Friday, January 23, 2009

the Blame Game

Oakland Animal Shelter's numbers for 2008 are in. They tell us that we're intaking more dogs (a 30% increase since 2005), adopting more out (dog adoptions are up 63% from 2007) and euthanizing, well... a LOT of adoptable and treatable dogs are still dying.

In short, there were more dogs-in-crisis in 2008, so keeping euthanasia numbers from skyrocketing right along with the intake increase meant running faster/harder on the daily treadmill.

We'd all like to take a little credit for the good stuff: the bulk of BAD RAP's celebrated shelter dogs came from OAS in '07-8, and the staff worked ball-busters to advertise pets, recruit volunteers and generally kick ass in the adoption department.

But certain realities keep dogging us. Despite best efforts, adoptable larger breeds including pit bulls and scared, undersocialized small dogs are the most likely to be walked down to the e-room in our fair city. No sooner are two dogs placed when 10 more come in the door. Ditto for most other urban areas. It's hard to know who to 'blame' for this trend, although it's not too far off to point to the ever-busy fad train for feeding impulse purchases to uncommitted homes. This, at a time when the housing crisis is giving even the most committed homes the tightest squeeze seen in many years.
Below. Once upon a time, adopters & rescue groups literally fought over hard-to-find small dogs in Oakland, but in '08 they came spilling out of the rafters, forcing staff to invent new ways to house and promote the growing numbers....



Some say blaming breeding trends is misdirected. The popular Pet Connection blog ran an interesting entry this week entitled - ironically - "Finding a nice puppy should not be this hard."

In discussing VP Biden's decision to buy a puppy, Christie Keith sympathizes with breeders who've apparently been shamed into secrecy due to popular catch-phrases such as "don't buy while shelter animals die." She argues that, according to 'No-Kill' philosophy, "dogs die in shelters not because of “irresponsible pet owners” or “greedy breeders” but because of the shelters’ own policies and actions."  She tells us that pet overpopulation talk is "big huge heap of propaganda" meant to push "home-based" breeders underground.

Huh.

Above: Tight belly. They're a rare sight in shelter populations. The majority of mature females that came into OAS in '08 had previously whelped at least one litter for their home-based breeders.

So, do we suck? Are we to blame for dying dogs? ... Er. Is assigning blame even helpful?

Or. Maybe pit bulls don't get to be counted in this discussion (and if not, WHY not?)
Overpopulation is a condition where an organism's numbers exceed the carrying capacity of its habitat. - Wikipedia

Clearly, we live in a different reality from dog shoppers like VP Biden. Woe are the fad breeds who spill outside of a community's capacity to embrace them for their full natural lives. Urban breeders - especially those who cooly reject shelter realities and/or who surrender their unlicensed pets to be destroyed rather than reclaim them altered - are a mysterious bunch. Are they exploiting their brood stock for purely selfish purposes, or simply trying to pay the rent & feed the kids? Are they faithfully following cultural norms? Working to improve the breed? (A surprising number of OAS dogs are surrendered with their pedigree. Owners presume the papers will improve their adoption potential.) Maybe they're people who simply can't afford to fix their pet? Or fanciers who want to ensure that their breed survives into infinity, offering up individual dogs as war time collateral to the purpose of spreading their favorite dogs' genetics far and wide. Most likely, they're all the above, and then some. Above: We tried, but the breeder of these pups wanted to keep them intact to increase their street value.

Whatever your theory on the whys of the incoming, it's comforting to see a new trend in the shelter world that embraces pit bulls and works to find them homes. The dogs may be overpopulated, but they also have good soldiers on their side who are working hard despite the sadness and pressures and - more recently - divisive blame tactics that condemn them for not doing enough.

I won't give OAS's exact "kill" numbers here because, like many shelters today, they're understandably sensitive about being blamed for having to PTS for space. Besides, numbers tend to mire us down and lock us inside our busy little heads. The dogs deserve more action; less talk.

We shouldn't judge shelters based on numbers, but rather, their attitudes towards the dogs that depend on them. For example, readers know that we're less-than-impressed with No-Kill Model SF's approach that stereotypes pit bulls, but overjoyed by 'high-kill' shelters' work to debunk the tired myths that condemn the breed and discourage adoptions. When Hillsborough County Tampa agreed to offer two kennels for pit bull ambassadors, we cheered. Ambassadors! These few dogs didn't raise their live release stats in any significant way, but they signaled a wonderful shift in consciousness in that shelter, and ultimately, that community. Suddenly, pit bulls can be embraced rather than labeled and blamed. And now, the public can enjoy a shelter's pride rather than a society's shame. 

