Thursday, December 31, 2009

Scott dogs in AC custody will be evaluated

Pit bull advocates such as myself have been lobbying the Dona Ana County Animal Control's leadership for a fair assessment of the Scott dogs the brothers did not claim before a final determination is made about their disposition. It looks like our voices were heard because the supervisor assured us that a search is on right now for a qualified behaviorist to come evaluate the dogs. Any deemed adoptable will be placed in homes; any deemed worthy and capable of rehabilitation may go to rescues capable of handling that challenge; and any deemed vicious or severely aggressive to either humans or other dogs may still be euthanized. Already, some rescues have stepped up to the plate and agreed to take the dogs in; some individuals have also stepped up to offer donations of resources toward the rescue and rehabilitation of these remaining dogs.

Overall, this is a step in the progressive direction for the AC department, and let's be honest, it's the least they can do for these 5 to 7 dogs that remain in their custody and care. If some of these can be saved, it may not make up for the 50 other dogs that either did not make it through the system or those that were recently returned to their former abusers, but it will be a better ending to this horrible story than if they are all systematically put down without a fair, independent assessment.

First, there is one hurdle that needs to be crossed. The AC department has to go before the judge in this case to ask for the assessment to be allowed for the dogs. In many dogfighting cases, it is the judges that call for the complete extermination of all the surviving animals.

Let's hope for the best in this case. Let's hope the dogs get the fair chance they and all victims of abuse deserve at a second chance at life -- a good life free of neglect and abuse. Unfortunately, we all fear the fates of the dogs returned to the Scott brothers, and there isn't anything any of us can do to legally help those dogs.

I was reading the statement of arrest for this case from its beginning in 2007; it is available via this link: For a listing of all the counts of animal cruelty charged in this case, see this link:

Though I agree that in our country we are all innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of our peers, many an innocent man has been convicted and then later found innocent; many a man has been put to death by capital punishment for crimes they didn't commit; and alternately, many a guilty man has gotten off on a technicality or because they can afford a Dream Team of lawyers for a top-notch defense. The color of justice is--for the most part--green.

When you read the details of this case and the amount of eyewitness testimony as well as physical evidence pointing to the severe neglect, starvation, and abuse the dogs suffered while the brothers had them on their properties in El Paso and Chaparral, there is no doubt how much they suffered and how much more they will suffer now. You can also see the brothers have been covering up their deeds with this story of being show dog breeders and kennel operators for a long time as well.

In my mind and heart, there is also little doubt the dogs were abused and used for dogfighting out rightly and bred to be sold to dog fighters in other areas. Then, after being rescued from this horrible life, the dogs went on to suffer more in the animal-welfare system itself in the intense confinement they lived in as "evidentiary items". Nearly three years later, and most of these dogs were returned to the very beginning of their hell, while just a few await their fates at the hands of our justice system. It seems only those that did not survive in the system--those that died from disease or who were put down accidentally, etc.--may have escaped with the least harm done overall.

That the brothers were not found guilty in the eyes of our justice system does not negate nor erase the suffering of the victims in this case. Nevertheless, I always hope that people can change and know they sometimes do. Sometimes, they learn their lessons. All I can personally hope for is that these men have changed for the better and are doing right by the dogs they took back and are finding them proper, safe placement instead of more suffering or harm. I can't say my faith in this is strong, but I can hope for the dogs' sake and for my sake, too -- so that I can get some sleep at night thinking that maybe their suffering will end and be replaced with some peace and doggy happiness.

On that note, I wish all of you a safe, peaceful, and happy new year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pit Bulls Deserve a Fair, Independent Assessment

Pit-bull type dogs that end up in a shelter environment deserve an independent behavior assessment by a qualified, trained behaviorist before automatically being put down because of their breed. Actually, progressive animal welfare calls for a fair, equitable assessment for each individual animal in the system no matter the breed, size, age, etc., of the animal. This is also true for pits seized in dogfighting cases, such as the Scott brothers dogs. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, a qualified behaviorist is not on staff at our animal shelter nor at the Dona Ana County Animal Control department.

Yesterday's LCSN cover story, "Uncertain Future", talked about the disposition of the dogs in the Scott case. Because the evidence collected by the Dona Ana County Sheriff/AC department was inadmissible in court due to an illegally-obtained search warrant, these dogs are being returned to the Scotts after the dismissal of the case by the courts.

In yesterday's story, it says the brothers are sending the dogs they are picking up to Virginia, Houston, El Paso, and Mexico. It does not say where, exactly, they are being sent. Reading between the lines, one hopes they are not being sent back into the dogfighting arena. Twelve were picked up by the brothers on Dec. 15th, and the remaining dogs will be picked up this Tuesday, Dec. 22nd, at 1 p.m.

All this time, the brothers have claimed they were breeders of show dogs, but anyone that saw these dogs witnessed the battle scars of fighting and saw how dog-aggressive some of the dogs were as well. That is not a trait bred into show dogs at all.

There is no doubt in my mind that the dogs were used for fighting, but that is my limited, personal opinion and one I have a right to as anyone else does. I just hope to God I am wrong about their past and what I fear is a sad, abusive future at the hands of whomever they are being given to now. As it stands now, there is no justice for animals in most regressive animal-welfare and control systems. Even if the perpetrators of neglect and cruelty are charged and convicted and pay for their crimes, most animals in these cases suffer at the hands of everyone and usually end up dead at the end of the long, judiciary road.

Back to this particular case, those dogs not claimed by the Scott brothers will stay at the shelter and probably face being put down because of the supposed irreparable damage of being bred by dog fighters and their fearful natures after being in intense confinement for almost three years with little-to-no enrichment. Some of these dogs, those pictured in the LCSN story, were raised in this environment since they were 7 weeks old. It is no wonder they fear humans and everything around them. I don't have to be an expert behaviorist to figure that out.

That said, fearfulness and other problem behaviors can be rehabilitated in the right hands. Look at how many dogs have turned around once outside their stressful environments. Extreme cases, such as the Vic dogs taken on by Best Friends, Bad Rap, and other pit groups nationwide, show that many of these dogs are savable, even some that were aggressive in the past. That's why they deserve a fair shot and an INDEPENDENT assessment.

Anyone reading this blog post that cares about these remaining Scott dogs, please contact the shelter and the AC department to advocate for a behaviorist to be brought in to assess the remaining dogs. Please ask them to not automatically put the dogs down for fearfulness or to make room at the shelter. After the years of suffering these dogs have lived through, they deserve at least a shot at a new life and a placement in a safe environment where they can be assessed and rehabilitated, such as with a rescue or appropriate foster home.

You can reach the animal shelter, the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley, from 12 noon to 6 p.m. at 575-682-0018. You can reach the AC department in charge of these dogs, the Dona Ana County Animal Control, at 575-525-8846.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Small steps forward for our community

Looking back on the last year of animal-welfare efforts in our community, there have been some small steps in the right direction and more groups and individuals working together to help animals as well as the people who care for them. Last weekend at the Farmer's Market, I was talking to the animal shelter's volunteer coordinator, who reported that on the weekend of Black Friday, more than 50 animals were adopted from the shelter. The successful weekend started at the parking lot of Wal-Mart off Valley, and the shelter was using the Pet's Barn adoption mobile unit at that location that day. Eighteen good adoptions took place that day alone.

It's clear our shelter is making a more concerted effort in the area of comprehensive adoption programs, or at least they are getting out into the community more for off-site adoptions. I'm sure this has helped increase their adoption numbers, and it must have something to do with the kill rate dropping a few percentage points this year. However, that kill rate will not drop dramatically until all of the No Kill Equation's list of programs and services is implemented in our community, and the animal shelter must be at the forefront of those efforts.

Outside of the shelter, independent animal rescuers and advocates are networking and working together more so than has been the cast in the past (from what I understand). I have been in Las Cruces myself for about five years and involved in animal welfare here the last few years.

This year, the SNAP program partnered with the Dona Ana County Animal Control department to run their mobile spay/neuter unit in outlying areas of the county. Because of these efforts, hundreds of animals were altered in Chaparral, Del Cero, Radium Springs, Hatch, and other locations. The van also ran a couple of times at the Community of Hope in Las Cruces to help homeless pet guardians fix their companions.

This year as well, HSSNM has fostered and adopted out more dogs and cats than ever before. They now hold cat adoptions at PetSmart on a regular basis as well as monthly super adoptions where their fostered cats and dogs are featured. They now have a full pet help line and are engaging with the public one call at a time. They help advise those that have lost and found pets or need to re-home their pets for whatever reason.

