Sunday, June 21, 2009

Irresponsible pet owner's wrongs don't make our shelter's wrongs right

Two wrongs don't make a right. And I, for one, am tired of the excuses, posturing, defensiveness, deflection and egos that stand in the way of progress. At some point SOON, we have to change the nature of the conversation and our efforts and actions in animal welfare in our community. We are literally spinning our wheels here.

Everywhere you turn these days, our local leaders and newspapers are using what amounts to faulty logic concerning the conditions and operations and high kill rate at our animal shelter: that because our shelter takes in an average of 1000-1400 homeless animals a month, it excuses our leaders and shelter from addressing the alarming and legitimate issues in their own operations and treatment of these animals and the way they engage with the general public. This is nothing more than a political cover-up and ploy to completely deflect attention away from legitimate issues that are raised and a way to avoid addressing each and every issue and topic.

It's like putting a clean blanket over the poop in a kennel or cage and continuing to cover up the next mess using this same tactic. In the end, all we have is more piles of poop and dirty blankets, and nothing is addressed or resolved.

I am also tired of this old cliche they repeat constantly: "Our community has an overpopulation problem and if only people would spay and neuter and care for their animals, we would not have this problem". Well, first of all ... DUH! We and the rest of this nation have the same issues to deal with, and of course we would not have this problem if all people were responsible. That they are not is a given, and animal shelters are made to be safety nets for animals in times of need. If that weren't the case, rescues and shelters would not be necessary, and we could close them all down and fire all our high-paying shelter directors and their staffs.

This faulty argument simply states the obvious. We do have problems. What many of us advocates are saying is the day has come that we learn to face issues more proactively than we have done in the past. If our shelter facility cannot adequately handle the number of animals coming in, they either have to upgrade the facility to meet the demand or come up with targeted methods to start decreasing the intake at the shelter. Intake at the shelter is not simply about spay/neuter; they also need to look at why AC departments are hauling animals in and assess if this is the only or best option in all cases. For hundreds of cats, for example, this should be the LAST option. They also need to look at many of their other efforts, such as helping people who are looking for their lost animals find them in their facility. This part of our shelter's customer service, in particular, is horribly lacking. There is little in terms of information-sharing, giving sound advice, and genuinely helping people or welcoming them.

All our leaders and newspaper stories also point to only spay/neuter and adoption as the answer to our high kill rate. They all ignore or can't be bothered to learn about the other parts of the lifesaving No Kill Equation that -- when implemented correctly -- is having great success in other areas of our nation, with more success stories added each year. They simply don't get it. They especially do not get that the shelter has to have a complete philosophical and attitude adjustment before we can engage the public in ways that make a difference.

For those who do not believe that our community has the compassion and will to make change, look no further than this past week's story in the paper where the shelter was supposedly going to be forced to put down 50+ dogs by this weekend to make room for 12 court-hold pit bulls. First of all, this story came out at the last minute when I'm sure the shelter and AC department were aware of the issue long beforehand because the pit bull's care relied on grant funds that were going to end on July 1st.

Nevertheless, when the story came out, complete with pictures of mom dogs and puppies slated for almost immediate death, the community responded overwhelmingly within ONE DAY. This was a very positive response to very negative and incompetent messages from the shelter's director and other leaders in our animal-welfare system peppered throughout the news story. Imagine what kind of a response we could get if we engaged people positively and proactively and with enough time and a specific plan ahead of time? I have no doubt our community could face these challenges more effectively if led to do so by professionals who know better and understand how to meet challenges instead of those admitting they don't know what to do about the situation.

Essentially what our leaders are doing with this simplistic straw man tactic is closing the opportunity of any detailed conversations about known issues, much less the hard work and action it would take to address the issues with specific solutions. When our leaders simply point or wag that finger at only the irresponsible public, they miss the entire boat. They are forgetting the rest of us ... the majority of us who do not represent this irresonsible segment of the population. We, the majority, are individuals and groups that can become part of the solutions.

I imagine using this argument also helps them sleep better at night even though the evidence from multiple written assessments of our shelter over the past few years tells one story very clearly -- our leaders are doing a very poor job of running our shelter, and little has changed with the hiring of a new shelter director last May, which is also the same story repeating itself. We've been there and done that time and again.

Those on the ASCMV oversight board that cannot be bothered with the details of what is going on at our shelter have no business serving on that board; them not holding their agent in charge of the shelter accountable for the management and operations is not acceptable, no matter who that individual is today or who it will be tomorrow. Don't let them fool you into thinking that because they have so many animals to deal with and such a hard job that the blind eye they turn to issues is acceptable. It is not, and it has never been!

It's time for any animal-welfare advocates that are fed up to join forces and come forward with a more organized and targeted approach as well. Anyone interested in helping us along these lines, please contact me at

There are a few of us that are tired of this revolving door and ongoing issues that never get addressed by our leaders. It's time we come up with a new approach to let these leaders know that not only are we not going anywhere, we see through these political arguments and cover-ups, and we are going to continue to demand change and action and solutions. We are not ignorant, and we are well aware that there are more complexities to the causes and solutions of the problems in our system. We want progressive animal-welfare services and sheltering, and we are not going anywhere until the step up to this challenge or find someone who can lead us in that direction.