What’s Going on at the Putnam Humane Society?

The Putnam Humane Society (PHS) in Carmel, NY has a sign on their building which reads “Kindness, Justice and Mercy to all Living Creatures”. The shelter has been dealing with a legal battle regarding a dog named Hunkie whom the shelter Board voted to euthanize after two biting incidents. A shelter volunteer has taken legal action to adopt Hunkie in an effort to rehab the dog under a strict set of ground rules. The case is awaiting a ruling from a judge I think but it does bring to mind questions about whether the dog came to the shelter with aggression issues or developed them during his time at the shelter. I don’t know the answer but it would be interesting to find out in light of another report from the same shelter regarding additional dogs with aggression issues.

In this case, the shelter requested a comprehensive shelter evaluation from Cornell University’s Shelter Medicine Program. Among the report’s findings:

  • The organization’s by-laws and mission statement have failed to adequately define its “No-Kill” policy.
  • The shelter does not currently have definitions and guidelines for determining which animals are adoptable and unadoptable.
  • There is no formal behavioral assessment for dogs.
  • The shelter keeps dogs with severe behavior problems for prolonged periods of time.

Among the recommendations for the shelter, many are about killing pets:

  • [E]uthanasia will still be necessary for humane reasons for animals with terminal illnesses, severe behavior problems, or who pose a threat to the safety and/or health of people or other animals.
  • It is inhumane for shelters to refuse to euthanize an animal because of a “no-kill” policy if they do not have the resources available to provide appropriate treatment and ensure a good quality of life.
  • Adopt specific protocols to keep the number of unadoptable dogs entering the shelter to a minimum. (For strays: Unadoptable dogs should be euthanized following any legally required holding period[.] For owner-surrenders: Unadoptable dogs should not be accepted by the shelter.
  • Animals with the following conditions should not be accepted by PHS for placement. (List includes dogs with history of resource guarding, high prey drive, bite history to humans, and animals with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes)
  • Euthanasia is indicated for the following animals: (List includes dogs adopted and returned for aggression, dogs with history of aggression, resource guarding, high prey drive, and bite history)

Detailed instructions for killing aggressive dogs follow. There are also a number of pages in the report devoted to breaking up dog fights.

These recommendations are puzzling to me in that, to my mind, they reflect a philosophy the opposite of no kill. In fact, they seem far more in line with the antiquated thinking which has resulted in society becoming accustomed to the killing of healthy/treatable pets as the norm. That is, the wrong thinking which those committed to no kill strive to overcome.

As disturbing as it is to read recommendations made in a general sense, it becomes downright tragic when the report gets into specifics on the dogs at PHS:

  • Thirty-seven of the 47 dogs being housed at PHS during our visit had been there longer than one year. Of these, twenty-seven dogs had been housed for longer than two years, and 15 dogs had been housed for longer than 5 years.
  • The behaviors observed during our visit indicate poor welfare of many of the dogs housed at PHS.

Eight dogs are cited as exhibiting abnormal, repetitive behaviors such as severe spinning and another eight are characterized as extremely fearful/aggressive. One wonders how these dogs got to this unfortunate state. The report seems to answer that question by detailing how the dogs live their lives, day in and day out, year after year at the shelter (I’m paraphrasing this section):

  • 17 hours a day in a 6′ X 4′ run with almost no human interaction, 15 of those hours in total darkness
  • 7 hours a day in outdoor pens with some, but not all, dogs receiving occasional human interaction such as a walk
  • Behavioral enrichment and aerobic exercise: little to none
  • Most dogs can see other dogs at all times which increases stress
  • The high anxiety and abnormal behavior displayed by the long term residents negatively impacts new arrivals and is particularly hard on small dogs, perpetuating a cycle of stressed out dogs

Obviously this shelter is not set up as a sanctuary where dogs can live for years, having their daily needs for exercise and human interaction met. It’s designed as short term housing for dogs on their way to foster homes, permanent homes, rescue or sanctuary. And yet these dogs not only don’t seem to be going anywhere, they seem to be going crazy. The report’s recommendations for all these dogs with behavioral issues seems to be: Accept no responsibility for how these dogs got to this point and just give up:

  • Behavior modification is unrealistic and inappropriate for the severity and duration of aggression exhibited by many of the dogs housed at PHS.

Couldn’t we at least try? Bloody hell, aren’t these dogs owed at least that much? There have been many dogs, notably the Vick dogs but others too, who have received substandard and/or abusive treatment for years and, when given an opportunity to live a normal life, take to it quite well. Why recommend the shelter give up on these dogs when it appears that the shelter has at least played a role in developing the behaviors? Perhaps an answer, from the report:

  • These dogs compromise the shelter’s reputation and public image.

21 dogs are designated as having a bite history. I don’t know how the bite history was determined for all these dogs but it doesn’t appear clear that the individual dogs have each had an opportunity to be evaluated by a canine behaviorist. Presumably a behaviorist would make recommendations for behavior modification and a program implemented with periodic re-evaluations made on a case-by-case basis. I see no evidence of that. In other words, I see no documented efforts of any kind to help these dogs. The report basically states that any such efforts would fail and “disposition decisions” need to be made for these dogs. And I say, if that’s your attitude, why are you involved in no kill?

I don’t know what has happened or will happen to the poor dogs described in this report. There has been a recent change in the Board but I don’t know what, if any, effects this change will have. In the meantime, I will be keeping a good thought for “Kindness, Justice and Mercy to all Living Creatures” at the Putnam Humane Society.

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