“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” These first lines of the Charles Dickens classic could easily be used to describe the lives of today’s companion animals. It’s definitely “A Tale of Two Cities.”

“It was the best of times.” In one world, there are the beloved (and pampered) pets whose owners spend over $63 billion dollars annually to ensure their pets get the best of everything. Whether it’s buying the latest comfy bed, offering them the most nutritious pet food or providing vet care and grooming services, we animal lovers will do everything we can to make our pets feel cared for and loved. And with 65% of American households having at least one companion animal in its midst, pets are a huge part of our lives.

“It was the worst of times.” Last year, 4,616 cats and dogs were surrendered to the Coconino Humane Association (CHA), our local shelter. Many surrenders were from good Samaritans who found abandoned animals; however, a large percentage were family pets surrendered by their owners — dogs and their puppies surrendered because each became another mouth to feed, stray cats (abandoned by their owners when they moved) who were then trapped and turned in to be euthanized because they were “a bother” to the neighborhood. This past Saturday alone, 7 adult cats (including a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old) were surrendered to the shelter because they had become too much trouble for their owners.

"It was the age of wisdom." As more people recognize the problem of pet overpopulation and pet abandonment, many are calling for solutions as well as trying harder, neighborhood by neighborhood, to play a part in a more humane response to the problem(s). The "Pets for Life" philosophy addresses the critical need for accessible, affordable pet care and is the cornerstone of the mission of Paw Placement of Northern Arizona, whose programs help animals in need by empowering the people who care for them.

“It was the age of foolishness.” Even today, when help is available with voucher programs for free/low-cost spaying and neutering, many people ignore the need for dealing with the pet overpopulation problem. “The dog or cat got herself pregnant again and we just don’t have any more room for her” is a common refrain heard at CHA.

For those of us who call ourselves animal lovers, now is the time to ask: Are you part of the problem or are you a part of the solution?

If you realize you may be contributing to the problem, consider:

• If you have to surrender a pet (which is the right thing to do if you’ve exhausted all other options) contact the shelter beforehand to make sure there is space available for the animal.

• Reach out. Paw Placement (through its Findlay Toyota Pet Resource Line: 300-4510) can help identify options for pet owners dealing with problems.

• Spay or neuter your pets! This is the one best thing you can do to help create a more positive environment for your pet. Paw Placement of Northern Arizona and Coconino Humane have voucher programs that are free or low cost ($25). If you need a voucher, please call 300-4510 or 526-1076. Help is out there!

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If you want to be part of the solution, here’s what you can do:

• Volunteer: Your time or expertise can be a tremendous resource that can support the work of our local animal welfare groups. Any specialized skill you can share (doesn’t have to be animal related) can make a huge difference to these groups, most of which are all-volunteer and maxed out on time.

• Donate: Consider donating a percentage of what you spend each year on your own pet to a local rescue group. If you can donate more, even better.

Flagstaff is a community of animal lovers and we can fix this problem. Hundreds of communities all over the US are humanely solving these same problems. If we mirror their efforts, we can save lives and change the status quo. We can do it — and the time is now.

Pamela Tharp is a board member of Paw Placement of Northern Arizona and the Ark Cat Sanctuary, and a member of the Flagstaff Animal Welfare Task Force.

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