There is a concept in animal sheltering called the Bubba Factor which essentially means what it sounds like: that people in “the south” are incapable of doing better for companion animals because they are simple minded and have antiquated attitudes regarding animals as property. Although I was not born in the south, I have lived in Alabama for many years and consider myself one of the locals in many ways. I have seen enough over the years and engaged with enough people “from here” to know that it is time to rethink the whole Bubba Factor concept when it comes to companion animals.
I will be the first to admit that a cultural divide still exists in some areas of the south regarding “inside” animals v. “outside” animals. My dog will never live outside. He is a member of our family and I would no sooner relegate him to a fenced yard 24/7/365 than I would do that to a human member of my family. I know people whose animals will never live inside. They would no sooner have a dog living inside 24/7/365 as a family member than they would set a place for a rooster at the dinner table.
Some people confuse these cultural differences of opinion for a mindset that animals are just things which lack feelings and self-awareness. And they do so unfairly. The south is no different than any other area of the country when it comes to irresponsibility and treatment of animals as things. We have plenty of people who should not be allowed to have companion animals at all and some who should likely be legally enjoined from ever having pets. But there are people like that across the country. From where I sit, the southern family which allows a dog to run at large with an antiquated mindset that the dog is not harming anyone and can easily be replaced if hit by a car is no more irresponsible than a person in Los Angeles who buys a dog at a pet store, carries it around in a purse like a status symbol or a living piece of jewelry and then decides the dog must go to a shelter when it won’t stop making a mess in the house in spite of being told in plain English to “stop”many times.
The thing that I think people tend to forget about the south is this: for all of our negative history and all of the undeserved stereotypes about values and intelligence, people from the south are some of the most morally grounded people in the country. Many people here are deeply religious and have very strong values when it comes to treatment of domesticated species. They see themselves as stewards of all animals, whether those animals serve some specific function or they share their homes with human caregivers. Most people in the south do want the very best for all animals and need only be educated on issues related to humane treatment and better choices to change how they think and function. When we tell people about the benefits of spay and neuter, the cruelties of perpetual chaining, the dangers of allowing animals to run at large and the benefits of microchipping to ensure lost pets can get back home, they listen and they adjust their behavior accordingly.
I know that at some time in the next month I will see someone in a Walmart parking lot either selling or giving away puppies. It will infuriate me enough that I will stop and we’ll have a conversation about why that’s happening. They’ll look at me like I’m from another planet as I drive away. And as I remember that there are people in that same Walmart parking lot who had their cat spayed this week or donated a dog bed to a local animal shelter or did a flyer for a lost dog who wandered into their yard or helped an elderly neighbor pay for veterinary care of a very sick and much beloved cat or bought a dog bed because they realize that their aging canine companion will be immeasurably more comfortable inside the house. More people here love and value their animals than don’t and even in the south, there is enough compassion in our communities to overcome the irresponsibility of the few.
Image from the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard in Cherokee, Alabama
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson