I grew up in a profession that believed that our volunteers were the life blood of our organization. Our volunteers could give our animals the special attention that we didn’t have time to provide.
I continued to believe that throughout my career until I ran into a group of volunteers who believed that their service to the organization gave them justification to have the right to direct the operation of the animal shelter.
It was the first time in my life that I believed that our volunteers were a detriment to the organization. Sure, they were providing valuable care to the animals, but they became a force of demanding staff to overlook the behavioral problems associated with dogs, so as to push the aggressive animals into adoptive homes.
The volunteers were quite effective. They complained to the right people, made their plea to the media. There purpose was to undermine the mission of the animal shelter staff to protect the public.
To some degree the volunteers were success in getting the power players to question the decision of staff. But, mostly these players didn’t like to be embroiled in conflict. They saw the volunteers as representing a caring community, instead of their role as inflicting their special interest.
This was a problem that was being experience State wide to such a degree due to the high frequency of aggressive animals being released from animal shelters back into the community, the State had to step in and enact laws to force shelters to tell the truth about the behavior of the animals in their care.
Volunteers have special interest, the care that they provide the animals makes them biased towards those animals. Many volunteers will try to force a shelter to ignore the shelter’s mission to protect the community. Our elected overseers should have the foresight to recognize this dynamic.
The animal welfare profession is a very volatile profession. So many things can and will go wrong. For this reason, many communities will attempt to provide guidance through citizen committees. These committees are given birth to help the animal shelter avoid mistakes by assisting the shelter in making policy decisions that reflect the morays of the community.
The hope is that the community members will reflect the values of the community. Like most communities, people are appointed to these communities after volunteering to be placed on the committee. Many communities have not figured out that the desire to serve on a committee is evidence that a person has a special agenda that may not represent the will of the community as a whole.
In one organization, it was so rare to have someone volunteer to sit on a committee, that County Commission members selected the first person to come along who wanted to serve. The Advisory Committee became a group of special interest people wanting to steer the animal shelter in a direction that may not have been in the best interest of the community.
It is no wonder that in recent years that organization became a place in which unreasonable chances were taken in trying to adopt aggressive dogs. Staff were placed at risk trying to care for these animals.
For the most part, advisory committees are a feel good thing. In order to keep the committee effective and providing a service to your community, it is important to know the motivation of the people wanting to serve on your committee.
With increasing pressure to maintain high release rates, many animal shelters will fail to report prior dog bites to prospective adopters. This became such a problem in the Commonwealth of Virginia that a law had to be enacted to force shelters to come forward with an animal’s previous aggressive history.
I experienced this myself, working in Virginia, in which volunteers would attempt to bully me and my staff into ignoring the behaviors that we witnessed, so as to keep the animal on track for adoption. Because I felt I had a higher calling to protect the public from aggressive animals, the volunteers pushed for my removal.
I am dumbfounded by the thought process that would hide such information from a perspective adopter. Commonsense should have prevailed in warning a person about a pet’s previous behavior. But, when it comes to saving animals, commonsense is not so common. Animal Advocates believe that the life of an animal is a higher priority that the safety of a person, family, or the community.
I find it extremely troubling that it was necessary to force a moral obligation on animal shelters; however, I applaud the Commonwealth for making it necessary for shelters to do the right thing. Think of the legal ramifications and potential loss of life if shelters were allowed to continue pushing aggressive animals to people.
The biggest problem that communities face with community cat programs is that no one takes responsibly for the medical needs of the cats. It is one thing to feed a neighborhood cat, but quite another to take on the responsibility to sterilize and vaccinate those cats. Many cat owners don’t do that for their own cats, let alone cats running loose in the neighborhood.
Although feeding these neighborhood cats is a humane act; that food creates at artificially high carry capacity for the neighborhood and triggers breeding. Within a few years the neighborhood population of cats explode, resulting in complaints to animal control. Generally, animal control doesn’t care about cat problems until complaints arise and then they set about to reduce the population to zero: resetting the population for the cycle to begin again.
