25,000 dogs and 15,000 cats
At least 25,000 dogs and 15,000 cats found at failed no-kill shelters and rescues from 2005 through 2014 might be politely described as casualties of the “save rate,” also known as the “live release rate.”
The numbers of dogs and cats impounded by law enforcement from failed shelters and rescues dropped sharply in 2013, after a record 6,020 impoundments in 2012, but rebounded by nearly 1,000 in 2014 to 3,381––only 37 animals fewer than were impounded from puppy mills.
At least 20,503 dogs and cats have been impounded from puppy mills since 2010, but 20,326 have been found at failed no-kill shelters and rescues. The difference of 177 is statistically negligible, especially since mass impoundment data is often rounded off or otherwise inexact.
More significantly, most of the dogs impounded from puppy mills are puppies, born on the premises and in their first months of life. Fewer than 20%, on average, are older dogs used for breeding. Many of the animals found at failed no-kill shelters and rescues have suffered there for years.
Thus––and this is certainly no defense of puppy mills––an equal number of impoundments from failed shelters and rescues may mean considerably more animal suffering than has been cumulatively suffered by the victims of puppy mills.
As with puppy mills, the number of failed shelters and rescues that come to light in any given year is likely to be a fraction of the number that exist, but have not yet been discovered by law enforcement.
What does “save rate” have to do with it?
The “save rate” or “live release rate,” is the inverse of the equally misleading “euthanasia rate,” the most widely used animal sheltering statistic of the late 20th century.
In either form, the “save rate” can be boosted and the “euthanasia rate” can be lowered if animal shelters do not do their jobs, refusing to take in dangerous dogs and other animals of low adoption prospects, and/or neglecting birth prevention, since puppies and kittens are relatively easily rehomed.
The projection that more than 40,000 dogs and cats have suffered and died miserably as casualties of the “save rate” or “live release rate” comes from the past decade of my more than 32 years of data collection on animal hoarding cases, as editor of ANIMALS 24-7 since 2014 and previously as editor and news editor of other periodicals serving the humane community. [See table at end of article.]
No-kill is possible––if done right
As keynote speaker at the first No Kill Conference, in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1995, and as one of the first people in the U.S. to conduct a large, closely monitored, ultimately successful trial of neuter/return feral cat control, I warned the leaders of about 60 pioneering no-kill organizations of several perils that could impede, discredit, and ultimately delay accomplishing authentic no-kill animal control throughout the U.S.
I believed then, and continue to believe now, that the U.S. can genuinely become a no-kill nation by preventing the births of the most problematic animals, specifically dangerous dogs and feral cats.
We have the technology to do this, with ever-improving high-volume surgical sterilization capacity and now the advent of several promising contraceptive injections for cats and dogs.
We have the data demonstrating that it can be done, within the scope of existing resources. Indeed, the most promising chemosterilant for male animals, calcium chloride, is simply an appropriately injected dose of pickling salt, making use of one of the most abundant natural substances on Planet Earth, mixed with a bit of alcohol, perhaps the most abundant substance wherever shelter personnel gather to talk.
“Save” or “live release” rate rewards non-performance
But transitioning the U.S. to becoming a no-kill nation cannot be achieved by using the “save rate,” “live release rate,” or “euthanasia rate” as a credible measure of anything at all.
The inherent problem with the “save rate,” by any name, is that it rewards non-performance. Most corrosively, maintaining a high “save rate” or “live release rate” depends entirely on what a shelter does with whatever animals arrive, not upon how well the shelter facilitates birth prevention and keeping animals in homes, so that the number of suitable pets coming to the shelter is kept to a minimum.
The “save rate” or “live release rate” not only presumes but demands that the animals arriving at shelters must always include large numbers of dogs and cats who can be easily and safely rehomed.
If not, dogs and cats who cannot and should not be rehomed must be rehomed anyway, or must be unloaded on someone else who promises to rehome them.
Puppies, kittens, and even well-behaved older dogs and cats have in much of the U.S. all but disappeared from the shelter admission stream, through the success of spay/neuter campaigns and programs to help keep pets in homes through providing food, subsidized veterinary care, and remedial behavioral counseling.
This means that the number of safely and appropriately rehomable animals in shelters is today a fraction of what it was when shelter adoptions reached the present level of about four to 4.5 million dogs and cats per year, circa 30 years ago.
Maintaining that adoption volume has required ever-increasing investment in rehoming the dogs and cats who are hardest to place.
More transfers, no questions asked
Even at that, some dogs and cats cannot be placed. The numbers of pit bulls admitted to shelters, for instance, have increased six-fold in 30 years, to more than a third of all dogs admitted to shelters, even though pit bulls are only about 5% of the total U.S. dog population.
