Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Does your shelter share their 'e-list?'

("e" as in: euthanasia)


Many public shelters avoid sharing the list of dogs that are next up for euthanasia for fear that it would be unpopular or cause too much drama or delay. In some shelters, volunteers are specifically instructed not to ask staff about the disappearance of favorite dogs or cats. We've never been big fans of the don't-ask-don't-tell policy, especially when the main motivation for helping shelter animals comes from the heart. As it turns out, the regularly published "e-list" list has been working to move a lot of dogs - pit bulls especially - out of one shelter's kennels and into new lives.

Berkeley Animal Care Services alerts several rescues and key volunteers whenever a dog can't handle the kennels anymore or when they get too full, which has been happening more than usual in recent weeks. We might be dealing with a new wave of foreclosures around here - not sure - but someone's been stuffing dogs into their night drop boxes and it's gotten crowded in this usually not-crowded shelter.

The crowding invokes a ping pong tournament of emails which is pretty interesting to watch, as different personalities take different approaches to helping the dogs at risk. Some scramble to find sanctuaries, others post on facebook or craigslist. I can't say for sure, but some may even send out those infamous all-cap email alerts that scream "URGENT." (Confession: We usually delete mail that comes to us in all caps. Rescue is already too stressful to wade through screaming.) The go-getters get the at-risk dogs to Pit Ed class for obedience brush ups and/or shoot videos and photos that turn into wonderful posts on BACS's upbeat facebook page. The combination of all these approaches generally works and somehow, dogs get moved out rather than disappear.

When a dog - ANY dog - is put to sleep, everyone knows about it. Some grieve, some shrug, some dive in deeper to help the new dogs in need. There's no mutiny or blame-gaming though because everyone gets advance warning and an opportunity to help. This policy makes a lot of sense and it attracts the commitment of some of the community's most motivated helpers, but unfortunately it's not often used in other shelters.

BACS' recent call for help sent us walking through the kennels. We ended up taking one of the saddest dogs there. She may or may not find a home ... We don't know yet because she's been too depressed to show us who she is. But she's out of the shelter and cozied up in the barn now, and we'll do what we can to help her decompress so she can finally be herself. She seems happy to be out, and I'm just so darned glad that the shelter was willing to ask for help for her and others like her.


Pit Bull Mom said...

She's gorgeous! I hope she comes out of her shell soon and finds a good forever home.

Kate said...

How I wish the shelter I used to volunteer at adopted a policy like this. This is long, but this experience really put me off of shelters...working for them, anyway.

As an open door shelter, they took in every animal, which would obviously lead to a high euthanasia rate. They assured the volunteers when we were training that once a dog passed the temperament test and was put up for adoption, they were "safe," and could then only be discussed for euthanasia if they started showing signs of aggression after being in the kennel for months and months.

On the surface, this seemed wonderful to us volunteer, as we would rarely even meet a dog that would have to be put down. Unfortunately, it was a lie. They put down dogs that were on the floor all. the. time. They seemed to resent the volunteers caring about the dogs.

I still remember a few, 2 years later now, that sting. One dog was named Kane--he was this giant bull mastiff/pit bull mix. He was this sweet thing--just a big lug of a dog. Great on leash, very gentle--seemed to be aware of his size. Kane was put down because of his size. He, like all the other dogs, barked in his kennel, but due to his size, the staff called this "aggression" and used it as a reason to put him down.

I assure you he wasn't aggressive. The day he was put down a volunteer protested, saying that a couple that she had introduced Kane to earlier was very interested in him and would be back the next day. The staff member responded that they weren't there now, and Kane was euthanised. Just despicable.

Fostering wouldnt've been an option either--they never allowed up for euthanasia dogs to be fostered, and only allowed fosters out of the kennels for a 2 week break before they required them to return. I fostered one pit 3 separate times--taking her back in every time was heartbreaking, especially after she and my pittie girl were getting along so well. She had a happy ending though, thank goodness.

Anonymous said...

Awwww.....Little Miss Sad-Eyes is gorgeous. Thank you for saving her. She does deserve a chance.

Bunny was at the foster/adopt/euth point when I got her. Three and one-half months in shelter had her shutting down, not wanting to go outside, losing weight (even though she was fed an extra meal every morning). I honestly didn't know if she was going to make it when I took her home...I just knew I wasn't going to let her spend her final days in a shelter.

And you know what? She came around. It was a little slow at first, took a little time. She loves people, but was, and still is, a little "aloof". She was the one with the "hard shell" in training classes.

Four years later, she's the love of my life.

