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.


Candace said...

I am also crying as I read this post, how sad for the dogs and for Renee. It is hard to fathom why people in "powerful" positions over demoralized creatures seemingly get such sick pleasures from their own dominance.

A friend

Danny Boy said...

You gotta get a bigger more up to date facility. This Dumb Ass city is wasting money on a Space Port, they most certainly can build a better place for the dogs.

As for the attitude of the staff. It's always been that way. How can the killers of life be expected to care about the living when they fill the city dump with their dead bodies.

Are you so sure Hermes 'accidents' are really accidents? There's been abuse there before by the employees. That's a documented fact. Being blown off by the new vet and the director, tells me something ain't right.

It looks like the city is the biggest animal abuser we have, maybe someone should call animal control on them and have them arrested. Warehousing animals in small confined areas for up to years at a time, because the courts refusing to deal with the cases in a timely manner far worse abuse than the 'purportedly' abusive homes they came from.

Anonymous said...

Of course Renee ASUMED the small Terrier wasn't being treated, and that a person who stops by the shelter twice a week cares more about an injured dog at the shelter than the 2 Vets and 30 to 40 other people that slave away in that building day after day for those animals. Of course not being sure where the animal is going to be placed YET, some how translates to, "I have to take it upon myself to find someone willing to take this dog to a Vet!"? The dog had already been seen by TWO Vets! Spreading your assumptions and "expert" opinions only misinfoms others and damages the shelter's reputation, hurting more and more animals. You're not there to help, you're there to get your drama fix.

Anonymous said...

first of all why is this voluteer handling court hold animals? these animals are evidence. who gave her permission to go and handle court hold animals, was there a chain of custody sheet signed every time she handle these animals?
where are the county animal control officials who have these animals there as evidence and are they aware that their evidence is being handle by someone other than authorized shelter staff.

Dalila said...

In response to "Anonymous" questioning who is handling court holds dogs: please be grateful highly experienced and trained volunteer is working with these dogs because otherwise they would never get out. You suggest "authorized shelter staff" but evidently you don't spend much time at the shelter or you would know the staff only do custodial work. They do not do any enrichment or social work with animals and if they do, it is so minimal it hardly qualifies. What a shame, what an outrage! The shelter has over 40 employees and a budget close to two million dollars but all they can manage is to warehouse the majority of the animals and kill them. If staff were required to socialize and work with animals, they would display better for potential adopters and all the attention helps helps with stress relief and disease. It's a crime the way animals are allowed to rot at the shelter. By the way, don't count the director as a qualified veterinarian to diagnose animals. That doesn't hold water without being licensed in the state. The real veterinarian at the shelter doesn't examine all incoming animals or animals in the population. Animals are taken to her to be seen. She is mostly assigned spays-neuters.

Anonymous said...

the court hold animals are still evidence. did the county ACO's train and qualify the so called volunteers to handle the evidence.
and where did these voluteers get qualified, did they get trained by a reconized training group