To achieve the 90% “save rate” or “live release rate” championed by no-kill organizations including Maddie’s Fund, the Best Friends Animal Society, and the No Kill Advocacy Center, an open admission shelter must either rehome or transfer about two-thirds of the pit bulls it receives.
Only about one dog purchaser in 20 buys a pit bull, according to classified ad data collected by ANIMALS 24-7 since 2003, but––at result of promotional effort frequently exceeding $1,000 per dog––one shelter dog adopter in six adopts a pit bull.
Even at this rate of placement, however, shelters on average must find four times as many homes for pit bulls as are available from individual adopters to achieve a 90% “save rate.”
That means more transfers, no questions asked.
And that is only one part of how animal shelters contribute to the “rescue hoarding” phenomenon.
Avoiding “slow-kill” & sidetracks
I warned in my 1995 No Kill Conference keynote address of the necessity of no-kill shelters maintaining high animal care standards, so that “no kill” did not degenerate into “slow kill.”
I warned of the risk that the no-kill cause could be sidetracked by making common cause with pit bull advocacy and feral cat feeders.
Dogs bred for centuries for the sole purpose of ripping other sentient beings apart alive should not be adopted out or promoted by the humane community. The appropriate humane solution would be to simply sterilize them out of existence. Most certainly the humane community should not be defending anyone’s claimed right to breed and keep more of them.
I also warned, as a strong advocate of neuter/return feral cat control where the habitat is suitable, that practicing neuter/return successfully means accepting that feral cats are wildlife, not outdoor pets; that cats are acceptable to most of the public either as house pets or as seldom-seen, mostly nocturnal rodent hunters; and that feeding feral cats in a manner causing them to visibly congregate by daylight will inevitably increase their predation on birds and public resistance to their presence.
I warned of the importance of relying on accurate and meaningful statistics, in particular the ratios of shelter admissions and killing to human population.
S/N is 95% of progress since 1970
I stressed the importance of maintaining the emphasis on spay/neuter which as of 1995 had already cut shelter admissions and killing by more than 80% in 25 years. The drop since then, through exponentially increased effort mostly in promoting adoptions, is more than 90% from the high marks of circa 1970.
I encouraged the expansion of the use of adoption transport, pioneered and promoted by the North Shore Animal League, to move healthy, adoptable animals from remote animal control shelters to centrally located adoption boutiques which could give them a better chance to find homes.
I introduced Richard Avanzino, the dinner speaker at that first No Kill Conference, praising his dramatic success in reducing shelter killing as then-director of the San Francisco SPCA, through the combination of high-volume pet sterilization, accounting for about 95% of the reduction, with increased adoption promotion, accounting for 5%. Avanzino has headed Maddie’s Fund since 1998––one of the organizations contributing the most money and influence to the present misplaced emphasis on adoptions and inflating “save” or “live release” rates.
What I never imagined
Unfortunately, in 1995, and for many years subsequently, I never imagined that the no-kill sheltering community and the open admission sheltering community would in effect collude to make facilitating animal hoarding a routine part of the sheltering paradigm.
Neither did I imagine that the “save rate” or “live release rate,” which I pointed out as inherently misleading statistics, would or could ever gain currency sufficient to impel the humane community toward contributing as much or more to animal suffering as puppy mills.
At least 40,000 dogs and cats in the past 10 years have been passed along from open-admission humane societies and animal control agencies to individuals and organizations professing no-kill ideals, who promised to find adoptive homes for the animals, or to provide them with secure and healthy lifetime care, but instead allowed them to suffer and die.
Failure to verify conditions
In each case the persons “pulling” the animals from the open-admission “kill” shelters backed the promise to rehome or care for the animals with at least the superficial appearance of institutional credibility: either actual or claimed IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, a business name, a web site, a Facebook page, a physical address, sometimes celebrity sponsors and spokespersons.
Often the receiving no-kill organizations were known nationwide: Spindletop Refuge, 10th Life Animal Refuge, Olympic Animal Sanctuary, Tiger Ranch, For the Love Of Cats & Kittens, Caboodle Ranch, and Angel’s Gate, among many others.
But no one adequately monitored the animal care conditions. The facilities were usually not open to the public, did not have large numbers of regular volunteers, and most often did not have actively involved boards of directors.
Most significantly, the open-admission shelters turning animals over to the failed no-kill organizations did not inspect or otherwise verify the premises to which the animals were going––frequently several states and hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
Typically, by the time the negligent care became known, dozens to hundreds of animals were in misery, hundreds and sometimes even thousands were unaccounted for, and the remains of many were found on the premises.
Sometimes the bodies were neatly stored in boxes and freezers. Sometimes they were buried in shallow graves or burned in steel drums. Often they were eaten by other starving animals.
