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Monday, August 18, 2014

Empty the Shelters Day was a Success

I had my reservations about the concept: a day when all the shelters waived the cost of adopting pets entirely, although they still did screening to determine if the candidates were ready, willing, and able to care for a dog.

Reservations no more: A friend stopped by, saying he heard about the event and wanted to adopt a Chihuahua. He had visited the Fort Worth Animal Control early in the afternoon, and they were down to 12 dogs. That's just incredible. 

As long as the screening ensures that the adopters have the means to take fiscal responsibility for their pets, the option of waiving adoption fees could be a savvy choice for high-kill shelters. Shelters over a fifty percent kill rate or close to maximum capacity could adopt this practice and adopt out more pets. 

Unfortunately, two imposing obstacles stand in the way: the government and the philosophical bent of the local Animal Control/Services. I'm thankful to have my First Amendment rights, and so I'll say that, while the government of the U.S. does a lot of things right and is invaluable, they also have some very messed up components. A lot less animals would lose their lives if policies to save their lives didn't have to go through all the red tape. 

Most county shelters can't just decide to start a project on their own, and have to get authorization first. In the months between the proposition to waive costs and the allowance to do so, a given shelter could go from a thirty-three percent kill rate and a hundred dogs to an eighty percent kill rate and five hundred dogs, all because a failure to act in the moment won't slow down the reality of the situation.

It's also a matter of mindset. Doubtless every shelter in the world has loving, caring individuals who are simply passionate about animals. These people do so much work that you the reader can't begin to imagine how exhausting it is, how damaging it is to your emotions, and the sheer scope of the work there is to do. A shelter worker or volunteer experiences as much death, suffering, and brokenness first-hand on a daily basis as a soldier on the front lines of battle. Things are only worse when you witness this suffering or neglect coming from someone who works at the shelter-- in that case, a dog that may have come from an abusive background has been roughly captured, imprisoned, and is being treated just as bad as they were before by some heartless person who really needs Jesus in their life.

The county shelter itself, as an organization, however, will have its own goals and mindset pinned down by tradition and by whoever administrates the facility. It may be contrary to what the people working there want, and it is not able to be circumvented. Some shelters still abide by ancient practices of negative reinforcement and positive punishment, and see their job as animal control. Like waste services, the way the shelter is run is themed around taking nuisance animals off the street, out of public view or concern, and then dispatching them quickly, in large numbers, to remedy the problem. 

Most shelters, thank God, have a more modern and humane mindset. They observe the reasons why these animals are on the streets, posing a nuisance, and actively reach out to the communities the animals come from with awareness campaigns. They are run so that the unique behaviors, personalities, and emotions of the animals in their care are taken into account, and the prevailing theme is that these are the unwanted, and we (the shelter) will find a home for them or care for them as long as possible, until we just don't have any more space and money, and before the inevitable, we will have contacts with rescues who can save their lives.

Sometimes the divide in mindset is simple as the people running the place assuming that it's not possible to place animals into good homes, that there is an overpopulation--more pets than homes. This isn't true. Indeed, permanent homes may not be available, yet fosters usually are, and other shelters in the area may have space to take in some pets and balance out shelters that are becoming full. Also, it can simply be a matter of raising awareness. Plenty of people do want to do something to help, and know they want to do something with animals, but have no idea where the shelters are, no car to get there, or don't realize that the need exists. Also, many cases of surrendered pets stem from behavioural issues, and this sad fact can be decreased with increased awareness of canine and feline behaviour, the causes, prevention, and training needed to cope with it, and what to expect when living with animals. 

It's the mental picture of a little boy getting a darling puppy for Christmas. He promises to take good care of it, but the puppy is left alone while he's at school and the parents are at work, and soon, the puppy develops anxiety. Without having a mother figure, either human or canine, to lean on, and pack-mates around for comfort, the puppy vents his fear and frustration on the dad's thousand dollar leather shoes, which taste delicious. The puppy is in animal control the next day. The puppy no longer exists on this effervescent plane the day after.

If people could be given a better idea of what to expect when they get a dog or cat before adopting, the world would be less tragic. Dogs poop. It's what they do. They also bark. That's what makes a dog a dog. The old rub their nose in it for the one and shock collar for the other, well, that teaches them to fear the wrong thing, makes them more anxious of random and unprovoked punishment (in their eyes), and worsens the behavior. All that really needs to be done to change this is to provide information. Simple packets on the front desk could do. They could offer quick info on crate training, when not to use the crate (it's supposed to be a den, or a bedroom, for the dog, a place where they will feel comfortable, sleep, and not use the bathroom so that you can take them outside when they have to go, and not an ingenious device to prevent the rampant destruction of a house. That's what baby gates are good at.), curbing barking with PR by teaching "quiet", teaching bite inhibition by adopting two dogs if possible, but for sure socializing a new puppy with other dogs, and other useful things to know.

The humane county shelters, which actively attempt to find homes for all the pets, encourage spaying and neutering, responsible pet ownership, and provide people with a good idea of the kinds of drawbacks, costs, and sacrifices of owning a pet. The people in charge would possibly be more open to the idea of waiving costs when things get crowded, as long as they can pay the bills. It's not that this would interest people who don't have the money to care for a pet--this can be seen during the interview. This simply interests people because people like a value, and I've heard a hundred times while spamming a pet shop (wearing a rescue T-shirt) that, "I would love to get a dog like this, but I don't want to pay that much money."

Well, that's all that's on my mind today. God bless,


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