I remember my first time in one of L.A.'s municipal animal shelters. It was an overcast day and I had arrived on a Saturday morning, the initial visit of many for a story I was working on about the overwhelming tragic number of dogs and cats our city kills each year (euthanization figures hover at around 50,000 for Los Angeles County), mostly due to no other reason than overcrowding and lack of space.
“This is the saddest place on earth,” said a man who was busy putting on his jacket and walking out the swinging doors of the shelter as I made my way in.
The barking was loud, but the cries, the pining for affection and attention when you got close to the dogs housed in cages were absolutely overpowering. They were enough to make even the most stoic visitor feel heart broken and helpless.
There were poodle mixes and miniature pinschers. There were beautiful huskies, Chihuahuas and a bevy of pit bulls. Some were frightened, some excited and some would die that day by lethal injection to make room for more unwanted animals dropped off in the coming days or weeks.
As I waited in the lobby, I watched a white- and coffee-colored dog dragged in by its owners and handed over to a shelter officer. They said he fought with other dogs, but a few more visits with Charlie revealed a shy, timid and scared Staffordshire bull terrier mix who was more interested in playing than fighting.
I waiting as the weeks unfolded, wondering what would happen to Charlie. His chances of adoption seemed slim, and as the days passed, he was in danger of becoming a living, breathing, but lovable and healthy thing that was just taking up space — the epitome of L.A.'s unfortunate pet overpopulation problem.
Through the coordination of volunteers, animal activists and an adopter who fell in love with him, Charlie received a second chance and a new warm home away from his cold concrete cell.
Now, more dogs and cats might get the same chance.
Following Glendale's lead, the L.A. City Council approved an ordinance earlier this month that bans the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores, making it the largest city in the U.S. to do so and effectively putting a dent in the nightmarish and unethical puppy mill business that contributes to pet overcrowding issues throughout the country.
Activists hope that the ban will create more of an incentive to adopt out the animals coming into the city's shelters every day, thus potentially saving thousands of once unwanted dogs and cats from an unnecessary death sentence.
The ban means more than just easing euthanization numbers in L.A, however. It means our relationship with the creatures we share this world with, at least the ones we share our homes and lives with in this city, is changing. It means we recognize the importance of our stewardship toward them, of not using and abusing them for profit, but giving them lives worth living and appreciating them for what they are, not for what they can do for us.
And if we care for those who remain “less than” or even powerless against us, it's hopefully only a matter of time until we start caring for each other in more of the same way.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.