Sheltering makes stranger bedfellows than politics
Sometimes the operators of the failed no-kill shelters and rescues were prosecuted, after intensive effort over several months or even years by humane investigators working against aggressive political pressure brought to bear by no-kill advocates seldom possessing any actual first-hand knowledge of the situations.
Usually the operators of the failed no-kill shelters and rescues have portrayed themselves, entirely too successfully, as victims of conspiracies by older, better-established open admission shelters––or more successful no-kill adoption agencies––who are merely hell-bent on eliminating competition for donors and adoption market share, killing animals who cannot be profitably adopted, and pocketing the proceeds.
No one ever fired for inflating a “save rate”
Such allegations are belied by the reality that much of the open-admission shelter community no longer relies on killing animals to avoid becoming overcrowded with dogs and cats for whom there are no readily available adoptive homes.
Instead, open-admission shelters increasingly often relieve both overcrowding and no-kill activist pressure to achieve a high “save rate” by shuttling animals out the front door to any takers who present a superficially credible institutional front.
Open-admission shelters watching their “save rates” have become as much part-and-parcel of the phenomenon of failed no-kill shelters and rescues as the often multi-time convicted animal hoarders who found and run many of them.
But while some of the hoarders who hoard in the guise of operating no-kill shelters and rescues have been criminally prosecuted, the ANIMALS 24-7 archives indicate that so far not even one open-admission shelter director or board member has been fired or prosecuted for boosting the shelter “save rate” by transferring animals to self-professed no-kill organizations in a negligent manner.
No-kill hoarding is nothing new
The phenomenon of no-kill shelter and rescue hoarding is nothing new, and has long created image issues that no-kill organizations maintaining high animal care standards have had to battle.
The late Samantha Mullen, 1939-2012, a longtime humane investigator for the New York State Humane Association and director of animal care and sheltering for the Humane Society of the U.S., spent much of her career trying to shut down the Esthersville Animal Shelter in Greenfield, New York, and the Animals Farm Home, at Ellenville.
Founded by Edna Senecal in 1952, the Esthersville Animal Shelter was cited repeatedly for alleged neglect, beginning in 1973. Senecal was in 1991 convicted of 100 counts of cruelty, but continued to direct the shelter until her death in 2007.
The Animals Farm Home was founded circa 1981 by Justin McCarthy, described by Newsweek in 1984 as “St. Francis of the Catskills,” and by Reader’s Digest in 1986 as “a real-life Dr. Doolittle.”
McCarthy, according to New York Times files, had been already been convicted of six armed robberies when he allegedly took in more than 1,000 dogs, 70 cats, and various other animals between 1981 and 1987, most of whom apparently starved to death while McCarthy misused more than half a million dollars donated for their support.
Of approximately 475 living animals whom Mullen and colleagues reportedly discovered amid the remains of perhaps 200 more at the Animals Farm Home in a November 1987 raid, about 175 were euthanized at the scene.
Differences between then & now
Among the differences between then and now are that the McCarthy case in particular was an aberration. Only 156 no-kill shelter or rescue hoarding cases came to light in the entire 1982-1998 time frame.
Cases of similar magnitude are now exposed almost every week.
Another difference is that the unfortunate animals in custody of Senecal and McCarthy were thought to have come mostly from affluent residents of New York City and suburbs, with endowments for their care. These individuals appeared to genuinely believe that there might be wonderful homes on farms for dogs and cats who for whatever reason could not adapt to city living, or whose people had died.
The people transferring animals to Senecal and McCarthy were deluded pet keepers, in short, not would-be rescuers “pulling” them from shelters, and certainly not the operators of bona fide shelters trying to maintain high “save rates” at a time when hardly anyone tracked the data.
Contrast the Senecal and McCarthy cases to that of the Spindletop Refuge, just one of the many high-profile no-kill shelter/rescue episodes recently before the courts.
Reporting on the Spindletop debacle in Willis, Texas for the Houston Post since it broke on July 17, 2012, Craig Malisow was on February 5, 2015 openly furious.
“Opened by Leah Purcell in 1985, Spindletop earned respect from those in the animal rescue community nationwide, especially for Purcell’s work in rehabilitating and placing pit bulls,” Malisow had reported in his first coverage of the case. “Spindletop Refuge was listed as a ‘friend of the court’ in the notorious Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal in 2007. While Purcell wasn’t a part of the proceedings, the court filing stated that she has ‘been qualified as an expert witness on [pit bulls] in several court cases, and courts nationwide have entrusted the care of seized dogs to Spindletop.’”
But on February 4, 2015, Malisow wrote, “Thanks to a plea agreement with Montgomery County prosecutors, Purcell’s lone felony animal cruelty charge was dismissed, and two of her four misdemeanor cruelty charges were also dropped. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail for two remaining cruelty charges, as well as a misdemeanor charge for illegal dumping, but she was given credit for the time she served in Montgomery County Jail following her July 2014 arrest.