SHAS continues its work as the sole no-kill sanctuary for dogs and cats. Those dogs and cats that get accepted into SHAS are the lucky ones, and the animals are well-cared for and adopted out to good homes. Those that cannot be adopted out live out the rest of their lives at the sanctuary.

There are many breed rescues that also play big roles in saving lives -- one cat and dog at a time. The feral cat management program at NMSU is showing local detractors that TNR works, and they have the database and numbers to prove it. They also have a legion of volunteers that work tirelessly to feed and care for the cats on the college's campus. The director of that program also helps advise people in the community on what they can do to help the cats in their areas, and she has stood before the city council, county commission, and any other local leaders who would listen to advocate for changing ordinances so that we can stop killing 80+% of the cats that get taken to our animal shelter while never making dent in the homeless numbers.

As the new kid on the block, APA has started a pet food bank that has distributed about 31,000 pounds of food to date to qualified low-income, unemployed, disabled, elderly, and homeless recipients. The group holds information tabling events and food drives regularly outside of Sam's Club and at local festivals and other events. They list animals in need on their website (lost/found/those needing new homes), and they hope their outreach efforts start having an impact as well.

Overall, more people are working harder to save dog and cat lives in Dona Ana County. Those are the small steps we can be proud of, but we have only started movement in a forward direction. We have years and years and hours and hours to go before we turn things around.

Here's to next year hopefully showing even more efforts at lifesaving, including a huge hope that our animal shelter will comprehensively and simultaneously get to the point where they are implementing all the programs and services needed (see list at right) to save most of the lives of the nearly 15,000 animals that still end up at their facility. More than any other entity or group, the shelter has the longest way to go.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Numbers tell only part of the story

Misleading headline & comparisons

Today's headline in the daily paper says that the animal shelter is "filling up rapidly." I was confused by this because there hasn't been a time in recent or past history that the facility that is now our municipally-run animal shelter has not been packed with animals. In fact, the overall 2009 anticipated intake is no more than it as been in the past decade, and our community outgrew the current facility not long after it was built in the late 1980s.

In other words, it is not new news that the animal-shelter facility has not kept up with the human population growth of the county that it services. This issue has been long overlooked by our local leaders who are ultimately responsible for the long-standing inferior state of our animal-sheltering infrastructure and services. Our shelter has had a handful of scathing reviews and reports in the past few years from various groups and agencies, including the Humane Society of the United States. Each is almost a repeat of the last.

Our animal shelter is not suddenly filling up and not suddenly sub-par in terms of its ventilation system and other structural issues. In fact, NM capital campaign funds have been allocated for use in years past to fix the most glaring issues, but these were never leveraged before they expired.

The responsibility of both the facility's management/daily operations and the facility's repair and upgrades rests solely on our local City and County leaders. The funds needed to upgrade our sheltering facility and services to the community are also their responsibility to find and allocate. Other communities do it all the time -- build new animal-sheltering facilities and clinics, etc. Why can't we? The answer is simple: animals are not important enough to our local leaders. So, why are we surprised that there are some in our community who are neglectful/abusive to animals or don't put animals too high on their priority lists either? We need, as a community, to lead by example--from the top down. This has to start with the leadership shown by our municipal shelter and its management as well as both our animal control departments.

In today's article as well, comparisons are made between Dona Ana County and El Paso County and the City of Albuquerque. These communities and counties are far larger in human population as well as boast greater resources for animal welfare (human population is well over 750,000 for El Paso County and more than 500,000 for Albuquerque). Both have multiple shelters run by their municipalities and several nonprofits. In El Paso, two new multi-million dollar facilities for both the Animal Services of El Paso County and the Humane Society of El Paso were built right next to each other in a secluded part of the Northeast part of the city just a few years ago. Ironically, these new, state-of-the art facilities and the more room that they created have done little to curb the number of animals coming in nor the number of animals being killed/euthanized in our sister border community. Their statistics for most of this decade have been an intake of 23,000 to 27,000 and kill rates in the high 70 to 80% range--with 17,000 to 22,000 animals put down each year. In the City of Albuquerque, they fair a little better statistically than Las Cruces and El Paso; they report their statistics to Maddie's Fund, and their average intake is 26,000 with kill rates at 45 to 50%--about 11,000 to 12,000 animals put down each year.

However, there are other cities and counties more like Las Cruces in terms of growth and yearly animal intakes that--with strong no-kill and progressive approaches and leadership to animal welfare--have turned the killing tide around, such as the recent success since 2007 in Washoe County, NV. That community's approaches are what we should be studying and adopting here, especially since that community and county mirrors our own more in terms of human population and animal homelesses.

What this shows is that money alone and new facilities alone will not change the outcome for homeless animals in any community, much like punitive laws alone or stronlgy enforced by AC rarely lead to change. What changes the state of animal welfare in a community is approaching animal control and animal sheltering in a more modern, progressive way and with multiple, targeted support and services for the human population at the root of the animal-welfare issues. See the No Kill Equation again; doing all of these steps and doing them well makes the most sense of all.

Dona Ana County Human Population Growth & Animal Sheltering Statistics

Back in 1900, the human population of Dona Ana County (DAC) was 10,187. Fast-forward to 1990, and that human population was 135,510. By 2000, the human population was 174,682. Our last U.S. Census data put the population above 200,000, and according to Dona Ana County records, the growth estimate is 4-6% in the next 20 years. By 2015, our population will be approximately 300,000.

Any municipality that is seeing such growth has to grow its infrastructure to meet the resulting challenges. This growth plan should include animal-welfare facilities and services, but these topics are pretty absent from the vision and growth plans and statements put out by DAC and the City of Las Cruces. This goes to show that animal-welfare rates very low on the priority list for our leaders, which is why we are stuck using an animal shelter facility built to meet the needs of our community more than two decades ago.

Our animal shelter statistics are as follows for the past two decades; these are from statistics reported by the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley since its operations were taken over by the City/County in 2008 and from the statistics provided by the Dona Ana County Humane Society, which operated the shelter under contract for many years. Bear in mind that statistics such as these are only as good as the agency keeping them and the method/system they are using to record the statistics and the honesty with which they are kept. As a nation, there is no standardization for recording or reporting animal shelter statistics, though powerhouses such as Maddie's Fund are trying to influence all shelters to follow their model and to report their annual statistics to them for a truer national picture.

DAC Animal Shelter Statistics
2009 projected statistics: ~15,000 intake, ~9500 killed/euthanized (63%)
2008: 15,523 intake, 10,387 killed/euthanized (67%)
2007: 15,743 intake, ~11,000 killed/euthanized (70%)
2006: 17,112, 12,311 (72%)
2005: 15,355 , 11,451 (75%)
2004: 15,639, 11,547 (74%)
2003: 15,436, 10,994 (71%)
2002: 14,673, 10,692 (73%)
2001: 14,891, 10,578 (71%)
2000: 14,690, 9828 (67%)
1999: 14,386, 11,147 (77%)
1998: 13,105, 10,026 (77%)
1997: 13,157, 10,208 (78%)
1996: 12,075, 9399 (78%)
1995: 12,074, 9606 (80%)
1994: 11,476, 8795 (77%)
1993: 11,290, 8442 (75%)
1992: 10,779, 8090 (75%)
1991: 11,262, 8894 (79%)
1990: 11,130, 8933 (80%)
1989: 10,721, 8762 (82%)

Numbers alone show that numbers are not the whole story. Why, when our shelter's intake was 5,000 less each year than it is today, was the kill rate 20% more? The complex answers to these questions are sometimes unknowns or just areas we have not explored. Even those who work in animal welfare sweep issues under the carpet with generalizations. Our community has yet to start the hard work of data collection, data analysis, and figuring out how to proactively tackle the issues this data reveals. We also have yet to research and compare ourselves to areas experiencing success and finding ways to mimic that success here. We erroneously believe all the answers are in dollars and cents. But, what we do when we get those dollars and facilities is equally as important. How it is run is just as important as the building in which it is run. This is as true for animals sheltering as other industries.

Impound fees are not the answer

Oftentimes, both our local leaders and some animal-welfare advocates will talk about how raising fees for impounded animals can help raise the funds needed to improve our facility. What we don't see is these fees are sometimes a big part of the issue and why we kill too many animals, and what they raise is also never enough.

