Monday, January 03, 2011

In Conflict

Ok, Warning #1: This post? Will be a little self-indulgent. I don't often get on a soap box here at BGR, but I am in conflict. See, I have tried to do this wonderful thing....and it is still wonderful....but for every wonderful thing, there seems to be a terrible thing to balance. Before I can launch into my conflict, however, I have to give you background.

As many of you are aware, I work for a humane organization. Included in our services is the adoption of "companion animals" (Warning #2: Humane organization lingo forthcoming) meaning we adopt canines and felines of all ages--along with the occasional ferret, bird or rabbit--to the public.

For many, many, years, our shelter was a shelter which euthanized. We were in contract with the local county government to provide boarding, adoption, vetting and euthanasia services for its animal control division. In the last year we worked for the county, the shelter put down more than 8,500 animals. That is one county. One county. FYI, the Humane Society of the United States estimates 3-4 MILLION animals are euthanized in shelters each year. That's HALF of the animals taken in.

Tangent #1: Yes, euthanasia is horrible. But it is also humane. As my boss says, there are a lot worse things that can happen to an animal. Starvation. Abuse. Violent death. And, as my boss also says, no shelter wants to he puts it, "we are just cleaning up other people's messes." What mess, you say? Well, the mess that is out-of-control pet overpopulation in the U.S. because of pet owners who refuse to spay-neuter their animals. People yell about folks like Michael Vick, but really, if you don't spay-neuter your pet, you're also irresponsible and, somewhere down the road, your irresponsibility may very well cost other animals their lives. Trust me.

In 2008, we decided--for many reasons, mostly political and budgetary on the county's part (read: they were trying to screw us over by backtracking on their agreement)--to not renew our contract with the county. In October 2009, when the contract was done, we became what is known as a "selective admission" shelter.

What this means is we can be "selective" about the animals we chose to take into the shelter. Yes, this sounds awful in a way, but we no longer euthanize based on length of stay or space, which means we have to ensure the animal is healthy and adoptable before we will agree to intake. Our policy is that we evaluate each animal before it is admitted to our shelter for physical and mental issues as part of the process to determine if they are adoptable.

Tangent #2: My boss refuses to use the term "no kill" to define our shelter. He says it is hypocritical because of the number of years we did euthanize. He also says that any shelter that defines themselves as "no kill" is lying because EVERY shelter, including us, has to put down animals who become physically or mentally unstable/unhealthy.

In my opinion, selective admission shelters are not the answer either. When we are full, we have to turn animals away and send them, guess where?, to the new county facility which euthanizes. Also, we have animals who come to us that stay. And stay. And stay. We have animals we've had for 8, 10, 12 months. What kind of life is that? Yes, they have shelter and water and food. But no consistent love. But we keep them. Keep them until they are adopted. Even though it seems as cruel as putting them down sometimes.

Tangent #3: Sometimes animals that have been in a shelter too long become "cage crazy." It is very sad and, usually, they have to be put down because they are too aggressive to adopt. So, see, you can never get away from euthanasia. Not really.

Anyway, we now take in animals who are 1) surrendered by their owners or 2) pulled from other rescues or shelters that do euthanize and are overcrowded. (Under our county ordinance, we are not allowed to take in strays....long story, won't bore you with details). Usually, these groups contact us and say "we have this, this, and you have room?"

This weekend, a rescue sent me photos of six dogs from another GA county shelter. This county shelter has one of the highest "kill" rates in GA. All six of these small, adult dogs are slated to be put down this Wednesday.

Could we take any, the rescue lady asked? And I looked at the photos. Two cute male terrier mixes. Very adoptable. Yes. One cute male beagle mix. Very adoptable. Yes. A small black Jack Russell mix. Hmm. We have SO MANY black dogs. Skip. A senior female poodle. Cute but too old. Skip. A Chihuahua mix with heartworms. Intensive, expensive treatment and could not survive. Skip.

So, we agree to take the three and leave three behind. Do I feel happy though? No. I am plagued with feeling like I was playing God somehow. I am guilty for feeling like I have doomed the three not chosen.

I placate myself saying, "You can't save them all." I tell myself that we could not have been able to take any of them. I tell myself that I had to choose the ones that I thought were the most adoptable because the reality is that the quicker we adopt an animal out, the quicker we can take more in. If an animal sits in our shelter for 8, 10, 12 months, then who knows how many animals we had to turn away. The more animals we move into new homes, the more we can save.

And I know all this is true, but it doesn't make me feel less sad. I guess that is the thing about working for a humane organization....for every win, there is a loss. For every animal who finds a new home, one is put down. Maybe not at our shelter, but at another.

Now I am not a big vegan/non-leather wearing, animal lover, but I will say that to live in a "civilized" country, we sure are very uncivilized when it come to our companion animals. If you have friends or family who have animals that are intact, guilt, scream, and cajole them until they have them spayed-neutered. Hell, pay for it. You could be saving COUNTLESS animals' lives by doing so.

So, tomorrow, these three dogs will be saved. Rescued from their scheduled death on Wednesday. The other three I hope will be saved by another shelter. If not, God, please bless their souls. Amen. Bunny.





Elisabeth said...

Excellent, excellent post. Well stated - on all accounts. To not be in conflict, you'd have no heart. To be courageous to make it your life's work, very honorable. Bravo!

(The camera is dead, btw. I thought it was the batteries, but nothing I do seems to bring it back. But, based on this post, maybe you've gotten another one?)

Joni said...

Excellent article. Life is not simple, specially when you want to do the right thing.

What about reading more about the "No Kill Movement" where shelters take in all the community animals and aim for a 90% save rate? They have the same problems you are talking about, but have found ways to save more pets even when taking in more pets.

From what I have read no cost and low cost spay and neuter programs are key as well as marketing your animals better. But before you can do these you need to stir the community into action and helping your shelter more -- more volunteers, more donations, more foster homes, more special adoption events. This takes planning and a great leader.

Do some searches online for "No Kill Movement" and "No-Kill Resources" also do this search on facebook too.

Good luck!

bunny said...

Thanks, E. I appreciate your comments. We still need to do dinner, but I figured you were in "moving Hell."

Joni, our shelter does have a low-cost S-N Surgery Center. In 5 yrs, we've "fixed" almost 30K animals. I have been here almost 1 year, and we are working on all the things you mention, but it does take time and resources.

robertga99 said...

Don't think of it as playing God. You are saving lives that otherwise may not have a chance. I know it's hard because I can't stand seeing/knowing of any animal in distress. Y'all do great work but no matter how hard you try, you can't save them all.