Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Keep the great comments coming

Thanks for the comments from everyone so far; for tonight, here's my responses to some of the subjects that came up.

Response to comment about full utilization of space in shelters:

Full utilization of kennel and cage space should be a given at any shelter that kills unwanted animals, and I hope I live to see the day this becomes the standard across the country. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be this way now. Shelters are notoriously known to have many empty slots available while their kill rates remain high, and the simple reason seems to be that taking care of more animals is harder work (more cages to clean, animals to feed, etc.) But, we tend to forget that killing is much harder on the minds and souls of the staff and is more detrimental to the entire system in the long run and especially detrimental to the many animals whose lives are lost before every effort was made to save them.

Our shelter resembled the status quo not too long ago (lots of empty cages/kennels, especially in the adoption sections) with high kill rates. At our shelter currently, there was a shift when the new director took over a few months ago. Space is being utilized more, and many more animals are cared for under that roof and offered up for adoption than in the past, and that’s a definite improvement.

That said, nothing is that simple in this industry. Utilizing space more efficiently will not—in and of itself—lead to less numbers going down in the long run. And, along with utilization of space comes the responsibility of humane care for all the animals in cages/kennels as well as areas for isolation/quarantine for the sick and contagious; also with this comes the need for equitable evaluation of individual animals and fair, systematic, efficient routing through the system. As you can see, this points to more staff needed for animal care, vet care, behavior assessments, and implementation of lifesaving efforts.

Using space more wisely is not the most important effort for an animal shelter moving toward no kill, although it is a component of it. The most important decisions and actions are the vigorous implementation of many programs that will provide options for the animals to move through the system and out the front door as safely, sanely, and quickly as possible--to either a rescue, another shelter here or other area of the country, a foster home, a new forever home, etc. The other side to the no kill coin is to simultaneously and just as vigorously work on programs and systems that start reducing the number of animals coming to the shelter in the first place, such as low-cost/high-volume spay and neuter, pet retention help, support for the elderly/those living below the poverty level, feral cat programs, and working with animal control departments to see if some issues could be handled in the field more often (such as return to owner or other options instead of simply impounding all the animals you can just because you can by law ... in other words, working to reform animal control to a more CARE and control model).

As this blog progresses, we will discuss all of these programs and ideas of how to implement them in greater detail. We can explore ideas of what may or may not work here, or we can form groups to hit the street and start talking to people to find out the exact reasons they don’t spay/neuter their animals, etc., and work on campaigns and programs that target these reasons or give people more incentives to act differently.

Response to comment about cultural changes needed in our area:

Is culture in this area fully responsible for the lack of respect for animal life? Are Dona Ana County’s animal issues extreme or unique? Or, is this part of how we perpetuate myths about not being able to get to no kill in our communities because the people here are so much worse than the areas that have achieved no kill success? Can't we both address the attitudes that lead to cruelty while we also do the important work of implementing no kill programs and services?

Cases of neglect and cruelty happen everywhere in this nation, and all you have to do is watch Animal Cops on Animal Planet to see that. As we all know, media focus does not tell the full truth either. These stories on this one TV show illustrate one slice of a very large pie made with hundreds of ingredients.

People from different cultures and backgrounds may show apathy and cruelty in unique ways particular to that group of people—but, the bottom line is the same: There will always be neglectful, cruel people in this world of every race, color, sex, age, social status, etc. Because they exist or cannot be influenced or changed does not mean we can’t reach no kill for many years to come. If we waited to try to change every “bad” person out there, we’d never get to no kill because some miracles will never happen. No kill does not worry about these people except to support the punishment of cruelty and to encourage these people to not own pets and to stop adding to the problem.

In other words, it isn’t just the lower classes in this county who are capable or guilty of cruelty. For example, I live across the street from a typical, middle-class American family with a nice home and huge yard that have a dog living outdoors and fenced into one corner of that yard. He never gets any attention from the multiple members of that family, and he barks and barks and barks out of boredom. But, because he has shade, a dog house and adequate food and water, the owners are not breaking any laws. Alternately, the lady at my office that works for our janitorial service lives in Chaparral, is from Mexico originally, still has family in Juarez, and she has her dogs indoors and takes better care of them than my neighbors. She asks me for advice on how to deal with the issues with her dogs, and she’ll go home and try what I suggested. To box all people of a certain group into one stereotype is not fair—especially based on only the worst of the reported stories.

