Why We Need Shelter Reform

It’s National Animal Shelter Reform Week.  Why do we need reform in so many of our nation’s shelters?  Here are a few examples.

New York:  An outside investigation into the practices at the Niagara Co SPCA revealed:

  • The techs were killing conscious pets via heartstick, using a drug called Rompun first which caused the pets to vomit but did not sedate them.
  • The director never reviewed data on intakes, killings or RTOs – only adoptions.
  • The cat room at the shelter was kept locked to keep the public out.
  • The shelter accepted feral cats, held them for the stray holding period, then killed them.  The director did not want to stop accepting feral cats from the people who regularly brought them in as it would mean a loss of income.

Georgia:  Records obtained via FOIA request from the Catoosa Co pound indicate that many pets were being killed with multiple injections of Fatal Plus.  Records further show a number of stray pets killed upon impound, in violation of the mandatory holding period required by law.

A reporter in Atlanta exposed a scam at the Boggs Mountain Humane Shelter where the shelter would pressure donors to send money quickly in order to save a pet in the Lucky Dog program then, with cash in pocket, would take the “lucky dog” to the county pound to be killed.

Tennessee:  Security camera footage obtained via FOIA request from the Memphis pound shows animal abuse.  In an unrelated police investigation, workers at the pound were charged with animal cruelty after an undercover officer observed them torturing pets in the kill room.  The pound’s vet left a degloved cat to suffer in a cage for 5 days before he was finally killed.  A starving puppy cannibalized his littermate in an attempt to stay alive at the pound.

Louisiana:  A volunteer at the Companion Animal Alliance in Baton Rouge reports needless suffering and death among the feline population.  The shelter is unable to locate records of specific animals who have died.  Other records appear to have been doctored.  Photographs document the decline of cats in shelter care while records are riddled with discrepancies.

As things stand, most of our public shelters kill the pets we pay them to protect and then blame the public – we who adopt, foster, donate and volunteer – for the killing.  This week, and so long as the need remains, I will continue to support those working towards reform.

Discussion: Why is Reform Needed at Your Local Shelter?

It’s National Animal Shelter Reform Week although on this blog, that’s every week.  Why is reform needed in the overwhelming majority of our taxpayer funded shelters?  The answer is:  Because directors and staff are not doing their jobs to shelter pets but instead are killing them.

I regularly hear excuses from directors, shelter staff, volunteers and others who enable them as to why they “can’t stop” killing pets.  I outright reject the idea that they can’t stop since it’s been proven in dozens of open admission shelters all over the country that killing is a choice.  Rather, too many shelter directors won’t stop killing.

By far the most common excuse offered is some variation of the following:  What are we supposed to do with all these animals?  It is the very asking of this question that disqualifies a shelter director or staffer from employment.  Or at least it should.  If you are running an animal shelter or working in one and you do not inherently know what it is you are supposed to do with all the animals in your care, why are you in this line of work?  It’s not because you want to kill animals, right?  Because no kill advocates are constantly told that nobody wants that.  Usually by those doing the killing.

Please tell us why reform is needed at your local municipal shelter.  Or if you are one of the lucky ones whose shelter has already been reformed, tell us how things have changed for your community pets since the shelter director and staff started doing their jobs.

National Animal Shelter Reform Week: CAPA Could Have Saved Ace

Many readers have been following the story of Ace – a Pitbull picked up by Detroit Animal Control (DAC) on November 4.  Ace was named after the hardware store where he was found.  The owner of the store thought that calling AC was the right thing to do to help Ace.  He did not realize the pound was determined to kill him.  (Read the store owner’s heartbreaking letter to Ace.)

Rescue groups offered to take Ace from DAC.  The city council president intervened to try to stop the city from killing Ace.  A judge issued an order to the city not to kill Ace or any dog that looks like him until a hearing could be held on the case.  But DAC killed Ace anyway – because they could.  A statement from the city on the killing of Ace reads, in part:

We are not insensitive to the overwhelming appeal from citizens for an alternative approach. We are, indeed, heartened by these appeals. However, if we grant this one exception, we are simply not set up for what will undoubtedly lead to overwhelming appeals in similar cases.

See, it’s not that they aren’t moved by the lifesaving efforts of people who care about Ace, it’s just that, if they kept Ace alive, everyone would want one.  Which is of course, totally absurd.  What is Detroit going to do – stop killing Pitbulls altogether?  Crazy talk!

