Sunday, April 12, 2009

Exciting week for animal welfare

This has been a whirlwind week in the world of animal welfare--both locally and nationally. Here are some highlights and links for more detailed information/differing viewpoints.

ASCMV mission statement in the works

Our municipal animal shelter's oversight board had a working meeting this past week to start the process of writing a mission statement for the facility. I had submitted a suggested mission and vision statement to the chairman of the board for consideration in late March, and this draft of the mission statement was selected as their starting point.

Here are the two statements I submitted, which are consistent for any shelter working toward No Kill. This is not to say the statements are perfect as written, and revisions by the shelter's management and the ASCMV board are underway. I think they are only looking to write a mission at this time, not a vision.


The Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV) is a municipal animal welfare organization and shelter that provides a safe environment for the lost, abandoned, and homeless animals of the City of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County and strives to place them in good homes or with other organizations. We set a standard of excellence and leadership in animal care, humane education/public outreach, and progressive animal welfare programs and services.


The ASCMV is working diligently toward the day every healthy and behaviorally-sound companion animal entering our facility is saved. We also want to do our best and exhaust every possible option to save all dogs and cats that are medically treatable and can be behaviorally rehabilitated. We want to set the modern sheltering standard for our region and the state of New Mexico. In order to do so, we will strive to develop constructive relationships with Animal Control departments, nonprofit organizations, and other individual and group/business stakeholders in order to advance our mission community-wide.

HSUS to revise policy about fighting dogs

I am hopeful, even if guardedly so, about the slow change at the HSUS from old-guard thinking to progressive animal-welfare models shown by organizations like Best Friends Animal Society and others--in the area of animals confiscated after fighting busts. One can also say that the opportunities of survival and care given to the Michael Vic dogs are having lasting impressions and repercussions. These changes are ones No Kill advocates have been fighting for for many years.

The ultimate goal of No Kill is equitable, individual treatment and fair assessment for each and every animal entering our animal-welfare system, including those confiscated from organized crime rings, such as dog fighting and cockfighting. The old-guard view followed by many Animal Control agencies is led by the biggest name in animal welfare--the HSUS. In court testimony after testimony, the blanket approach of the past and too much of the present is to recommend the extermination of all animals "rescued" from these cruelty cases ... an irony that has been challenged more and more in recent years when even puppies in foster homes are ordered back to the shelter to be killed months-to-years after the court cases are finally resolved. Those that care for these animals are speaking out about the good nature of many of these victims of organized crime and the potential for rehabilitation and subsequent adoption.

A very important meeting between the HSUS, Best Friends, Bad Rap, the National Animal Control Association, the ASPCA, and many others last week in Las Vegas has resulted in a promise from the HSUS to change its policies regarding these crime victims and the opportunity for more fair assessment and possible rescue (at least for dogfighting victims). This is a huge shift in animal welfare, and even the training manuals the HSUS publishes on the subject are to be re-written. A working group from all these various groups is supposed to come up with a new working policy and plan for animals confiscated in these cases.

A recent example in our community was the big cockfighting bust this past week, where more than 600 roosters were put down within a day after the owner relinquished the birds to authorities. Maybe the new HSUS policies will allow for thorough testing of birds in these cases and opportunities given to national farm sanctuaries to provide rescue for the birds instead of this blanket killing policy. It is not clear from the meeting in Las Vegas whether the new policy will apply to other animals besides dogs. In the case of these 600+ healthy birds that might not have been suitable for entry into a regular farm system due to suspected drugs in their systems, it cannot be said that the birds were euthanized to spare them from irremediable suffering or poor health prognosis (especially without a thorough medical assessment), so let's hope more and more of these cases can have better outcomes for the victims of these crime rings as well.

To read more about the meeting in Vegas and its outcome, see the following links. Contact the HSUS to applaud this decision and urge them to do the most possible to not only bust criminals but to provide some resources for rescue of their victims. The HSUS raises many funds to support their fight against cruelty and dog fighters, and there is no reason why some of these funds cannot be used to help the victims of the crimes as well.

