Tag Archives: no kill

Tails: People Can Be Prisoners in Animal Shelters, Too

It has been a decade since I worked in our county animal control.  Ten full years and there are moments I remember like they were yesterday.  The beautiful moments where the most unadoptable dog finally finds the perfect home.  And, the very ugly moments where I was forced to assist with the decapitation of a Mastiff who bit a small child.  Those ugly moments don’t just haunt me when I least expect it, they force me to look in the mirror today and ask, “Why didn’t you say something?”

There’s no doubt that I have made an enormous amount of rescue friends in the last decade.  Between the puppy mill auctions and my book, I have had the amazing opportunity to surround myself with true warriors.  Not only do they each continue to teach me on a daily basis, but if I am ever struggling with any animal issue, I know I can count on them to get me through.  I didn’t have that support system 10 years ago.  I was new.  I was naive.

Yet, I was still me and I tend NOT to take things lying down, especially when they concern the well-being of animals.  Hell, the whole reason I was at animal control was to HELP animals.  It certainly wasn’t the pay or great benefits.

What is it about working or volunteering in a shelter that brainwashes so many to look past all of the problems and all of the wrong-doings.  So many, like me, choose silence over action as we watch horrible things take place.  I look back on my days at AC and feel like I lost my voice for a few years.  I mean literally feel mute when I re-imagine those years.

Why didn’t I contact the local paper or go above my superior?  Why didn’t I quit sooner?  Why didn’t I try harder?  Yes, I loved so many of my days at the shelter, but the ones I didn’t like, truly those were grounds for media coverage and terminations.  There were things done illegally, inhumanely.  Yet, I looked away.

I think many people rationalize their inability to speak out for different reasons.  Some people believe that if they left or got fired for speaking out, “Who would look after the animals then?”  Yet, in hindsight, “Who is looking after the animals now, when the people who do care aren’t speaking out?”

I think while my heart knew better, I didn’t feel like I knew enough to take a stand.  Many of the employees had been there a long time and had been doing the bad shit for years, who was I to question them?  (Looking back… my stomach turns because I KNOW, without hesitation, I should I have reported it all.)  There is something to be said about trusting your intuition.  I should have trusted mine.

I think there are some people who don’t leave or question things simply because they enjoy the “god” persona.  There is something powerful for them about deciding who lives and who dies each day.  God help them.

As I look back on that time in my life, I can’t help but feel like a prisoner.  A part of an institution that kept me from speaking out for reasons I wasn’t even conscious of.  Unknowingly brainwashed  to keep the status quo and just keep working.  Truthfully, I am ashamed of myself when I look back on those days.  Knowing what I know today, I could have done so much more.

I wrote this blog to encourage others who work in shelters to REALLY look around at their practices.  If your gut is telling you that something is off, it probably is.  If you are new, but question if the practices are ethical, reach out to someone outside of the shelter and ask them for their opinion – even if they aren’t in rescue.

There are laws to protect people from being fired or banned from volunteering simply because they speak out against the shelter’s practices.

I look back on my time at the shelter and remember it feeling like the shelter was its own microcosm.  As if our actions were judged amongst only ourselves and never upheld to the ethical standards outside our 4 concrete walls.  As if, in our world, it was okay to have different rules.  It shouldn’t be like that.  Animals deserve to be treated humanely in ALL shelters, regardless of demographics or financial standing.

It is easy to portray the dogs and cats in cages as prisoners in the shelters, but the real prisoners are the employees and volunteers who believe their only choice is to continue their day-to-day work in silence, praying that the illegal practices and inhumane treatment of the animals comes to an end.

Don’t be a prisoner, be a hero.  Speak out today and truly change things for the animals.  I promise there is an army of people ready to help you.


Tails: Homeless NOT Heartless

I just got back from a few crazy days at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  The beads, the liquor, the parades – it leaves your head spinning and your liver begging for mercy.  But, beyond the drunken fun, is a very sad reality: the homeless population in New Orleans.  And, for someone like me, it would be impossible to NOT notice that just about every other homeless person we saw had a dog.

A decade ago, maybe even just 5 years ago, I would have been completely distraught by the number of homeless people sharing their homeless lives with a dog.  I would have wanted to take the dogs away and find them homes – find them “better” lives, assuming that a roof equals a better life.

A couple years ago, I did story on a group called Pets of the Homeless.  I learned a lot from them, mostly, the important fact that homeless people love their pets as much as I do.  Homeless people almost always go without food, so their pets can eat first.  Losing their pet is just as devastating to them as it would be for me.  They are homeless, not heartless.

