It was 2am before I even contemplated going to bed last night. Or this morning I guess. After over a week of bronchitis I finally put adult clothes on and attempted to re-insert myself into society yesterday and despite being active all day I found myself immersed in late night television, unfatigued and randomly searching for something to calm my brain. It wasn’t until 6:45 this morning, after asking one of my foster dogs for the 15th time to stop licking her foot, that I realized why my brain was spinning so much. Something had wormed it’s way in that demanded to be exercised out through fingers on a keyboard. I needed to write again.
I joined an animal advocates group of Facebook yesterday, and in less than 12 hours have already determined it was a waste of time. It’s one of those “private” groups that you can’t even see a few posts or read a few threads to determine if it is worth your effort (or sanity) to get involved. Obviously animal advocacy is a shady business and only the chosen are allowed to share photos and desperate pleas of “SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING” about an animal in an overcrowded shelter 6 states away that doesn’t even become available for rescue or adoption for another 7 days. Why that is clogging up an *insert city name here* Animal Advocacy page that is supposedly focused on the local animals in need of networking (that’s usually why the city’s name is in the title) is beyond me, but it is usually a sign of poor moderation and a lack of focus, both of which are required in successful animal rescue and networking. But at the same time I am convinced that many armchair advocates have a daily quota of social media comments and shares that require demands aimed at total strangers in all caps, opportunities to share photographs of their personal pets because after all their Petey-Poo shares the same hair length as the dog in the picture, or unsolicited subliminal details of how they are superior to others due to their foster load or existing responsibilities…ah yes, the Iwouldbut peoples of the Someoneelsedoit tribe, descendants of the Furbaby Lookatmeimhelping dynasty, primarily identified through visual representation of clasped hands pointing towards the sky and yellow faces with frowns with a single tear on the left cheek (his left not mine). I can ignore a good bit of that, and it’s easy to weed through the irrelevant posts and comments once you get to know some of the names and profile pictures.
The realization that this was just another Shared with Prayers group was not what triggered the cobwebbed blogging part of my brain here. A member of the group linked a post from Wine-o-grad that detailed a new and exciting legal change from a large municipality that he was sharing far and wide as a huge success for animals everywhere in his continued quest to convince his followers that every dog and cat on the planet can and should be saved and adopted and fixed and cured and kept alive at all costs. Yes, ground zero for the No-Kill Fallacy in Texas, the City of Austin, is drafting legislation making it even more difficult for their constantly-at-capacity shelter to humanely euthanize unwanted, injured, dangerous, and psychologically suffering animals.
The people rejoice. But take a step back minions; let us take a deeper look at why you are rejoicing.
This is a draft of an amendment to ordinances pertaining to the disposition and treatment of animals that have been impounded into the open intake municipal facility for the City of Austin TX. The proposed changes refer to what handling will be required with each and every animal that comes into the facility, whether it is delivered by a finder, an owner, or an officer. There are only two very specific exceptions to these proposed requirements; animals enduring irremediable physical suffering and animals that have inflicted serious bodily injury on a human. Both of these exemptions are described to the layperson in the beginning of the document, where definitions are traditionally listed. I will do the same here to make the lingo easier to understand, and add my own for clarification.
IRREMEDIABLY SUFFERING means an animal who has a poor or grave prognosis for being able to live without severe, unremitting physical pain even with comprehensive, prompt, and necessary veterinary care, as certified in writing by a licensed veterinarian. ***note: physical pain only***
RESCUE ORGANIZATION means an animal rescue organization, animal adoption organization, or organization formed for the prevention of cruelty to animals that has entered or enters a rescue partner agreement with the City animal shelter and remains in compliance with the agreement.
SEVERE INJURY means any physical injury from a dog bite that results in broken bones, permanently disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery, other surgery or nerve damage.
Other definitions needed to navigate here:
NKA (no kill advocate) means any person who embraces the idea that no animal should ever be euthanized for any reason; a belief system that revolves around the concept that every animal regardless of physical or psychological condition, available resources to provide for it, available quality of life, or posed threat to the safety of themselves, other animals, or the general public, should be kept alive at all costs. NKAs usually place this responsibility solely on the shoulder of municipal facilities and animal shelters.THE FIVE FREEDOMS are what have been recognized as the gold standard in humane animal welfare, encompassing both the mental and physical well-being of animals that are under the care of humans. The Five Freedoms are often strategically ignored when determining the options for an animal in need; predominately the freedoms that involve psychological well being and normal animal behavior.
