AMERICANS DON'T have much of a problem with wars that won’t end, gas over three dollars a gallon, skyrocketing health care prices, and a collapsing housing market. Nope, we just keep on keepin’ on, with barely a peep.
But mess with our pets, and everyone takes notice. I mean it’s on.
A few weeks back a reader named Mae Burrows sent us a long, very heartfelt letter describing her point of view of what she went through when her blond Lab named Tilapia ran away from home. According to Burrows’ account, staff at the Animal Control were less than cooperative in helping her find Tilapia — who, she says, was actually in the shelter for days without anyone knowing.
We’re not raking in the Pulitzers here at Connect, and I doubt we swing any elections, but occasionally things that are published in this paper do get widespread attention from local officials.
Mae Burrows’ letter was one.
Apparently, County Commission Chairman Pete Liakakis read her letter, sent it to County Manager Russ Abolt, who then forwarded it to Police Chief Michael Berkow (since the merger of departments, Animal Control has come under his command).
Chief Berkow, in turn, tasked Assistant Police Chief Willie Lovett to follow up on what happened with Tilapia.
I want to pass on key portions of Asst. Chief Lovett’s letter, which not only succinctly sums up the department’s point of view of what happened, but is also an outstanding model for candid, constructive communication from a public servant:
Here’s the other side of the story, in the words of Asst. Chief Lovett:
“While I understand Ms. Burrows’ frustrations, she like many others does not understand that their circumstances are brought on by a failure to abide by local ordinances. If ‘Tilapia’ had a collar with tags on, as required by City and County ordinances, the reunion would have been immediate. Scanning for microchips (an owner identity chip embedded under the animal’s coat) is a routine practice done by our shelter staff. Tilapia had none. Again the reunion would have been immediate.
“It is imperative that owners visit our shelter every few days to personally walk through and see if their missing pet is there. Ms. Burrows did this with our shelter staff on several occasions, and even she did not see or recognize her dog....
“Contrary to Ms. Burrows’ viewpoint I would like to commend our shelter staff for the thankless job they do. They make every effort to reunite animals with their owners, and arrange adoptions for unclaimed animals. Euthanizing animals humanely is part of their job description, which is a heart wrenching task none of them enjoy doing.
“Our staff in this particular incident did not put this animal down, because they felt the animal was adoptable, and fortunately we had room in our small kennel to house him longer than the required five days....
“Yes, people’s animals get lost from time to time, and could result in their impoundment at the animal shelter, but it is ultimately the owner’s responsibility to do everything they can to make the reunion more highly probable.”
OK, that was Lovett. Here’s me again:
It may sound callous, but the bottom line is that it’s a pet owner’s responsibility to know where their pet is at all times, and to take all necessary steps to protect them in case they do get away.
While certainly no one wants another’s pet to be hurt or put to sleep, I myself have spent many hours, often in the middle of the night, persuading neighbors to keep their barking dogs quiet or figuring out to whom the roving dog causing trouble in the neighborhood belongs.
In the final analysis, though, I’m an all’s-well-that-ends-well kind of guy. I think it’s good that Tilapia is safe at home with her owner, and it’s good that perhaps this incident will persuade Ms. Burrows to microchip the dog for its own safety.
It’s also good that Lovett used the incident as a teaching opportunity for everyone else in the way that he did.
And it’s good that people in high places can still be spurred to action by something they read in a newspaper.
Addendum: In last week's column I complained about New Year's Eve gunfire. As we went to press this week, Savannah Police were sending out robo-calls to area homes warning of penalties for that particularly stupid behavior. I don’t pretend to claim credit for spurring him to action, but kudos to Chief Berkow and company.
Jim Morekis is editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah. E-mail him at