That's not to say that fees should not be farily imposed, but if a person can pay a speeding or other type of ticket or fee in payments when deemed necessary because of their income, allowing people to do the same at the animal shelter to reclaim their pets would be one way we could start reducing our kill rate today. Those fees, such as speeding tickets, should not be seen ONLY in terms of the income they draw. The other side to that coin needs to be looked into as well -- how many needless deaths do they lead to, or what are the consequences of these fees?

This is where many in animal welfare will repeat the old, tired cliche that if a person cannot afford a pet, they should not have one. Progressive approaches do not look to the wallet of a pet guardian as the sole proof that person can be a loving provider for their pets. Just because someone on a fixed income cannot come up with a hundred dollars within a few days to save the animal they love does not mean they don't "deserve" to have that animal.

These knee-jerk reactions and judging books only by the cover are a big part of the reason why we still kill too many animals in our community. It's because we operate from an animal control perspective instead of a care and control model that seeks to find ways to save and enrich lives of animals and the lives of their caregivers.

There is usally more to a story than the black-and-white picture we paint in our minds. If we can start looking at the gray areas and the colors and start to work outside of the lines and ideas we have drawn on for too long, maybe we can start to change our community for the better in terms of our care and processing of unwanted, homeless animals.

Friday, November 13, 2009

System Woes & Muerto Momentos

Week's biggest woe: Scott case dismissed and dogs going back to their abusers

Today's headline about the Scott dog fighting case being dismissed was not unexpected news, but this case highlights many issues with our animal control and welfare systems that must be addressed for the future. It is very clear that for a mere technicality, these dog abusers have not only gotten off, they now have the ammunition to attack the very system that should have protected their dogs FROM them. The brothers also supposedly have a chance to redeem their names and reputations. Lastly, and worst of all, the dogs remaining from this case are beign returned to their abusers.

This case has enough twists and turns to make one sick and dizzy -- too many twists and turns to address in one blog posting. I personally saw many of the Scott pit bulls during my volunteer work with the animal shelter and out at a remote holding area where they were being cared for, sometimes in pretty bad conditions by definition of that care and the facilities involved. Overall, the dogs were loving to humans and very needy of TLC, but they were obviously trained to attack other dogs. In another system, many could have been salvaged and placed into homes.

One thing is crystal clear: Don't doubt that these dogs were used for fighting and suffered at the hands of the Scott brothers. That was painfully obvious, so any attempts to say these men were legitimate breeders is a joke. Some of the dogs were bait ones that were used to train the other dogs, and they had the horrific scars to prove it. And, without attempts to rehabilitate these dogs during their tenure in the system, most will still go after each other when given the chance. So, what is going to happen to the ones that are left over and being given right back to their original abusers?

It's a sad day indeed, but the day they are returned will be even sadder ... or, will it? What was the alternative at the hands of our animal-welfare system? Being locked up for years in a 10 x 10 kennel at our animal shelter, going literally crazy until the case was resolved? Being locked up for years in a slightly bigger outdoor kennel with little shelter from the elements and little enrichment or socialization? Who cared for these dogs better? Why are there no better alternatives for all victims of animal abusers?

Usually, when cases such as this are resolved, the choices are still few. The animals either go back to the owners they were taken from (such as in this case) or the entire group is systematically put to death by the animal-welfare system that says they cannot be saved or made ready for new homes (this assumption is being disproven in many cases in the U.S. now, and each individual animal deserves an equitable assessment to determine if this is true). For victims of these crimes, none of these choices is a good one.

In this case, some of the dogs died by mistake at our shelter. Some of them died during their tenure at the remote holding facility. All the ones that have survived have endured hell, and now they are going back to the men that started that hell.

If this case doesn't show the many issues we have in our community, I don't know what else can. Many of these issues do lie square on the shoulders of the leaders that run our animal control and welfare systems. We have to keep pushing the system to come up to an animal CARE and control standard and model that does better for victims of abuse. That's what our community deserves, and that's what the victims of these cases deserve as well. It is no longer good enough to simply go after the perpetrators and make them pay for their crimes (which they seldom do anyway). We need to push the system to find alternatives to systematically killing victims of these crimes or housing them in equally cruel ways. The victims and their care should be at the top of the list of priorities.

LOST and FOUND woes

Some months ago, I was helping trying to find the owners of a lost puppy in a neighborhood in the East Mesa. I went around the neighborhood plastering signs and flyers, which is the common advice given to those who lose or find pets. The Missing Pet Partnership experts give even better advice: post big posters at major intersections of the neighborhood where the pet was lost or found so that those passing in their cars can see them -- simple posters with big lettering, such as "LOOKING FOR LOST BLACK LAB; please call 555-5555". For some of their other great search tips, see their website at

So, the next day I was passing through the neighborhood to find all of my posters and flyers were gone. It had taken me hours to create, print, and post these notices, and I had every intention of going back to take them down a few weeks later. When I saw that this was done, I went around and posted the flyers to all the mail boxes in that neighborhood (probably also against the law), and within a day, I reunited the lost puppy with his family because they saw the flyer and called me. He had been taken from his own gated yard and left to wander loose in the neighborhood, and his family was very upset to find him gone.

I was never called by a City codes person, but I figured out that day that posting flyers is against the law here. You cannot post them on public property (such as light posts), and you must obtain permission to post them on private property. So, what is a pet guardian supposed to do? Yes, you can file your LOST reports at the animal shelter and with the newspapers, and you can go check the shelter each day, but the person that may have found your beloved pet may never check these resources and will probably also assume the worst of you. Your best bet is still putting out posters for those in the area to see to reach that person, show you care, and show how much you want your companion back.

Recently, Suzy lost Mugsey in the District 5 area of Las Cruces; the dog is an Australian Shepherd (pictured at right). Suzy loves her dog dearly, and she was distraught to find the dog missing from, again, her own gated yard. Suzy spent time and money posting more than 300 flyers. She was soon called by a codes person, telling her she had to go remove them all. And, Suzy has still not found Mugsey, and the dog has been missing for more than a month. Suzy has the added unpleasant task of taking stray tours at our shelter all the time, but she is vigilant and keeps looking.

The City and County codes people will tell us this law was put in place to reduce trash. That is legitimate. However, why can't the law be modified to allow these postings and require that the person who posted them return a few weeks later to remove them and dispose properly of them? A date of post could be required, and most good pet guardians would comply with the law. That will take care of most of the trash issue this causes. This is also not our biggest trash issue!

After all, what is more important -- trash or saving lives? In a community that kills 12,000 animals a year at our municipal shelter, it seems that supporting those in the community who are not turning animals over to the shelter would be a good thing to do. Helping to find the homes of animals should be a top priority. We can figure out the trash issue somehow.

Some progressive animal welfare agencies in the U.S. are working with groups such as the Missing Pet Partnership on stepping up their efforts at finding the homes where loose animals belong. The Washoe County AC officers leave signs themselves in areas where they pick up loose pets. This has increased their redemption rates for both cats and dogs - not an easy feat for cats, especially.

For us that find or lose animals, one of the mantras of Missing Pet Partnership is "think lost, not stray". Too many times, because of our work in animal-welfare or just because it's always easier to think the worst, we are poisoned against anyone whose animal gets away. We always forget that the majority of pet guardians in our community love and cherish their pets. We punish even the Suzys of the world, who are frantically looking for the pets they dearly love and care well for. And, we forget there are many legitimate ways animals can become lost and separated from a home where they were dearly loved. We also mistake all xenophobic (fearful, nervous) animals for abused ones, etc. Because of these cumulative mistakes, many animals are not reunited with their loved ones.

So, the next time you can make it to a City Council or County Commission meeting, speak up about this lack of support for pet guardians trying to do the right thing. There has to be a way to keep the trash in our community down without sacrificing lives to do it.

Muerto Momentos

This goes out to all my fellow animal-welfare compatriots. I know that because of the work we do, our views get skewed much of the time. Our worlds become dark because that is the only part of the animal world that we see on a daily basis (the bad people). I like to remind myself every day that that is not the majority of pet guardians (not even in our community), and I make it a point to notice the good ones, too.

At APA's pet altar at the Dia de los Muertos event at Mesilla Plaza a couple of weeks ago, more than 75 people filled out momento cards to pets they have lost. Here are some of the messages written to these beloved family members with fur. I leave you with these thoughts so you can remember the ones you have loved and lost and so that you don't lose complete faith in the human-animal bond.

"Wilmo - You were a great dog. I know I'll see you in the next life. XXOO"

"Teddy - I love you - wherever you are. I hope that you are happy and in a beautiful place. P.S. Thanks you for sending me Ursa cat to love."

"Spirit - Even though you lived with us a short time, we loved you much! Love, Dad and Mom."