I believe reaching no kill means you have to start by showing compassion for people, too, which means to try to think about these issues in the larger scheme of things and from differing perspectives. We must also remember that people do awful things to each other on a regular basis. Furthermore, in the U.S., what we do to animals in various industries in the name of science, the food we eat, etc., is very cruel, and many of those animals are not covered under state or federal anti-cruelty laws. You could say that our entire HUMAN culture considers many animals “throwaways”, so it is no wonder some people extend this system of beliefs to cats and dogs as well. It's truly a global problem that manifests itself differently in different regions based on belief systems.

The good news is that besides cruelty and neglect, compassion for animals is alive and well in our community as well. This past week alone, many people in this area pooled their resources and contacts together to save the lives of many animals in need. A black, plain puppy--further cursed at birth as a pit bull mix--was abandonded in Picacho Hills and is now being cared for in a foster home where the people have already fallen in love with him; a shepherd needing a new home found one via an e-mail network of animal advocates and didn’t have to go to the shelter; and many people pitched in money to put two dogs in a kennel that were left homeless after their owner died, and now some good people will try to find them homes so they, too, do not add more of a burden to our animal system. These are the daily stories we don’t hear much about ... or even if we do, they don’t enrage us, so we forget them soon after hearing them. We have let the bad make so much noise in our heads that that good can't penetrate the noisy wall of negativity.

This reminds me of something I read in the true story of Best Friends and how this organization made it their mission to NOT concentrate on the bad they see on a daily basis, and this has been the cornerstone of their success. After a call to go rescue some dogs from a puppy mill, one of the Best Friends founders, Faith Maloney, was furious and cursing people and the world on her drive back to the sanctuary. When she got back to the office, she noticed someone had erected a huge Wall of Triumph, a collage of pictures and stories from around the world of all the good things people were doing with and for animals. Michael Mountain, another founder and current president of Best Friends, had erected the wall. This is the sentiment that no kill builds from – that there is more GOOD than bad out there. Just like with anyone who breaks laws, let them pay the price for that transgression, and the rest of us can work toward our goals.

Last Thoughts: To Legislate or Not to Legislate Spay/Neuter?

Personally, I approach any animal legislation with caution when it s trying to force responsible pet ownership. Just like you can’t change some people’s spots with humane education or awareness campaigns or an hour-long conversation where you both want to pull each other’s hair out, there is no way to easily force people to do the right thing through laws alone. If that were the case, all our current animal laws would have us closer to no kill than we are, and we'd hear very few and rare stories about animal neglect/cruelty.

The only way I’d personally support mandatory spay/neuter would be if many support programs and services were in place to provide low-cost, high-volume surgeries so that these laws don’t have the backlash effect they can lead to, which is more impounds of animals and more killing at the shelter. Sometimes, it does behoove us to contemplate how these laws will be enforced, in other words. In fact, you can get out in the community with progressive spay/neuter programs and ideas and work toward more surgeries without the need for mandatory laws.

I wonder if laws for spay/neuter are necessary when I think back to the positive experience I had when I volunteered the weekend the Santa Fe Spay and Neuter Van made its way to Chaparral a few months back; the response there was immense! People were asking when we’d be back and talking about the need for more visits, and in the end, Chaparral's people donated more than $400 to the Free Spay Neuter Program jar over that weekend because they were so grateful to get the services for free.

While we were there, we convinced a lady to keep her spraying male cat and gave her ideas of how to deal with the issue because many of us have one of “those” cats at home, too, and another lady whom we took a litter of puppies from agreed to have the mama dog fixed in return, who was a stray, and agreed to keep the mama. We ended up saving all the puppies, and they were all adopted to good, responsible homes some weeks later after living with and driving their foster family a little nuts! One shares a home with the new volunteer coordinator at our shelter!!

These are those small victories and the building blocks that help get us to no kill. Let's all try to remember our own Wall of Triumph stories to keep us from falling into the Black Hole of Helplessness. None of us can act positively from that point-of-view.

For more creative solutions for spay/neuter, and great articles, see this Best Friends link on this topic: http://www.bestfriends.org/nomorehomelesspets/resourcelibrary/snindex.cfm.

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