Diagnosis by Dr. Jeff Young, Rocky Mountain Vet, & prescription by Bob Christiansen could provide a cure-all
Drawing from a million to 1.7 million viewers per episode of his reality TV show Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet, Jeff Young might be considered the most influential veterinarian in the world.
Certainly Young must be the most influential vet since James Alfred Wright, DVM, 1916-1995, created the fictional James Herriot, who practiced in an altogether different set of circumstances than almost any veterinarian today.
Indeed, Young was already a giant in the overlapping humane and veterinary fields long before Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet first aired. As founder of the Planned Pethood Plus low-cost dog and cat sterilization clinic in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, and as a pioneer in extending veterinary services to Native American reservations, the former Communist nations of eastern Europe, and the developing world, Young has done as much teaching and training as surgery, while doing twice as much surgery per year as the average veterinary surgical specialist.
More than 222,000 people have now read Young’s February 2017 ANIMALS 24-7 guest column We cannot adopt, warehouse or rescue our way out of dog & cat overpopulation!
Why are the humane & veterinary communities not listening?
Yet one of Young’s most fervent warnings in that guest column has so far gone largely unremarked and unnoticed:
“Mainstream private practice veterinarians treat a smaller percentage of companion animals in our society each year, while providing more complex, advanced, and expensive medicine to a shrinking percentage of financially affluent owners.”
This trend would have concerned James Herriot, too, who made helping the pets of poor cottagers a personal priority.
Subsequent to authoring We cannot adopt, warehouse or rescue our way out of dog & cat overpopulation!, Young has posted his warning about the direction of veterinary work, by itself, many times to social media.
Young has also echoed it in personal presentations.
Bob Christiansen finally did listen
Still, almost the first hint that anyone else in either humane or veterinary leadership has been paying attention came very recently when Bob Christiansen, also a pioneer in extending low-cost veterinary services to communities in need, included Young’s words in his recent report Is the Veterinary Profession Serving All Companion Animal Medical Needs in America Today? A Case for Full-Service, Low-Cost, Non-Profit Community Veterinary Care Centers, published as a free download from www.bocafund.com.
ANIMALS 24-7 recently reviewed Is the Veterinary Profession Serving All Companion Animal Medical Needs in America Today? at unusual length for a book of only 40 pages, including tables and footnotes.
Yet there is much more to be said about the case Christiansen makes for full-service, low-cost, non-profit community veterinary care centers.
A way out of the “no kill” quagmire
In particular, transitioning into operating full-service, low-cost veterinary clinics offers the humane community an honorable, cost-efficient way out of the quagmire it has blundered into, up past the neck, in trying to––as the Best Friends Animal Society puts it––“Save them all!”
Authoring his Case for Full-Service, Low-Cost, Non-Profit Community Veterinary Care Centers may also enable Christiansen himself to be remembered, decades from now, for something other than having helped to mislead the humane community into deep muck.
Specifically, Christiansen claims to have “coined the phrase ‘live release rate’” in one of his earlier reports, Save Our Strays (1999).
Also known as the “save rate,” the “live release rate” is simply the inverse of the euthanasia rate. To qualify as “no kill,” using the hugely misleading definition promoted by the Best Friends Animal Society, American SPCA, Humane Society of the U.S., Maddie’s Fund, and others, an animal shelter must achieve a 90% “live release rate,” regardless of whether 90% or even 10% of the incoming animals can be safely rehomed.
Why “live release” is a deadly trap
Using “live release rate” in any form as a measurement of humane performance is inherently misleading, because it presumes that all animal shelter intakes and exits are of equal value in serving the community.
In other words, using a 90% “live release rate” presumes that adopting out a “game” fighting pit bull into a home where the pit bull will maim and kill other pets and perhaps humans is as good a deed as finding an adoptive home for the harmless runt of a litter of kittens.
For decades, until the dawn of the 21st century, the typical shelter admission was a cast-off litter of kittens or puppies, albeit with diminishing frequency from the mid-1970s on, as spaying and neutering increasingly came to be the socially accepted norm for responsible pet-keeping.
By circa 2000, though, this was no longer true, and has been less and less true ever since. Animal shelters in most of the U.S. now rarely receive easily rehomed kittens and puppies, and indeed relatively seldom receive any animals, especially dogs, who will not be projects for their adopters.
Covert partnerships with puppy millers
Whenever any easily rehomable animals enter the typical early 21st century shelter, upstart shelterless “rescues” fight to “pull” them and sell them into homes at substantial mark-ups above the shelter adoption fees, albeit that the sale price is still called an “adoption fee,” regardless of the profit margin engineered into it.
