Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It's time to start asking the tough questions

First of all, thanks LCSN!

In my last blog, I was extremely remiss to not thank and mention the Las Cruces Sun-News for hosting this blog and for being so supportive. I especially want to thank Jason Gibbs, the online editor, for his encouragement. The LCSN has also printed my blog in their stories as a place to read more about animal sheltering, and that is much appreciated.

Defeatism is a self-fulfilling prophesy

I am a firm believer in being analytical and looking constructively and critically at the way things are done and asking ourselves the tough questions: Why do we do it this way? Is this the only alternative? What else could we do, and what would it hurt to try?

With our shelter still at a kill rate of 70+% and facing issues with providing the basics of care in a facility that is old and outdated (don't get me started on the ongoing issues with things like the air conditioners and horrible ventilation, etc.)--we need to start asking more tough questions ... mainly, what is taking so long for progress? How long can we be stuck in transition, and what was the reason for the lack of progress before this transition at our shelter from being run by a non-profit to now being run directly by the City and County?

Even many animal-welfare people will point to another great myth that keeps us from moving forward: "everything takes money, and we just don't have enough funding" ... we all reapeat that one all the time ... it takes more funding. Well, I'm sorry, but I beg to differ that all things hinge on just this. The most successful no kills of recent history started off from a place of near bankruptcy, and by doing good work, grew into rich organizations. Even big, successful places like Best Friends Animal Society didn't start off with millions of dollars landing on that group's lap.

Moreover, didn't our shelter just get funded for approximately $1.2 million a year vs. the roughly $500K a year it previously operated with? And, didn't we get state capital outlay funds for shelter improvements of about $50K, including $10K allocated to updating our ventilation system? When will that happen so we can start meeting the HVAC standards of sheltering, which ensure that clean air is circulated on a constant basis. This helps combat common ailments our animals face and die for on a daily basis, such as kennel cough in dogs and upper respiratory infections in cats. When animals are stressed, too, their immune systems are stressed ... much of this is Sheltering 101 and many of these ongoing issues at our shelter were pointed out in the HSUS review and report a couple of years ago ... so, again, what is taking so long to address the worst of these issues and new issues that are arising?

And, what is our County's progress on putting their MARC van purchased months ago to the much-needed efforts of spay/neuter in low-income, outlaying areas? We need to start putting some of our own actions where our words are ... namely, fixing more animals so that our shelter is not pelted with as many litters of kittens and puppies next Spring.

For too long, our nation's animal-welfare agencies and shelters have been hiding behind the badge of public irresponsibility and that the only thing they can do is "humanely euthanize" our community's unwanted animals for lack of space, yet this horribly simplifies a very complicated issue and removes all accountability from the shoulders of the shelter's leadership and our municipal leaders.

If we just rest on our laurels and accept this sad "fact" and become defeatist, does that not stop us from finding and working on other alternatives and efforts/programs? Is this rate of killing really the only choice, or have we already prophesized ourselves into that outcome? Or, even more sinister, is it that as humans, we truly don't think that our homeless companion animals deserve any better treatment while in shelters or are worth the sheer hard work and effort it takes to think outside the box? I don't think anyone would agree to this; studies and polls have shown that most of the general public will come out in droves and with big dollars to support shelters that choose a different path.

In the end, in the state our shelter is still in and has been in for years now, it can't hurt to ask the questions and speak up, whether you are an average citizen who cares about animals or an animal-welfare advocate that dedicates most of your time to helping animals or someone that has something to say about their personal experiences at our shelter. Pick up the phone; write letters and e-mails to your local and state leaders, including the City and County managers. All their contact information is available online or is a phone call away.

It is one of the biggest ironies of animal sheltering that, first of all, the ASPCA took on the sad role of basically running and operating city pounds those decades ago and started humane societies on this path. It is understandable that they cared about the atrocities and lack of any care for animals in pounds at that time. And, we have come a long way from the days of animals not being given food, water or any care at city pounds and ultimately meeting inhumane deaths.

Yet, on the other hand, and especially in this day and age (the year 2008!), we've also stagnated. It is very hard to preach to anyone from this shelter platform of high kill rates. How can shelters chastise the general public for treating animals like throwaway objects when that's exactly how our animal-welfare system treats animals themselves? By being accepting of the status quo, we are still filling our landfills with the 900 or so killed each month--many of which were healthy or treatable.

It is no wonder the shelter and public cannot come to peaceful terms with each other ... people cringe at the thought of shelters, and then shelter staff hate everyone who makes them do this awful work ... this horrible, unhealthy cycle needs to be broken, and now, with the No Kill movement, there is a light at the end of this dark, long tunnel.

So, I know this posting is darker and seems more negative than my previous ones, but the hope and light and possibilities are out there for us, too. We can look to other models that are having success right now, and we can learn from them. There are many people working in animal welfare that are happy to mentor and network with us if we reach out to them.

In closing, look to the left for even more links to people doing great work for animals, including those most discriminated against and misunderstood, even among us animal lovers -- feral cats and pitt bulls.
There are many opportunities for change and innovators to emulate.

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