A VOICE for the underdogs

posted October 15th, 2010 by
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‘Fixing’ the Problem of Too Many Homeless, Euthanized Pets
BY PAT ATKINSON

If you’re involved with animal rescue and welfare and don’t know Ruth Steinberger by now, it’s inevitable that eventually your paths will cross.

That intersection may be in-person or a result of her work improving the lives of pets and people in Oklahoma.

She’s the “go to” authority on Oklahoma’s growing spay and neuter services network, efforts to pass animal welfare legislation, and the sad state of animal cruelty and neglect, puppy mills, animal hoarders.

In Tulsa Pets Magazine, she has written about state legislation to improve living conditions in puppy mills; the growth of illegal street sales of puppies out of vehicles; the shocking sickness of animal hoarding, and new, affordable spay and neuter services.

She’s petite and soft-spoken, but is the “speak up” voice of positive change for the underdogs. For the past 20-plus years, Ruth has worked on behalf of homeless, helpless, abused, dumped, abandoned, caged and frightened animals to make their world a better place.

Speaking Out
Her messages are loud and clear:

• There are too many homeless animals and too few homes. Rescue organizations can help one at a time, but affordable spay and neuter networks are the real answer to “fixing” the problem of homelessness, suffering, overflowing shelters, and euthanasia of thousands.

• Preventing too many pets from being born into a world where they are not wanted costs less and brings the biggest bang for the buck.

And, she gently reminds, none of this is complicated. “No culture likes starving or abused animals. It’s just something people live with. But we can change it. And we are.”

This woman thinks big and works for practical solutions – spay and neuter your own pet before “just one litter” and, if you are outraged by animal cruelty, neglect, and homelessness, let your legislators and law enforcement officials know that you expect change.

“If you are committed to responsible, compassionate behavior and you vote, then you hold a huge card in your hands. By using it, you can trump the bad guys,” she says.

She’s more at home in jeans and a tee than “dressed up” at workshops educating professionals and volunteers. And her home is a haven for about a dozen dogs, four cats and horses, too, all rescued from the meanest of streets or not adoptable because they were too old or not cute enough. It’s probably a fact that of the thousands of critters she has met, each instinctively knows Ruth as “friend.”

Pet Dog and Pony Show
Ruth’s passion for animal welfare was born many years ago with a little dog and a pony ride.

A dog named Farfel was her first pet when she was 9 years old. The pup was spayed and lived 17 years, but only one of her several littermates, a puppy named Lollypop got a home – the mother dog was not spayed and Farfel “really should have been prevented,” as an older and wiser Ruth now knows.

Her first awareness of animal neglect was at age 7 at a pony ride. It was summer and there was no water for the ponies where they stood all day in the heat. Little Ruth “bugged” her father about it until he finally reported the situation to the ASPCA in New York City.

In later years, living on the East Coast, she volunteered in animal rescue, but soon realized that if pets were spayed and neutered “it just made more sense – IF the animals were fixed and stayed in their own homes instead of coming to mine. In spay and neuter programs, I was only briefly handling one pet instead of six or eight that needed someplace to go.”

Spay/Neuter Roots
Next she volunteered with a rural spay and neuter program in the Appalachian Mountains, that was associated with Virginia Tech’s veterinary medicine college. In 1998, she set out on a camping trip, hoping to connect with other spay and neuter groups, traveling with one horse, two dogs, notebooks and art supplies. In southern Arkansas during cotton-picking time, she saw a level of poverty even worse than in Appalachia, many neglected dogs, and no spay and neuter services.

The turning point was in rural, poor southeast Oklahoma when she stopped for gas and was greeted by a stray dog, soon joined by a dozen more. When Ruth asked a young girl nearby whose dogs they were, the answer was, “They’re yours now, ain’t they?” For a girl from the East, it was pretty odd. Then she learned that there was no spay or veterinary help for the dogs in the area.

“I knew there and then that I was selling my place in Virginia and moving to Oklahoma – it was the combination of the poverty and neglected dogs in Arkansas and this place. I knew I had something to share.

“Honestly, I never re-thought the decision from that moment on and never reconsidered.”

She moved to Pushmataha County, one of Oklahoma’s poorest, learned how to ask for funds and apply for grants, connected with a humane group, and thus was born Oklahoma’s first rural spay and neuter program, which continues to benefit thousands of pets in that corner of the state.

Dream to Reality
Now residing in Creek County, Ruth is director of outreach for Spay Oklahoma and continues building a statewide network bringing together legislators, law enforcement, veterinarians, other animal professionals, volunteers, non-profit rescue and service groups – all with a commitment to making a difference for the animals. She has received local, state and national recognition for her work.

And after a dozen years as a transplanted Okie, Ruth Steinberger’s name is synonymous with her dream for the animals.

“My dream is that we have programs to prevent animal suffering that are county-by-county, state-by-state, and ultimately worldwide, on a scope we can’t even imagine today.

“We may not be able to stop each psycho who harms an animal, but the greatest cause of death of pets in the U.S. is that there are too many cats and dogs born every day.

“Animal suffering can be viewed as a disease and we already have the cure. It’s prevention. And we can also stop practices that are cruel to animals, such as bull fighting.

“Working together, we can get it done.” This dream is “simple” and can become reality, Ruth says.

This, too, is certain. Ruth Steinberger is creating millions of paw prints to tomorrow’s safer, kinder, and more compassionate world for animals.

Pat Atkinson
Professional journalist Pat Atkinson is also associated with area rescue and spay/neuter programs.

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