I’ve been looking for a new car recently. I currently drive a 2006 Mustang. Her name is Caroline. She’s got a 4.0 litre V6 engine with a 5-speed manual transmission. In her glory days, she rocked about 320 BHP with some modifications, like shorter gears, enhanced exhaust and a cold air intake. She was the first car that I bought with my own money, she’s the car who helped me get my credit into existence. She’s been around. I learned to drive stick in that car and how to work on cars in that car. She’s got about 99,000 miles now though, and I’m starting to have to replace parts like crazy. I’ve chewed through two alternators in about six months. The brakes are groaning, I ended up on the side of the highway when she overheated because the thermostat went, the idler pulley is squealing, belts are getting worn out, the lower control arms had to be replaced, and the tires are just about shredded. Some of this is normal, routine maintenance and some of it isn’t.
I love my car. I’ve wanted a Mustang since I was about 9 years old. But now it’s getting to the point where my wallet is getting a little worn out and it might just make the most sense to invest in a newer model. So I’m going to test drive a new Mustang this week and if I like it, I’ll be trading Caroline in for an upgraded model. A few days ago, as I was driving back from the city, I had a stretch of open highway that I belted through. Caroline’s horses sang, and I felt a pang of guilt. I felt like she was saying, “Look, I’m still a good car, really, don’t send me to the scrapyard!”
Conveniently, at this exact moment, I was coming back from the Pennsylvania SPCA where I’d just photographed three senior cats and a senior dog. Perhaps it was an odd comparison to make, but I felt myself thinking deeply about our consumer driven society and the concept of dropping your pet off at the shelter because he/she is “too old”, much like I’d be dropping Caroline off a dealer soon because, she too, is too old.
But Caroline, as much as I feel she has a soul in the way only car people will understand, is, at the end of the day, a machine. My Ford is not an animal or a person, but yet, so many people it seems, treat their pets (and dare I say even loved ones) like a used car.
It doesn’t make economic sense for me to start dumping a bunch of money into replacing every part of my car when I can simply buy a new one. Because my car is not alive. This is NOT the mentality we should have with our pets, but yet, so many people do. If I had the price of an adoption fee for every time I saw the words “Just too old” or “Can’t play” or “Got a puppy” written on a kennel card at a shelter I volunteer at, I would not have to finance my new Mustang.
I don’t really like to blame the public and I’m not particularly fond of the word “dump” or the phrase “owner dump”. For one, the phrase seems to be a bit dehumanizing, it’s almost like it’s shouted, “Got another owner dump on aisle seven!” But when it comes to senior pets being surrendered because they’re “too old” I have this to say: A shelter is NOT a car dealership. You should never ever come into the shelter or the local humane society or the pound and say that you’d like to surrender your faithful companion of 10+ years because you’ve gotten a kitten or a puppy. You don’t come to us to exchange or upgrade. If you can’t afford medical care for your senior pet, that’s a different story, there are groups that can help, low cost veterinary clinics and vet students who need to hone their skills. We’ll try our best to point you in the right direction. He doesn’t want to play fetch anymore is not an excuse to surrender your dog. She just lies around now is not an excuse to surrender your cat. You took on this life, own up to it.
It’s going to be hard to replace my Caroline. As much as she is a car, I have a lot of good memories in that car, and every day I’m making a new one. And that’s just a car. I can’t help but wonder sometimes when I hear of dogs and cats being surrendered due simply to their age, what memories they have inside them. Are they good memories? Bad? I try not to speculate and focus on the task at hand – making their soul show out through glazed eyes and grayed fur. They have so much to offer and all I can really hope is that someone will see past their age and give them a chance to make new memories together, however fleeting.