Friday, January 29, 2010

Stray Animals and the Poor

This week, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina, Andre Bauer, compared children who get subsidized school lunches to animals when he told a story about his grandmother instructing him not to feed stray animals. "You know why?" he asked in a speech, "Because they breed! You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a human ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that."

Like Missouri State Representative Cynthia Davis, who last year opposed government programs to feed hungry children and famously said “hunger can be a positive motivator,” Bauer, who pointed out the correlation between low test scores in school and children who receive subsidized lunches, concluded that it is free lunches that cause the low test scores, and not poverty.

Commentators have pointed out the insensitivity and ignorance of Bauer’s remarks and the inevitable conclusion: that starving poor children will reduce poverty because it will stop them from breeding.

Bauer, who plans on running for governor of South Carolina, has now apologized for his choice of metaphors, but stands by the sentiment—that providing food or assistance to the poor keeps them dependent, and thus contributes to the continuation of poverty.

But on top of apologizing for insulting the poor by comparing them to stray animals, and implying that too much free food is to blame for their poverty, perhaps Bauer should consider apologizing to animals for his faulty logic in the first place.

Why does Bauer (or his uneducated grandmother who originally taught him this lesson) think that the problem of stray animals lies in their being fed?

Dogs and cats are stray not because they are fed too much, or even because they reproduce too much. They are stray because they have been abandoned, and prior to their abandonment, they were most likely bred by someone who wanted to profit off of the birth of puppies or kittens, wanted to experience the “beauty of birth,” or simply did not take the responsible position and spay or neuter their companion animal.

That stray animals breed is a function of the fact that they were never neutered or spayed—this, like the fact that they were abandoned, is not the fault of the animal but the “owner” who was responsible for them.

Animals are stray not because they breed, or because they are fed too much, but because no one cared enough about them to start with. They were intentionally, carelessly, or casually bred, and were then left to fend for themselves when caring for them became too much work.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, 6-8 million former companion animals enter animal shelters every year, and of those, 3-4 million are euthanized. Many of those animals were surrendered by their families, and many were found as strays, wandering city streets. In either case, these animals were once bred or allowed to breed, by humans, and were ultimately abandoned to fend for themselves.

That Bauer, or anyone else who shares Bauer’s sentiments, could assume that feeding unwanted animals is what causes or even exacerbates the problem is not just ignorant and insensitive, but cruel. While feeding a stray animal will not solve the problem of homeless animals—spay/neuter programs, public education, increased shelter adoptions, and legislation mandating responsible care and treatment of companion animals are needed for that—it can certainly make one hungry animal’s life a little bit easier. That the potential future governor of South Carolina would deny hungry animals food, just as he would deny hungry children food, is a scary thought indeed.