Raising Awareness of Stray Animals

Since January, I have been a member of a group of English students at Virginia Tech dedicated to raising awareness of stray and feral animals, as well as the overburdened and overcrowded shelters they are frequently taken into. Stray and feral animals are a large problem in southwest Virginia thanks to the high population of college students, combined with the sheer number of strays left breeding unchecked in the wild. It’s up to the caring, animal-oriented folk to make the decision to adopt a pet from a local shelter — or take in a stray — to help aid the problems plaguing the local area.

Awareness of the issue is just one step. Many times, residents walk past their doors, see a stray cat or dog run past, and continue on their way, mildly unperturbed. The largest barrier, I believe, is a lack of understanding on solving the stray animal problem. Locals either don’t believe they can do much to help, or are uncertain as to the actions they should take. This leads to a reality of inaction, where many people simply do nothing because they feel their actions would either result in failure, or not have a large enough impact — sort of a modified bystander effect.

Our group is here to tell you that your actions do matter, and do have an impact far beyond what you can imagine. Every pet you adopt saves another from the streets, and helps solve the overcrowding and rampant breeding in the wild. Even if you don’t take in a pet, stop the next time you see one outside and call your local animal control office. The people working there will come by and pick up the animal, or simply trap it, neuter it to stop the breeding problem it poses, and then return it to the wilderness. Though the latter isn’t necessarily the ideal solution, it is the most cost-effective way to aid the problems posed by feral animals.

As for what you can do to help — aside from adopting an animal — practicing TNR (trap-neuter-return) with your animal control office’s permission is an excellent way to help solve the problem. If you see feral cats in your local area, lay a trap for them, take them to your local veterinary clinic, and have them neutered. Then, return them to the wild if you cannot care for them, or take them to a shelter. Stray dogs are a more pressing issue, as stray dogs are governed by statutes in Virginia who forbid owners from simply putting them out into the wild. In this case, it’s better to simply call animal control.

It’s the hope of our group — and other animal awareness groups across the country — that we can help end animal cruelty, animal overpopulation, and the epidemic of stray animals caused by owners releasing their animals when they can no longer care for them, instead of responsibly finding a home or bringing them to a shelter. Currently, giving an animal up to a shelter is seen as “giving up”; it’s far easier to just release an animal and claim that it ran away. But this poses a problem, as doing so — especially if the animal is un-neutered — continues the issues mentioned above. Additionally, the level of cruelty towards an animal to release it into the wild is unimaginable. Whatever a pet owner believes will happen to an animal when they release it into the wild is almost certainly wrong; the animal, not used to being alone in the wild, will generally either die, or survive to breed with others somewhere. In either case, the animal does not generally fare well.

For the animals of the world, groups like ours ask that you care for the ones you own, and treat all animals responsibly. If you must surrender your pets because you can no longer care for them, first ask a friend or family member to take them. Failing that, donate them to a shelter. Never leave your pets outside unattended unless they are leashed or fenced in, and always be sure to neuter your pets unless you specifically want them to breed — and intend on caring for the newborns. Finally, if you see stray or feral animals in your area, call animal control — don’t just let them wander about until they leave.

Thank you all for reading, have a pleasant day, and go spend some time with your animals. Be as thankful for them as they are for you.

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