By Karen Hendricks
One of the most moving books I have ever read is Little Boy Blue: A Puppy’s Rescue from Death Row and His Owner’s Journey for Truth. Last fall, coincidentally, as my beloved greyhound was dying of bone cancer, I devoured this book, stunned at the statistics and moved to tears by the state of our nation’s animal shelters. Author Kim Kavin, a fellow journalist/writer, did an amazing job of chronicling her experience adopting her dog Blue, interweaving her narrative with eye-opening research.
My fellow blogger Ruth wrote part one of her family’s story of pet adoption, The Adoption of Fletcher, last week. Stay tuned for her next post… but in the meantime, I thought I’d open the discussion on some interesting topics that Ruth touched upon, as they intersect with the book Little Boy Blue.
If you’re an animal lover like me, I highly recommend you read the book… but if you’re a busy mom like me, here’s the basic synopsis without giving away too much of the story: Kavin found Blue through an online listing via Petfinder and applied. Blue seemed to be close by her New Jersey home. In actuality, he was at a shelter in the south, rescued through a network of volunteers and brought north. Curious, Kavin spent months retracing the circumstances that led to Blue’s adoption and discovered he was lucky to escape a North Carolina “high-kill shelter” equipped with a gas chamber. Blue’s story is similar to many other dogs’ tales:
America is spending more than a billion dollars a year to operate animal shelters. Some of these facilities are functioning like actual shelters, meaning sanctuaries and places of safety, while others are killing more than 80 percent of the dogs and cats entrusted to their care. That’s four out of five dogs, all but dead on arrival at the doors of the shelters like the one where Blue was found. Fully three-quarters of those dogs are healthy and adoptable as opposed to sickly and vicious, but only one of four dogs who end up living in our homes come from shelters in any given year. Most people get their dogs from breeders or from pet stores while perfectly wonderful puppies and dogs are left to die in shelters every single day. Those statistics were bad enough, but the one that got me in the gut is this: If just two in four people, instead of one in four people, went to shelters instead of breeders or pet stores to get their next dog, then the entire problem of killing dogs like Blue would be statistically eliminated across the country. (page 55)
Blue turned out to be a sweet, loveable prince of a dog, which makes Kavin’s story all the more heart-wrenching. To think what might have happened to him… routinely placed inside a gas chamber had Kavin not stepped forward to adopt him. But the gas chamber is, in fact, the fate of other shelter dogs every day.
Kavin does a great job at presenting all the statistics in an understandable way. Later in the book, she references an article from The Wall Street Journal, which quotes John Hoyt, former president of the Humane Society of the United States, who says that American shelters in the mid-1970’s were killing an estimated 85 percent of the dogs and cats who came into their care. By his guess, that was nearly fifteen million would-be pets a year. Our nation’s current estimates, as many as five million dogs and cats being killed every year, are a step in the right direction—and are a credit to the people who run excellent shelters that save far more dogs than they kill. But it’s wrenching to learn that taxpayer-funded shelters like the one where Blue found himself are still moving backward. If you don’t count the help of rescue groups, they’re killing dogs at an even higher rate than dogs were dying across America thirty-five years ago. (page 248)
You can follow the latest news and progress made, in the wake of Little Boy Blue being published, through Kavin’s website/blog. The very shelter that once housed Blue is starting to turn itself around. Just this past January 2013, officials dismantled and removed the gas chamber.
If you’re thinking about pet adoption, I highly encourage you to visit your local animal shelter or SPCA. Our family has adopted wonderful cats from shelters over the years. In a future blog, I might address the special plight of one breed of dog in particular–greyhounds in need of adoption. My family provided forever homes to two greyhounds over the past 15 years and I am hooked on their sweet, gentle nature. They are almost always adopted from rescue groups specializing in that breed. But after reading the story of Blue, I’d be open to adopting a shelter dog.
Other ways you can help, besides adopting:
- Educate yourself about your local shelters. What are their procedures?
- Volunteer at your local shelter and lend a hand. Good volunteers are almost always in short supply.
- Donate money or resources to your local shelter. Find out what they need: pet foods, cleaning supplies, etc.
- Consider fostering animals until permanent homes can be found, either through your SPCA or local adoption/pet rescue groups.
Click here for a YouTube preview of Little Boy Blue. To learn more, go to The Little Boy Blue website and read the first two chapters of her book for free. Warning: This will probably hook you! You will probably end up purchasing and finishing the book—or check your local library.
Food for thought: If you spend three days reading the book, then in that same time period, as many as 42,000 companion animals died in American shelters. (page 299)
I encourage you to join me in trying to reverse this trend.