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"