Advice from a dog

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1993:

DALTON, Georgia––”Living on the buckle of
the Bible Belt, where every harsh, cruel thing done to ani-
mals seems to have so-called divine justification, is at
times intolerable,” says Linda McClure-Woodham. “I can
count the number of animal activists in Dalton on the fin-
gers of one hand. But I keep writing my column in the
hope that maybe, just maybe, it is reaching those who
would never read ANIMAL PEOPLE or any other publi-
cation like it.”
For just over three years, McClure-Woodham
has ghostwritten two installments a month of a pet advice
column called Gizzmo for the Dalton Advertiser, a twice-
a-week newspaper with a circulation of 34,000. The osten-
sible author is her Chihuahua mix, Gizzmo, whom she
adopted from the local pound five years ago, at age six
months, as the dog was headed for the gas chamber.
Gizzmo answers fictitious letters sent in from other ani-
mals––some actually submitted by human readers on
behalf of their animals, some invented to illustrate other
issues McClure-Woodham wants to address.

“I felt a column with letters from animals and
answered by a dog would get attention,” she explains. The
column debuted in the newsletter of the Humane Society of
Northwest Georgia, which McClure-Woodhan helped
found in 1988, and served as president, vice-president,
and director of education until, “My agenda and that of the
membership became too polarized for me to be produc-
tive.” Meanwhile, she had convinced the A d v e r t i s e r t o
publish Gizzmo on a trial basis. The trial succeeded.
“Gizzmo is said to be the most popular feature of
the paper,” McClure-Woodham says, “but my reason for
writing it is not recognition.” Nor is it money; she isn’t
paid. “I am trying to at least plant a few seeds of kindness
is a town where the county animal control ordinance per-
mits the killing of free-roaming female dogs in heat, and
chaining dogs is considered humane. Even if people read
the column in a fur coat or on their way to a raccoon hunt,
at least the words have entered their minds and maybe their
hearts. Gizzmo and I frequently receive requests to speak
at schools, civic clubs, and other organizations,”
McClure-Woodham continues, including Sunday school
classes and Bible clubs, where the alleged divine justifica-
tions for animal abuse are increasingly yielding to a more
encompassing interpretation of the Golden Rule.
That in itself is something of a victory, McClure-
Woodham feels. “Dalton is located in Whitfield County,
in the northwest corner of Georgia,” she explains. That’s
where the hill country meets the Appalachian mountains.
As self-proclaimed home to the carpet industry, “Dalton at
one time had more millionaires per capita than Atlanta,”
McClure-Woodham adds. “There is much support for the
arts, and the schools are rated as some of the best in the
state. However, in many neighborhoods $500,000 homes
share the same power lines as four-room shacks. The illit-
eracy rate is 52%.”
Animals don’t vote
Animals aren’t even a low public priority. “The
city of Dalton has one animal control officer for 95,000
human residents, and the county animal control depart-
ment has four employees to cover 291 square miles,”
McClure-Woodham states. “Both the city and the county
have sections in their animal control ordinances pertaining
to the humane care of animals, but this section is rarely
enforced. There are too many miles, too few employees,
and too many stray dog complaints to worry about the dogs
chained in the 100-degree sun or the cats starving in trailer
parks. Here, as in so many other rural areas, government
officials prefer to control the animals after they are born,
rather than before. One of our county commissioners
recently said it would be too much of an inconvenience for
residents to come to the courthouse once a year, if a
licensing ordinance was passed in conjunction with a neu-
tering program. At present, not one cent of the joint ani-
mal control budget is spent on education or neutering.
Animals are adopted out to anyone with the fee, no ques-
tions asked.”
McClure-Woodham has ambitions of changing
that. “Last year I formed Georgia Citizens for Animals,”
she recounts. “Our newspaper statement and opposition
for the local Board of Commissioners helped unseat four of
the five members who ran for re-election. These commis-
sioners had been boldly anti-animal, refusing to make
even small concessions for the benefit of animals because
they were angry over the media coverage of conditions at
the dog pound, which the Humane Society of Northwest
Georgia exposed in 1988. The new board is definitely an
improvement over the last.”
Meanwhile, she writes more installments of
G i z z m o. “The paper is ultra-conservative,” she says,
“and I am edited frequently if a fact or specific statement
might offend or upset a narrow mind in the community. I
often feel hopeless and helpless, but I keep going.”
[Gizzmo is available to other newspapers c/o 201
Van Buren Drive, Dalton, GA 30721.]
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