Barbara Drews, 57, has been involved in animal-related issues for more than three decades. She describes herself as an artist and wildlife rehabilitator; she plays a large role in the Animal Rescue League, a nonprofit organization dedicated to animal welfare. A Tucson resident since 1985, Drews is a Denver native; she moved to the Old Pueblo to be closer to her husband's family.
Is spaying and neutering a big issue in Tucson?
It has long been my opinion that it is obscene that as a society, we kill about 20,000 dogs and cats a year (in Pima County), and that we accept that. We think it's fine. I want to address the fact that this is a Band-Aid that doesn't address the underlying cause. Pima Animal Care Center (formerly animal control) is tax-funded, and their job is to round up, maybe adopt out, and kill lots of animals. (We need to make) spaying or neutering a basic part of pet ownership ... make people take responsibility for their pets' reproduction.
Why don't more people spay or neuter their pets?
I think (society) still has a lot of myths associated with spaying or neutering--(the pets) will be fat or lose their personalities; I've forgotten some of the most ridiculous ones I've read. But the truth is, they tend to live longer; they're healthier; they bite less. Spaying eliminates ovarian cancer (and) uterine cancer, and it reduces breast cancer. Neutering prevents testicular cancer and prostate cancer. Alternatively, the animals don't feel the need to roam. And we can now spay or neuter pets at two pounds or two months. But back to why people don't spay or neuter: It's only been in the last 20 years or less that we've been honest with the public about what goes on behind the closed doors at the shelters ... now, we do know. We're very honest with people these days, and people have to accept that they're either part of the problem, or part of the solution. I think this (previous dishonesty) is a good part of the reason why it became acceptable to kill, I mean, piles and piles of dogs and cats. If you want to breed, go down to Animal Care or the Humane Society, and watch them kill all these little dogs and kittens. We're killing charming, intelligent, bright puppies and kittens.
If it moves, then I think it should be surgically altered. I really do. If you're going to breed (pets), I'd like to see responsible homes lined up first. I'd like to see the population rise up against the enormous charges to fund the Animal Care Center. Now, the people who work at the shelters are heroes; someone's got to do it. But I would like nothing more than to see them put out of business. Why is it that we pay that tax (to fund Animal Control) without blinking an eye? I think it would be more cost-effective for the county to subsidize some form of spaying or neutering.
What are some of the other big animal-related issues in Tucson?
Another thing we're really facing is the parvovirus. Some areas are already reporting a large number of cases. It's highly infectious and usually fatal if left untreated. There's no cure, and the treatment's expensive. ... But it is preventable. If puppies get their first vaccination at eight weeks, and a follow-up every month for two months, they probably won't get the disease. You also need to pick up the feces once a day; it's carried from yard to yard by flies. Also, keep the puppies away from other dogs until they establish their immunity. This is a horrible disease. I've seem little puppies die awful, awful deaths. ... I could just cry when I see little puppies at PetsMart (before immunity is established).
I understand that you're not a fan of "free to a good home" ads.
I would like to see the Tucson Weekly refuse to take them, and the daily newspapers refuse to take them. Getting a pet for free can end up costing you twice what it costs to get one from a shelter or a rescue organization. You still have to vaccinate, spay/neuter, get a health check and so on; this can be twice as expensive as the adoption fee, which includes all that.
We all need to get our information from knowledgeable sources. Ask the vet. Check books out. Use the Internet. Pay the $60 for a checkup for a new pet; it can save you a lot of heartache. Also, put thought into a pet. Is that little fluffball going to grow into something three times the size you can handle? This is going to be a part of your life for 15 or more years.