Oklahoma City May Invest $38 Million in New Animal Resource Center

Animal Wellness Backing Effort for Major Step Up of Animal Welfare in Oklahoma

Animal advocates are panting and wagging their tails at the prospect of a major new development for their cause in Oklahoma City, one of the fastest-growing and most vibrant cities in the heartland.

Over the past 25 years, the city has experienced a remarkable make-over due in part to a series of publicly funded infrastructure projects that enhanced the livability, economic development, and aesthetic appeal of this capital city of 650,000.

The city has built sports stadiums parks, civic institutions, pedestrian walkways, and other projects financed through a voter-approved sales tax of a penny. Voters acceded to the tax in return for a promise from political leaders to build community institutions for the betterment of the city.

Now the city mothers and fathers have decided to include animals of their vision for a livable community. Animal advocates, including the Oklahoma City-based Kirkpatrick Policy Group, have been promoting the idea of a highly functioning new shelter, and the Animal Wellness Foundation (the sister organization to Animal Wellness Action) has been a key player in the coalition promoting the idea, including its timely release of a poll showing broad support for the project.

Week before last, the city council and mayor voted to place a measure on the ballot to extend the sales tax for seven more years to fund 16 new public works projects, including a glistening, high-capacity, transformational animal resource center. The full list of projects can be found on the city’s web site.

Those pennies add up. Over seven years, the sales tax is expected to generate nearly a billion dollars. And every penny is committed for specific purposes. If voters approve the referendum on December 10, once the tax is collected, they’ll start building a $38 million complex for animals, along with the other building projects to enhance the city.

The new animal resource center would replace an antiquated and mediocre city shelter. The new facility, working in concert with the local humane society and other sheltering and rescue groups, brings the promise of eliminating euthanasia of healthy and adoptable animals, promoting safe interactions between people and animals, and promoting vaccinations and other health-related treatments for the animals there. With the new complex, Oklahoma City has the potential to become one of America’s most humane cities.

The Animal Wellness Foundation poll revealed that including the animal resource center in the package improves the chances of voters approving the referendum in December.

Taking the long historical view, the building of the center truly marks something of a revolution.

In the 19thcentury, communities throughout the United States started setting up government-funded animal control operations as a way to prevent dog bites and the spread of canine diseases. The brick-by-brick development of this infrastructure was not motivated by a benevolent concern for dogs and other animals, but as a way to reduce risks to humans at a time when strays scrambled down alleys and foraged on human refuse and waste, diseases shortened the lifespans of people and animals, and packs roamed that menaced people.

“Dogcatcher” became part of the American lexicon because city and county animal control agencies picked up strays. They didn’t advertise it, but the most common outcome was death by gas chamber, or in some cases, some other inhumane means of mass killing.

Coincident with the rise of municipal animal control agencies, there were private charities formed by good-hearted people to do better for animals – to shelter them, to treat and heal the injured, and to teach kindness and mercy to child and adult alike. Several major SPCAs formed in the 1860s and a humane movement was born, expanding decade by decade, brick by brick. This new thinking and the growth of organizations and agencies—a mixed breed of public and private entities—eventually left a footprint in nearly every one of the nation’s 3100 counties, parishes, and boroughs.

Despite very good intentions, many privately funded shelters took up killing of pets because they were overwhelmed by the numbers of strays and relinquished animals. They took in and gathered more animals than they could adopt and foster and dealt with the surplus by killing. The toll was enormous, with millions killed every year. The agencies’ leaders reluctantly assumed this task, but over time, killing became the norm. Rationalizations ruled the day, but there were rightful concerns expressed about the public’s failure to act in a way that was responsible when it came to breeding, lifetime care, and medical treatment of animals.

Mercifully, in the last quarter-century, there’s been a remarkable turn-around. The work is not done, but the momentum is unmistakable. A recent story in the New York Times documents a precipitous decline in killing by shelters, even as the population of dogs and cats in our nation in our communities has surged. From Detroit to Fort Worth, shelters are getting back on track in doing life-saving humane work.

So much of the credit goes to the millions of animal wellness advocates who envision a world where they find a loving home for every dog and cat born into the world. But let’s not forget that the public agencies have been a big part of this social revolution in our treatment of pets, discarding the only mentality of controlling and killing pets and embracing a caring approach to the treatment of animals in their communities.

Oklahoma City’s investment in a humane infrastructure builds on this progress. This kind of forward-looking government project, financed by taxpayers, makes communities more livable for everyone, including the dogs, cats, and other animals who enrich our lives in countless ways. These creatures depend on our mercy and our good works – and even our public works. Strand by strand, we are building a safety net for animals in circumstances when people don’t live up to their responsibilities.

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