Commentary : Protest Was in Wrong Place at Wrong Time

<i> Diane Calkins has worked as a volunteer at the central shelter since December, 1987, and is a former member of STOP. Rosemary Shelton has been a volunteer at the shelter for three years</i>

Last Saturday, Stop Taking Our Pets (STOP) held a demonstration at the central San Diego County Animal Shelter to protest the selling of shelter dogs to UC San Diego for research.

As members of several animal rights groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Friends of County Animal Shelters, Animal Protection Institute and the National Anti-Vivisection Society to name a few, we could have been expected to join the protesters.

Instead, as shelter volunteers, we found ourselves on the other side of the fence--literally and figuratively.


Although we too are adamantly opposed to any shelter animal being used or abused by researchers (or anyone else, for that matter), we were equally opposed to this demonstration.

After last year’s demonstration, we and other concerned shelter volunteers lodged a protest with the organizers of the march. Our concerns were totally ignored.

One of those concerns was that the central shelter is the wrong place to hold such a demonstration, because no animals are taken from central for research purposes.

Even more important, the decision to contract with UCSD is not made by the Department of Animal Control. The Board of Supervisors directs the department to sell dogs for research.

Just as the shelter is the wrong place, the timing of the demonstration couldn’t have been worse. Saturday is our busiest adoption day. This year and last we saw potential adopters drive up, see the picketing and drive away--without one of our animals.

Even worse, perhaps, was the interference with people bringing animals into the shelter. Leaders of the group boasted that, during last year’s demonstration, no animals were turned in to animal control. Instead, they claimed that all were taken by demonstrators who found them homes. When asked recently if the new homes were good homes, one of the leaders replied: “How would I know?”

To some people, any home is a good home. To those of us who see the results of neglectful, abusive owners every day, we know animals can suffer fates far worse than ending up at the shelter. Shelter staff and volunteers are committed to a careful screening of all potential pet adopters.

Another concern is that people who need to relinquish animals are turned away by demonstrators. Animals not left at the shelter are far too likely to be abandoned to starvation, illness or death on the highway.

Those who did brave the picket lines to relinquish an animal were subjected to jeering and abuse. One elderly gentleman had trapped a sick, mange-ridden, starving cat in order to prevent its further suffering. The demonstrators heaped insults and worse on him, even telling him, “God knows who you are.”

People relinquishing animals were not the only ones subjected to verbal abuse. One longtime volunteer who always gives up her Saturday morning to exercise adoption dogs was accosted by at least six brave demonstrators. They accused her of not having the interest of animals at heart, of being responsible for taking animals and selling them for research, of killing animals rather than saving them. They even questioned her right to wear a Friends of County Animal Shelters sweat shirt.

When the shelter closed, soon after this confrontation, we nursed our tension headaches and discussed alternatives for STOP to consider.

Instead of demonstrating at the central shelter and disrupting the adoption of our animals, we suggest they direct their attention to the decision makers and picket the meetings and homes of county supervisors.

Better yet, we invite them to join us in the trenches where the real battle to save animals is fought.

How hard is it to attend meetings and hold a picket sign for a couple of hours a year? Easier we imagine than waking up every night and seeing the frightened faces and pleading eyes of the animals we come to know and love.

Shelter volunteers work every day to find suitable homes for these animals and to educate the public about responsible pet ownership. With the help of additional volunteers, we could come even closer to our goal of emptying the kennels of dogs and cats--thereby leaving nothing for UCSD.