In between selling “pulled” animals, many unscrupulous “rescues” retail puppies and kittens bought directly from “puppy mills” and “kitten mills”––and, with increasing frequency, get caught doing it.
Most of these “rescues” sanctimoniously claim to buy only animals who would otherwise be culled by the breeders. Yet there is scant evidence these days of any “puppy mill” or “kitten mill” culling anything with a pulse, no matter how ill the animal and how high the risk of accidentally transmitting any disease that is not usually deadly to humans.
Aggressive dogs with significant bite history in the late twentieth century made up less than five percent of shelter admissions. Such were quickly euthanized to make room for more safely adoptable dogs.
Now, deep into the “no kill” era, aggressive dogs with bite history, chiefly pit bulls, constitute well over a third of all canine shelter admissions and upward of two-thirds––80% plus in many cities––of shelter dog inventory.
Adoption volume plummeting
To keep their “live release rates” above 90%, some unscrupulous shelters now rival unscrupulous “rescues” as customers of “puppy mills,” in order to have any small and otherwise safe dogs on hand for adopters to choose.
Despite all such machinations, and despite astronomically increased promotional expenditure, U.S. shelter adoption volume has dropped in recent years to fewer than three million animals per year, after flatlining for about thirty years at approximately four to four and a half million, the 1984 adoption volume.
Hoping to boost adoptions, the animal sheltering community has successfully sought “anti-puppy mill” legislation in city after city, state after state, which prevents pet stores from selling animals other than those obtained from shelters and “rescues.”
Such legislation has the “puppy mill” industry laughing all the way to the bank.
Indeed, even without factoring in the share of shelter and “rescue” adoptions that are really just re-sales of animals purchased from “puppy mills,” the percentage of U.S. pets purchased from breeders has never been higher. As retailers make buying animals online ever easier, breeder market share will only continue to rise.
Animal shelters, meanwhile, having bought en masse into the business model of pet retailing, are increasingly desperate to find a way out of their unchosen role of warehousing pit bulls they cannot rehome, even by lying to the public about their breed, concealing their bite history, propagating the myth that pit bulls were ever “nanny dogs,” and massively subsidizing pit bull adoptions.
Having built a sound reputation from the mid-19th century into the early 21st century as a safe place to get a family dog, animal shelters have squandered it in less than 15 years.
After rehoming only two dogs who went on to kill a person as of the end of the 20th century, U.S. animal shelters have rehomed at least 75 dogs who went on to kill people in the early 21st century, including 54 pit bulls, and have rehomed more than 400 dogs, more than 300 of them pit bulls, who have gone on to grievously disfigure people.
Increasingly frequent lawsuits against animal shelters and rescues, some resulting in seven-figure judgements and settlements, may eventually slow the momentum toward rehoming animals, especially pit bulls, at any cost and at any risk. Lawsuits recently filed against the Best Friends Animal Society and Los Angeles Animal Services show particular promise of becoming wake-up calls for all shelter managers following their lead.
Meanwhile, the folly of patronizing the “puppy mill” industry to sustain increasingly unrealistic aspirations of achieving a 90% “live release rate” should already be self-evident.
There are humane industry pundits who have long argued that the sheltering community should take over the puppy and kitten breeding industries, through accrediting and partnering with breeders willing to meet mutually accepted standards.
One such is former Humane Society of the U.S. vice president Andrew Rowan, who recently founded his own organization, WellBeing International.
Of relevant note is that Rowan also provided the founding impetus, back in 1986, to the pit bull advocacy organization Animal Farm Foundation. Rowan largely concealed that history until SRUV blogger Thomas Mair flushed it out in 2011. Rowan has subsequently been conspicuously reluctant to acknowledge the catastrophic harm that allowing pit bull proliferation has done to the humane community.
Another advocate for animal shelters to accredit and partner with breeders is Humane Pennsylvania chief executive Karel Minor, who presented the concept to the 2013 Humane Society of the U.S. Animal Care Expo.
Members of the audience pointed out from the floor that the American Kennel Club has tried to do the same thing since 1884, accrediting and endorsing only breeders who meet agreed upon standards. Yet AKC-accredited breeders have never captured more than a small percentage of purebred puppy market share, and AKC inspections have accomplished very little toward shutting down puppy mills, though to be sure the AKC has occasionally shut down some.
Full circle back to mendacity
Overall, the animal sheltering community appears to have reached a point of indecision, stasis, and self-defeating collective positions and practices that more closely echoes the peak of the “high kill” era of the 1920s through the 1980s than anyone currently in a leadership position either remembers, recognizes, or cares to admit.