A few communities have active Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) programs to attempt to bring about community wide population stability. Those programs are only as successful as the staff and funding to constantly trap fertile cats. Feral cat colonies exist within communities to attempt to maintain a population stability in small pockets; however, cat owners see those colonies as a dumping ground for their own pets when they decide to abandon them.
You might imagine that finding homes for these “wild cats” might be the biggest issue for animals shelters; but, the disease that they bring into the shelters is the biggest problem. These unvaccinated cats become stressed by trapping and relocation to the shelter that trigger the expression of disease.
It is not uncommon to read about disease outbreaks of Feline Panleukopenia in local animal shelters. These outbreaks are usually the result of animal control personnel loading the shelter with feral cats. The disease is quite contagious and will spread quickly, when people come into the shelter wanting to touch every animal. In 2016/17, my shelter would get one outbreak under control, only to have animal control bring in more infected cats; we lived from one outbreak to another. Having animal control and the animal shelter under one department helps the two organization into moving in the right direction.
Most people, including TNR folks, are only worried about rabies, so the other contagious diseases are not addressed in the community. People who allow their cats to go outside should vaccinate their cats as directed by their veterinarian.
Many animal shelters vaccinate animals on intake, but the onset of protection is too slow to prevent an outbreak within the shelter. Control of shelter disease must start in the community. A good strategy for people wanting to surrender their pets is to request that the animal is fully vaccinated 30 days prior to surrender.
On the surface, no kill seems to be the right thing to do. Under the surface, we begin to understand that most shelters do not have the cage space to humanely house animals long term, until they are adopted. Many animals cannot hold up to long term confinement.
The best way to see how No Kill can fall apart is to go to: https://www.peta.org/issues/animal-companion-issues/animal-shelters/no-kill-policies-slowly-killing-animals/. PETA has been monitoring the failures of No Kill.
When an animal shelter makes the announcement that they are going No Kill, the first impact it that people considering the surrender of their pet feel they can down give up their pet guilt free. Animal shelters begin to see an increase in intakes. With a new No Kill shelter in the area, people from outside the area will make the drive to the shelter to surrender their pet.
The most effective way to go No Kill is to reduce intakes. With increasing intakes, the shelter will either be forced to throw funds into increasing cage space, or find ways to decline intakes. The City of Austin Texas, had to spend millions of dollars in an effort to try to maintain their No Kill status. Other shelters begin to turn people away due to overcrowding. Most shelters are obligated to take in stray animals, so pet owners report that their own pets are stray so as to surrender them.
The worst part of No Kill is forcing animals to remain in cages for long periods of time. It is tragic that volunteers will put countless hours into trying to maintain the socialization of an animal, only for the animal to become eventually cage crazy and be euthanized.
The pressure to become No Kill is so great, many animal shelters have been accused of doctoring their disposition statuses to give the appearance of a higher live release rate.
The natural evolution of society is sending us down the path to lower intake rates. We are eventually going to become a humane community.
The No Kill movement has discovered shelter volunteers as the new infantry for its army to bully shelter employees. The first salvo is launched when shelter volunteers create clone Facebook pages that so closely mimic that of the animal shelter, that people querying the animal shelter is likely to bring up the clone site. Since Facebook provides no regulations as to who can create Facebook pages, it is likely that one or more additional Facebook pages could exist for the animal shelter without the shelter knowing who created them.
Usually the fake Facebook page will begin highlighting the animals that have been euthanized and attempt to shame shelter staff for having committed those deaths. When the pages first appear, they give the appearance that they are a support arm of the shelter and then they begin their slow trend to turn the community against the shelter.
Even though a shelter can have a high release rate, the volunteers running those clone Facebook pages decide what live release rate is necessary to satisfy themselves… it is usually much higher than that of the shelters.
The Facebook pages will create false narratives of the animal’s behavior that unsuspecting people will think that shelter personnel are killing perfectly healthy and adoptable animals; not knowing that most of the animals have health or behavior issues that prevent a sound adoption.
