I participated in my first offsite adoption event today. We load up adoptable animals into a state of the art trailer, equipped with moving kennels, plexiglass windows, air conditioned surgery area, grooming equipment, the works. We spread the joy of pet ownership to local festivals, family fun days, charity events and the like, offering registration, microchipping, adoption, counseling, and education. I get to spend time with the public, and the animals get a field trip, some even get adopted by smitten families. It’s a win win situation.
Today’s event was across our border so to speak, and I was approached today by a woman who runs a grooming and boarding facility even further outside my municipality than where we were. We made small talk, she told me about their business and what they offer, and then just as casually as she had mentioned the weather earlier in the conversation, she informed me of the animals they had brought along that they were looking to give away. “I don’t really believe in adoption” she said. “If you know anyone that is looking for a 13 week old kitten, I have two, they’ve had their first shots.” Well you don’t say.
Completely forgetting the fact that I was no longer inside my city limits, I professionally informed her that in the City where I work, unless you were an animal rescue group, it was unlawful to transfer ownership of an animal on public property. I also mentioned our requirements that any animal being adopted out by a rescue needed to be microchipped and altered prior to transfer of ownership, and that her 13 week old kittens were required to be vaccinated for rabies by now, per state law. She seemed a bit alarmed, then disinterested; obviously her mental GPS was more accurate than mine. I found out later in the day that they had also brought dogs to the festival to “give away”, one was a large golden retriever/basset hound mix that I met towards the end of the event while it was walking with it’s new owner. More ‘animal lovers’ giving away unaltered unvaccinated animals to strangers, leaving an event 60 lbs lighter with a sense of satisfaction that I just can’t understand.
They say if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
About 2 hours into the event, as I was letting multiple children pour their glee and kisses over a young pit bull that was up for adoption, one of them asked me very matter of factly “you guys are No Kill, right?” She couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, and seemed very confident in the appropriateness of her inquisition, as well as the likeliness of the answer she anticipated. In a matter of seconds, I could tell her world was shattered. Because if you are old enough to ask that question, you are old enough to hear the answer. The REAL answer.
I shall not sidestep an opportunity to educate based on the possibility that in doing so I may become tarnished in the eyes of the student.
Someone has to tell the truth about the fallacy, the fantasy, the fairy tale of “No-Kill”. Not “low-kill”; they inisist on using the word NO. It is one of the most important things that I can educate about; nothing is worse than allowing the public, and their children, to believe that irresponsibility has absolutely no consequences. Euthanasia in open admission shelters is a direct result of irreposnsibilty; breeding, ownership, identification, socialization, and the like lead to unwanted and unadoptable animals. We, the ones responsible for carrying out these euthanasias, are some of the most outspoken animal advocates, taking the high and honest road when it comes to education, knowing it will be met with not only resistance and disappointment, but you may not like me once I’m done explaining. Instead of feeding the ignorance with a smile and nod, (because statistically we fall under the parameters of “No-kill”), we speak the truth and burst the bubbles. The people we teach walk away with a new understanding of not only pet overpopulation in general, but the tragedy of neglect, the disappointment of abuse, and the realities of statistics, liability, warehousing, hoarding, and open admission. They depart with a better grip on reality, and an appreciation for the fight that we fight every day.
Will you share the stories of owner surrenders that the local “No-Kill” turns away? The ones about a family struggling to find assistance with a 20 year old cat whose only companion has been the elderly woman who was just put into a nursing home with altzheimers? The man who adopted a dog hoping it would keep the family together, giving the kids something to do while the parents were arguing, only to want it gone after his wife finally filed for divorce? How about the husband and wife that no longer want their 10 year old dog, that they have had since it was 6 weeks old, because they’ve had a baby and it barked at the child last week? Will you be honest about how you tell them you are full, not accepting animals at this time, charge hundreds of dollars and have a 5 month waiting list for surrenders, or that the dog didn’t pass the mandatory behavior evaluation so you won’t take him? Will you be truthful to others about sending that person and their dog to the local shelter, knowing it may be euthanized? No. But I will.
Will you describe what it’s like to stand outside a kennel, face to face with a dog that has been surrendered by it’s owner after biting one of the children in the face for the third time? Watching the dog attack the kennel door with such anger at being confined, being confused, being left behind. Knowing that no rescue will tag him, no ‘sanctuary’ will make a place for him. Knowing that it is our responsibilty, as public servants and protectors, to not only relieve this animal of his psycholigical suffering, but by our decision be sure that his teeth never rip the flesh and scar the life of another child again. Will you be truthful that even with the finest care and extensive training from the most qualified behaviorists, this animal may never be safe to release into the public? And that all across this country at the exact same moment there are thousands of dogs that are suffering the same mental breakdown this dog is experiencing, and no one will take them either? No. But I will.
Will you tell these inquiring minds that as long as you euthanize less than 10% of your intake, you can advertise yourself as a “no-kill” facility? Will you disclose that you allow and encourage the public to believe you don’t euthanize animals even though of the 3000 dogs and cats you took in last year 250 were put to sleep (killed, because that’s what you call it when we do it)? No. But I will.
Will you disclose to those who ask about your animals that your facility is over capacity? That to avoid euthanizing you are warehousing so many animals that there are kennels of dogs and cats stacked in the hallways waiting to be cleaned? That you rehome and ship out animals that don’t pass evaluations and could pose a threat to public safety just to keep your percentages down to keep your “no-kill” status? No. But I will.
I will tell these truths. I will be honest with the public when they ask the hard questions, even if the answers are hard to swallow. They deserve to know the realities we face, they need to know, so they can join our fight instead of sitting on the sidelines counting butterflies while entertaining erroneous fantasies about magical places that take each and every unwanted animal and guarantee successful placement regardless of health or temperment. Leading people to believe this fallacy may increase your donations and for sure gets you lots of pats on the back, but it shields them from the actual problems that produce unadoptable animals and overflowing shelters in the first place, and directly precludes them from being part of the solution. The public and their support is essential to the solution. The public IS the solution.
This little girl is the future of animal welfare. I will prepare her and those like her for the fight, and arm her with the knowledge it takes to nurture the compassion and develop the drive needed to tackle these problems head on. And perhaps one day, with warriors like her, we may finally win.