“The Texas chapter of the Humane Society of the U.S. led the seizure, painstakingly compiled records on each dog, and handed evidence of neglect and cruelty to investigator Tim Holifield on a silver platter. As far as we can tell, Holifield warmed that platter with his behind for 24 months while the case stagnated,” Malisow charged.
“This is truly an insult,” Malisow continued, “to the dog owners who are still trying to find out what happened to the dogs they placed in Purcell’s care and were not recovered in the seizure. Purcell and Zandra Anderson, Purcell’s civil attorney at the time of the seizure, have never disclosed those dogs’ fates.”
The dogs placed at Spindletop appear to have been mostly transfers from rescuers who had “pulled” them from open admission shelters.
Napier’s Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary
Also on February 4, 2015, a jury in Manatee County, Florida convicted Napier’s Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary founder Alan Napier, 52, of eight counts of animal cruelty, unlawful solicitation of funds and scheme to defraud, and convicted his wife and cofounder Sheree Napier, 46, of eight counts of animal cruelty and scheme to defraud.
About 300 animals were removed from the Napier premises in mid-2014. Dead animals were also found.
The Napiers combined hoarding in the name of no-kill with aspects of puppy-milling.
“The jury heard how Alan Napier purchased approximately 50 puppies over the course of time from James Moore, a dog breeder in Georgia,” reported Jessica de Leon of the Bradenton Herald. “Over the years and the course of various transactions, only two dogs were given to Napier at no charge. One was too aggressive around the other dogs and a second kept digging out.”
Added Elizabeth Johnson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, “For several years, Manatee County Animal Services had a transfer partnership with Napier’s Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary, sending nearly 300 animals to the shelter.”
That could only have happened if officials were looking at their “save rate” or “live release rate” instead of at actually saving the animals.
ANIMALS 24-7 social media and photo editor Beth Clifton, formerly a Florida animal control officer, warned Manatee County Animal Services of the conditions at Napier’s Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary approximately a year before the case broke. Her complaint, like many others made to Manatee County Animal Services before the Napier operation was belatedly investigated, was dismissed out of hand.
Please donate to support our work: http://www.animals24-7.org/donate/
(See also “Handling hoarders,” http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/04/18/handling-hoarders/; “U.S. Supreme Court recognized right to seize hoarded animals,” http://www.animals24-7.org/2006/01/18/u-s-supreme-court-recognized-right-to-seize-hoarded-animals/; and “Animals in bondage: the hoarding mind,” http://www.animals24-7.org/1999/01/18/animals-in-bondage-the-hoarding-mind/.)
Elaine Lissner says
Very interesting article!
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Is your organization interested in trying Calchlorin nonprofit low-cost sterilant? Here’s all the information, including about the data submission prize: http://www.parsemusfoundation.org/calcium-chloride-for-males/
Karel Minor, Pesident/CEO, Humane Pennsylvania says
Merritt, I am a little surprised to see you write, “animal shelters do not do their jobs” and then tell us what a “shelter” should do to be doing it’s job (ironic quote warning). For decades municipalities have been telling us our job was to catch and kill their animals. Many supporters told us our job was to kill animals because better dead than a bad adoption or a feral on the street. Our staff told us our job was to protect our animals from poor brown people who wanted to adopt. Everyone wants to blithely tell “shelters”, whatever that even means any more, what our job is.
Just as you get to choose what you cover and we don’t get to say that, because this is called Animals 24-7, your “job” is to cover Grumpy Cat videos, and we don’t tell Golden Retriever rescues they have to take in cats, or sterilization groups that they have to do a life saving orthopedic surgery, we don’t get to tell the nebulous “shelter” contingent “what their job is”. That is up to their board, their staff, and their donors. If places choose to focus on a sliver of the need or the whole pie, it’s up to them and our choice is to support them or not as we see fit based on their mission.
The entire change in our industry toward new approaches was predicated on us NOT doing our jobs as defined 25 years ago. No kill anything was by definition not doing our jobs as I was taught when I started working in shelters. Sterilizing and releasing feral cats was not doing our job, low/no cost adoptions, adopting to renters, not making every person in the extended family meet a dog, not spay aborting pregnant animals rather than birthing their 100% adoptable puppies, and not heart sticking animals we euthanize, was all not doing our jobs. Yet today we do things which are clearly shirking our duty as defined to us 25 years ago.
We won’t tell you what your job is. Maybe you can stick to your Carnac the Magnificent skit (and I say that with tongue in cheek and much love and respect since I also lay claim to having seen everything coming 20 years ago, except for everything I didn’t! Plus, I know you can take a joke in our humorless industry.) and not tell us ours. I’ll do you one better and since not doing our jobs 25 years ago worked, I’ll cajole “shelters” everywhere: Do your job less! Do the opposite of what they tell you job is! It can’t go much worse than what we have been doing for 100 years.
