Pet project in St. Louis needs human touch

Bobs Column - The B SideI own two dogs and a cat. Let me get that out of the way at the onset.
And, I have nothing against pets of any kind and believe they make great companions. Finally, I do not understand why anyone would abuse or neglect a pet, and believe it’s shameful that it happens as often as it does.
That said, the growing trend of “rescuing” pets—giving shelter to homeless dogs, for example -- is tough for me to get behind. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with caring for a dog or cat that’s lost its way or taking a trip to the animal shelter to adopt a pet, but I sometimes wonder if our priorities are straight.
I was reminded of the “rescue” trend last week while watching the Blackhawks play the St. Louis Blues. The television announcer noted that Blues captain David Backes and his wife founded Athletes for Animals.
The organization describes itself as a “united team of professional athletes with a shared passion for rescuing and protecting the welfare of homeless pets nationwide. The group is made up of athletes from all the major sports, many who play for St. Louis teams.
Athletes for Animals and similar organizations got significant media attention recently when several members of Team USA, including Backes, adopted dogs while in Sochi and brought them home. While in Sochi, many of the athletes helped feed and care for the dogs abandoned in the Olympic city. It made for great press and better photo ops.
Their actions are well-intentioned. Helping a dog in need—feeding it, giving it a home—is admirable. The trouble is, there are countless hungry and homeless people who need our help long before dogs and cats.
I’ve often wondered what the homeless and hungry think about getting less attention than animals. People sleep under viaducts on cold winter nights, line up for limited space at shelters and pick through the garbage to find something to eat while rescued pets get love and attention from caring families. Again, our priorities are wildly misplaced.
It’s easy to understand why we love pets and want to care for them. They’re cute and adorable. They require some time and effort, but once they get accustomed to their home and family, they’re little bother. We play with them, take them on walks and they respond with unconditional love.
It’s not so simple with human beings.
There’s nothing cute and adorable about the homeless and hungry.
Many have struggled on the streets for years—some are alcoholics, drug addicts and ex-cons. Society too often turns away from these people, convinced that they’re beyond help.
That’s true to an extent. We all know the guy who’s been on the street corner for years begging for a loose change. Chances are he’s never going to get the help he needs and become a productive member of society.
But there also are struggling families who caught a bad break or two—unemployment, unexpected illness—which caused them to lose their home. The road back can be a difficult one. It’s tough to get back on track when home is a car or a series of shelters and you’re next meal is in question.
Backes and his teammates need to understand this. The Blues captain doesn’t have to look outside the city in which he plays hockey to see signs of hunger and despair.
Approximately 135,000 children in St. Louis are at risk for hunger, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This represents enough children to fill Busch Stadium three times.
Further, approximately 88 percent of children enrolled in St. Louis public schools rely on free or reduced-cost meal programs. Many of these students go back to homes where there is little or no food.
In 2011, the Food Research and Action Center reported that nearly 20 percent of Missouri residents experienced low or very low food security. This means that one out of every five people in Missouri does not know where a next meal will come from.
Nearly 50 years, ago Bobby Kennedy traveled to rural Mississippi to check on the progress of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, better known as the War on Poverty. What he found, writes Peter Edelman in his book “So Rich, So Poor,” was “children, thousands of them, hungry to a point very near starvation.”
Kennedy was “deeply moved and outraged,” Edelman wrote, and made relieving hunger a top priority.
Sadly, athletes such as Backes and a host of other celebrities are too busy taking care of pets. Imagine if he and other popular players required fans to make food contributions at personal appearances and autograph signings. Pantries throughout St. Louis would be eternally grateful.
Imagine if an effort was undertaken to build additional homeless shelters in NHL cities—hockey fans would respond if their favorite players were involved.
There’s nothing wrong with watching out for animals, but we must not ignore hungry and homeless men and women in the process.