"Hi, Mikey - I miss you and your sweet, cute face. Please know you are loved. Dear Lord - Please watch over all the sweet souls in the animal spirits that bless us. Thank you for our time here."

"To Balou - The sweetest and "baddest" dog ever. I'll never forget you."

"To Renard. You were "mine" only for a short time, but I loved you so much. R.I.P., dear. - HL"
"To Skipper, my friend, who left too soon. To Cody, who taught me about cat ways and opened the door for the rest. To all my fosters wherever they are."

"To my Tiger. You always lit up my world and day when I was sad. I love you!"

"In loving memory of my buddy, Scruffy. You had the softest nose and ears. I miss you."

"Missy, we still miss you after more than ten years. - Diane and Hank"

Monday, November 2, 2009

Spread the word about animals in need

There is a new page on the ACTion Programs for Animals website called Animals in Need. Any messages that are sent to animal-welfare advocates about animals that are lost, found, or needing a new home are posted on this page. Also posted are any requests for specific kinds of animals that people may want.

Please check the page and forward this resource to your contacts. These are animals that are not in any animal shelter or rescue system so are not listed on adoption sites such as PetFinder. Most of the animals needing rehoming come from someone who has cared for them temporarily after being found or someone that has to rehome for whatever reason. This is an opportunity to help keep an animal out of the shelter system as well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two new progressive animal-welfare links

I wanted to let everyone know about two worthy website links added to my Progressive Animal Welfare list at the right: Animal Shelter Tips and Rescue Ink.

Animal Shelter tips offers a wide variety of ideas for shelters, from fundraising to getting more volunteers to how to get more people in your shelter to adopt more animals vs. the alternatives. This site is out of Santa Fe, NM, too. Two shelter cats are the inspiration for the site.

Rescue Ink is the site of that famous rag-tag group of big biker rescue guys with hearts even bigger than their biceps. If you have not watched Rescue Ink Unleashed on the National Geographic Channel, please try to check it out on Friday nights. It airs right after The Dog Whisperer. If you don't get this channel, look out for it on DVD in the near future.

When you watch what these guys accomplish, you wish there was a group of similar tough guys with big hearts in every community to track down animal abusers and deal with the issues they encounter in reasonable, yet firm and powerful, ways. They strive to change the situation for animals and to educate abusers and teach people how to provide better for their animals. When that is not possible, they strive to get animals out of bad situations themselves.

They have great results because there is something about eight tough, inked bikers knocking on doors that garners instant respect. I can't see getting that same response if myself and some other older ladies went knocking on abuser's doors.

All kidding aside, we need this kind of outreach and help in our community. If there are any people out there reading this, whether you are a tough guy with heart or not, we need your assistance to help educate and train people to provide better for their animals. Not a week goes by that I don't get a call as the Dogs Deserve Better representative about a chained dog that could use a group of people to advocate for him or her, and I just got a call this week about an abused, half-starved female husky that is being used as a puppy machine and is being beaten by her owners. The lady witnessing this tragedy is elderly and afraid for herself and her own dogs should she try to approach this family.

Right behind the need for more spay/neuter in our area, we could really use a Rescue Ink of our own as well. I hope that as more people sit at home and watch this show, more big guys with big hearts will be inspired to do the same kind of work in their own communities.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

High-volume spay and neuter is our area's biggest need

Miles to go

It is not news to anyone that our community has a long way to go before we reach the kind of high-volume spay and neuter that will start to make a real dent in our companion-animal overpopulation numbers. I have been working the past few months on the ACTion Programs for Animals pet food bank, and it is obvious that we in animal welfare are not reaching the common masses with a message that is getting through to them about the urgency of our situation and how their individual actions (or inactions) are part of a cumulative problem that leads to the death of nearly 800-1,000 animals in our shelter each month.

Most people do not spay/neuter their pets due to the cost prohibitiveness of the surgery as well as a handful of other reasons, such as myths that have been passed onto them for generations or because they do not make the connection from their animals having litters to those thousands dying every year at our shelter. They say they find the puppies or kittens "good homes", but they don't think about what happens when those homes also do not fix their pets. It's a generational and cumulative issue that is not easy to change or tackle overnight. There are also many backyard breeders in our community as well, and we need to think of creative yet sound approaches to this problem, too.

Many animal-welfare activists call for mandatory spay/neuter (MSN) as the supposed easy answer. However, myself and other progressive animal-welfare activists strongly oppose MSN. The reasons are many. If you do your research and read the details about areas where MSN has been attempted, you see that laws and enforcement are not a simple answer either. These laws often have detrimental affects in a community, too, and not ones that animal people anticipate. If you pass and strictly enforce via Animal Control the MSN laws without having the services and support to back it up or without sanely getting people to comply with the laws, all you will end up with is more and more dead animals each year at your shelter and the same problems. People who don't obey laws will continue not doing so. If only it were that easy!

The point is to reach people in ways that start affecting future generations and start breaking down the myths and getting people in different demographics to see the connections between their actions and the issues we face. The best medicine is to engage with leaders in communities to carry the message for you. We need strong outreach and PR to do this. If you inundate the community with a smart PR effort, and then you back this up with plenty of avenues and choices for them to fix their animals, that's the only recipe that has ever worked. In areas where this is tried vs. MSN, the outcomes have been extraordinary. In this sense, it is incumbent for all in animal welfare to do their homework and learn from the mistakes and successes of others before pushing for changes in our community.

The kind of outreach we are doing with efforts like the pet food bank and pet help lines is important, but it is not going to make a huge difference overnight. We need to seriously pump up the volume of spay/neuter in our community, but to do that, we need to first work toward more services and facilities that can meet our area's demand.

The following is a link to a very important article out of the July/August 2009 Animal Sheltering magazine. Comparing our situation to that of the Gulf Coast region is not that far of a stretch, and their approach and successes in the last few years since Katrina speaks to the level of need in the Borderland as well-- for both El Paso County and Dona Ana County. Until our community starts tackling this issue with this level of effort, we will continue to see our landfills piled high with bodies of unwanted animals. That's the bottom line.

Read the full article here:

SAVING LIVES in the Gulf Coast: Groundbreaking spay/neuter initiative spells hope for homeless animals nationwide

The Shelter Pet Project has launched

At the end of September, the joint campaign effort by The Ad Council, Maddie's Fund, and the HSUS was launched. It features national ads and PSAs that encourage anyone looking for a new pet to adopt them from animal shelters and rescue groups vs. alternatives.

Though we still put down about 4 million pets a year nationally at shelters, studies led by Maddie's Fund show that more people each year are looking to add a new pet into their families than those that get put down. Many are what they call "swing voters"; they are not sure where they might get their next pet from, so Maddie's and their partners are trying to dispel some of the myths and fears that scare people away from shelters, such as assuming all animals that end up at shelters are damaged goods or have irreversible problems.

Some of the other things that run potential adopters off at shelters are the very shelters themselves, with too many not providing adequate customer service or adoption counseling. This campaign will also put pressure on all shelters to do a better job in these regards. As a result, Maddie's has also launched reward grants to shelters who have turned things around in their customer services. Anyone interested in learning more about this program can read about it at

When you are watching TV in the upcoming months, look for the humorous ads from The Shelter Pet Project. This is the first time The Ad Council has taken on an animal-welfare cause, so these ads should lead to more people going to look for their future pets at shelters instead of buying from pet stores or backyard breeders.

To find out more about the project, see the ads, and learn how you can help the No Kill movement, check out the website at

Friday, October 2, 2009

Update on 14 beagle lab puppies

Thanks to a huge effort by local beagle and basset rescuers Bill and Linda Hart, and lots of help they recruited from other rescuers and animal lovers, 14 former Las Cruces laboratory beagle puppies are now safe in great homes in Arizona instead of the alternative many former lab animals face ... death by euthanasia. This happy story was also made possible by the local laboratory itself, Southwest Bio-Labs, Inc., a company willing to sit and do business with animal rescuers and figure out a way to save lives instead of prematurely end them. This was one case where unnecessary death was avoided due to hard work and perseverance.

Ironically, these dogs and other animals are used to test the very drugs we give our own pets to guarantee they live long and healthy lives (prescription products such as Frontline, HeartGuard, etc.). This animal testing is mandated by federal law, as are the tests of the pharmaceuticals we take ourselves. All we can ask is that the animals used for such tests receive the best care possible, that all repeat and unnecessary tests are avoided, and that the animals receive relief from pain and suffering during testing as much as possible. There are many murky ethical, philosophical and scientific areas regarding animal testing, but what we can ask laboratories to do is be sure the source of their lab animals is not one laced with suffering (such as animals obtained from Class B dealers) and to ask that when they no longer need animals for testing, they search for alternatives to putting the animals down.

