Columns | Northwest Herald

Sustainable animal welfare and normative ethics in McHenry County

The unfortunate closure of the McHenry County Animal Control and Adoption Center has recently come to light. This is in addition to the limited staff and hours of operation at CASE, the Companion Animal Specialty and Emergency Hospital, also located in Crystal Lake.

While reminded that it is only temporary due to staffing shortages, this does not merit pause by those companion animals in need that have been displaced or transferred to other shelters and adoption agencies, as recently demonstrated.

An integral part of McHenry County, the challenges facing those who choose to protect animals go far beyond offering temporary housing or deontological theory. Those animals that arrive are many times from downstate Illinois or collaring states that have been left abandoned along roadsides, relinquished after failed adoptions, abused or victims of neglect. Many times, they arrive suffering from injuries, unvaccinated or distressed from the potentially fatal effects of parvo or heartworm that requires expensive veterinarian care.

By estimation, more than 7 million companion animals enter shelters each year, while on average only 1 of 10 will find their forever home. Of those arriving, only 10% of the animals received by shelters have been spayed or neutered, ultimately contributing to the overpopulation and eventual neglect they may yet suffer. Of those who may never find a home, more than 2 million will be euthanized, most otherwise healthy but having no placement options.

These few reasons alone warrant the need for the care and compassion of those sentient creatures we welcome into our homes and how the responsibility of the McHenry County Animal Control goes far beyond offering mere temporary housing.

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act and Advance McHenry County Mission, McHenry County was allocated $59.7 million to be used for investing in resilient public services and supporting community-driven projects to deliver inclusive, innovative, long-term benefits across the county. To date, millions remain available pending application and eventual McHenry County Board approval.

The pay scale advertised for caring for those animals is equivalent to an individual working in fast food; however, that fails to recognize the disparity when caring for another sentient life. In addition to a respectable wage that would retain staffing, as a catalyst, perhaps the county would consider a most-needed spay and neuter program, and affordable medicinal assistance for those families who may qualify. Families who otherwise cannot afford veterinarian care thus allow either the animal to suffer or choose untimely euthanasia as their only option.

For those skeptics proclaiming that the county does not need another program and/or tax at the behest of its residents, it has been demonstrated that an effective spay and neuter program thwarts unwanted pregnancies and reduces overpopulation while reducing the cost burden for residents. It also contributes to longer pet life, behavioral benefits, prevents disease and alleviates the high cost of millions of domesticated animals from having to be euthanized.

Further, it’s no secret that cities such as Los Angeles now impose fines for failing to spay or neuter a pet. This effort has significantly reduced overpopulation and the eventual tax burden it leaves in its wake. It also should be noted that those funds from the American Rescue Plan Act made available to McHenry County already have been allocated, meaning that there is no added tax burden.

Moral intuition suggests that this is a small price for the unconditional love and reassurance our companion friends offer each of us and to about 75% of homes across America that choose preferring benevolence over suffering.

• Paul Barthel is the founder of Animal Humane Advocacy and an author who writes about the fair and ethical treatment of animals.