With the advent of the No Kill Movement, animal shelters began holding animals much longer so as to facilitate positive outcomes. Animals were no longer kept for days or weeks but held for months or years. We began to see new dynamics arise within our walls.
Animals do not respond to long-term confinement the same. Some accepted their fate, but others did not. We had to begin wondering if the decisions to hold an animal were in the animal’s best interest. We called it, “cage crazy” when an animal becomes more aggressive the longer that we hold the animal.
Cage crazy comes in many varies. In Roanoke, we witnessed several dogs acting aggressive toward our staff but were gentle toward a couple of volunteers who walked them. The dogs were too aggressive for adoption. The decision to euthanize the dogs created an outcry from the volunteers. Our decision to euthanize the dogs was a good decision, but our mistake was not videotaping the dogs to support that decision.
The pressure to hold dogs, even aggressive dogs, forces animal shelters to make bad decisions. Those bad decisions put animal shelter employees at risk when public safety should be our primary focus. When shelter staff can no longer safely interact with an animal, the quality of care for that animal is greatly diminished and we have to ask ourselves if we are providing humane care.
The decision to hold an animal should be based on a shelter’s ability to meet the needs of that animal and insure the safety of its staff. The decision should not be made so as to keep a couple of volunteers happy. We need to keep reminding ourselves that the primary mission of an animal shelter is to protect the community. When animal shelters switch their priority to insuring that every animal gets adopted, it then places its community at risk.
I have mentioned previously that in Virginia, it became so common for shelters to lie to potential adopters about an animal’s past behavior that the Commonwealth had to create a law that prohibited lying. Shelters were willing to give up their integrity so as to claim that they were a No-Kill Organization. The fact is, that it was actually better for potential pet owners to avoid getting their pet from an animal shelter in Virginia because you couldn’t trust what they told you. On top of that, the adopters were criticized on social media for returning the aggressive animal back to the shelter.
The fact is, that few shelters know the past history of an animal. The people who know are the ones that turned in their pet as a stray. If animal shelters decide to commit to long holding times for animals, then they must be willing to share what little knowledge that they have gained about the animal. Many jurisdictions have created Pet Lemon Laws that protect an adopter from purchasing a pet from their shelter. We have learned that what people imagine in their minds as to what it is like to be a pet owner often doesn’t meet the reality of bringing a pet home.
In recent years, animal shelters were sued because they thought it was more important to adopt an animal than to keep the children in a family safe. Being truthful about an animal should be an animal shelter’s only option.