The rescue of these 14 puppies this week shows that alternatives exist and should be sought. Happy endings can be found, and no animals deserve it more than those who have sacrificed of themselves so that you, I, and our pets can live healthier and safer lives together.

Here's an update of yesterday's rescue and transport of the puppies from Bill Hart:

"Here's the latest on the 14 beagle lab puppies.

As of 9:30 p.m. last night, all were in their new homes -- safe, sound and happy. What took place yesterday morning with these puppies was nothing short of incredible. We picked up all 14 and transported them to a small but lovely park and released them all at once, not knowing what their response would be. In unison they all leaped from their transport crates and proceeded to romp and play as nature intended.

All who were there were amazed that these little guys could come from living in total confinement to run and play as though they had never seen a cage. Not only did they romp and play with each other, but they just couldn't get enough love and attention from everyone there. For a lack of a better description, they acted as though they had been reborn and whatever they had to endure in the past was completely wiped away from their short lives.

Watching these puppies was something that I and the others there will never forget. We all know that dogs cannot verbally talk to us but if you look into their eyes, they are speaking volumes. And the look in every one of these pups eyes said "thank you, thank you, thank you; we're free and we love you for setting us free and for loving us the way you do!" Yes, their eyes spoke to all of us loud and clear. To see these puppies run free and pick up sticks and pine cones and play with them as toys was something you just don't forget. What I saw yesterday was the unshakable beagle spirit entwined with loving, caring and compassionate human hearts. I saw tears of joy, heard uncontrollable laughter and saw unending smiles. I thought to myself ... this is the way it is supposed to be. What a wonderful event to have experienced!

The only things I regret about this event are that all of you did not get to share the day with the rest of us and that yesterday had to come to an end. I want to truly thank all of you for your thoughts, prayers, donations and everything else that it took to save these beautiful little beagles. I could not have done it without you. I especially want to thank Eli Valdez, Darlene, Renee and Ron, Lynn and Dan, and Linda, my more than understanding and supportive wife, who had to endure me through this whole process.

This was a beautiful day with a happy ending. Because we cared enough to intervene on behalf of these puppies, they are free, happy and most of all alive and healthy. Saying "thank you" doesn't seem to be enough but for now that's all I have. I will go to my grave remembering yesterday."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fourteen former laboratory pups on way to good homes

This is an update about the laboratory beagle puppies that local animal-welfare advocates found out about recently. They were used to test some kind of pet drugs at Southwest Bio-Labs, Inc., a local laboratory. This lab tests pharmaceutical produts many of us use for our companion animals to fight parasites and the diseases they spread (drugs such as HeartGuard, etc.)

Luckily, this laboratory has agreed to release the puppies they no longer need for testing. The fourteen puppies, all about 3 to 4 months old, will be turned over to beagle/basset rescuer Bill Hart on Thursday, Oct. 1st.

The puppies are healthy, and Bill will adopt them out via his rescue. He is searching for the proper placement for the pups. They have had zero socialization and training, so they will need special attention and training from anyone who adopts them. They should not be adopted out of sympathy alone; only those who are seeking to adopt a beagle should take them. For more information of if you are interested in one of these puppies, please send me an e-mail, and I will get you in touch with Bill.

E-mail me at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Magazine article explains "progressive" animal welfare

Don't take my word for it nor that of Nathan Winograd. I know I can rub people the wrong way, and I'm sure Winograd's tough love approach also loses part of his audience as well.

However, I am more hopeful than ever that the progressive drum is beating too loud for people to ignore and will only grow louder. My hope comes from seeing regressive hold-outs like the HSUS acknowledging that progressive approaches to animal welfare for animal control departments and animal shelters are inevitable. This recent article from HSUS's very own Animal Sheltering magazine talks about animal welfare's regressive history and its progressive future. I urge everyone who cares about animals to take the time to read this.

Out of Control, Into Compassion, by Carrie Allen

Dog experiments right under our noses

How would you feel if you were asked to be on a community oversight committee for facilities that test on animals, especially dogs and cats? What if you had to walk through these facilities to witness the fate of the animals within those cages and the sacrifices they make for the supposed human and animal good? Even our pet foods are tested on animals in inhumane conditions, and the companies that do this work are very good at hiding from the public.

I had looked into this at NMSU at one time but decided against it--to join a community oversight or watchdog group for the facilities that test on animals at our university. I knew that I could never be silent if I had to walk through such a facility and accept the fate of these animals or only look for cruelty that broke whatever laws are in place to supposedly protect the animals.

For me, being on a community oversight board for a regressive animal shelter is not that much different. Biting my tongue and trying to work from within the system to affect change is also not in my DNA.

That said, people are needed for these roles. An e-mail message I got today reminded me of this.

A man who rescues beagles and bassets wrote to tell me there is a lab here in Las Cruces that is currently testing on female beagles. This facility is looking to place any male beagles into homes that are born from the litters they are breeding. I had no idea a private research facility that tests on dogs and pigs existed here.

It's called Southwest Bio-Labs, Inc. Google it to try to find out more information, and you see that the company is hard to pin down. From the little I read tonight, it looks like they test drugs made for animals.

I urge anyone who is interested to contact NMSU's animal experimentation labs and this company to ask if there are citizen or community oversight committees you can join for these facilities. Someone needs to have access to ensure that animals are not suffering more than is absolutely necessary.

As for myself, I live for the day when experiments such as these are entirely unnecessary. I think most fit this description today, but many industries are hard to change and even more difficult to topple. In the case of "science", much that passes for legitimate reasons to test on animals seems absurd to the average person, but try to tell that to the scientists whose bread and butter rests in these experiments.

Animal sheltering is not the only industry that needs progressive approaches and needs to change to correctly reflect today's views about animals by the majority of the public. Only by having access to these industries can we know and understand the status quo so we can demand progressive changes that are long overdue.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Socialization and enrichment for sheltered animals

In many shelters across the nation, enrichment and socialization efforts and programs for both dogs and cats are showing that thinking outside of old-fashioned sheltering cages and kennels does a world of good for both animals and people. There is no doubt that landing in a shelter is a stressful situation for all animals, but a big part of this has to do with regressive shelters that do not offer enrichment for animals in their care. Animals suffer for the "this is the way we've always done it" mentality that befalls many an industry.

Historically, the sheltering situation has been worse for cats, who fall to illness and then subsequent death in greater numbers than dogs in shelters. Because cats hold a strange place in our society, where people less frequently reclaim them at shelters when lost, and because communities such as ours are very outdated in how we deal with homeless and free-roaming cats, our shelter's kill rate for cats is deplorable (more than 80%). So are the conditions in which our cats are housed.

Dogs do not fare too much better in our shelter. Even dogs lucky enough to make it to the adoptables section can languish in kennels and get out infrequently for walks or other escape from the confinement and stress. Blankets and toys and beds are not provided, and sometimes dogs and cats can remain in these conditions for many months (years for court-held animals).

One court document I read recounted how some dogs kept in kennels for years in our shelter had literally chewed on the concrete so much that their teeth were mere nubs when they were finally returned to their owner when the charges were dropped against this person. Needless to say, this owner was back in court charging the system with animal cruelty. This same circle of irony is one that happens often, though it's not something you'd read about in our newspapers!

At our shelter, supposedly to combat disease spread, cats are not allowed to be handled or socialized by volunteers at all. Only staff are allowed to touch the cats, but little in terms of enrichment is offered to cats in their cages by the staff. Cats are stressed, and because of this, they die in more numbers than are probably necessary.

Alternately, many shelters, even those overwhelmed with a large number of cats, are doing things differently and seeing fantastic results in both lowering disease and making better matches for cats and their adopters in the long run and making cats' stays in shelters more peaceful. It has to do with thinking outside of our traditional sheltering boxes.

Special volunteer teams that focus on cat enrichment alone are offering ideas and implementation of programs to help cats survive and thrive in the shelter setting. What shelter staff and volunteer groups need is the same training on properly handling cats to avoid disease spread, but once everyone follows these protocols, the next most important step in mitigating disease is to help cats feel less stress ... provide spots for cats to stretch and scratch and perch and hide, and provide plenty of human contact so cats do not become more and more aloof and nervous, which often causes them to be next on the dreaded kill list.