First off, a ridiculous amount of resources by NKAs are poured into animals that have inflicted serious bodily injury on other animals and humans. Animals with behavioral abnormalities and social deficiencies are like crack to some animal rescuers; excuses for what should be unacceptable behavior and finger-pointing at victims to save unstable animals has become the new norm, and many rescues thrive by capitalizing on their stories. Dogs that maul children are placed on pedestals and have their own facebook pages. If you don’t find that disturbing, you should.
Also be advised that when an ordinance uses the language ‘must’ instead of ‘may’, it means the required action is non-negotiable. There is no leeway, no choice, no mitigating circumstances that can be considered by the higher authorities. Lets get started on the highlights.
PART 3 ~ INCOMING VACCINES: No issues there, fully support. Antivaxers may have an issue with that eventually, you know those who only want to vaccinate their dog once a lifetime for rabies.
PART 4 ~ FEES WAIVED: This is where my eyebrows starting moving. The shelter is REQUIRED to return the animal to the owner, free of charge. It details three reasons why this would be required:
Intent to destroy: An example of an animal that would be considered for euthanasia after intake is usually due to aggression or health. Stacked health issues often make an animal undesirable to rescues and not eligible for public adoption. Most irresponsibly kept dogs come in with multiple health obstacles to quality of life: high heartworm positive, sarcoptic or demodectic mange, parvovirus, distemper, advanced dental disease, severe arthritis, broken bones, serious skin infections, ocular abnormalities; all ailments that are costly to treat and maintain. Shelters don’t have the budget nor the manpower to provide the quality of care needed for these animals, especially when they are coming in by the dozens daily. An animal can be flagged for behavior by showing general lack of social skills, intense and unpredictable aggression in the field or with staff once inside the building, one that has killed another domestic animal while running at large, or showed aggression with intent to kill at the shelter with other animals.
Statement of indigence: Someone has to write down that they can’t afford the reclaim fee. There are no details in this proposed legislation on the parameters of this document. At least describe what color post-it notes you accept, and if the shelter will provide them or if the owner needs to bring their own pen and paper.
Existing or Agreement to Sterilization: So be sure when they write down that they can’t afford the reclaim fee, they also write down that they will promise to come up with the money to pay a veterinarian to sterilize the animal. (Also see Part 9, that details an animal isn’t required to be sterilized until it is impounded a second time).
Scenario: 90lb unaltered male Rottweiler captured by animal service officers, who were called out by on-scene PD after a 911 call of the dog chasing people down the street and cornering neighbors on their own front porches. On impound dog was noted to be loose from an unkempt backyard that had at least one litter of recent puppies and a lactating female. In facility the dog is aggressive with staff, and has already tried to attack two other animals in the shelter during intake and while be walked through the facility. Irresponsible owner shows up on day 4 and gets his aggressive, unaltered, backyard breeding stud dog back, free of charge.
PART 5 ~ MANDATORY HOLD: All animals must be held for 7 days prior to euthanasia, even after mandatory notifications have been made (notice the wording of ‘and’ and not ‘or’ in the amendment when it details notification requirements…tricky tricky). This creeps in on the Five Freedoms, especially numbers 3, 4 and 5. Even well adjusted animals do not do well in a kennel environment for extended periods of time, so imagine an animal that is already struggling. Forcing a hold on an animal that the finder, owner, and rescues don’t want promotes unnecessary suffering. Day two your notifications are done, and the dog has to sit for an additional 5 days. Animals that are psychologically not equipped to handle the environment or have poor health, but not poor enough to be considered to be irremediably suffering, will sit in fear, managed pain and despair. Additionally, the resources expended to care for these animals could be better directed towards the other animals in care that have a better chance of leaving the shelter out the front door. Eventually those animals begin to suffer as well. You can only house a dog next to a painter or spinner for so long before it starts to affect their mental health.
SCENARIO: The shelter fills up with animals on long holds, kennels are double capacity and crates are stacked up in the hallways. There aren’t enough employees or hours in the day to clean and feed let alone socialize and enrich. Mental health and behavior deteriorates. Contagious illness brought on by stress runs rampant through the population. Citizens and animals in need at the door are turned away. We all know what happens when shelters turn away unwanted and stray animals.
Part 7 ~ NOTIFICATION: This is basically a requirement to announce intent to euthanize. Rescues, owners, and finders must be given the opportunity to take custody of an animal simply because it has been determined unadoptable. Reputable rescue organizations that are already working with the agency will be made aware of animals that are at risk, so that one is easy.