The first half of this time, coinciding with the 40-year career of longtime humane society chief executive Eric H. Hansen (1903-1965), was chronicled by Hansen’s life partner William Alan Swallow in Quality of Mercy (1963), a book which for more than 40 years was accepted as the definitive history of the humane movement despite consisting largely of omissions and cover-ups.
The mid-20th century, the time Quality of Mercy covers in greatest detail, was the time when the focal activity of the U.S. humane movement shifted from promoting moral education and preventing cruelty wherever it occurred, the previous focus since the formation of the American SPCA by Henry Bergh in 1866, to providing animal care and control service to cities and counties, in competition with private contractors who chiefly sold impounded animals for laboratory use.
Lying as a way of life & death
Humane organization leaders accurately assessed that dogs and cats would suffer less from being “put to sleep,” as euthanasia was euphemistically described, than from being used in multiple surgeries in “wet labs” used to train medical personnel, or in painful experiments and product testing.
The superstars of the mid-20th century humane community included Raymond Naramore, who as director of the Humane Society of Rochester & Monroe County invented an efficient portable carbon monoxide chamber in 1937, and Richard Bonner, who as Los Angeles animal control chief, in 1949 introduced the use of decompression to kill animals in even greater numbers and faster than could be achieved with gas chambers..
The lack of perceived alternatives to “putting animals to sleep” gradually transformed the formerly vital, upbeat, and fast-growing humane movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries into an endlessly frustrating dreary pursuit whose workers endured some of the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse, relationship failure, and suicide of any U.S. industry.
Meanwhile, perhaps only the tobacco and nuclear industries more aggressively misled the public than what had become an industrialized animal control sector.
Ignoring the accessible alternatives
Most humane societies in the mid-20th century concealed their statistics and outright lied to the public about the volume of killing they were doing, lest people abandon more animals on the streets to “give them a chance,” breeding additional litters of puppies and kittens until captured for decompression, gassing, or––in 13 states––compulsory sale to any laboratories that wanted them.
There were in truth accessible alternatives, but the humane community resoundingly rejected them.
Alexandre Liautard, who founded the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1863, had already literally “written the book” on animal castration in 1884. Hardly anyone in humane work bothered to read it.
J.C. Flynn, DVM, of Kansas City, had introduced the now almost universally recommended small-incision spay technique in 1922, which he called “spaying without sutures,” and developed what is now the basic early-age sterilization technique in 1925.
Liautard and Flynn tried hard to persuade the American Humane Association to endorse dog and cat sterilization, instead of killing ever more homeless animals and lying about it.
At the time, however, almost as many humane societies ran orphanages as ran animal shelters.
The American Humane Association, then the national umbrella for U.S. humane societies, feared that endorsing dog and cat sterilization would become a precedent for allowing forced sterilization of orphaned and abandoned human children, so rejected Liautard and Flynn’s ideas with scarcely a hearing.
Not until 1973 did the American Humane Association at last accept dog and cat sterilization surgery.
William Alan Swallow, in the penultimate chapter of Quality of Mercy encouraged “the nation’s animal protection agencies” to establish “Animal Cemeteries and Rest Farms for Horses” as their direction of the future.
Never did Swallow, despite frequent mentions of “lethal chambers,” directly acknowledge either that killing animals had become the chief activity of animal shelters, or that spay/neuter work was already an available alternative. Indeed, Swallow never mentioned spay/neuter in any context.
The big lie: “Save them all!”
The animal sheltering community of today so long ago transitioned from killing almost every animal to killing almost none that “rescue” rhetoric commonly refers to shelters that euthanize any animals as “high kill.”
Factory-like tin-roofed concrete block shelters situated in industrial parks or beside refuse dumps have mostly been replaced by boutique-like adoption centers, though far too many old-style shelters are still in use, chiefly in less affluent communities.
But behind the giddy euphoric “Save them all!” rhetoric characterizing animal sheltering today, it is inescapable that institutional mendacity has become as pervasive in the name of achieving high “live release rates” as it ever was when shelters routinely killed 90% plus of intake.
The toll on shelter workers is comparable, as well. Drug and alcohol issues in shelters, and suicides of shelter personnel, including veterinarians, conspicuously declined along with shelter killing during the first decade of the “no kill” era, but are now sharply up.
Role models: Millan, Croft, Baldwin, Lueders
As working conditions deteriorate amid warehoused, kennel-crazed, and ever more dangerous pit bulls, whose births the sheltering community shies away from preventing with targeted spay/neuter, backed by breed-specific laws and law enforcement, the shelter workforce has again come to include disproportionately many alcoholics, pot-heads, and meth addicts.