Even private shelters are getting caught up in the spirit of positive promotion: Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society deserves kudos for cooperating with Chicago Animal Care and Control to select and promote great dogs.
"This adoption program is designed to find some very special dogs new homes." - Bully Buddies page, Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society

"Special dogs" - not "high risk" dogs. And instead of "additional requirements," they receive "additional benefits." Rock on, Chicago. 

Next month, we'll be hosting a whole new crew of shelter workers from far away lands in our Pit Ed Camp. Indianapolis, New Orleans, Chicago and New York will all be sending some of their best to Oakland to study, discuss, practice and celebrate the breed we love -- Praise be!
  

Above: Chicago breed ambassador 'Mocha' needs a home. He's waiting at the Anti-Cruelty Society.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

yay for the pitties getting a fair shake. no shelter should discriminate against breeds any more than man should discriminate against other men for skin color. breedism is racism and its good to know fairness is coming full circle for man and dog.

weecyn said...

Oh, the irony! The sf.gov page you linked, explaining their requirements of a potential adopter of a "high risk" dog that has been "traditionally bred to fight," whatever that means, has BADRAP linked at the bottom. So they acknowledge you as the expert, use you as a reference, and yet decline to actually heed the advice they recommend.

Big C-Y-A play, or simple doh!-headedness? I guess most folks, and animal services people in particular, do the best they can is the manner they think best. Hopefully SF will catch the spirit soon as well.

- Cynthia

Sam said...

Your video gave me goosebumps. It's pretty amazing that people go into petstores selling puppymill puppies, citing that "shelters only have big dogs," instead of actually doing their research and seeing things like that.

Pretty funny about the aforementioned "high risk" page with your site's link on it. When will people just GET IT about pit bulls?

I can only imagine how hard it is for you guys to do the work you do. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Whether there is or isn`t an overpopulation problem depends on where you`re standing.
If you`re in a shelter with 25 cages and you have 50 dogs,there is an overpopulation problem.
If 25 foster homes magically appear for those excess 25 dogs,then poof you don`t have a problem.
And this blaming shelter workers for euthanizing makes me furious especially when certain people take offense at using the word euthanize because it`s a healthy adoptable dog and they insist on calling it killing.
The result is the same,they`re dead because we don`t have space,we don`t have foster homes and we can`t hang on to them until they`re adopted....wish we could.
Can everyone do better?...yes they can but that`s no different than in all walks of life.
Having taken part in mass euthanizing due to lack of space,it`s gut wrenching and NO we don`t enjoy it.
Some save lives AND blog about the good and the bad.
THANK YOU BADRAP!
Some just blog and complain that healthy adoptable animals are being killed by uncaring shelter workers and overpopulation is a myth.
We all have the same goal,
for every healthy adoptable animal to be in a loving home.
Does anyone have the phone # for the magical money fairy so we can expand,buy more cages and food and hire more staff?

Pit bull NM said...

Donna, yeah, the blame game doesn't do much good in these situations. And in many cases, it causes fairly like minded people to become divisive in their tactics and policies.

I think it's pretty obvious, in the last few years, that many folks have been turned on to the idea of shelter dogs. It's also become apparent (to some) that breeding dogs just to make puppies, and even to make a few bucks, isn't doing right by the dogs. So the effort to help shelter dogs is indeed working.

Alas, many people wanting dogs from breeders are often clueless as to the difference between someone that it breeding dogs and someone that is using the best-practices (health testing, knowledge of the practice, etc.) to breed dogs.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that many private organizations run-off good homes with the hyper-extensive application process (not that I advocate for just "handing out dogs".)

I have a strong suspicion that both sides of the coin (rescue and breeders) could do more to educate folks on what it is believed to be a responsible breeder. Speaking in broad generalities: The rescue side of things could be less damning of breeders and their past/future clients; The breeder side of things could clean up their act.

As to what the shelter numbers are telling you all about the past year(s), well, all I can say is, "keep up the good work" - the BR crew should look back at '08 with a level of pride.

Anonymous said...

Hooray! I saw two pit bull terrier mixes up for adoption on the Michigan Humane Society's web page!! I was surprised and thrilled!! Jen, MI

Boris said...

"... THAT WHAT YOU MEASURE GETS THE ATTENTION"
- says, those fancy schools that teach presidents.