During Mardis Gras, it was my friends who gasped at the idea of allowing dogs to stay with homeless people.  They couldn’t believe I made peace with it.  I pointed out what great shape the dogs were in.  None of them looked the slightest bit hungry.  Their coats were shiny and well-kept.  Their tails wagged.  Some even had sweaters to keep them warm.

Above all else, I could see love and loyalty in the dogs’ and the humans’ eyes as they sat together.

What really allows me to make peace with this situation is the harsh reality of shelters across America.  Over one million dogs will die this year simply because of a lack of space.  As I looked at the dogs sitting in the laps of people who loved them, I also could see the thousands of pictures of dogs in dire need I get every day on Facebook or twitter or thru my own email.  Thousands of dogs who will die alone in shelters.  Each one of them a victim of a human being – a human being who probably had a roof over his or her head.

Homeless people spend every minute with their dogs.  They feed them and love them.  What more could I want for a dog?  Certainly, that is a far better alternative to euthanasia in a shelter. I looked at the dog cuddled tight in his owner’s arms and I thought of the dog alone on death row, days away from being killed.  There is zero doubt in my mind which situation is better.

I did notice many of the dogs weren’t neutered.  In fact, I even talked to a few New Orleans policemen about it.  They weren’t experts, but they both felt that the SPCA would spay and neuter the dogs, it was more likely the owners weren’t willing to let the dogs go.  I am sure they fear never getting them back.

I can’t lie- the images of the people and their dogs haunt me.  I am always trying to understand how someone’s life can come to that.  I also wonder how, as a society, we accept something that seems so fundamentally unAmerican.  Statistics show that thousands of homeless people are military veterans – an even sadder state of America.

I, by no means, have solutions for such complex and overwhelming social issues.  However, I do strongly believe that homeless people should be allowed to keep their dogs.  And while I think we need to always work towards being more compassionate, I don’t think we need to feel such pity for the dogs.  Truthfully, most of the dogs living with the homeless population have it far better than the million dogs left to die in shelters.  Taken even one step further, many of the dogs living with their homeless families are given more love and attention than many of the dogs living in middle class suburbia.


Tails: It is Time to See the BIG Picture

Every day people, just like me, post things declaring “millions of dogs and cats euthanized each year.”  Yet, I don’t think many of the people who post those phrases truly grasp the gravity of the words.

I write this blog under duress.  I am pissed off and frustrated.  I feel completely helpless and overwhelmed.  Once again the municipal shelter system is to blame.  For me it is CACC, but I know Chicago, sadly, isn’t alone.  There are hundreds of these crappy shelters across the United States.  Hundreds of shelters killing thousands of animals for NO good reason.

Let me describe my current situation.  A woman contacted me through Facebook.  Her rescue would like to pull two dogs who are “transfer only” from CACC, but her rescue has not been approved yet as a Homeward Bound Partner, so she can’t.  Unfortunately, like her, our rescue, who applied months ago, has not been approved either, so I can’t help her.

Before I continue down what I deem a horrific path, let me address the issue of “transfer only” because, it, too, is one of the ridiculous practices of CACC.  There are hundreds of “transfer only” dogs listed everyday for CACC.  Transfer only means that the dog must go to an approved rescue.  If no rescue pulls it, it will be killed.  The crazy thing about this policy is that we have pulled “transfer only” dogs only to turn around and adopt them almost immediately to people living in Chicago.  The very same people who would have adopted the dog at CACC.  The process would have been quicker and cheaper.  Our adoption fee is $300, CACC’s is like $70.  Why does a perfectly good dog have to be “transfer only?”

I have attended meetings at CACC only to hear their volunteers voice the same concerns.  They say repeatedly, “We never have any dogs for adoption.  People come here from all over the city on a Saturday and the adoption room is empty.”  So, the citizens leave pissed off and never return because who wants to waste their time?

CACC could have lots of dogs for adoption – all different kinds of dogs.  The dogs we pull are small, fluffy dogs – the cute ones – the ones who are almost always easily adopted.  There is no reason why CACC can’t be adopting these dogs out themselves.  Well, there are a few reasons but they only scream words like, “lazy, irresponsible, uncaring, pathetic, etc…”

Back to the scenario…  So, knowing that I can’t help this woman and her rescue,  I turn to FB contacts begging for help.  No answer.  Two dogs are sitting in a city shelter days from euthanasia… there is a rescue who is willing to take them…and yet, absolutely nothing can be done.  Can anyone feel my rage?