More from the city’s statement:

We are proud of the dedication of Detroit Animal Control Manager, Harry Ward and his officers for risking their lives every day protecting residents of this city. Attacking their character and integrity is disingenuous, disconcerting and disappointing. We receive calls every year from hundreds of citizens who are appreciative for the work they do.

They’re proud.  Gee, that’s swell.  And yeah, they needlessly killed a dog rescuers were begging to save but look – there are other dogs still sucking oxygen in Detroit.  They haven’t killed them!  So give the city a break!

If MI had the Companion Animal Protection Act in place, the city would be legally prevented from killing pets rescuers are willing to save and from killing pets based on arbitrary criteria such as breed.

If you are a MI resident concerned with saving pets like Ace from needless killing at your shelters, here is a 4 step guide on how to get CAPA passed.  (If you are in another state which lacks a rescue access law, this guide works for you too!)  Please take the time to read through the guide and share it with anyone you think might make use of it.  Let us know if you have comments, questions or thoughts on getting CAPA passed in your state.  And especially let us know if we can count on you to try.

The homeless pets in MI can’t wait any longer for public shelter employees to decide if they will ever stop killing pets simply because they can.  They need you to take action to get CAPA introduced in MI.  Take away the discretion of shelter directors to decide whether they will allow a pet to be saved from their kill room.  Take action to empower rescuers and save the lives of shelter pets by getting CAPA introduced in MI.

National Animal Shelter Reform Week: Why NC Needs CAPA

In 2010, Surry Co Animal Control in NC took in 3933 pets and killed 3548 of them.  That’s a kill rate of 90%.  The cost to taxpayers per animal handled was $119.  Surry Co charges $100 for dogs and $90 for cats (vaccines and neuter surgery included).  The median household income in Surry Co in 2008 was $37k.  Surry Co does not adopt out Pitbulls, Rottweilers, Chows, mixes of any of those breeds, or any dog who has either bitten or “shown aggression”.

Also during 2010, Robeson Co AC took in 4515 pets and killed 2073 of them – a kill rate of 46%.  The cost to taxpayers was $43.57 per animal handled.  Robeson pets are adopted out at $25 each and the fee includes rabies vaccination and neuter surgery.  The median household income in Robeson Co in 2008 was $31k.

In September of this year, a concerned resident went before the Surry County Board of Commissioners to ask them to consider working toward no kill.  In response, a county spokesman described the county’s relationship with local rescues as “good”, noted that the kill rate has decreased in recent years (!) and blamed the public for failing to neuter their pets.  The spokesman also mentioned that the county had looked into the possibility of working toward no kill in the past:

“There were large costs associated with a no kill shelter, and it was just not feasible for Surry County.”

From the stats above, we can see that Robeson Co is saving far more pets than Surry Co at a lower cost to taxpayers and in a poorer county.  Both pounds kill “for space” and neither has put into place the lifesaving programs of the No Kill Equation.  One notable difference:  the Robeson pound very actively networks its pets online, including on Facebook.  When approached with the idea of using Facebook to network Surry Co’s pets, the Board Chairman declined, referring to “problems” which exist with the social networking site.

Granted, Facebook has ongoing privacy issues and I’m not a huge fan personally.  But I am impressed with how it can be used to save the lives of pets in kill shelters.  Robeson is a good example.  The pound there has a particularly shady past and a local advocate even brought a lawsuit against the pound to get them to stop killing pets who had rescue holds placed on them (the lawsuit was later dropped).  Nevertheless in 2010, the pound brought its kill rate down from 90% to 46%.  It’s a significant improvement and seems to be attributable largely to online networking of pets by the manager and staff.

At least one person is Surry Co was concerned enough about the 90% kill rate at the county pound to speak to the county commissioners about no kill.  Their excuses, that things are going well and no kill is too expensive, are easily challenged:  You’re killing 90% of your pets (things are not going well!) and no kill is cost effective (it’s not too expensive!).  Oh and:  The Irresponsible Public!  (A member of which came before you to offer suggestions on how to save pets lives.)  For the sake of argument, let’s agree with the county commissioners for a moment that a 90% kill rate represents an improvement and we’re good with that, no kill is too expensive and the people in Surry Co suck.  What about networking pets online?  Sure there might be “problems” associated with any social networking site but gee, has anyone checked with the pets in the Surry Co pound whether they consider death to be a “problem”?  Networking pets online saves lives.  And it’s free.  What is the real reason Surry Co is so resistant to making even a small change like this?