Keep measuring the successful adopted dogs and break out a count on those big-bully-guys, including the fat head on my ;ap while I fry to type.

O.K. blame doesn't work, but I'll stop counting the number that i scold who say "I want to have my 'paper' dog have one litter before I get tham fixed."

Do keep measuring all the folks that come to your camps, and measure all the shelters adding PBH Ambassadog programs ...
Let us know your schedule dates in those cities. We'd love to have our friends come out for a CALENDAR signing.

Counting my blessings (72#, feels like all tin the HEAD)
Boris' OEL

Julie said...

I find it particularly "helpful" that SF will only adopt pibbles to people who have previously owned pibbles.

Certainly there are many breeds (and mixes) where it is useful to know what you are getting into, and the same applies to pet ownership in general. But wanting to start out with a shelter dog and a contract with the count to care for it, rather than an impulse buy pet store or flea market dog is a big step in the right direction!

Anonymous said...

Hey Donna,

Working in a vet hospital can also be infuriating. Back yard breeders can be some of the most insane people that you ever have to deal with, especially when they are competing with the breeder around the corner over which dogs are the better line. They over breed these dogs, even when they know that the line has congenital problems, all to make a buck. Then when they do have problems, they claim that they can't afford to fix the problem, and either euthanize or let the animal live a life of suffering. I can't tell you how many times I have had to just walk out of a room because my blood was boiling.

As far as the shelters go, I do think that a good number of them are trying really hard to find good homes for their animals. Two of my friends work at the shelter down here, and they get attached to these animals. It is devastating to them when one of the "favorites" just can't be placed-Pits or any other breed. By the way, they are literally overrun by Chihuahuas.

If we are going to blame someone, perhaps the blame falls on the owners that don't want to be breeders, yet they don't want to have their animals altered. When they do become pregnant, which they seem to be baffled by, they are more than happy to turn the puppies into the shelter, but still don't get their animal fixed. Humans are unbelievable!

The other dog that lived with Osa when she was rescued was unaltered. Osa was bought from a puppy mill to be bred with Malo. After Osa was taken away, they just picked up another female. Malo ended up at the shelter 6 times for running at large. The last time, he killed a cat and was going to have to go through a dangerous dog hearing. The owner couldn't afford it, so he was euthanized. He was a really sweet dog, but like Osa's first 6 months, was owned by a moron. Maybe mange was the best thing that ever happened to her since the boyfriend thought he would put her out of her misery by chopping her up with an axe. Needless to say, the shelter has this couple on the do not adopt list.

Overpopulation will stop when morons that don't have a clue what they are doing, or the financial ability to care for their pets stop owning pets.

We will be back at CGC in 2 weeks. Can't wait!

Natalie

chelsea said...

The author of "Finding a puppy should not be this hard" has a point. I have two big loves: parrots and pit bulls. I have one pit and two parrots, all of whom I adopted. I volunteer for a local pit bull rescue. Recently, I put a deposit on a baby Jardine's parrot. Like all parrots, Jardine's are endangered. Unlike many parrots, Jardine's are somewhat rare in aviculture. If you can find one, the breeder probably has a waiting list.

I did my research (natch) and found a breeder who wouldn't accept my deposit until I drove three hours to interview with her in person and spend quality time with the baby, who was a robust, bright-eyed little fellow covered with fuzz. In spite of a six-hour round trip, she requires that I visit him at least twice before he's weaned and ready to go home. She also keeps adult birds that she's rescued and rehoming.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a breeder. None of her birds will end up the screaming, biting, neurotic feather-pickers that fill sanctuaries to the rafters with unwanted birds that will outlive most of the volunteers.

I'd also like to point out that my favorite local bird store steered me to this breeder. Can you imagine a standard pet shop or a back-yard breeder saying, "Sorry, we don't have the breed you're looking for, but here's the number of an excellent breeder who might"? There are certainly a lot of shady parrot peddlers, but in general the adoption process isn't nearly as draining, frightening, or unsure as the process of trying to purchase a healthy puppy from a credible breeder.

My point is, I wouldn't even bother trying to find a dog breeder that was that good, especially a pit bull breeder. And why is it that it's easier for me to find an endangered species than it would be to find a well-bred pit? And, as Terrierman's blog repeatedly points out, legitimate dog breeders tend to peddle sick, inbred puppies for the sake of breed conformation.

