It’s a Magic City for companion animals, too.
By Joey Kennedy
I love Birmingham for many reasons. The city is small enough to get around in, but large enough to provide plenty of activities for residents. Birmingham has a rich history, one that it once shied away from but now honors and promotes. Its place in the Civil Rights Movement is no longer a reason for shame, but instead is remembered with a first-class Civil Rights Institute and a Civil Rights trail that is well marked and inspirational.
We have some of the best restaurants in the nation. We have a quality symphony orchestra, ballet companies, and theaters. Our green spaces, from Railroad Park to Red Mountain Park to Ruffner Mountain, are the envy of many other cities. We can hike, enjoy nature, and relax surrounded by forest without ever leaving the city limits. Another characteristic I love about Birmingham is that we’re an animal-friendly city. It wasn’t long ago that we didn’t have even one dog park in Birmingham. Now, we’ve got many across the area and more on the way.
As spring comes upon us, we’re entering the festival season for animals. This month, there’s Hand in Paw’s Mutt Strut on UAB’s Campus Green (April 16), among others. On May 14, the granddaddy of them all, Do Dah Day, takes off at Rhodes and Caldwell parks. Thousands of people and dogs and other animals make it impossible to drive down Highland Avenue on that Saturday.
And Birmingham is fortunate to have the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, which now handles animal control for Jefferson County and animal intake for the city. The previous, for-profit animal control agency killed far more animals than it had to. While the euthanasia numbers are still disappointing, GBHS has done a much better job saving animals’ lives, transporting animals to other states, and reuniting wayward pets with their owners. The number of doggie day cares has exploded, and most every restaurant with a patio welcomes dogs and often provides water and snacks for them. Even Hand in Paw’s therapy goats were seen dining at Rojo not too long ago.
We also have many remarkable animal rescues in and around our city. Breed- specific rescues—for pugs, Boston terriers, cavaliers, golden retrievers, and others—are here, along with all-breed rescues. Most of them are high-quality rescues. Remarkable individual rescuers such as Kathy Stiles Freeland and Lynda Ingle give much of their time and resources to save animals, and do it without fanfare or reward of any kind. They are blessings to Birmingham.
As with anything, there are problems, too. A few rescues are in it for the money; they take in animals, collect donations for their care, and do little to vet or rehome the pets. When you decide to deal with a rescue, investigate it thoroughly. A quality rescue will not mind sharing information; one that hesitates is one you want to run away from. We have good, high-quality, responsible breeders in this area as well. But, again, there are still too many backyard or puppy mill breeders. Before buying a dog from a breeder, check out the breeder. Breeders who won’t let you meet the parents of your pup or let you see their home are usually trouble.
Birmingham even has an animal grief support group, Dixie’s Group, sponsored by GBHS. It meets once a month at the Homewood Public Library and provides grief support for folks who have lost a pet, to death or otherwise. I can say, from personal experience, that grief in the wake of a pet’s death is real. Our companion animals are sentient beings. Science is showing that they think, love, and experience happiness and sadness. Of course, responsible pet owners already know this, but now objective science is revealing this truth.
What Birmingham (and Alabama) doesn’t have are strong animal protection laws. Our state’s animal abuse laws are good, yes, but they’re too rarely enforced. The Birmingham City Council and other cities in the area could do more to make north-central Alabama even more animal friendly. Ordinances limiting chaining and tethering should be passed (Homewood did this.) A chained dog is an unhappy dog, and chaining is cruel. Pet licensing is a good idea to encourage pet owners to have their animals spayed or neutered.
We’re fortunate to have high-quality, low-cost spay/neuter options in this area, from the nonprofit Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic in Irondale to the for-profit Mercy West Spay/Neuter Clinic in Pleasant Grove. There is no reason for pet owners not to get their animals fixed, unless they are responsible breeders.
Pet owners in Birmingham have much to be proud of. We have a city that welcomes animals, and that’s one of the characteristics that makes the quality of life here so good. Yeah, there are always those bad apples, so pet owners beware. There are those, in animal rescue and elsewhere, who live for the drama. But mostly, pet owners in Birmingham have much to celebrate, so let’s do so.