Protecting the status quo.  Surry Co commissioners want to keep doing what they’ve always done with the pound, despite ample evidence that change could be beneficial to the county.  It’s the same reason why, even with leadership in place to network its pets online, Robeson Co had to be taken to court in an effort to prevent them from killing pets rescue groups wanted to save.  At the Robeson pound, it’s the shelter manager who does the killing, which rather puts a damper on how excited anyone can get over the online networking.

The homeless pets in Surry Co and Robeson Co can’t wait for their leaders to embrace sweeping reform.  They are being needlessly killed by the thousands every year.  If NC had CAPA in place, neither Surry nor Robeson would have the discretion to resist change.  It would be their legal mandate to save pets lives, along with every other animal shelter in the state.

If you are a NC resident concerned with saving pets from needless killing at your shelters, here is a 4 step guide on how to get CAPA passed.  (If you are in another state which lacks a rescue access law, this guide works for you too!)  Please take the time to read through the guide and share it with anyone you think might make use of it.  Let us know if you have comments, questions or thoughts on getting CAPA passed in your state.  And especially let us know if we can count on you to try.

North Carolina’s pets can’t wait any longer while well-intentioned advocates ask nicely for change on the local level and get patted on the head and told to sit back down.  They need you to step up and get CAPA introduced in NC as a state law so that every shelter is legally required to actually shelter pets.


National Animal Shelter Reform Week: Why TN Needs CAPA

The No Kill Advocacy Center designates this week as National Animal Shelter Reform Week.  While pet advocates have long worked with their local pounds in hopes of winning the hearts and minds of public employees responsible for needless pet killing, the results have fallen short of expectations.  In too many cases, those responsible for the killing have dug in their heels in the face of reform efforts and resorted to tactics such as flimsy legal threats, firing of volunteers for the offense of making an effort to save pets’ lives, and drawing an iron curtain around themselves in an attempt to hide their abuse and cruelty.

Can we win these people over with patience and kind words?

Memphis Animal Services (MAS) killed 77% of the pets in its care in 2010.  This year, pet advocates have ramped up efforts to try and save more pets from the MAS kill room.  The city has responded with various attempts to silence critics and to hide from the public by removing the webcams from the pound.

In the case of Mari, a feral dog who readers here worked to save from being killed at MAS, the city appeared determined to sabotage our efforts by initially failing to disclose that Mari was feral, giving us impossibly short deadlines to get him out of the pound and then suddenly putting us off by involving the city attorney’s office.

After Mari had already been at MAS for weeks, we were advised that he might not be released to us, or to anyone, and that the city attorney required 4 more days to make a decision on the matter.  The city requested, and was provided, information on where Mari would be going.  After receiving no response, we checked back the next day to find out where things stood.  The city claimed it had not received the information on where Mari was going.  We sent the information again.  And so the shenanigans continued, all while Mari’s life was on the line and rescuers were begging to save him.  During this time, we pursued possible legal remedies to prevent the city from following through on its threats to kill Mari.  Unfortunately, we had no legal standing.

Rescue access laws such as the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA) empower rescuers by giving them legal standing.  CAPA makes it illegal for a pound to kill a pet if a rescue group is willing to save him.  Rescue access laws have recently been introduced in Florida and MinnesotaDelaware and California have already passed similar legislation.  If it seems like I’m forever nagging advocates in TN to wage a political campaign for reform, this is why.  If TN had CAPA in place, the city would not have the discretion to kill Mari or any other animal rescuers were willing to save.  If TN had CAPA, rescuers would be legally empowered.  Shenanigans, such as those the city pulled with Mari, would be illegal.  Life for shelter pets would trump death under CAPA and the MAS staff and its “Friends”  would be legally prevented from strolling the halls of the pound playing their “You live, you die” games.

It should not be an immense political power struggle to save a pet from the kill room at MAS – or at any pound.  Rescuers willing to save pets’ lives must be legally empowered.  We can not continue to hope to win the hearts and minds of pet killers.  Legislative action is required.  Every day that passes without rescue access laws in place is another day maintaining the status quo and relegating rescuers to the peanut gallery.  It’s time to stand up and demand your voice be heard.  Because your voice is the only voice shelter pets have.  If not you, who?