I can't even begin to wrap my head around this intricate problem of dog overpopulation coupled with the dearth of legit dog breeders, but I wanted to put this out there after reading that article. In the meantime, I'll keep helping my fave breed find homes they deserve and enlist more brain cells to think about dog overpopulation while I drive three hours to be screamed at by a perpetually hungry but much-loved blob.

Donna said...

In reading these comments including your post Chelsea, I see now that what Pet Connection is probably trying to say (somewhat clumsily) is that it shouldn't be so hard to find a breeder of the types of dogs that aren't usually found in shelters.

Which is a big leap from "overpopulation is a myth." Rather - "overpopulation of dogs from select breeders is a myth" - is probably closer to what the author is saying.

I think.

Anon 8:05 - thanks for adding your seasoned perspective. I sure wish you didn't feel that you had to stay anon, but I understand your reasons.

>I have a strong suspicion that both sides of the coin (rescue and breeders) could do more to educate folks on what it is believed to be a responsible breeder.

Agreed, NM. Identifying responsible pit bull breeders has been a bigger challenge, unfortunately. After all, if we're at a loss as to where they are, then it's no wonder the public is having a hard time finding them. (if you have a favorite few, please let me know)

Gina Spadafori said...

Honestly, Donna, I don't think Christie was "trying to say" anything. She was in fact making her point extremely clear, and hundreds of people got it without further interpretation, including the more 150 who engaged in a very substantive discussion in the comments.

"Clumsy" has not ever described Christie's writing, although cover-your-ass may describe yours in backtracking on your comments with regard to her post on the PetConnection.com blog. She is the SFGate.com pet-care columnist, the contributing editor for our nationally syndicated column, and the editor of the Pethobbyist family of Web sites and ... well, you get the point, or maybe now you do.

We love BADRAP at PetConnection. Like the leaders of the "no kill" movement you might want to learn something about before you dismiss it, you've stepped up and changed the paradigm, and the seeds of your labor are just starting to bear fruit. I used to think nothing would save the reputation of these great dogs with the general public, but now I have hope. And it's because of what you've done: Look at something "everyone knows" and challenge that general assumption.

That's what's going on now in sheltering. "Everyone knows" that shelters have to kill (and it IS "killing," not "euthanizing") for population control. "Everyone knows" that most people are bad.

"Everyone" is just as wrong about these things as they are about the idea that pit bulls are hardwired to be dangerous.

What if most (not all, but most) people aren't bad, and will do what's right if you get them the services and support they need? It's about builing "no kill" communities (not "no kill" shelters") of all animal-lovers working together to support outreach and spay-neuter programs where they're needed, and to help market dogs better (as you have done, with your dogs).

As was discussed several times in the comments on that post, pit bulls and feral cats present a special challenge, and we must find ways to turn off the tap of reproduction in ways that are not really about extinction for these animals.

I'm always surprised when people who are so willing to challenge what "everyone knows" in one area cling so strongly to the same old ideas in other areas. Such was the case in the recent "Whole Dog Journal," when the wonderful and gifted trainer Pat Miller (one of the first to "get" positive training methods) seemed unable or unwilling to what shelter reform could look like.

That's why I was kind of surprised at you. I realize it's hard to see the forest for the trees when you're in the thick of it, but anyone with the courage and vision to change something important should be open-minded to the possibility of change in other areas.

If you haven't yet, pick up a copy of Nathan Winograd's "Redemption."

As with your work and the work of the pioneers of positive training, I recognized it within the first 50 pages as the change that was a'comin'

Anyone with an open mind will likely see the same.

Donna said...

I'm glad you want to banter on this Gina.

As gifted as Christie is, I'm quite sure that her point could've been made without disparaging shelters (many who fully support responsible breeding) and certainly without conspiracy theories involving propaganda bombs.

You know what? ... there is a pet overpopulation problem. If someone has decided that pit bull type dogs should be excluded from the discussion & numbers (which would inspire a whole other discussion in and of itself) than a careful wordsmith should recraft the statement that so many shelters find untrue and franky, offensive.

Change "Pet overpopulation is a myth" to "Pet overpopulation numbers come from mostly fad breeds" or "Shelter pets do not generally include pedigreed pets." Or whatever. Whatever it is, there are compelling reasons to speak this as plainly as and truthfully as possible. Suggesting that there's a conspiracy to beat down reputable breeders is, well -- odd.