Previous owners? When an animal is surrendered, the paperwork as well as conversation with staff details that adoption and placement is not guaranteed, and euthanasia is always a possibility. Owners still relinquish dozens and dozens of animals each day to the shelter, because they have decided that they don’t want the animal to be their problem anymore. Why on earth would you willfully attempt to return an animal to someone who has already told you in word and writing that regardless of what might happen to it, they don’t want it anymore.SCENARIO: Owner surrender due to the animal attempting to attack other dogs. Animal is nervous around strangers and fear aggressive, not showing well, not a candidate for adoption. Previous owner notified of pending EU and doesn’t want the animal euthanized, returns to retrieve and gives the animal away free to good home on social media. Specified the animal cannot be around other dogs and finds a home that has no pets, owner sleeps well at night. Dog’s new owners leave dog outside one sunny day, and oh shoot the gate was left open (I thought you closed it, no you were supposed to close it after you took out the garbage). Dog wanders out and down to park, comes across a shih-tzu being walked on leash by a father and son and viciously attacks the small dog. Father gets bitten multiple times while trying to pry the attacking animal off his beloved Fifi, child is psychologically scarred from witnessing the mauling. Fifi doesn’t make it.
Finders: This one floored me completely. On the one hand, having extensive field and intake desk experience, I know how many finders detail how they want to know what happens to the animal they are turning over, and they want to adopt it if the owners aren’t found. 99% of these finders won’t even return the follow up phone call when we tell them no one came and the dog is available. And finding out the dog has a health/behavior issue is an immediate deal breaker for finders. What is this phenomenon you ask? Why the change of heart?
Finding an animal in need prompts an emotional response. In many, seeing a lost dog or a sick kitten triggers an emotional reaction, and those that intervene commonly experience a “helper’s high” if you will. The reward center in the brain is awakened, resulting in a dopamine release and feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, and increased self worth. Yay you! But all good highs come to an end, even emotional ones right? It’s not a bad thing; emotions distort our thinking and push logic aside, often resulting in unwise decisions and regrettable actions. So when the high dissipates, logic creeps back in and life returns to normal, the realization that they don’t need/want another dog, can’t afford more vet bills, or have other priorities results in them neglecting to return for the animal they were so adamant about wanting three days prior.This “helpers high” is also triggered by a perceived “threat” to euthanize an animal. Emotions take over and focus immediately narrows to ‘alive at any cost’; logical considerations like financial stability, adequate resources, quality of life and public safety are ignored, all engines are full throttle to save save save. This is why the “CODE RED” style of networking did so well when it was first introduced, it created a sense of urgency and triggered the emotional response required from those most susceptible to making knee-jerk donations and uninformed decisions on animals they essentially know nothing about, other than the fact that they may be put to sleep. But when the high wears off, and logic sets in, there you are, responsible for the life of an animal you don’t know anything about, you never really wanted, and have no plan in place to provide for. And that’s how animals end up at the shelter to begin with.
PART 8 ~ REPORTING STATS: I’m all about transparency. No complaints. I wish more people would show genuine interest in why and how shelters have to make the decisions they make. Except for 16, no animal should ever be adopted or redeemed from a municipal facility unaltered.
No reputable rescue organization would hold themselves to these requirements, nor insist an open intake facility abide by them. Reputable rescue organizations and their hard working volunteers understand the luxury afforded to them; being able to choose how many animals they take in, from where, and when, and why. Reputable rescue organizations can inventory their resources and make intake decisions before the animals walk in the front door, which is why they don’t often have to make the hard decision of euthanasia. They understand that the amount of animals they deal with is a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers coming into shelters everyday, and concede that they would be unable to continue their work if their intake doors had to be open to each and every person that came calling to drop an animal at their feet. Reputable rescue organizations work hard to make good sound decisions on what animals they can help and what animals they cannot. They understand that alive at all costs only hurts the animals by forcing them into situations where they are unwanted, misunderstood, neglected, ignored, hoarded, and abandoned. Reputable rescue organizations provide partnership and support to the facilities they work with as well the public they collectively serve, and not only acknowledge but respect the realities and limits of both entities. A reputable rescue organization would never dream of contacting the owner of an animal previously surrender (indifferent to possible outcomes) to ask them to take the dog back. A reputable rescue organization would never dream of giving a dog to a random person simply because they were the first one who gathered it up when it was seen loose in the street.
This is not responsible placement. This is not responsible rescue. This is not responsible advocacy.
There is a better way. Click below to find out what it is.
Colorado veterinary leaders approve statement supporting the socially conscious animal communities and opposing the no-kill movement in animal welfare