If you are a TN resident concerned with saving pets from needless killing at your shelters, here is a 4 step guide on how to get CAPA passed.  (If you are in another state which lacks a rescue access law, this guide works for you too!)  Please take the time to read through the guide and share it with anyone you think might make use of it.  Let us know if you have comments, questions or thoughts on getting CAPA passed in your state.  And especially let us know if we can count on you to try.

The homeless pets in TN can’t wait any longer for public shelter employees to decide if they will stop killing for convenience.  They need you to take action to get CAPA introduced in TN.

A dog on a chokepole is dragged to the kill room by a worker at MAS.

The Audacity of Hope

It’s National Animal Shelter Reform Week.  These dogs are at my local “We kill our friend every day” shelter.  I want to effect change for them.  Why are you working towards reform?

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them. ~ His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Protection for Chicken Pluckers but Not for Whistleblowers?

In Featherville, the locals really love their chickens.  In fact, the town funds a chicken sanctuary and hired Mr. John Smith to run the place.  Mr. Smith gets help from some of the townspeople who enjoy volunteering their time to take care of the chickens.  But all is not well.  Someone has been plucking the chickens.

One day, the Featherville Police Chief comes into the sanctuary and tells Mr. Smith privately that he’s conducting an investigation.  Nobody besides the police chief and the sanctuary director know any details but all of the sudden, Mr. Smith comes out and tells the volunteers to leave.  They ask when they can return but Mr. Smith refuses to answer.  They ask if they’ve done something wrong but again, Mr. Smith refuses to answer.

At the next town meeting, people are quite upset over events at the sanctuary.  Several ousted volunteers stand up and tell their neighbors that they’ve personally witnessed Mr. Smith plucking chickens.  They say they never said anything before because they were afraid he’d kick them out and then the chickens wouldn’t have anyone who really cared about them at the sanctuary.  The police chief will say only that there is an investigation underway but won’t say if it’s about the chicken plucking or something else.

Now people are really upset.  They don’t know if the volunteers were banned because perhaps they alerted authorities to the alleged chicken plucking by Mr. Smith.  They don’t even know if the chicken plucking is being investigated at all.  The town turns to Mr. Smith for answers.  Mr. Smith addresses the meeting, “I’ve never heard a thing about any chicken plucking.  The volunteers have been banned.  There’s a secret investigation going on.  Now I’m not saying the volunteers are the chicken pluckers but…” *nudge, nudge* *wink, wink* “I want to assure everyone that I will take these reports of chicken plucking seriously and look into the matter.”

The town funds this sanctuary because the people care about chickens.  They pay Mr. Smith’s salary.  Now volunteers have accused him of chicken plucking and he has banned them.  He promises to investigate the allegations against him.  The police chief may know something about the chicken plucking but isn’t saying.

Seems farcical, doesn’t it?  And yet, similar scenarios play out regularly in real life all over the country with regard to animal shelters and abuse allegations.  The authorities say they can’t comment on the investigation – even to tell the public what the investigation is.  The shelter bans the volunteers who say they have been afraid of this very thing happening so they didn’t speak up about the abuse sooner.  The shelter promises to investigate itself.  Meanwhile, taxpayers are supposed to sit down, shut up and keep paying these people accused of abuse.

In short, the alleged chicken pluckers can not expel the whistleblowers and investigate themselves while holding the chickens and the entire town hostage.  This is outrageous and absurd and taxpayers should demand better.

National Animal Shelter Reform Week

The No Kill Advocacy Center launched National Animal Shelter Reform Week this week in direct response to HSUS’s National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week.

Inga Fricke of HSUS:

“A shelter is a safe haven for animals, and a great place to adopt a new family pet. Shelters also provide critical services like investigating cruelty and neglect, reuniting lost pets with their families, teaching kids to care about animals, and providing spay/neuter services to help reduce pet overpopulation in their communities.”

No Kill Advocacy Center:

National Animal Shelter Reform Week is designed to confront the tragic truth about how most shelters in this country operate and to increase public awareness about how animal lovers can fight back. Despite the uphill battle many shelter reformers face, they are succeeding through ingenuity, perseverance, and because the American public loves animals.

HSUS says we should use this week “to honor animal shelters and the dedicated people who work to protect animals”.  The No Kill Advocacy Center counters that this week is dedicated to animal lovers who are fighting back against shelter abuse and that we should “support their reform campaigns and honor their tireless efforts”.