If you care about cats and want their level elevated to that of dogs in shelters, the thing you need to push for is a shelter enrichment program for our cats, whether this is lead by staff or volunteers. Even simply providing a cardboard box for cats to hide in and perch on in their cages can make a difference ... but why not shoot for better? Push for cat colony rooms to be developed. Do some research about what other shelters are doing, and do the best to emulate these efforts with the resources you have. At a shelter like ours, dogs need this type of advocacy as well.

Still, cats have it worse at our shelter. They still take more of a backseat in terms of staff and volunteer efforts made on their behalf. In response to this, many of us often lament the second place that cats take in both society and in our shelters; however, if you work or volunteer in the animal-welfare arena, you have to lead by example to show that cats deserve the same efforts as dogs. After all, how will the general public ever change their tune if we don't change ours first?

In our shelter, socialization and enrichment efforts and consistent programs are sorely needed for both dogs and cats. If the staff cannot find the time to do it or are not directed to do it, then volunteer teams have to be formed to take care of this important business. Now that the shelter has hired a new volunteer coordinator, the time could not be better to push for these efforts.

For further reading/research:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Court-held animals are evidence, but they are also sentient beings

This is in response to the person who keeps asking why volunteers are allowed to socialize and handle court-held dogs and who trains them for this work. For the exact answers to your questions from our shelter and the Animal Control departments, you will have to ask them this directly. I am not sure who is allowed to do this work and not as a volunteer and how they are trained.

That said, even shelter staffers and Animal Control staff have made mistakes with court-held animals in the past. We've had cases of the shelter erroneously putting some animals down that were evidence, and there have been cases of animals dying during their holding period for various reasons while under the AC department's care. I think the gist of this is that no matter who is caring for the animals, they need to be trained well. They need to also take extra precautions to not lose a court-held animal or put them in harm's way. Safety for these animals also comes from the areas they are held.

Furthermore, just because they are evidentiary items does not mean it is okay to lock them up in a smal cage or kennel and completely ignore their right as sentient beings. No matter what the court labels them as, they are living creatues.

If we are doing our jobs well, we will BOTH safeguard the evidence as well as provide for the animals' humane care. It is possible to do both, and we should not settle for less.

These animals, especially since they are held for so long, deserve the Five Freedoms: 1. Freedom from hunger and thirst; 2. Freedom from discomfort; 3. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease; 4. Freedom to express normal behavior; and 5. Freedom from fear and distress. Their quality of life while awaiting their eventual disposition is very important, and all animal advocates should push for their humane care when cared for by the shelter, the AC department in their holding facilities, or in temporary foster homes.

More from shelter volunteer Renee Davis

Longtime and former shelter volunteer Renee Davis worked with court-held dogs at our shelter for the past year. She recently did something very brave; she spoke up publically about the conditions for dogs living in the double-wide trailer at the shelter, where they are intensely confined. She had hoped that in her bringing the issues to light, our leaders would address these concerns. To date, that has not really happened, and it is a shame.

She shared the following story with me via e-mail to show that the issues at this trailer are multi-fold and have been going on for some time:

"I believe it was September of 2008 that a dog that was kept in the double-wide trailer got out and killed a rabbit that was also housed in the trailer. I remember the shelter's vet tech at the time was so upset about this that she quit.

This year, around May, another dog housed in the trailer, who I believe was eventually transferred to Denver, got out as he did many times and jumped through the screen window over the sink. He was running around in the trailer's enclosed yard.

He saw me walking another dog in the desert, and he jumped the fence and came running up to me. He was very friendly but was not wearing a collar. I was trying to hold him and the other dog because once out in the desert, he could have escaped and run to the highway.

I was screaming at the top of my lungs; finally, another volunteer came to help me. She went to the double-wide trailer to get the staff person who was cleaning at this time. He was suprised to see the dog out. It turns out he couldn't hear me scream because was listening to music with earphones as he worked. Many of the staff regularly do this, and I feel it is unsafe. Dogs were constantly getting out from the doublewide, and this is not a safe environment for the animals or people."

MORE of us need to speak up to the shelter's management and our local leaders about the misuse of this trailer as permanent housing. Time and again, incidents like this prove that how that trailer is being used is not only against sheltering industry standards, it is inhumane.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Former Best Friends CEO visits Las Cruces

I was very fortunate a couple of Sundays ago to spend some quality time with the former CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, Paul Berry. He passed through Las Cruces as part of his Our Humane Nation motorcycle tour. Las Cruces was lucky for this visit because our community was not in Mr. Berry's original plan. He had a last-minute cancellation in Albuquerque so stopped by here instead. He got my name and number from a fellow No Kill advocate in Austin, TX. Thanks to Ryan Clinton at for the referral!

You can read Paul's blog about his Las Cruces visit on his website ( when he publishes it. I think he said that should be posted within a couple of weeks from now.

During his visit, we stopped by the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV), and then we stopped by Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary. We then had a nice vegan dinner with fellow Las Cruces animal advocate Jean Gilbert.

Paul is an electrical engineer who made a career move to animal welfare and away from corporate America some time ago. He has been an animal-cruelty investigator and also ran a mobile spay/neuter van before taking the Best Friends CEO post for the last seven years. He left Best Friends earlier this year, though his wife is still working there. He decided to take this tour to find out what is going on in the world of animal welfare across the United States.

Some of Paul's remarkable work at Best Friends included the rescue and rehabilitation of the Michael Vick dogs; Best Friends took on the dogs that needed the most work and rehabilitation from this group. Paul is also responsible for making the TV deal for Dogtown, one of my new favorites that shows on National Geograhic.

It was especially nice to bounce off my questions and ideas on Paul. He agreed that our community has a long way to go and a big problem in our yearly animal intakes at our one shelter. He urged us to start doing some data gathering and research to use to build up alternatives to the one municipal shelter.

I was also glad to hear that he had some insight into one of my dreams for our near future -- opening an NSNRT clinic from the Humane Alliance group ( He said that model is terrific because the clinics are able to service a wide area of a community and spay/neuter hundreds of animals each day. Wow! Isn't that something to work toward for our community? We all can agree we need that level of high-volume spay/neuter to start reducing our shelter's intake rate in a significant way.

Shelter observation

As a critic of our shelter and former volunteer, I admit that I have not been there for many months. I decided to quit my shelter volunteer work to instead work in the community to the best of my ability to help animals and people. However, I also agree that there is a place for all of us and that our shelter needs the support of volunteers in the community. I also think that the more staunch critics should not be silenced, but I myself have stepped more away from this role because I think one group of animal-welfare people needs to actively work on alternatives to our shelter. If you let yourself, you can become completely overwhelmed with the shelter's issues, and that leaves little time and effort for anything else.

So, Paul and I stopped by the shelter that Sunday at about 4:30 p.m. The shelter was going to close at 5 p.m., so there weren't too many people around. We were allowed to walk through the adoptables area when Paul explained to a shelter staffer who he was and what he was doing there. Usually, people are not allowed to walk around our shelter and just look. People are required to fill out a complete adoption application.

We walked around for a bit in the dog adoptables area, and then we moved on to visit the cats and bunny rabbits. On our way back out toward the entrance, Paul stopped to look into the dog adoptables area again. There is a door that leads to it from the hallway on the way out the shelter. He stood at that door for a while, looking through the door's window, so I went over to see what he was looking at.

We saw a kennel attendant, dressed in scrubs, standing at the entrance of one of the dog adoptable kennels. The two dogs being housed in that kennel were standing in it, and the kennel attendant was hosing down the feces/waste using a hose. Himself and the two dogs were inside the kennel at this time. I was surprised to see that he was not only doing this (which is against humane care and cleaning standards for shelters) but that he was not hiding it from anyone either. The shelter was not not closed yet, and there were still a few people from the public, including Paul and myself, walking around.

It may be my imagination, but I got the feeling and an attitude from the shelter staff from the moment we walked in that they are pretty much autonomous and can do as they please. I guess this comes from the fact that our leaders blindly and fully support the shelter's director, so there is no fear of repercussions. For more stark evidence of this, see the last blog posting on this site and the pictures at right.

It was at this time that something hit me. Maybe all us advocates have been going about this the wrong way. All this time, we have been pushing the leaders on the ASCMV oversight board to visit the shelter more often. They sometimes do this but announce their visits ahead of time. Yet, even if they didn't, would they be able to see that someone hosing down a kennel with the dogs standing in it raises a BIG red flag?