I will quibble with you on one other point. You say, "pit bulls and feral cats present a special challenge," --- Define the challenge (which we may or may not agree with) and the conversation moves to a new place. But to ASSUME that everyone already believes that they're somehow "different" from other shelter animals and then talk AROUND them does as much damage as those who consider them dead the minute they want in the shelter door. They count. They aren't outside of the overpopulation problem, they ARE the overpopulation problem - well, much of it anyway.

Christie has every right to speak up for breeders who feel stigmatized , but the unintended consequence of her approach - her blaming, if you will - is that shelter workers like the commenters in this blog walk away shaking their heads.

I'm just sayin.'

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”

Chelsea said...

Hi Gina and Donna,

First, I'd like to point out four things: I have a BA in Literature, I have an MA in rhetoric, I'm an editor, and I had to read Christie's article three times before I understood what she was trying to say. Moreover, ever since I set out to purchase, rather than adopt, a parrot, I've been mulling over dog breeders versus parrot breeders, so the article happened to dovetail with some of those thoughts. I'm flattered that Donna took an interest in my interpretation.

In my previous comment, I pointed out that I agreed with the basic premise of the article, that finding a responsible dog breeder is like navigating a mine field. I do not, however, agree with how she made her argument, particularly the idea that responsible breeders are "in fear" or "in hiding." From Joe Biden? Yes, I'm sure that some breeders feel stigmatized by the rescue community, but the mark of a responsible breeder is one that also does rescue (i.e. Diane Jessup). This shows a true commitment to and love for the breed they work with.

Christine herself points out that "there are plenty of people who could give dogs good, loving homes out there who are going to outlets that sell puppies from high volume commercial breeders." Um, no. I begged, practically on my knees, for a coworker to let me help her find a shelter Chi, but in the end she bought one from a pet store because it was "easier." Second, she hit the nail on the head (perhaps inadvertently) when she wrote "high volume" because yes, there are more dogs than homes.

I also took issue with the way Christine paints shelter workers and those who advocate adopting over breeding. Why she would assert that "dogs die in shelters ... because of the shelters’ own policies and actions" is beyond me. Gina claims that Pet Connection has a good relationship with BAD RAP, so they must be familiar with BAD RAP's exhaustive efforts and, more succinctly, their fruitful relationship with local shelters. Pit Bull Rescue San Diego is a new org, but we too have established relationships with the local shelters and border patrol to do the best we can for the city's pit bulls.

Rescue is more often heartbreaking and frustrating than it is rewarding; please don't alienate the good people who do this work. I started volunteering for shelters when I was in fifth grade, at which time I became withdrawn and depressed and ultimately had to quit. I went back in junior high with a thicker hide and a better sense of purpose, and have been at it ever since.

But anyway, I always love a healthy debate. And Gina, "Birds for Dummies" is my bird bible. Seriously. I don't even bother to keep it on my book shelf because I reference it so much.

Samantha Laine said...

Awesome post. Am sending out and hoping that it will roll to other distribution lists in other cities so that everyone and their Aunt Tillie reads. Here's to all the Aunt Tillies out there who have children and nieces and nephews working in shelters who are in a position to effect change.

Gina Spadafori said...

Donna wrote:

"But to ASSUME that everyone already believes that [pit bulls] are somehow "different" from other shelter animals and then talk AROUND them does as much damage as those who consider them dead the minute they want in the shelter door. They count. They aren't outside of the overpopulation problem, they ARE the overpopulation problem - well, much of it anyway."

Pit bulls themselves aren't different. The CIRCUMSTANCES of why they are over-represented in shelters are different in some cases, and THAT's what's meant here. We need programs that target the socio-economic-cultural issues that lead to over-population in this group of dogs. And again, I stress that those programs need to be about HELPING the dogs and people, and REDUCING the numbers born, not secretly about extermination of all pibbles.

Now, about "blaming shelter workers." NO ONE, and I do mean NO ONE, is blaming shelter WORKERS. The call for reform is aimed higher, at people who run shelters (directors and boards in the case of non-profits, policy-setters in the case of municipal AC facilities). These are the people who are going to have to change, to show some vision, to work together with each other and with animal-lovers to create no-kill communities and regions, because one shelter can not do it all.

Groups like PETA are quick to spread and reinforce the belief that no kill is about bashing shelter operations that kill for population control and the shelter workers who do the killing, and to present the false alternative of "hoarders" and "limited admittance" shelters, a/k/a shelters who turn away animals so others "have to do the dirty work."

