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Editorial: Dakin Pioneer Valley push closer to founder’s goals

Brittany Gordner, a dog walker volunteer at Dakin Pioneer Valley Human Society, visits with Bernie, a two-year old Bernese Mountain Dog mix that is up for adoption.

Brittany Gordner, a dog walker volunteer at Dakin Pioneer Valley Human Society, visits with Bernie, a two-year old Bernese Mountain Dog mix that is up for adoption. Purchase photo reprints »

In 1982, Janet Wilder Dakin, a philanthropist, zoologist and conservationist, founded a small volunteer group called The Friends of Amherst’s Stray Animals. She did it, she told the Gazette at the time, because there was “a terrible void in Amherst as far as animals were concerned.” The organization, according to the first press release it sent out, was “dedicated to responsible pet ownership and care and concern for all pets.”

Dakin died in 1994. We believe she would be proud of what the movement that she and other Amherst-area citizens launched has become today.

As a July 1 story in the Gazette recounted, the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, as it’s now called, is based in Springfield. In that city, it occupies the building that formerly housed the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, while it also continues to operate its shelter in Leverett.

Under the leadership of Leslie Harris, the shelter’s executive director, the organization is playing a pivotal, essential role in promoting animal welfare in Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties. It has done that by being clear-eyed about its mission, and smart about how to reach its goals.

“If you want to stop killing animals because there are too many, you have to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place,” Harris told the Gazette.

Toward that end, the Dakin has spearheaded a number of initiatives. It has for years operated a spay/neuter program to help reduce the number of unwanted dogs and cats, and to lessen the cost of the procedures to pet owners. Dakin now performs between 7,000 and 12,000 spay or neuter procedures a year. It’s involved in programs aimed at keeping animals out of shelters, such as one that provides temporary care for pets whose owners — owing to a hospital stay, family crisis, natural disaster or other emergency — might otherwise give their animals up. Recognizing that children are apt to form attitudes about animals that last a lifetime, Dakin personnel have taken their adoptable animals — and their message of responsible pet ownership — into schools and community settings.

Dakin’s work isn’t done, as Harris is the first to say, but there has been progress.

The Dakin, for example, has seen a 36 percent drop in the number of homeless kittens, which make up the majority of animals taken in at the shelter, Harris said. That reduction, in turn, has resulted in a 32 percent increase in placement rates for adult cats that, in the past, often faced euthanasia.

The Dakin’s accomplishments are part of an improving national picture. According to The Humane Society of the United States, the number of dogs and cats living in homes increased from 67 million to 164 million between 1970 and 2010. During that same time, the number of animals euthanized annually declined from as high as 20 million to 3.4 million.

For too many years, too many of us treated unwanted dogs and cats like disposable commodities that could be discarded at already crowded shelters and, to quote the euphemism, “put to sleep.”

The compassion, dedication and hard work of the staff, volunteers and donors associated with the Dakin Humane Society, and others like it around the country, have made that picture less bleak. They have brought Janet Dakin’s hope of “care and concern for all pets” closer to reality.

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