I got comments, of course I did.  “Quit whining and network.”  (I believe that is what I am trying to do) “I won’t help anyone right now, there are too many hoarders.”  (So fear of a possible hoarder trumps saving the life of these two dogs?)

In July, I attended the Best Friends Animal Society conference.  I was fortunate to choose to attend  The Kansas City Pet Project session and meet Brent Toellner.  During his presentation he described this scenario:

“Imagine you are walking by a pond and see hundreds of dogs drowning.  You immediately jump in the pond and start saving the dogs by throwing them to anyone who will help on the shoreline.  You don’t ask if they own a fence or if they work all day.  You don’t even care if they have another dog.  You are just grateful that they are willing to help you.”

He went on to say, “That is where we are right now.  Millions of dogs are drowning (dying) in shelters.  We cannot afford to be choosey.”

We have convinced ourselves that saving one is better than saving none.  We say things like, “Saving the life of one dog might not make a big difference, but it is everything to that dog.”  The truth is WE can save them all, if we are willing to fathom the whole problem and not just the two eyes staring us in the face.

No, you or me can’t take a million dogs into our homes, but we can create policies and procedures that take into account the BIG picture and not just a few dogs at a time.

The truth is if we really want to save them all, we can no longer compartmentalize a problem that is in actuality a monumental disaster.  We MUST see the entire picture.

In a nation euthanizing a million good dogs a year, it makes ZERO sense that it takes months to process a rescue application, especially in a giant city euthanizing thousands of dogs a year.  If the applications were processed faster, MORE dogs would be leaving that shelter sooner.

Oh, I know, some of you are worried about hoarders or dog fighters or all of the other terrible possibilities, but as you sit there, why not start counting the number of dogs killed while you were wasting time thinking about all the “what ifs.”  Euthanasia is a given, for each dog you ponder cautiously, at least 5 other wonderful dogs are killed.

If we truly want to save them all, we have to stop being so cautious.  We have to believe what is actually true: there are more good people than bad.

We have to bank on these odds because the numbers don’t lie.  Millions of dogs are killed each year.  We can either choose to change that statistic or we can continue to drag our feet and let dogs die.

Tails: How do we change apathetic?

Every single day I see sad stories of dogs falling through the municipal shelter system.  Good dogs killed due to absolutely NO fault of their own.  Good dogs of all breeds and ages.  Pure bred dogs.  Friendly dogs.  Lost dogs.

Thousands of dogs die every single day.  Dogs who, if found under different circumstances, would be loving companions.  Instead, they are shoved into cold, concrete kennels and left to suck it up.  One, small change in behavior and they are now “not adoptable.”

People, like me, shed tears each and every time we see a Facebook post showing the pictures of these happy dogs who are now dead.  64 in Georgia just a few weeks ago.

People like me get angry.  We scream for more to be done.  We beg for taxpayers to demand better.  We shake our heads and throw our hands up.  Yet, change remains slow and stagnant.

Today, I am sincerely asking, “How do we change apathetic?”

The truth is that while dog ownership is a billion dollar business, the reality is not enough people are adamant  about saving the dogs in shelters.  If we could take 25% of how people like me feel and implant that passion in the remaining public, I think we could accomplish great things.  But, how do we do that?

If the written word were my voice, I am certain I would be hoarse.  I spend time every day preaching about homeless dogs in city shelters.

I also spend a lot of my time and effort  convincing people of the relationship between pet stores and puppy-mills and, for whatever reason, I feel like that fight has gotten easier.  People seem to be getting that message quicker.  More people understand that puppy-mills are bad.

Less people appear to believe that anything positive can be done at city shelters.  The general public seems content with the crappy way shelters operate.  They seem at peace with the numbers of dogs being killed.  Why?

Seriously, why?

There are groups popping up all over demanding more transparency at city shelters.  Groups teaming up to save the dogs from being killed.  Groups coming out to protest city shelter actions and policies.  There is an upheaval on the horizon.  I am excited.

However, until people like me can get Joe Citizen to act, to care, to demand…I don’t know how much we can accomplish.

Like Kathy Pobloskie said in her blog about Joni, “As long as good dogs continue to die, I will continue to write about them,” but we have to do more.  We have to find ways into the heads and hearts of the common citizen.  We, animal people, are beyond passionate about city shelter killing, but what can we do to change the mindsets of ALL citizens.  What can we do to instill our passion and get taxpayers to truly demand change?

I believe that IS the key to No Kill.