The No Kill Advocacy Center gives some examples of shelter abuse but the HSUS press release is notably lacking any examples of the “safe havens” deserving of our reverence.  Since posting stories of abuse at animal shelters has become a focus of this blog, please allow me to provide some specific examples of a larger pattern that concerns me:

The Coweta Co Animal Control shelter in GA was no “safe haven” for an impounded dog with severe injuries who was left without veterinary care to suffer on the cold cement floor.  Small kittens – even healthy, friendly ones that the public will often readily foster or adopt – are killed at the county shelter in Anne Arundel, MD because they might get sick.  At the Marshall Co Animal Shelter in WV, the director goes on TV and advertises her Friday night kitten killing spree – while blaming the public for being irresponsible.

A “culture of fear” at the Dallas Animal Shelter kept workers from bringing concerns about a cat, trapped in the shelter wall and left to die, to superiors.  In that case, a grand jury indicted the shelter manager, who allowed the cat to die an agonizing death, on felony cruelty charges.  Taxpayers continue to pay his salary while he’s on “administrative leave”.  I have trouble reconciling the terms “culture of fear” and “safe haven”.

Many people already know that a shelter is “a great place to adopt a new family pet”.  In fact, sometimes people try to adopt pets, but shelters kill them instead.  Mark and Anita Painter desperately wanted to adopt a dog at the Gaston Co AC shelter in NC and made repeated calls to the shelter to make sure the dog was not accidentally killed during the required holding period.  The shelter killed the dog anyway.  The Memphis Animal Shelter in TN has killed several dogs with adopters waiting in just the past year.  L.A. Co shelters in CA have killed both pets with adopters waiting and those with owners attempting to redeem them.  A woman in Craven Co, NC wanted so badly to adopt a puppy she had fallen in love with at the shelter, she contacted a local politician to intervene.  The shelter killed the puppy anyway.

The so-called “dedicated people who work to protect animals” at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control in NC apparently drugged some shelter cats, posed them for offensive photos and then posted the pictures on Facebook.  The director at Miami-Dade Animal Services in FL describes killing healthy, friendly pets as “what we all do to our best friend” while the director of the Walter Crowe Animal Shelter in SC says, “We kill our friend every day”.  Dedicated people protecting animals?

As far as providing “critical services”, HSUS may be unaware that many shelters end up investigating themselves for cruelty and neglect.  Among them, the Abbeville Animal Shelter in SC where a whistleblower exposed dogs living in their own waste – some without water and others with buckets of green water.  In NC, animal advocates took it upon themselves to document and expose evidence of neglect and cruelty at the Robeson Co Animal Shelter.  In response, the bureaucrats in charge severely restricted the public’s access to their own shelter.

HSUS says that shelters reunite lost pets with their families.  They may have missed the story of Tyson who was lost in Providence, RI.  His family and friends began looking for him immediately while ACOs at the shelter repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the dog.  When the truth was finally uncovered by those who cared about Tyson, the ACOs admitted they had impounded and killed him the day he went missing and that the entire time searchers were pounding the pavement, Tyson’s lifeless body was in the shelter’s freezer.

In the case of a tragic death of one dog and injuries to several others at the Forrest City Animal Shelter in AR, HSUS was most certainly aware of the circumstances of the incident and even sent a representative to defend the ACOs responsible for the needless death and injuries.

As far as “teaching kids to care about animals” – sure the Walker Co Humane Society in AL offers to do that but seeing as the shelter director was caught killing someone’s pet upon intake and then lying about it afterward, I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.  When you excuse the killing of 97% of the pets that come in your door, what could you possibly teach a child about caring about animals?

Of course there are truly good shelters out there and I do appreciate them.  And even within public kill shelters there are individual staff members and volunteers trying to save pets.  But let’s be clear:  As things stand, most of our public shelters kill the pets we pay them to protect and then blame us, the public, for the killing.  I don’t appreciate that.  And so long as the need remains, I will continue to support those working towards reform.

So here is to you reformers! :::clink:::  Please know that while HSUS with its massive political power and obscene bank account chooses to honor those who do the killing, we little people who love our pets and want to see a no kill nation in our lifetimes, honor you.  We appreciate all your hard work, done without fanfare on shoestring budgets in your homes and apartments.  You are making a difference.  You are our heroes.  And we’ve got your backs.

We are the real humane society – small h, small sJoin us.