This is not what the no-kill movement is about.

This is wedge politics at its best, and PETA plays the game well.

No kill is about getting spay-neuter and other services where they're needed at times people can use them, at low prices or even "pay to spay." This sort of outreach is especially important in communities that are low-income with limited transportation options.

No kill is about shelters working together to market their animals (in the way that you have -- all your adoptables have stories and their personalities come through) as the "feel good" option to buying from a puppy-mill retail outlet.

Most people want to do right by their animals, and will help other animals. But we need to help make that the "right thing" and "the cool thing" and in some cases we need to help people do the right thing, because they can't on their own.

Now, the no-kill movement is much more than that, but hey, I don't need to write the book, because the information is already there -- Maddie's Fund and "Redemption" are the places to start.

It's not about "blame" it's about "change." The only thing I know for sure in this world that DOESN'T work is to do the same thing again and again and expect different results.

That's what I mean when I say that visionary groups like BADRAP should "get" the need for change in the shelter industry, because you're already part of that change.

And at PetConnection.com, so are we.

Gina Spadafori said...

P.S. Chelsea ...

Yours is the second "thumbs up" on "Birds For Dummies" I got in one day, which is pretty amazing for a book that's 10 years old.

It IS a wonderful book, and I can say that without bragging on myself. That's because my co-author, Dr. Brian Speer, is the reason why it's so good. Dr. Speer is one of the best (frankly, I think THE best) avian veterinarians in the world.

He's also the sweetest, funniest person one could ever hope to work with on a big project like a book. :)

Donna said...

Gina - as you spoon feed Redemption's premise to me (which is very sweet of you) I can't help but think someone with better people skills should re-write the entire book. Seriously.

While I ignore most everything Peta prints, I have read most of the book (surprise), but it did more to infuriate me than anything because the premise is lost to the author's pomposity. (That, and SF's example - which is a whole other conversation ) Presentation and packaging are EVERYthing when marketing ideas that are seemingly radical. As you've kindly pointed out, BR has been marketing pit bulls to everyone including you and I'd like to think we've done it in a way that's honest and doesn't insult your previous opinions or tell you how horrible you are for having them. The stakes are too high for alienating people away from our core message.

Re-write example: "Pet overpopulation is a myth"... You've already lost most of your audience the minute you repeat this phrase. Why do that? You've admitted here that we have a fad breed overpopulation problem, why even cut them out of the picture with this oft repeated, hard to swallow tagline?

Christie: "But if we have learned anything in this post-”Redemption” era it’s that dogs die in shelters not because of “irresponsible pet owners” or “greedy breeders” but because of the shelters’ own policies and actions."

Scrap the word 'shelter' and add "because of the COMMUNITIES own actions" and we're sold. Keep your guns pointed at shelters, whether it's the old world directors or the weary desk help that does intake on yet another foreclosure pet and you've harmed the greater goal of bringing people - the KEY people - together around this issue.

We may not love many of the shelter directors in our work to promote pit bull adoptions, but we know we need them on our side if we're going to be able to inspire any changes. It's just better for the dogs if we come at this problem from a place of mutual respect.
____________

Chelsea -- Tim and I bought a parrot (yellow headed Amazon) from a breeder over 20 years ago. A very nice lady who loved her birds - although we still* say that we wish she would've made it harder for us. What a de-mand-ing pet! Tons of fun though. Best luck with yours.

Anonymous said...

There are three shelters in my community - two open door and one "no kill". I choose to volunteer for one of the open door shelters which, at any given time, has about 70% pits/pit mixes. People like to write letters to the editor or editorials espousing the virtues of "no kill", with no discussion about how that can happen practically. The no kill shelter in my community has a two year waiting list for cats and a six month waiting list for dogs. Waiting lists before a dog or cat can be surrendered, not waiting lists to adopt. The shelter at which I volunteer takes in the city's strays. Daily. Where would those strays go for six months while waiting for a cage to open up at the no kill shelter? Should we just leave them on the streets to fend for themselves and go back for one of them in six months when a spot opens? What about the dogs that go "cage crazy" after months in a shelter? What about the dogs who start biting as a result of the stress of the shelter? Should we just leave them in cages for the rest of their natural lives, 24/7, because they are now a danger to volunteers and shelter workers? Where are all of the people whose pets are being picked up as strays by animal control? Why do the vast majority of them never show up to claim their "pets"? No kill is a nice theory, but, at least in my community, it helps the least number of animals for the most amount of money. And when someone asks whether my shelter is no kill, I'll continue explaining the difference between open door and no kill and why I chose to support an open door shelter. Thankfully, it's not a high kill shelter and does not euthanize unless a dog becomes unadoptable (although I understand that's somewhat of a subjective standard.) It's heartbreaking when I dog I've gotten to know and care for is euthanized, which has happened, but at least I understand the reasons and I know that it's done in a humane way and that the dogs had food, shelter and human affection before that became necessary. I have seen volunteers rally around dogs that are slipping in the shelter, spending time with the dogs, fostering, making posters, posting newspaper ads, taking calls from potential adopters, etc., in an attempt to find that dog a home before it's too late. Sometimes it doesn't work in the end, but I'd rather a dog be euthanized in the shelter than starve to death on the street.