Merritt Clifton says
The job of an animal shelter, as the name implies, is quite simply to shelter animals. If the shelter holds an animal control contract or is operated by an animal control agency, sheltering animals must be done first and foremost to protect the public from dangerous animals and zoonotic disease; this is what taxpayers pay for. If the shelter is operated by a nonprofit humane society, sheltering animals must be done for the net benefit of the animals themselves; this is what donors pay for, and is why voters and taxpayers have agreed, long ago, that nonprofit humane societies should enjoy nonprofit privileges. Within those two broad definitions of why animal shelters exist, nonprofit humane societies of course have a great deal of leeway for deciding which animals they will handle, and how. Developing the specialization of services and pursuing the experimentation with methods that this leeway allows has contributed significantly to reducing shelter killing over the decades. I have encouraged effective specialization of services and experimentation to improve techniques throughout more than 40 years of reporting about humane work, during which I have never even once written about a “grumpy cat video.” None of this means, however, that either an animal control shelter which fails to protect the public or a nonprofit humane society which fails to improve the welfare of the animals it accepts can be credited with doing the job it claims to do, no matter how low the “save rate” or “live release rate” it purports to have.
Liz Marsden says
Looks like this article hit a nerve. Seems to me that the savvy shelter directors of the past 10-15 years recognize the need to preserve their budgets, jobs and public favor by jumping on board the no-kill wagon, facts and “collateral damage” be damned. Since all shelters are either publicly-funded, kept afloat by donations, or a combination of the two, scrutiny is most definitely in order. Merritt provides a much-needed dose of that right here. Thanks to all who have added such insightful comments to this factual, superbly-researched and excellent article.
Well done as usual. This is why I stopped contributing to animal rescue charities. Most of them seem to concentrate on ‘rescuing’ pit bulls (THE cash cow of the rescue movement, particularly if they’ve mauled or killed someone), or are in it for the money or start out with good intentions and quickly find themselves in over their heads. I think this sums it up best: http://dogtime.com/advocacy-column-we-cant-save-them-all-and-we-shouldnt.html
Most groups that do dog rescue do NOT focus on pit bulls or dogs with history of aggression. I am unsure why you would say that unless you had a bad experience with a specific group. If you are interested in a group, ask about their policy for euthanasia. Most groups are happy to tell you how they feel about No-Kill. I think you would be surprised how many groups that are No-Kill are ok with euthanasia for behavior/aggression. You could also donate to spay/neuter and help with the bigger problem!! Offer to neuter pits! I have personally paid for a lot of sterilizations. If someone wants their pet neutered but can’t afford it, have them take the dog in and then pay by CC over the phone. I do it regularly. Hope this helps you to understand that not everyone is black or white in animal welfare. TONS of grey!!!
Branwyn Finch says
I know of no rescue group or shelter in New England that is not adopting out dogs with aggression issues. Most “no kill” shelters which claim they won’t adopt out aggressive dogs are simply referring to dogs that are so overtly aggressive they cannot be handled. Virtually all shelters and rescues will adopt out resource guarders, dogs that will threaten humans with violence for doing something they don’t like, like getting too close to their food, etc. Most shelters will adopt out dog-aggressive dogs, even seriously dog-aggressive dogs; dogs who have the size, power, and propensity to seriously injure or kill other dogs. With the exception of some smaller breed rescues, like Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue, which has a strict policy against taking in dogs with any signs of aggression, the majority of all-breed shelters and rescues are placing dangerous dogs in pet homes on a regular basis.
Most open admission shelters here in the Northeast are filled primarily with pit bulls. Many offer pit bulls for adoption that have shown aggression toward other dogs, or resource guarding behaviors. The “no kill” shelters tend to have fewer pit bulls, because they are cherry picking and importing dogs from Southern shelters, but they often still have puppies and young dogs labeled as hound or lab mixes that are actually pit bulls. They will also adopt out dogs with serious behavioral problems. When you label yourself as “no kill”, then import half feral strays sight unseen from the south, and end up with dogs that are aggressive and not suitable pets., you have backed your organization into a corner. Which is why no kill shelters can be the WORST place for a family to find a safe, behaviorally healthy pet dog.
