BOOKS: One At A Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2006:

One At A Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter
by Diane Leigh & Marilee Geyer
No Voice Unheard (P.O. Box 4171, Santa Cruz, CA
95063), 2005. 146 pages, paperback. $16.95.

One At A Time is a heartbreaking account
of one week in an animal shelter. While many
animals will find a new home, many other
exquisite animals will not. The pictures of the
cats and dogs at the shelter are compelling; it
is tempting to recommend that this book should be
part of a national humane education curriculum at
“This is how companion animal
overpopulation works,” Leigh and Geyer write.
“Simple math, where the numbers are lives and
those responsible are unaccountableÅ ”

Unfortunately, their “simple math”
includes estimates of the numbers of animals
killed in U.S. shelters that are half again
higher than at any time in the past 10 years, of
the U.S. feral cat population that roughly triple
reality, and the old saw that a single unaltered
cat and her offspring can exceed 400,000 in seven
years. ANIMAL PEOPLE recently joined Wall Street
Journal “Numbers Guy” columnist Carl Bialik in
tracing the latter claim to source. It
apparently originated as a January 1969
hypothetical projection of canine fecundity by
the Animal Protection Institute. The projection
mysteriously picked up one decimal place in
repetition while still applied to dogs, and
gained another decimal place when applied to cats.
Inflated estimates of the magnitude of
the U.S. pet population problem tend to cause
public policy makers to believe that sterilizing
pets is futile, since humane workers seemingly
acknowledge to making no progress in decades of
effort, that the situation is hopeless, and
that there are so many cats at large killing
birds that killing cats in high volume is the
only possible response.
Leigh and Geyer do, however, provide a
credible analysis of why a dog and cat surplus
developed, and what the consequences are of
killing dogs and cats in still shockingly high
“It is a tangible sign of our society’s
deep disconnection from other beings,” Leigh and
Geyer assess, “a disconnection so profound and
damaging that we could legitimately categorize it
as a sicknessÅ The systematic mass destruction and
disposal of millions of living creatures every
year constitutes a kind of violence in our
society that is no less violent because it is
institutionalized and mostly overlooked. When
killing those who are closest to, and most
dependent upon us becomes an unquestioned fact of
daily life, we have set a very dangerous and
damaging precedent as to what is ethically
acceptable, what we are willing to tolerate,
and what we are capable of doing to others. How
much easier is it to deny consideration and
compassion to one group when we have learned to
accept the mass killing of another-and
especially, of beings whom we call our ‘friends’?
“The homeless animal issue is critically
important,” Leigh and Geyer believe, “because
it is so fundamental: dogs and cats are the
closest most people ever get to other species and
the natural world. If our concern and compassion
are so weak and limited that we are unable to
save those animals closest to us, how will we
ever be able to save the more distant beings–the
endangered species we may never see, the
redwoods and mountains and wilderness we may
never visit, the suffering people we may never
meet and whose misery we may never experience
directly?” –Beverley

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