Gina Spadafori said...

Donna,

In the comments of the post you link to on our blog, I write that I have no doubt Nathan Winograd can be a "complete ass." (I've never even met him, so that's based on complaints from others, and on his blog posts.)

And I absolutely agree that "Redemption" needs an editor. At the risk of being accused of more sweet spoon-feeding, let me write that the "myth of pet overpopulation" refers to two things:

1) The numbers of animals who end up in shelters has gone down for decades, and is in fact at historic lows.
2) The numbers of people who acquire a pet annually exceeds the number of adoptable pets killed in shelters annually.

A not-unrealistic-to-achieve shift in the choices people make would more than eliminate "overpopulation," and in fact, this can already be seen in some regions in which the shelters are so short of dogs that they import them -- typically from the South to the Northeast, but also from Puerto Rico to the Northeast.

As previously mentioned, change also can't happen without addressing the socio-economic-cultural circumstances that lead to pit bulls being over-represented (and under-adopted) in shelters.

When people talk about "overpopulation" they accept the assumption -- the "myth," if you will -- that adoptable pets will always have to be killed in shelters.

That's clear in the post before mine, in which the commenter says (also, once again, failing to understand the distinction between "no-kill shelters" and building "no-kill communities"):

"I'd rather a dog be euthanized in the shelter than starve to death on the street."

Well, who wouldn't? But those are not the only options. And THAT's what the no-kill movement is saying, even if some people find what's being said highly irritating.

Despite all the criticism, some of it legitimate, Winograd and "Redemption" have done more to address the need for shelter reform in two years than all the other groups combined have in the last 20. But for the idea to advance, it may will be that he will either have to soften his approach and build bridges or step aside for others who don't carry his baggage. Only time will tell.

Please note, however, that the SFSPCA hasn't been the no-kill model since Avanzino went to Maddie's Fund. And that point is made in "Redemption" (although you may have already thrown the book across the room by then).

Now, about shelter directors. Short-term, yes, we have to work with what we have. Long-term, those who are unwilling or unable to make changes in the way they do business are going to need to find other lines of work. This is more true of the non-profits, because munis have a different mission at their root -- they were historically founded to protect people from animals, not animals from people. And it's also true because the politics and policies of municipal governments do leave the heads of ACs with little power to implement real change.

Anyway ... thanks for the great discussion. And, as always, the great work you do.

D said...

I think the only blame that can be placed and maybe can make a difference about are landlords. The increase in shelter turnovers are the "no pets" policy in many places, and pet "friendly places" that place breed restrictions.

I feel like many pet owners would have cut back and tightened their belts to keep their dog in their new apartmment, but the landlord just won't let them. I am a law student w/ two well behaved dogs and find it nearly impossible to rent. We have wanted a third dog for the longest time (we have two *&!@#% females and want a male) but have not been able to because it would be impossible to find a place to live.

I finally found a place that has a 3 dog limit and high weight limit. We discussed getting a 3rd dog, but once again are worried "what if we have to move?". We decided we are buying a house this year after I graduate law school. On this agreement we decided to get a 3rd dog. But due to the landlord's restrictions, it cannot be a pitbull, german shepard, or rottweiler (no exceptions!). Could we wait a year and get a pitbull? Sure. But my unwillingness to wait is an example of the problems pitbulls face. But all is not lost. We are looking for a house with a huge lot, so MAYBE, we can have one ONE DAY.


P.S. I am in class and our teacher just told us to be pitbulls...hmm I don't think he meant it in the squishy way.
- D

Holly said...