There's hope...there's always hope. I hope Sad-Eyes finds a special someone to take her home and bring the joy back into her eyes.


Pam said...

Thank you for taking Emma, Donna.

Joel said...

Volunteers can be a shelter's biggest asset, but the staff needs to be honest, transparent, and willing to invest time and effort into their volunteer network.

Volunteers must repay this trust by taking a mature, cooperative approach - especially when tough decisions have to be made. No shelter is capable of producing happy endings 100% of the time.

Things will naturally get complicated and emotional. How could they not? Shelters are trying to place dogs and cats, not used bicycles. But in the end it is the animals who are helped or hurt by the success or failure of the staff-volunteer relationship.

Donna said...

Excellent points Joel. Perfecting that staff-volunteer relationship takes time and effort and it's not always a happy process. Someone should do a documentary on the struggles BACS and supporters have gone through. Thanks for being part of the struggle, Joel.

Heather Cherry said...

Beautiful girl! I hope her story has a happy ending. I mean, it's already happier now that she's in the barn.

Clover said...

It's nice of you to be her e-list angel. I had an e-list angel once, too. I was on the euth pile to be PTS the very next morning... it actually happened to me 3 times! But I had a shelter volunteer angel that fought for me every time. She saw potential in me even though I had super bad manners! Then my angel called a rescue and the rescue took me. I ended up on the interwebs where my mommy saw me and drove 5 1/2 hours to come meet me. She brought my soon-to-be brother and we played for 2 hours straight in the foster lady's back yard. We slept and snuggled together the whole ride back home after Mommy signed the adoption papers. The rest is history!

Anonymous said...

I would not have a certain rednose darling in my life today if the L.A. city shelters didn't make it known that he was on the "redlist." I needed another rescued pit bull like I needed a hole in the head when a chance meeting at shelter became love at first sight. He was a dog with issues and I knew my limits but the staff said I could put down my name as an "interested party" and they would call me if he was about to be euthanized.

I visited him and networked to rescues who seemed more capable than myself of handling a middle-aged yet extremely driven dog full of piss and vinegar. Too old, too unadoptable, etc. - no one was interested. Months went by, other obligations got in the way of the visits, and I was sure that by then someone had adopted him.

I'm leaving for work one morning when the I hear a message being left on my answering machine from a shelter employee. His time was really finally up and they were planning to euthanize him that day unless I made arrangements to adopt him.

I still thought he was too much to handle but the thought of him dying in the shelter after spending *six* months in a concrete run with not a blanket or a toy, walk outside, or any kennel enrichment - was devastating. I figured that I would adopt him, give him the good life for a week, but have him put down at my vet if he showed any of the danger signs he hinted at while in the shelter (guarding me, aggression towards some humans, etc).

Getting neutered and getting out the shelter made a world of difference to this dog. I kept waiting for the sign that our "compassion hold" was coming to an end but it never did. He was a challenge but never dangerous and after learning some manners with other dogs and learning how to live in a house (no, the coffee table isn't for carrying around on your back...no, turning the stove knobs with your paw is not funny)he fit into our family perfectly. Now its four years later and I'm watching a dog that was so close to becoming just another unwanted, dead shelter pit bull become a senior citizen tottering around in his Tinkle Trousers and napping on the couch. If the shelter didn't make his place on the euth list known and just put him down quietly, this would have never happened.

Collie said...

It always makes me glad when I read about shelters with policies like this. I've volunteered at my local shelter for 7 years, and there were a few times when it was hard to not feel a bit betrayed when staff would tell me, after the fact, that a favorite dog had been put down due to kennel stress. Thankfully they've changed how they handle stressed dogs, so that stressed dogs get into foster BEFORE they hit a breaking point.

Dianne said...

Yes, its all about communication. A favorite of the Ohio dogs just "disappeared" and I held my breath for a couple of weeks and then he popped up on the "adopted" list!

I thought this blog entry about shelters sharing euth information was pertinent here.


Passion 4 Pits said...

wow, she is beautiful. Thanks so much for saving her. in NYC the euth list is only shared with rescues, but I'm sure you've heard of the "Urgent Part 2" fb group that shares the lists every day (pitties are usually 100% of the list.) - it works! It's how my boyfriend and I found our second pit mix. :)

Boris said...


The list sharing very important "... that what's measured gets attention". Special to count those that got off the list!

Kind of like the adage: "tell the truth, as there is less to remember". Still find it hard to accept the use of the word "euthanasia" either in the greak or medical ethics term. For these homeless ones it doesn't seem like a good death or relieving intractable suffering.

