As animal shelter intakes decline and the desire for increased placements, animal are being held for longer periods of time. Some animals adapt to long confinement, others do not; as such, it is necessary to maintain the Five Freedoms for each animal to make sure that our desire for higher release rates do not commit inhumane acts upon the animals in our care.
The Five Freedoms:
Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
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.
In a job interview, one of our applicants said that integrity was doing the right thing when no one is watching. I discovered that it was easy to do the right thing when no one is watching, the challenge is to do the right thing when everyone is watching.
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.
Two things that petition sites prove is that some people will believe anything and that they will want to sign their names to it.
Although Petition Sites have no requirement for the poster to be factual, erroneous information follows the “postee” throughout their career. Many jurisdictions will want “clean” applicants for leadership positions and would prefer to have someone without any experience, than to deal with an experienced person who has incurred damaging social media exposure.
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.
In a few days, I will celebrate one year of retirement. The past year has allowed me to settle down and reflect on animal welfare as a profession. I witnessed the era before pitbulls and social media. This profession is much more challenging today for those who wish to make a career in this profession.