Subsidizing s/n for pit bulls here in the Northeast does nothing to reduce shelter intake, because pit bull overpopulation is not the result of accidental litters, but the result of deliberate breeding by criminals, thugs, gangs, dog fighters, and losers looking to make a quick buck. If more people in the humane communities committed to supporting BSL in the form of mandatory s/n for pit bulls, you could double the amount of resources available for sheltering work. The ideal goal of “no kill” dog sheltering SHOULD be that no friendly, sociable, affectionate, non-aggressive dog is ever euthanized for lack of space and resources. Instead, the no kill movement has created unsafe communities, contributed to increased animal suffering by encouraging and supporting hoarding, and turned many members of the public away from shelter adoption by promoting and adopting out aggressive dogs as appropriate family pets.
Harriett Thompson says
Most rescues do NOT place dangerous dogs in homes because they’d get sued regularly if they did. New England is supremely litigious and there’s no proof whatsoever that they are all placing dangerous dogs. Every rescue I have ever worked with euthanizes dogs that are aggressive.
Merritt Clifton says
Reality is that several six-and-seven-figure lawsuits are pending against New England shelters and rescues, precisely because they did rehome dogs who went on to kill and injure people. This is a national trend.
There were two fatalities involving shelter dogs from 1858 through 1999, both involving wolf hybrids, one in 1988 and one in 1989.
There were three fatalities involving shelter dogs from 2000 through 2009, involving a pit bull, a Doberman, and a Presa Canario. There were 36 fatalities involving shelter dogs from 2010 to the end of 2014, involving 28 pit bulls, seven bull mastiffs, two Rottweilers, a Lab who may have been part pit bull, and a husky.
Also of note, there were 32 disfiguring maulings by shelter dogs from 1859 through 2009, 19 of them involving pit bulls.
From 2010 through the end of 2014, there were 122 disfiguring maulings by shelter dogs, 80 of them involving pit bulls. In 2014 alone, at least 37 shelter dogs killed or disfigured someone; 30 were pit bulls.
For every human killed, hundreds of animals have been–about 14,000 animals were killed by shelter dogs in 2013 and 2014 combined.
Branwyn Finch says
My sister was recently attacked by a dog adopted from a limited admission Massachusetts shelter within 48 hours of taking him home. The attack was COMPLETELY unprovoked, and resulted on deep puncture wounds to her hand, which became badly infected. It required a trip to the ER, antibiotics and a tetanus shot. She was told by shelter workers that the dog had been thoroughly temperament tested and “didn’t have a mean bone in his body”. My sister is an experienced dog owner and has successfully adopted dogs throughout her life, including her current dog, a rescued SATO.
I know many families who have adopted dogs from local shelters and rescues across New England that are dealing with aggression issues. One of the largest “no kill” shelters in the greater Boston area, which is frequently lauded by humane advocates as a national model for sheltering, does no temperament testing at all. I was there last year and was shocked by the number of dogs that showed NO sociability or friendliness, a red flag for most trainers/behaviorists. The one dog I asked to look at I was told had bitten a volunteer the day before, and yet was still on the adoption floor. Their Facebook feed will feature pleading missives about dogs who “don’t like to share my food and toys”, or a dog that “needs a special family who won’t set him up to fail, and can work on his mouthy-ness”.
I see this scenario played out over and over again. I posted previously about a local family whose adopted puppy was resource guarding so severely they had to hire a private trainer by the time the dog was 16 weeks old. Most rescues don’t consider resource guarding a problem; they either don’t recognize, or don’t care that a dog that shows low to no sociability is at higher risk for biting. Most all breed rescues have NO problem adopting out a dog aggressive dog, with no concern as to the danger that dog may pose to other dogs in the community.
There is not space enough here for me to list the multiple examples I have, from multiple shelters and rescues here in New England that are adopting out dogs with aggression issues. They all claim to not adopt out aggressive dogs, but have simply redefined “aggression” to mean something different. And they can’t or won’t recognize the signs that indicate a dog’s POTENTIAL for aggression, such as no sociability, tensing up when being touched or petted, hard eye contact, no social gestures, etc.
Branwyn Finch says
I’d like to clarify something……I 100% support dog rescue. What I DON”T support is the current trend in dog sheltering that, IMO, increases animal suffering, puts people in jeopardy, and squanders resources that could be spent helping more animals.
If the goal is to actually decrease the suffering of pet dogs, then the logical way of doing that is through targeted BSL in the form of mandatory s/n for bully breeds, combined with temperament screening for ALL shelter dogs to ensure that dogs being adopted out to the average family have friendly, social temperaments. Right now, friendly, affectionate, social dogs are being euthanized because their time is up, or because they have health issues, like heartworm, and there is no money to treat them.. Meanwhile, unadoptable, aggressive dogs are draining resources that could be spent on highly adoptable dogs.
I strongly believe we could double the number of dogs adopted out through transport to places like the Northeast if shelters committed to offering the public the type of dogs that are the most successful in pet homes…friendly, sociable dogs that do not resource guard or show other forms of aggressive behavior. An animal shelter or rescue should be the VERY BEST place to acquire a safe family pet. Bad experiences with rescue dogs are driving people away from adopting, as well as placing dogs which will end up back in the system eventually. Everyone loses, especially the dogs.
