Paw it froward 

Colleen Dougherty

In my second year of graduate school when I had to take a class called “Paradigm Shifts & Change Agents,” I had no idea what a paradigm shift even was!  

Merriam-Webster defines it as, “An important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way.”   

That change starts with awareness that the “usual way” is holding up progress or causing harm, and naturally people start looking for the “new and different way.” That new way can be inspired by science, humane principles or moral values but, often, the best shifts are born of a combination of those. That’s because people respond to change differently based on their own values and needs.  

For example, spaying and neutering pets addressed health and behavior issues initially (science). Then, when pet overpopulation became a serious issue causing crowded shelters and millions of animals being put to death every year — by people devastated by having to do that, the issue took on a humane and moral aspect. 

No matter which aspect inspired pet owners to spay/neuter their pets, when they followed through, overpopulation decreased in their communities, reducing overpopulation, shelter intake and euthanasia and grief.   

Backyard breeders, who sell puppies and kittens at roadsides and parking lots, may not regard animals the way many of us do, instead seeing them only as a source of income. If those folks truly are struggling financially, getting their needs met in other ways may persuade them to stop breeding — even if their regard for animals doesn’t change much.  

Paradigm shifts also work best when started at the grassroots level because laws imposed from the top down often don’t address the needs and values of those affected by the law. That can result in rebellion and/or hardship. For example, some people found the restrictions during Covid personally offensive; others lost their homes and businesses.   

We’re lucky to have many people and organizations doing great work for animals in Valencia County. So, in the spirit of positive change and grassroots effort, here are some ideas we can hope will inspire the rest of the community to help bring this much needed paradigm shift to life for everyone.  

I interviewed a woman who founded a successful foal rescue and she suggested I call some local food pantries to ask if they accepted or gave out pet food to their patrons. Not only were they all super friendly, but they all agreed they’d love to have donations of pet food. 

Doris at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Rio Communities (505-864-7954) already has a woman in mind who’s always asking for cat food. She also said large bags of food could be split up to help multiple patrons! 

The Peralta United Methodist Church (505-865-9334) also heartily welcomes pet food donations, and Andy with the Los Lunas Seventh-day Adventist Church (505-450-8953) couldn’t believe he’d never thought of it but said “That’s a great idea!”   

I found their numbers, locations and hours on the Valencia County Extension Office site. That’s grassroots, neighbors helping neighbors.  

Here are a few more ideas:  

Does your neighbor need information about one of the low-cost spay/neuter events at the shelter, and do they need a ride to get their pets there when the family car isn’t available?  

Do you know someone who needs a fence repaired so their dogs quit escaping? 

Are you’re struggling financially? Reach out and utilize programs already in place. Those programs are for you and you deserve that help.  

Do you, or someone you know need help with basic pet care or training? Check out the ASPCA website before surrendering your family member for an issue you may be able to remedy yourself.   

Landlords, please join the paradigm-shift and consider revising no-pet policies! There are many methods and practices already in place to insure compliance and financial responsibility for tenants with furry family members. Keeping them together keeps animals out of the shelter and people much happier. The January 2021 Paw it Forward, “Fenced Yard, No Pets” can be accessed online. In it you’ll find lots of good information and resources for landlords, as well as tenants and apartment hunters.   

Lastly, this from Shani at the horse rescue: Whenever you do something to help, whether it’s a kind deed or a change in behavior, give yourself a “pat on the back” and soak in the good feeling that comes over you, because that feeling, like the old Mastercard commercials used to tell us, is priceless. Happy Holidays.  

(Colleen Dougherty’s history in animal welfare includes work in a veterinary clinic, shelters in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and currently as a volunteer for the Valencia County Animal Shelter. She has been a speaker at the N.M. State Humane Conference on three occasions, presenting talks on caring for small mammals in the shelter setting, and compassion fatigue in animal welfare. She holds degrees in art and counseling therapy, and certificates in eco-psychology and feline massage therapy.) 

What’s your Reaction?
portrait of Colleen Dougherty animal welfare guest columnist
Colleen Dougherty, guest columnist