one of them.
There was a time when the county’s Animal Control division staffed five deputies. That time is past, leaving Bartholomew the lone animal control deputy in the state’s fifth-largest county in land mass. Bartholomew’s territory is 5,134 square miles. A typical shift finds him driving 250 miles.
Not only that, but he’s usually driving to or from a problem. Some are deadly. Others are heartbreaking.
Should an elderly woman be found with 52 cats in an excreta-filled home, Bartholomew will be sent there. If a wayward Australian shepherd rips out the throats of a herd of ewes and lambs, Bartholomew is going to be called. When an emaciated horse is discovered staggering and near death in a remote field, Bartholomew is likely to be the first on the scene.
The department’s funding and staffing decreases have coincided with a spike in the number of animal-related problems. More dogs are attacking people and each other. As more people get pets, more homes are likely to harbor animals lacking the necessary licensing and vaccinations. Less money is available for livestock claims.
County residents need no reminders that budget cuts have carved out a new world, one in which workers in the public and private sectors are compelled to do more than ever on fewer resources within memory. Life is tough and we all have to be tougher.
The beastly part is that so many of these calls should never have to be made.
Americans don’t like to be told how to live their lives. They’re not too fond of what they regard as infringement of their rights.
No law requires a human to pass a test or seek government permission before adopting a pet. From the viewpoint of an abandoned dog or stray cat, a less-than-ideal home is better than the shelter or a euthanasia needle in the foreleg. And for the ill or lonely, an animal can offer comfort that may offer purpose and solace for the first time in years.
Yet while there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits anyone from pet ownership, there is also that old killjoy called accountability.
Lee Bartholomew can’t be everywhere, and he shouldn’t have to be.
Caring for an animal means looking out for a dependent in a way that not only looks after its best interests, but also those of neighbors and fellow taxpayers.
Dogs that are trained and monitored will not go on killing rampages. Cats that are kept out of next-door flower beds will not be shot by irate gardeners. People who educate themselves about animal behavior will be able to avoid placing their pets in situations in which they may bite. At the least they should keep anxious animals away from others and out of situations that can be dangerous, even fatal.
Those who take pleasure in the companionship of pets must take responsibility to keep them out of hairy situations.