Kad – Same here,, no longer donating ! I am so sick of the pit bull aggressive advocates, they hijacked the whole animal movement.
Mike Winikoff says
Great article, Merritt. Perhaps the most important article you’ve ever published on animal sheltering issues.
Jamaka Petzak says
Thanking you for yet another insightful article and sharing to social media, with the eternal hope that we learn to work together, no matter what name we use to describe ourselves, in the ANIMALS’ best interest.
One of the reasons that Leah Purcell evaded proper punishment was her connection to the wealthy and politically connected breeding industry, and the involvement of a large number of breeders protecting her and putting pressure on authorities to let her off
Leah was an AKC Staffordshire Terrier, pit bull, breeder and judge for many years
Leah also worked with a veterinarian connected to the breeding industry who helped support that operation.
There was an organized campaign by breeders to blindly protect their own, an activity the breeder community indulges in frequently and with what could be called a pit bull like determination
The Olympic Animal Sanctuary was also connected to breeders who had promoted it for years and blindly lashed out at anyone who dared criticize the operator. Some of those breeders were also dog trainers who abandoned their own dogs, or their clients’ dogs, at that facility and even after the problems surfaced, were still online referring people to send their dogs there.
Many of these No Kill labeled hoarding operations have had substantial breeder support, which started when the breeding industry felt it could utilize the name of No Kill for its own interests, such as denying overpopulation
Many grassroots activists seeking to expose the cruelty and hold the perpetrators accountable have had to go up against this wealthy and politically connected breeder industry in attack and shield mode,.
Karel Minor, the more I read what you write, I will tell you, the more discouraged I am
I find a mix of repetition from past self-described sheltering leaders and gurus who were simply proven wrong or to have outside interests they failed to mention, or things that are inaccurate, to be polite, or have a breakdown in logic.
I also find a history of setting up artificial “we good, them bad”: labels and finger pointing, which is nothing but destructive and regressive
For example, you say you were “told’ by others 25 years ago that adopting to renters was “bad.”
That’s not accurate. The 25 years ago scenario you describe was not as you state. Back then, there came an understanding that handing animals out to people who rented and whose LANDLORDS DID NOT ALLOW PETS only resulted in abandoned and often abused and dead animals.
A very proper procedure of checking with landlords prior to adoption became more common, rather than just handing an animal to anyone who walked in.
The point of shelters now not doing their job is that too many are taking action or inaction that result in cruelty- simply handing animals out to anyone who would take them with no protections or protocol in place to prevent harm.
If you are running an animal shelter and claim you are a charity, and what you do or don’t do results in cruelty or harm, then yes, other people certainly have the right to tell you what to do, especially if you are taking advantage of nonprofit charity status and claiming to help animals.
I find a conflict in your roles as operating both as director of a charity, and as the operator of a business selling consulting work in the same field, troubling and problematic.
For too long, the humane world has been torn apart by arguing and finger pointing and also grandstanding, and that should be a thing of the past.
I find that Merritt Clifton is often in the role of being brave enough to say the emperor has no clothes, as the fairy tale goes, and there are many would-be emperors who don’t like that.
Peggy Larson says
These damned “no-kill” shelters or rescuers cause more suffering than the idiots who originally owned the dogs or cats. We just investigated another one here in Vermont. The police, animal control officers, three veterinarians and representatives from humane societies here in Vermont took over 60 dogs and several cats from this woman who was bringing up animals from southern “kill” shelters. The animals were in bad shape. Three needed immediate emergency attention.
Far too often “no kills” sink into hoarding situations. The animals suffer terribly.
Ruth Steinberger says
This is arguably one of the best pieces you have published.
There is legitimate disagreement on certain policies, with lots of gray areas, for example, not checking with landlords can increase the number of pets abandoned in spring in university towns while in other places it may not be critical. And reduced cost and free adoptions can net homes not able to take care of the pet; I see some of them in programs we serve in which well meaning people went to a shelter and adopted a free animal they could not care for, though I will buy into that they are not all going to less-than-great homes.
However, the impact of the race to the top of the numbers game in animal sheltering causes endless collateral damage. Skewed numbers are not a gray area; they are dishonesty with very real victims. Tonight, in 12 degree weather, some animals will die a death by proxy instead of by lethal injection. At least two dogs are reported to have frozen to death in Tulsa this winter.
Following endless, and often vicious, pressure to release at all costs, animals are released to hoarders by shelters that have been warned of bad situations, closed door policies (including managed admission) leaves animals at risk of abandonment, placement through Craig’s List, etc. In one law enforcement assist that I helped with in southeast Oklahoma, over 70 dogs were collected from a failed non-profit that had gotten many animals from shelters.