Best Friends: Tails Wag for New HSUS Policy
Best Friends: A Victory for Canine Victims of Violence
The No Kill Nation: Cautious Optimism About New HSUS Policy
The No Kill Blog by Nathan J. Winograd: Las Vegas, Round 3
BAD RAP Blog: No more excuses - Bust dogs are on the bus

Finding common ground on TNR

Going back to the ASCMV board's working meeting this week, one person in the public was arguing against No Kill on the grounds that TNR/community-cat programs are detrimental because loose cats are a nuisance and kill/torture birds and for reasons of public safety/rabies risks. The woman was very obvious in her near hatred of homeless cats.

I find it interesting that both TNR proponents like myself and opponents like this woman do agree on some bottom lines: there are too many homeless cats in our nation, cats can be a nuisance to some, unvaccinated loose cats can pose a public risk, and cats are natural predators whose victims are sometimes birds and other small prey. Where our viewpoints diverge is in the approach to this complicated issue. Those who still fight against TNR seem to be very misinformed or in denial about how the decades and decades of things going their way -- trapping and killing all visible loose cats -- has failed miserably. The proof is in the current numbers.

There are an estimated 80+ million cats in homes in the U.S. at this time. Cats have surpassed dogs as the most popular companion animal. But, the next number is the one that shows how our old approaches to controlling cat populations have failed. Aside from these 80 million cats with homes, there are an estimated 70-80 million MORE cats that are homeless/feral and running loose in our nation. In some communities, cats are still gunned down in the streets by police officers (sometimes only wounded and suffering great torture and a slow death)--yet as a whole, these resilient animals survive, thrive, and grow in number each year because for every cat killed, there are others hiding. If we could catch and kill them all, we would have done so already.

Only TNR has shown success in lowering the population of these loose cats. It may not be a perfect solution or system, but no other effective ideas have been offered. TNR helps mitigate some of the nuisances for people via caretakers and dispute resolution. What is most troublesome is that people who care about birds alone cannot see that in controlling cat populations via TNR, more birds will be saved--at least those killed by cats. Studies have shown time and again that birds' greatest enemy is human beings, not cats or other predators. Overall, we are responsible for torturing/killing the most birds with our urban sprawl, high-rise buildings in place of natural habitats, and pesticide use (for deliberate, unnatural torture of birds, what about boys with pellet guns?). Lastly, the rabies threat drops dramatically as well with TNR, which includes vaccination of cats that would not otherwise be given any shots. And, over time, that 70+ million feral population will slowly and naturally die down.

The bottom line is that it has taken decades for us humans to create this mess. Cats are unique animals in that they can survive as wild animals and thrive--unlike dogs. Therefore, it is going to take many, many more decades of human effort to fix the problems associated with free roaming cats. There is no easy, fast answer.

To read about some innovative cat programs, see the
Best Friends campaign for feral cats. For those of you still opposed to TNR, maybe it is time to join the rest of us in the reality of our times and get up-to-date on this issue. There is a reason why the HSUS and National Animal Control Association also finally came around and changed their policies regarding ferals ... contact them or visit their websites to find out why the last of the hold-outs could no longer ignore the facts.

Apache's owner to sue the City

Rev. Scott, the owner of the wolf-hybrid (Apache) that was implicated in a biting incident in December 2008 and ordered to be immediately put down as a "wild" animal, is beginning the process of suing the City of Las Cruces over the wrongful death of her beloved companion, family member, and a well-known dog in the community that was a staple at our weekly farmer's market. Ultimately, the owner hopes that no one else ever has to go through the same fate with their family pet in the future and that the City will be more mindful and throughtful in any future case like this. Read the story about this in today's paper.

In the past, all an owner could hope to recuperate in suing over the wrongful death of their pet was the value of the "property", which is not a high dollar in our legal system. However, as pets become more and more a part of our family units and the bond is respected more by our legal system, damages are now being awarded for the emotional suffering incurred as a result of the owner's loss. But, the point of bringing such a lawsuit against a municipality or shelter is not to collect money -- it's about the principle; it's about fairness; and it's ultimately about changing a very broken system.

A memorial event is in planning at this time for Apache. It will take place at Pioneer Park on May 17th. The time has not been set, but I will post a notice about this event when more information is available. Please come out and show your support for Rev. Scott and her beloved dog.

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