I think what we should be pushing for instead is that each person that sits on the board of directors for our shelter should have to become educated about sheltering industry standards. They should have to take numerous shelter tours in nearby areas as well as other states, including visits to shelters that have very good reputations. After all, this board will be setting policy which then feeds procedures for our shelter. Unless they know something about animal sheltering (the industry and its standards), they will never see what is wrong with the picture when they visit our facility.

It's no wonder our shelter staff, including the director, do not feel they need to be held accountable to sheltering standards. No one in power is holding them up to any.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Guest blog on inhumane conditions for shelter dogs

Today's blog was written by a guest blogger and shelter volunteer. Her name is Renee Davis, and she has been volunteering at our municipal shelter for about a year (at the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley). She has worked about 400 hours and is a faithful volunteer who primarily works with dogs housed at the shelter pending court cases. She goes every Tuesday and Friday to give these dogs a break from intense confinement, but she can only help a few of the many.

The animal-welfare and court systems regard these animals as "evidentiary items", and sometimes their cases can drag out months or even years. A recent example is that of the Smith brothers who were charged with dog fighting. Many of their pit bulls have been housed for years now at both the shelter and another facility operated by the county's animal control department.

Renee spoke up recently about conditions for dogs kept in a double-wide trailer on the shelter's property. She took pictures and approached the shelter's oversight board to ask them to look into the legality of this practice and also to ask themselves this simple question, "Is it humane to house dogs in small cages for long periods of time (weeks/months) for 24 hours a day?"

In a Las Cruces Sun-News article last week, the shelter's director is quoted as saying they will continue to use this trailer to house dogs and that it is not inhumane or cruel. Advocates are asking others to speak up about this to their local leaders. The only way this would not be considered inhumane is if the dogs were given lengthly breaks from the confinement every eight or so hours and allowed natural movement for long periods of time. As it stands now, according to Renee, who heard it directly from the shelter's kennel supervisor, the cages are cleaned once a day, and that's the only break the dogs get from them. This break lasts about 10 minutes, and the rest of the time, the dogs live in their urine-, feces-, and water-soaked cages. Some of these dogs are large and can barely stand or turn around. Even energetic, powerful dogs have been housed this way (such as the pit bulls).

See the stories below from Renee about two terriers she worked closely with that had bad experiences as court-hold dogs. As you read this, keep in mind that Renee is not one of us animal activists/advocates. She did not got to our shelter with any kind of agenda or preconceived notions. She went to help the dogs, whom she genuinely loves and cares for. I know this because I have seen her break down in tears over the powerlessness of volunteers to do more to help. I have been in her shoes before, so my heart goes out to her and the dogs.

I thank Renee for her courage to speak up. It is not an easy thing to do.

The Tale of Two Court-Hold Dogs
by Renee Davis

Many months ago, a group of court-hold animals came into the shelter. Among them were two terriers that I had direct experience with.

Court-Hold Terrier #1

One of these dogs, Hermy, was put in a kennel with a very large dog in the Quarantine (Q) area, which is where the court-hold dogs are housed. Hermy’s leg was broken, either by being trampled on by the big dog he shared the kennel with or by escaping the kennel through the water dish area (a very common occurrence at the shelter). The bowls are not properly secured on most of the kennels throughout the shelter, so small dogs can escape from this opening.

The shelter’s staff vet put a cast on him right away and put him in a cage in the director’s office for observation. When his leg didn't heal correctly, the vet put another cast on his leg and kept him in her office. That's when myself and another volunteer started taking him outside to get fresh air. When his leg healed, shelter staff put him in the double-wide trailer below the shelter where there were three other small dogs housed at that time. They each were in individual cages.

The volunteer and I began socializing these dogs since the kennel supervisor said they hadn't been out in a while. A couple of months ago, the people who owned these dogs and other animals related to this court case relinquished custody of all their animals to the shelter as part of a deal to have the charges against them dropped. About a month ago, Hermy was put in the adoptable puppy area at the shelter and made available for adoption.

A couple of weeks ago, he broke his leg getting out of the puppy area, chasing after a little chihuahua. When the other volunteer and I were leaving one day shortly after Hermy had been moved to the adoptables area, we saw the shelter director in the back parking lot with two animal control officers.

She said, “How’s everything looking, ladies?”

I said, “So, the little dog broke his leg again.”

She said, “Yeah, he kept getting out after that little chihuahua. You can't blame him.” She was referring to both dogs being unaltered, which was giving the terrier incentive to jump out of his holding area after the female dog that was in heat.

I asked, “Are you going to fix the broken leg?”

She said, “We don't know what were going to do with him.”

The other volunteer and I looked at each other and figured she was going to put him down from her choice of words. I called Frank Bryce because I know he tries to rescue animals at the shelter at risk of being put down on behalf of the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico (a non-profit animal-welfare organization). I told him about the situation with Hermy and my concerns over his well-being.

He called over to the shelter the first thing the next morning. Since it was a Saturday, the shelter director wasn't there and her population supervisor was taking animals to an offsite for adoption. Frank told the shelter staff person on the phone that he wanted to rescue the little dog with the broken leg and take him to the vet right away. Frank called me and said the shelter didn't open until 12 p.m. I told him I would go over and check on Hermy.

Hermy was back in a cage in the med wing. I told the staff person on duty that a rescue person wanted to take Hermy. He said the dog was in good hands at this time, but that he’d let the staff know about the rescue person wanting to take him. I also told the girls up at the front desk; they already knew a rescuer was interested in Hermy.

When I heard from Frank later that day, he said the shelter director wouldn't let him take the dog. Frank called the city manager, concerned about the dog and why he wasn't allowed to take him to the vet. The city manager apparently called the director and was told that Hermy was going to a foster home.

I called the city manager because I was very concerned about the dog’s newly broken leg, which I understood had not been treated. I told him that I couldn’t understand why a rescue person wasn't allowed to take the dog. It had been four days since the leg was broken. The city manager told me he was going to let the shelter director handle the situation.

Soon after that, I called another volunteer to explain what happened to Hermy, and she called the shelter and talked to the staff person in charge on weekends. The staff person in charge went to check on Hermy and said that he seemed to be playing with something and the director had found someone to foster him. She did not know who the foster parent was going to be. She also said they weren't even sure the leg was broken; it could be nerve damage or something else. So, my fellow volunteer said I should not worry.

On that following Monday, I was at Sam’s Club and saw the shelter vet in line at one of the registers. I went up and asked her how the little dog with the broken leg was doing. She said the dog was fine; it was the other leg this time that broke and that he must have a bone problem. I told her he broke his leg the first time when he was sharing a kennel in the court-hold area with a much larger dog and was also escaping out of the kennel via the area where the water bowl was supposed to be secured. I also said the second time he broke it he was in the puppy area, and he more than likely broke it by jumping the wall to get out of his holding space. I asked her if she was going to fix the dog’s leg, and she told me that the shelter was not going to do it because Hermy was going to a rescue and rescue was going to fix it. I asked her which rescue was taking the dog, and she told me to ask the shelter director.

I was getting very concerned at this point. It had now been six days since he broke the second leg, and I wondered why we have a shelter vet on staff that gets paid handsomely to help dogs that are sick and injured. My genuine concern was about the dog’s well-being as I had grown attached to him with the many months I had worked to help rehabilitate and socialize him on a weekly basis. I felt it would have been the respectful thing to do to let me know which rescue was taking him on and when the dog’s leg would be looked at and fixed.

Court-Hold Terrier #2

There was another small, older terrier that came in with the same group Hermy did; he was also a court-hold dog from the same case. I was told by the population supervisor, in an unsavory vocabulary, that the little old dog was very mean. Because of this, I was afraid to take him out of the kennel. The old terrier was being housed with a medium-sized female in the beginning, but the animal control officers in charge of this particular case asked the shelter management to move the terrier because it was not a good idea to house two unaltered dogs together of the opposite sex.

The population supervisor decided to put the old terrier, who weighed 8 pounds, into a kennel with a very large pit bull named Blue Eyes, who was very friendly but energetic and weighed about 90 pounds. The pit bull was very strong and hard to handle when I’d take him out to walk. Being confined most of the time, he had plenty of energy to burn. Most pit bulls in the Q kennels develop very repeated patterns of leaping on the walls and literally going kennel crazy.

When the pit bull would get excited, he’d jump around in the kennel and pounce on the little old terrier, who stayed huddled in the back of the kennel. The terrier would scream and howl and I was told that his legs would sometimes be bloodied by this. I think at one point the old terrier was sent to the med wing, and the shelter director said he let her pick him up. I remember thinking that it was a blessing for the poor old dog to be out of that kennel and away from the large dog.