Indeed we can spay/neuter/inject our way out of problems. But we can only do so by engaging all the available tools in order to cast an ever-wider net,
Calcium chloride in ethyl alcohol is a low-cost, low tech, permanent option for male dogs and cats that bypasses the need for surgical equipment and infrastructure (the reduction in testosterone makes it a good replacement for surgical castration), Megestrol acetate is a low cost powder mixed into cats food once a week that is reportedly at least 90 percent effective at halting litters of kittens; we have sponsored colony caregivers who are finding it successful. Those two items have been known about for over a decade and combined with surgical spaying bring a lot to the table to increase effectiveness and reduce cost of preventing litters. And municipal shelters all over our nation are publically owned buildings on public property that are simply set up to collect and disburse animals while NGOs are forced to use private property (at sometimes great expense) from which to operate spay/neuter programs. Of course the costs of that ridiculous paradigm are reflected in the costs to the clients, something that doesn’t help the low cost/low-income clinic do its’ job. Refusing to place prevention into the animal shelter is like a health department refusing to distribute condoms because they provide HIV drugs! Silliness that would never be tolerated.
Denying help to animals otherwise at risk by closing doors and spinning numbers makes no more sense than closing a domestic violence hotline on Saturday nights in order to show a reduction in calls from people in need. Victims pay the price and the suffering goes on in silence.
Opening shelter doors to all animals in need of warmth, food and safety from cruelty and starvation (and yes that means killing for space) and at the same time demanding that prevention be the center piece, not the afterthought, is the only way to honestly build a kinder tomorrow.
TNR Researcher says
Here’s a MUST-READ for any of these morons that promote that inane “no-kill” religion. A religion (conceived of, based on, and fueled by their own relentless fear of death) that is the DIRECT CAUSE of the most heinous, widespread, and longest lasting animal abuse in the history of humanity. There’s far worse things than death.
All they are doing is forcing animals to die slow and painful deaths, trapped in cages and filthy living conditions until they finally succumb to disease or insanity.
The “no-kill religion side-effect”:
Whenever a township/county adopts a “no kill” stance then all people and shelters in surrounding towns/counties/states will even drive hundreds of miles to dump their unwanted pets into a “no kill” zone. All the people in that area voted that policy in, surely they’ll take care of and feed that unwanted animal with such wonderful values like that! Right?
This increases the rate at which the no-kill shelters quickly fill to capacity.
Then the fun begins. The no-kill shelter, with hands now tied, dumps animals back into surrounding towns and counties where they WILL kill them. (I have URLs for proof of this happening in many communities that get manipulated into enacting “no kill” shelter policies by morons and fools. This isn’t a new thing. This practice has been in existence ever since this “no kill” lunacy has been started.)
A ping-pong game of suffering and unwanted/unloved animals just so a bunch of insecure fools don’t have to face real-life examples of their own fear of death. Never blaming themselves for all those animals suffering to death directly due to what THEY DID OR FAILED TO DO. On top of this, each time the animals are dumped from no-kill zone to kill zone to no-kill zone, etc., they become even more trap-savvy until the only thing left is some car, environmental poison, or person with a gun finally kills them.
Best Friends has changed their motto from “No More Homeless Pets” to “Save Them All.” The phrase “no more homeless pets” is a positive, proactive one: it implies that steps will be taken to make sure that no more pets will end up homeless through aggressive spay/neuter and helping people get the resources they need to keep their pets at home.
“Save them all,” however, implies something desperate and unhinged — the proverbial person trying to scoop thousands of screaming babies out of the river without ever paying attention to who’s throwing the babies in the river. It is a task that is doomed to fail from the outset.
Think of any other social program that would adopt such a strategy: “End Domestic Violence” vs. “Let’s Put All of the Abused People in Domestic Violence Shelters.” Wouldn’t you want to stop the abuse in the first place?
Debra Young says
Having worked at both open admission shelters and no-kill shelters, I couldn’t agree with you more. One other issue that has angered me as well is the keeping of dogs for long periods of time in kennels at no-kill facilities. In many cases, years. In my experience, dogs that went kennel crazy and developed behavior problems quietly disappeared. Other dogs keep for adoption were unlikely to be adopted. One example I came across was an senior pit bull mix that would go home with a need of $250.00 a month in medications. DAHHHHH!
I think what bothers me the most is the change of attitude from when I started in the animal movement in the 80’s to now. “Life at all costs” has taken over this movement and “quality of life” pushed to the side. In my opinion, the motivation for this change is nothing but a selfish way to spare our own feelings of despair at the way we treat animals in our society. It’s the animals that must live those lives. It’s time for people to get the heads out of their own ass and start really looking at the quality of those lives.