RIIIGHT. Hail to the noble breeder, those "true dog lovers" who are working tirelessly to preserve their breed - and declaring all that income on their tax returns- patriots to boot!

Evil shelter workers (let's just refer to them as "puppy killers") obviously love nothing more than to put pets to death day in and out-well , maybe they love their big fat government paychecks more. YEAH.

Sorry folks, the numbers DON"T lie. Underpaid and overburdened public servants clean up the mess from too many litters, I don't care where they come from. The taxpayers underwrite the dog breeders' profits - don't try to green wash your contribution to the HUGE PET OVERPOPULATION by saying that you contribute to rescue efforts. Yeah, and Monsanto planted some flowers in front of their corporate offices - never mind the toxic sludge it dumped in your backyard! If you really love animals as sentient beings, (as all breeders claim to) and not as profit centers then just give it a rest already. Five, six years, maybe a decade. Lets' get the shelter problem managed by stemming the tidal wave of "new merchandise gone stale", fix that puppymill problem that plagues your industry, educate or legislate the shoulder shrugging breeders out of business, and then talk to me about breeding the animals you love. At that point I'm all ears, (and checkbook.)

Anonymous said...

Gina said "That's clear in the post before mine, in which the commenter says (also, once again, failing to understand the distinction between "no-kill shelters" and building "no-kill communities"):

"I'd rather a dog be euthanized in the shelter than starve to death on the street."

I actually am not missing the distinction between no kill shelters and no kill communities. My post (Anon. 9:41) was referring to the people in my community who think that all shelters should immediately become no kill and, if not, then only the no kill shelter should receive public support (ie, donation dollars and volunteers). Yes, that is "highly irritating" to those of us who see how hard the shelter staff and volunteers work at an open door shelter to help the dogs (and cats and birds and rabbits and small mammals) find homes. Those of us who show up at 8 a.m. on our day off in 15 degree weather to get the dogs out for their morning potty breaks, hoping that the housetrained dogs will stay that way and knowing how hard they're trying to hold it; those who show up with dozens of cats on a "feral cat day" for the TNR program; those who stay just a little longer to walk just a few more dogs because dogs were brought in from overcrowded shelters where they would have been euthanized for space; those who have been bitten by a dog who would have been a fine pet had he not been abused and abandoned; those who have to take a deep breath every time a potential adopter leaves without a dog because "there are too many pit bulls here". We're all doing the best we can and shouldn't be demeaned because we choose to support an open door shelter. And our dogs shouldn't be deprived because people don't understand that all shelters can't just decide to be no kill today.

Pam said...

Just want to say, working in a municipal shelter in a city the size of Oakland, is hella tough. The euthansia rates are hard on everyone, and I hazard to guess the most difficult on those who make the weighty decisions about life and death. My sincere thanks to all of you who work so hard to do the right thing by the animals in my beloved city. Just knowing that you are doing your best is good enough for me-- because that's pretty damn good for a shelter that has huge numbers of incoming dogs, and that was plagued by controversy and corruption just a few years ago, under the another director. Adam rocks, no question. And needless to say, you guys do, too.

Gina Spadafori said...

Well, Holly, thank you for your well-reasoned, well-researched and helpful response. Nothing like building bridges and looking at new approaches to problems we all want solved. (And yes, for the clue-impaired, I'm being highly sarcastic.)

Your "breeder is a breeder is a breeder and all are scum" attitude couldn't have been articulated any better by PETA.

Wedge politics is alive and well, and you've bought into them, big time.

And by the way, when you find any reputable, ethical breeder who makes all this unreported income -- well, you just let me know. Ditto with any who have dogs in the shelter population. Because I've been working with, training and writing about pets for 30 years and haven't met one such reputable, ethical breeder yet. That includes time spent as coordinator of a breed-rescue group, by the way. Every time I got a good breeder's dog into rescue, that breeder was 1) unaware; and 2) anxious to take the dog back. And no, that wasn't the case with casual hump-and-dump backyard breeders, and puppy-millers? Oh please.

Again, let me stress that the only thing I know that doesn't work for sure is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.

What I failed to take into account, of course, is how many people get off on being martyrs in a broken system instead of opening their minds to changes that actually could, you know, change things for the better.

Donna said...

I can't say this enough Gina, it's all in how this thing is being marketed AND explained.

Seriously - rewrite the damn thing so we can all start talking again.

Gina Spadafori said...

:::lightbulb moment:::

Thanks, Donna. Now THAT's a project I can get into ... hmmmm.