The greatest challenge facing animal shelters is the balance that must be made to protect people and to protect pets. Animal shelters must face the decision to put people first or to put pets first. In 95 percent of the time, it isn’t an issue. But in those remaining 5 percent, it becomes the battleground that creates the most media carnage for animal shelter personnel.
Should animal shelters release potentially dangerous dogs back into their community? On the surface this seems pretty simple, until you begin to fight the battle as to what determines a dangerous our an aggressive dog. Dog held for long periods of time can become aggressive as a result of their long confinement. Where along that process does a dog move from being adoptable to being unadoptable?
Is it worth euthanizing one “potentially” aggressive dog to prevent a future worry of the dog injuring a child? This is the constant worry that all animal shelters face. Many shelter personnel take the easy road and don’t question the adoptability of an animal: if the animal has a potential home, then let it leave the shelter. Many shelters that have taken this road become faced with the lawsuits of their careless actions.
Many dogs that have displayed aggression in the shelter eventually reassimulate into society to become perfect pets. We cannot look into the eyes of these animals and determine their behavior in the environment that we are sending them. Every adoption is based on a gradient from low risk to high risk.
The community that we serve seems to see only in black or white. Many people claim that we should give EVERY animal a chance and many believe that NONE of the high risk breeds should ever be released to the public. Although animal shelters conduct behavior tests, the tests run the failure of the bias of the evaluator. But the biggest hazard is the adopter.
No matter how much adoption staff empathizes the need for responsible pet ownership, the greatest failing point is the pet’s owner. It is amazing the number of new pet owners who call to report that their new pet ran away during the period of the car and the house because the owner didn’t think the dog should be on leash. One of the most common phases from dog owners prior to a dog bite is, “Don’t worry he won’t bite.”
When pet owners fail to act responsibly, it furthers the risk of a failed adoption. When an animal gets into trouble as the result of a bad pet owner, it is usually the animal shelter that gets into trouble for failing to have the foresight in seeing a bad combination of a questionable dog and a bad adopter.
Many shelters have taken a beating in the media as a result of not being physic. Every adoption presents a risk. The shelter is forced to decide if they will weigh the balance toward protecting people or saving a pet. Wherever you find that balance, you can be sure that someone will be under constant pressure to move that line one way or the other.
The first pitbull arrived in my city in the mid 1980’s. The owner wanted to have a breed with a reputation; this dog did not live up to that reputation. The original desire to own a pitbull was for owners to claim that their dog was the meanest on the block. For that reason, breeders began breeding dangerous characteristics into the breed. Clearly, the breed was attracted to the worst pet owners.
Since bad pet owners do not believe in sterilizing their pets, pitbulls have become the most dominant breed in animal shelters. This has created a difficult time for shelters trying to become no-kill to maintain their adoption numbers with their shelter intakes being 50% pitbulls.
Pitbulls are not necessarily a bad breed, they just require an unusually responsible pet owner. As pet owners have become increasingly lazy, finding a good owner for a pitbull is problematic. It is not a breed that you can just take to the dog park and turn loose; as with any powerful breed they require constant oversight.
Incidents of dog bites is proof of poor pet ownership. Foolish pet owners fail to realize the bite potential of their pet.
I am so grateful that most of my career was prior to social media. Social media has created such a mean spirited group of people online. It is most frequently used to bully others. In the animal welfare arena, social media is used to bully shelter staff into making questionable animals available for adoption. The no-kill movement used this bullying tactic to facilitate high adoption numbers.
In recently years, I discovered that shelter staff was more concerned about having a positive social media presence, than to do their job to protect the community. The constant pressure that is placed on shelter staff is forcing extremely foolish decisions.
Adoption councilors are becoming more and more like used car salesman, asking potential pet owners to purchase an animal without looking under the hood. We are entering an era in which shelters are being sued for misrepresenting the aggressive backgrounds of dogs in their care.