Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mandatory Reading: "What's a Dog Worth?" in Los Angeles magazine - investigative journalism at its best

The recent issue of Los Angeles Magazine featured one of the best articles on life for dogs and cats inside of animal shelters that I've ever read. The article, called "What's a Dog Worth?" by Jesse Katz, was an amazing piece of investigative reporting. Warning: It is not for the squeamish of faint of heart. That's because the article takes you right into the middle of the packed Los Angeles animal shelters. A quote freak at the start of the article sets the tone: "Los Angeles kills more animals in its shelters than any other metropolitan area in the United States. For that to change, we will have to figure out what to do with the pets none of us want."

This article should be mandatory reading for every adult in North America. It is uncompromising. It is beautifully written. It is profoundly tragic. The author, Jesse Katz, introduces us a brave and kind-hearted Latino euthanasiast named Javier Lopez, who comes from a working-class East L.A. household. Lopez is the true hero of this story - a man who loves animals so much that he is willing to lovingly administer the substance that will take the life out of their bodies.

Lopez has his work cut out for him. Author Katz gives us a sense early in the story of what Lopez is up against:
The animal control agencies of L.A., including those of the city, the county, and two dozen smaller municipalities, put to death 104,841 animals last year, more than any other metropolitan area in the United States. About 35,000 of them were dogs, 55,000 were cats, and the rest a miscellany of rabbits, roosters, snakes, and guinea pigs. That is the good news. For decades the number has been so outlandish—250,000 a year in the 1970s, 150,000 a year in the ’80s, 125,000 in the ’90s—that even a decline this monumental somehow feels hollow. In 35 years Los Angeles has exterminated more than 5 million animals. The toll is at once appalling and abstract. “I call it every community’s dirty little secret,” says Ed Boks, the new chief of the city’s animal shelters.

It is a heartbreaking story - long, yet gripping and ultimately full of despair. I almost stopped reading it, for the same reason I almost couldn't watch the documentary Death on a Factory Farm. It upset me. It shook me up. It left me sad and hopeless. But you know what? That's a good thing. Because it is only by being shaken up in such a fashion that we come to terms with the tragedy of what is happening around us and then maybe - just maybe - we find the courage within ourselves to do what little we can (and believe me, it ain't much) to change the system for the better.

Please, please read this story. I can't say you'll be "glad" you did. But you will be enlightened and you'll have a better grasp of what, exactly, is at stake. There is a lot of work to be done. The animals are worth it, though.

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