04/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Our Country Going to the Dogs?

Literally and figuratively, has our country gone to the dogs? In a time of such upheaval that is still going on in our economy and dealing with the aftermath of Haiti, it may seem meaningless to examine what is taking place in the treatment of animals. But is it? The past year, I have immersed myself in the animal rescue world only to discover atrocities that exist all over the United States. Most people look the other way or claim that animal rights is not so important, deeming the animal rights people "crazy" and "radical." But look beneath the surface of the inhumane treatment of animals and the picture becomes clearer. The inhumanity that exists tells a story that we, as socially responsible citizens, should be listening to with a third ear.

If you look at the poor treatment of the animals in our country, overtly, I ask, is this representative of how people treat one another? If there is little empathy for animals that are vulnerable and dependent on humans for care, does this sentiment transfer to our fellow human beings? A question to think long and hard about, being a nation that supports a global human rights movement. Just looking at dog fighting as an example, are the perpetrators releasing their rage and anger vicariously by watching the dogs rip each other to pieces? So essentially, people are being rewarded both economically and emotionally -- that is problematic.

Another observation I made over the past year is regarding the areas where cruelty of animals is the worse-rural areas in the south and in the inner cities across the country-all lower income populations with little education. The animal problem-no spay or neuter, multiple puppies and kittens left to die outside or dumped in poor animal centers or abuse beyond what most would be able to stomach is a symptom not the core problem. If education is deficient in these communities and families are struggling financially, that is a larger issue we should be addressing.

Thirdly, the systemic dysfunction of animal shelters is pervasive. There are well run facilities, but for the most part, animal shelters are archaic and chaotic in terms of how they are operated. Most shelters are run by city and state government. They are alienated from the community as a whole. People do not know where their city shelter is nor do they find it approachable and people friendly. Hundreds of thousands of animals are euthanized because of the lack of integration and social awareness. Again, I encourage you to think about the shelters as government agencies-again-the problem is much larger than "just unwanted animals" -- it is about how our government continues to operate ineffectively with little proactive strategy and without addressing core problems.

Private animal rescue organizations have taken matters into their own hands because they cannot stand by and watch what is happening. They are passionate about what they do, operate on little to no funding, spend their own personal money to make a difference and work long hours into the night after they come home from their day jobs. These organizations are often a one man (or woman) show -- 90 percent of rescue volunteers are women -- they do not have the resources to be strategic and grow their organizations but operate like an emergency room staff. Their contribution goes well beyond the animal world as they have to engage people- to volunteer, foster, donate money, educate and align with the shelters. Animal cruelty is a social problem whether we want to believe it or not. As a nation, thinking more and more about social responsibility, we need to examine this issue closer. What does it say about our country when we continue to look the other way, allow cruelty and avoid the problem? Personally, it makes me wonder what other social issues we are neglecting.