However, shortly thereafter, the old terrier was put back in with the big dog. At this point, I saw the little dog had on a horribly large choke chain collar, and I went and asked someone on the staff about this because it looked like it was hurtful or dangerous to the small dog. He was huddled in the back corner again. When I went back to the kennel to check on the small dog, the chain collar had been removed. I am not sure who had put that on him in the first place.

Finally, another volunteer and myself were so upset by what was happening to that poor dog in the situation with the bigger dog, that I went to the director. I was crying and asked if she could please take that little dog out of there because he was basically a chew toy for the bigger, energetic dog. The director said she was aware of the situation and would have him moved.

However, it was not until a week later that the little old terrier was moved into a cage of his own in the double-wide trailer. He was housed there with three other dogs from that group of court-holds. It was such a relief, but I wondered why he was not moved right away when the situation was brought to the shelter director’s attention by myself personally. She saw how upset and worried I was and that my feelings of fear for the dog were genuine.

Once the old terrier was moved to the trailer, another volunteer and I started walking him and loving him. We found out that he wasn’t mean at all. He just needed someone to care about him for the first time in his life and to be out of the traumatic situation he first faced at the shelter. It was torture to put him into a shared kennel with such a large dog in the first place.

Like Hermy, this old terrier was relinquished by the owners to the shelter. He was eligible for adoption consideration or to go into a foster home, etc. The other volunteer and I were very afraid for him, knowing what treatment he got in the shelter environment in the first place. We continued to walk and take care of him, hoping for the best.

One day a couple of weeks after he could have been put up for adoption, I was holding him in my arms when the shelter director and the population supervisor came up to me.

The director said, “So, how is he doing?”

I happily said, “He is doing really good! He likes to lick my neck and learned to jump into my arms. He loves to be petted but just doesn't like his hiney touched. ”

At that point, the director reached out and grabbed his nose very hard! He snapped at her and screamed. I was in shock.

She said, “We can't have kids putting their hands in there with him.”

I remember saying something like he sounded scared like he did when he was in with the pit bull in the kennel.

The shelter decided to kill the old terrier that night. I can’t even write this without crying.

I feel it was a betrayal to the dog and myself as a volunteer after all the time I took to work with this dog. The shelter director set him up to fail, and it shows how little herself and the population supervisor understand about dog behavior. The little dog was scared and was perhaps protecting the only person (myself) who had shown him any kindness at the shelter. That is not the correct or fair way to temperament test a dog by any standard, and even if he was not a good match for children, he may have made a wonderful companion to an older man or woman or couple.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Conference Workshop: Overcoming Internal Obstacles to Success, Part II

I'm finally getting back to the No Kill Conference 2009 and finishing up my summary of the best workshop I attended, which was called Overcoming Internal Obstacles to Success. From what I have seen, most of the obstacles to shelter success are internal, and the way forward to pushing through these obstacles is right in the hands of that shelter's leadership ... mainly the shelter's director.

Still, the ultimate responsibility goes higher than that. This director is a hired person. In a privately run shelter, the non-profit's board of directors hires the executive director, and they are ultimately responsible for this person's performance. In a municipal shelter such as our own, it is our City and County leaders who hire the executive director and are responsible for the way the shelter runs. In our particular case, a shelter oversight board was formed that consists of three representatives from City government, three representatives from County government, and two non-voting members -- the City manager and the County manager. This board appointed a chairman of the board, but it does not assign officer roles similar to those of a non-profit board.

The board's agent-in-charge at the shelter facility is their executive director. That role is of utmost importance. The tone and leadership set by this person permeates down through the rest of the employees and then to the public this facility serves.

At the No Kill Conference 2009, we had the luck to hear presentations by this nation's top executive directors, and one of these is Bonney Brown from the Nevada Humane Society (NHS). She came to NHS from Best Friends, and she brought all that positive energy with her. She is also an avid reader of management books and gives leadership much of her time and effort. Her slide presentation on overcoming internal obstacles included lots of great quotes such as this:

"I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a 'transformer' in any situation, any organization. Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf. It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader." -- Stephen R. Covey

Leaders like Brown overcome adversity and obstacles by working hard at doing so and trying their best to always remain calm, professional, and courteous and keep their personal feelings out of the equation. That is not an easy feat, but she offers some tricks of the trade to help others accomplish this.

She said it starts with acknowledging some basic things. You have no control over others, yet the way you respond to others is important, and self-control is a must. Being defensive in the face of criticism gets you nowhere, no matter who is offering that criticism. It is best to ask lots of questions, ask the person for advice and what they'd do, and then reflect that back. Focus on the content, not emotion or feelings. That said, it is important to empathize with the person. Thank them if you can, and assume sincerity on their part (even if you suspect they may be lying or being malicious). Look for the common ground.

If you did mess up, offer a sincere apology and explain how you'll address the situation differently in the future or how you'll address the situation with your staff. Take ownership and responsibility. You can then ask the person to let you give or offer your view of the content. Look for what will make it better.

In the face of very angry or negative energy, try your best to stop it and redirect that energy into a more calm and positive place. Never give angry or negative energy in return. Being calm yourself will help calm the whole situation down. Demonstrate goodwill by really listening and talking less (especially at first). This is a very preventative measure as well. You never want to let a conversation escalate into an argument; this does not make you look like a positive leader to anyone -- that person, your staff, or anyone else that is around.

Whatever the resolution is of the original content, share your plan. Share success and congratulate the person or persons who are part of the success.

Most important is this bottom line for any shelter leader wanting to turn things around:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shelters like ours give No Kill a bad name

No Kill is one of those terms that is very misused and misunderstood, even among us animal lovers. Just like any strong term that brings a vision in one's mind, No Kill has been misused so often that its definition has become murky. This is further confused by many powerful national animal groups attacking the misunderstood or horribly applied version of the term in practice. More confusion comes in when you see shelters such as ours and others that are sad places akin to hoarding using the term No Kill to define their operations. It's no wonder the term causes ill will and confusion.

In light of the recent misleading comments about No Kill made by Anonymous on this blog, we need to get back to some dictionary definitions of terms we use and to compare and contrast what this blog is talking about when it uses the term No Kill. The way successful shelters operate is the antithesis of what we have at our shelter now and in these examples that groups like PETA use to mislead their supporters about No Kill. That's the anti-No Kill propaganda this Anonymous commenter is spreading here.

Here are some definitions of terms we need to keep in mind:

Open-admission: animal shelters that take in all homeless animals in their community.

Limited-admission: animal shelters or rescues/sanctuaries that take in a limited number of animals; all have different guidelines for animals they will and will not accept and how many they can take in.

Kill: to deprive of life in any manner; cause the death of; slay.

Euthanize: the act of putting to death painlessly or allowing to die, as by withholding extreme medical measures, a person or animal suffering from an incurable, esp. a painful, disease or condition.

The way limited-admission shelters and rescues/santuaries operate varies from one to the other. Those who attack No Kill use examples of limited-admission shelters that call themselves No Kill as the only example of No Kill. They are No Kill in the sense that they do not put down healthy or treatable animals, but these facilities and operations are not what I refer to in this blog and in my advocacy. It is a given, to me, that any limited-admission shelter or faciliy should not be killing its animals.

My No Kill advocacy refers to animal shelters and communities whose open-admission shelters and other animal-welfare stakeholders work together to reduce thier overall kill rates to 20 percent and less. It does not mean these communities do not euthanize those animals that are deemed vicious or irremediably suffering after equitable health and behavioral evaluations. That would be cruel and neglectful if a shelter did not offer euthanasia in the dictionary-definition sense of the term.

I am referring to open-admission shelters that are legitimate safety nets for the homeless animals in their care and appropriately and fully implement the No Kill Equation listed at right. They do exist ... these good examples ... just as bad examples such as our shelters and others exist, too. Many are next door to us, such as in El Paso. Bad examples are the majority at this time, but many are working hard to add more good examples into the mix.

What our community's leaders need to do is some serious research to get beyond the high-level terminology and into the nuts and bolts of what makes a good animal shelter tick. What do they do, how to do they do it, how do they operate, and what policies and protocols/procedures do they have in place? This is the business model we need to follow. It's not that hard to figure out, and they could also go visit places to see success first-hand.

It is clear to anyone who is not clueless about progressive sheltering who has walked into our shelter the stark difference in these terms, how far we still have to go, and how some ways in which our shelter operates are in direct opposition to a shelter headed in the No Kill direction. That our community has a long way to go is an understatement.