A walk though almost any big shelter, and indeed many small shelters, is sufficient to identify suspects.
Absenteeism is again a constant headache for shelter managers.
Time and again, much lauded role models for shelter and “rescue” work are exposed as alleged charlatans, scam artists, and hoarders. Pit bull trainers Cesar Millan, Bradley Lane Croft, Steffen Baldwin, and Heidi Lueders come quickly to mind.
Lueders, incidentally, who allegedly starved five pit bulls to death in her home, and allowed them to decompose to skeletons, on October 1, 2021 saw her bail bond increased from $50,000, set in October 2019, to $250,000, after Connecticut Superior Court Judge Tracy Dayton learned she had reportedly been picked up for public intoxication.
(See Cesar Millan walks: what was the L.A. County prosecutor thinking?, Convicted of G.I. Bill fraud: trainer who prepped pit bulls for police work, Pit bull advocate Steffen Baldwin, facing 39 felonies, flunks drug test, and Heidi Lueders, alleged rescuer who starved pit bulls, rejects plea bargain.)
Lying from behind closed doors
Again there is no positive path forward evident to many and perhaps most of the people in the humane field. Animal shelter workers can either continue lying to the public, pushing pit bulls who will go on to kill and maim other animals and often humans; or they can euthanize pit bulls, lie about it, and have their cages filled immediately by more pit bulls; or they can covertly buy puppies and kittens from breeders to keep their “live release rates” up, and lie about that.
Or they can do all three, as many animal shelter personnel are doing, despite frequent embarrassing exposures.
Those animal shelter personnel, and their employers, tell donors cheerful lies about the animals they have “saved,” while keeping shelter admission doors closed as much of the time as possible to avoid having to take in still more pit bulls and other problematic animals, such as cats who cannot be handled, yet are unsuitable for inclusion in neuter/return programs because they have been routinely fed by someone instead of developing feral cat survival skills.
Lying, ironically, has made animal sheltering more lucrative for fundraisers than ever before. But telling big lies as a way of life leads inevitably to dilemmas even the most skilled liars cannot lie their way out of.
This is where the humane community finds itself today.
“The role of nonprofits is to fill a gap”
Wrote Christiansen, “The role of nonprofits is to fill a gap in services not otherwise provided by government or private for-profit businesses.”
Such a gap is widening as regards veterinary care.
Observed Christiansen, “The medical needs of low-income and ethnic pet owners, those owners with little savings, living paycheck-to-paycheck, cannot be met by profit-maximizing for-profit and corporate veterinary clinics.”
Rather, Christiansen argued, “The needs of the subset of pet owners who are financially struggling, with little discretionary income, can only be served by nonprofit, donor subsidized, full-service clinics targeting qualified low-income pet owners.”
Logical role for “no kill” shelters
This would be a logical role for hundreds, perhaps thousands of “no kill” animal shelters across the U.S. which have outlived any need to do animal sheltering at all––except to warehouse pit bulls.
Indeed, many shelters could do more to reduce dog and cat euthanasias by operating as donor-subsidized animal hospitals than by continuing to be “no kill” shelters, since as Christiansen pointed out, “There is currently a rise in economic euthanasia,” or inability of pet keepers to afford veterinary care, even as shelter killing for other reasons has dropped to the lowest rate ever.
To make the transition to providing donor-subsidized full-service animal care work, Christiansen emphasized, nonprofit clinics must “income qualify” patients to ensure that the nonprofit services are not exploited by affluent pet keepers seeking bargain care.
Christiansen cited the success of two venerable British charities, the Blue Cross for Pets, founded in 1897, and the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, founded in 1917.
Healing pets can heal the humane community
Some U.S. animal shelters are already following their example, to a limited extent. The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control, for instance, will on October 23, 2021 offer Vet @ The Park, in La Puente, California.
Vet @ The Park, by appointment, will give “Free vet exams, free flea meds, free microchips, free vaccines, free deworming, and free pet food” according to publicity for the event.
Low-income and fixed income pet keepers, however, housing nearly two-thirds of the total U.S. pet dog and cat population, need access to the services offered by Vet @ The Park, and more, every day, not just on rare special occasions.
Most low-income and fixed income pet keepers do not need the whole array of veterinary services at no charge at all, but they and their animals do need help they are not presently getting at affordable rates from either the veterinary establishment or the mainstream humane community.
Nothing the humane community can do, here and now, mostly with veterinary personnel already on staff or on retainer and with facilities that already exist, would accomplish more to relieve animal suffering than to become full-service low-cost veterinary care providers.
And nothing the humane community can do, here and now, would accomplish more to save the credibility, dignity, and public reputation of humane societies themselves.