You have a name for the soulful-saddie girl yet? With her color and markings, she could be like my baby cousin sister, Natalia and I could call her my Natasha.

Hoping the barn is her 'rebirth',


Anonymous said...

I think you should call her "Minky" - so soft looking. :)

LCHS Feisty Fido Crew member said...

The shelter I volunteer at has a staff meeting at which they discuss dogs who are having difficulties getting adopted, deteriorating dogs, and the behaviorally challenged dogs. It is no secret to anyone. Whoever asks or has a special attachment to a dog is told. Long-term volunteers know for sure and discuss it with the director staff if they have reservations about the dog's fate. I am nearly always aware and have argued and kept alive a dog. I have also held one as he took his last breath. We don't take the decision to euthanize lightly and have not had to do so for space in over a year. It is only the dogs who have multiple bite history or we are sure they are too dangerous to rehabilitate. I'm a member of a squad of long-term volunteers, led by a certified trainer, that train and work protocols every day with certain risky adoption-busting behaviors.

I would disagree highly with keeping things secret as if fosters a bad atmosphere. I would have a hard time volunteering at a shelter where that atmosphere is in place.

Jill Posener said...

Thanks for running this post Donna. We fought for a long time to get the e-list to be made 'public' at Berkeley Shelter so that volunteers could become more a part of the solution and act from a position of knowledge. BACS has indeed shown the way in more ways than one. Transparency always helps to move animal shelters from a place of secretive doom and gloom to a place where, even though euthanasias are a terrible fact of life, they are a less frequent fact than in other shelters where dogs and cats just 'disappear' and no-one dares ask... thanks again.

east bay volunteer said...

How do you get a shelter to post a euthanasia list? I don't want to open a can of worms because they mean well, but the shelter where I volunteer does not like to tell us about the dogs that are put to sleep. After this article came out, things seemed to get better because everyone was talking but now things seem even worse than before.


Donna said...

We appreciate the work you did Jill to make BACS a place where death isn't hidden and where everyone has a say in what happens to the animals. It's not an easy road for sure, but it's been a very 'Berkeley-style' experience that works for the animals.

@ east bay volunteer. Jill will probably have more input to your question if she peeks in again, but BACS' policies are, in large part, the result of the work of an active and interested Humane Commission that works with shelter staff to ensure euthanasias are not done without reason and with plenty of notice to interested parties. It's not a big love fest though .. the meetings I've attended can be very contentious since not everyone sees eye to eye, but the common goal of working to create placement options for as many animals as humanly possible has never left the table. In our experience, most of the shelters that have strong adoption and rescue-transfer programs operate with an oversight committee of some sort.

ForPetsSake said...

I hadn't thought about the idea of an e-list, but I suppose it makes sense that they exist and can be a useful motivational tool, so to speak. It is pretty amazing what even a small group of dedicated, motivated individuals has the power to do.

That girls is stunning! I hope she learns to trust you all soon...

Anonymous said...

I second "Minky" for that sad-eyed lovely...

Boris said...

Caught the Vimeo video of Emma - She just needs a hu-man to scratch her back and she'll follow them anywhere. I can see she has my charm and color, but no where near my head. The tail bob works for her.


Millie - Ft Myers, Fl said...

Our fifth, and, I honest to God swear dear husband, final pittie family member came after an URGENT email from a wonderful volunteer at one of our local shelters in naples, fl. We went down, did a temperment test, and at two years old he is the most gentle, sweet, laid back, loving big guy. He had entropian and needed some expensive vetting so he was not ging to make it out to adoptions. We were going to foster, but he fit in our pack like he had been there forever, and we fell in love instantly. Anyway....I volunteered at a local kill shelter and whenever I would ask about a dog, did it get adopted, etc. I was told NOT to ask ANY worker about ANY dog because their jobs were stressful enough without having to be reminded about the dogs they had to euthanize. I always felt this was a bad policy and kept asking, which finally got me "fired" from the only job I've ever been fired from and they were not even paying me LOL. Long story short, our Naples, Fl, shelter has no problem with their volunteers posting URGENT dogs and it has saved many, many, MANY lives, and I'm happy to say my local kill shelter has also started being more proactive in trying to get their long timers adopted by posting on FB and others sites, it really does work wonders and if only ONE life is saved it's worth all the work. Thank you for all you continue to do, and if those sad eyes could talk I'm sure we would hear a very sad story...thankfully..dogs have a way of moving on and forgiving if they have a chance. ROCK ON BAP RAP!!