Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Kind of "Injuries, Illness or Behavior"?

The Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) has been handling hundreds of dogs seized as part of a multi-state dogfighting bust this year. HSMO took the dogs seized in MO and IL. 100 dogs seized in other states were sent to other rescues. Some of the HSMO dogs have been released to rescue groups or foster homes but the numbers don't seem to add up:
  • 120+ dogs placed in foster homes (or scheduled for placement last week)
  • 117 dogs awaiting placement
  • 2/3 of the dogs "tested well for nonaggression and adoptablility"
  • 160 dogs killed "because of injuries, illness or behavior"

If we add together 120(+), 117 and 160, that comes out to approximately 400 dogs. If 2/3 of those tested as adoptable, that would be approximately 132 that didn't test well. Perhaps we could toss in another 28 that were medically hopeless and suffering ("injuries, illness"?) and that would make it 160.

But hold on. That would mean that every single dog who did not test well for adoptability was killed. In other words, the evaluations were used as a pass/fail determiner of life or death. Is this "rescue" for these dogs?

I consider this Maddie's Fund page on behavioral evaluations to be the gold standard. It is very detailed and outlines fair evaluations for shelter dogs as an initial step toward determining their future path. Sadly, there are some aggressive dogs who do not respond to training and drug therapy and will have to be euthanized because no sanctuary option exists. Of course some dogs will respond to behavioral modification training and drug therapy and will be able to be adopted out eventually. But not if they are denied that chance. The fact that every single dog who did not test well for adoptability was killed by HSMO leads me to believe that none were given the opportunity for behavior modification.

If the evaluation is used as a pass/fail justification for killing, one has to question the value of the test. To my mind, it would be akin to getting a suicidal person to sit down with a therapist and after the first hour the therapist says, "Sorry but you failed, you'll have to be killed". Is that such a great service to have offered the suicidal individual?

I'm not arguing that every dog of these 400 absolutely should have been saved regardless of circumstances. While I wish that every dog who could not be rehabbed had a guaranteed place for life in a wonderful sanctuary, I know that's not the reality. But I absolutely believe that every dog deserves a chance. The behavioral evaluation is an excellent start if it is used properly as a guide to which direction the dog needs to be headed next. If it's used merely as a killing tool, then what's the point? Surely no one thinks we pushed for individual evaluations for every bust dog just for the sake of the evaluations themselves? They are a tool for determining the needs of the dog and what type of rehab may be fitting. Using them as a pass/fail is nothing short of a disgrace.

A "fair evaluation" means a qualified individual testing the dog to determine what, if any, special needs must be addressed in training. Every dog deserves a fair evaluation.

Thank you EmilyS for sending me the link to the AP article.


EmilyS said...

I don't fault the individual rescuers, or even HSMo, necessarily. Innundated with 400 supposed "fighting" dogs plus the puppies, I'm not sure what they could have done other than kill marginal dogs. Their efforts with those dogs they saved were/are valiant. They are increasing the message that fightbust dogs are victims that deserve fair treatment (though in truth, like the Vick dogs, many of the dogs getting out could not have been fighters, and were evidently pets of people intimidated into signing over their dogs and many are dogs that were subjected to other kinds of abuse, but not fighting)

I just find the silence on this odd.. especially in light of the hysteria over Oreo, a dog that almost certainly would have been killed in any shelter its owner had turned her in to, if he had done that instead of throwing her off the roof.

"Pets Alive" wasn't burning up the phone lines to offer any of Missouri dogs "sanctuary", as far as I know. I haven't seen them on the list of rescues taking any of them. At least Best Friends has taken a few.

And where (other than at Brent's blog and in the local Ohio newspaper) is the outrage over Tom Skeldon killing a loose pit bull with PINK NAIL POLISH, clearly a beloved pet???

YesBiscuit! said...

Something they could have done (and maybe they did, I don't know) besides killing:

State honestly up front how many dogs they could take on and care for/rehab for at least 3 months.

EmilyS said...

I should add that there's a federal gag order that prevents the rescuers from talking about specifics

lpyrbby said...

How were they supposed to state how many dogs they could absorb. This was a criminal case and those dogs were evidence. Each and every one of those dogs were evidence. Were they just supposed to turn dogs away that were involved in criminal proceedings? Shirley, I truly don't understand how that would have been a reasonable request.

Emily, I'd hesitate to suggest that many of the dogs getting out were mere family pets. It's pure speculation and not fact like you are presenting it as such.

YesBiscuit! said...

A gag order that allows the AP access?

I find it absolutely reasonable for a rescue to state up front "We can take X dogs including evaluations and any recommended rehab. Any more than that and we'd have to kill dogs for space w/out any chance for rehab."

Anonymous said...

I keep reading blog posts and forum threads where people are talking about the terrible job HSMO has done in caring for the dogs and getting them out to rescue. Oh they're killing them!!! Why are they killing them???

Shirley, have you personally been to the shelter in Missouri to clean kennels, feed dogs, stuff kongs or provide ANY type of enrichment to these dogs? Have you contacted Pam and let her know you can take a dog or two, rehab and train and find the dog a good - qualified home?

It's real easy for people to sit at their computers and type a rant about something they know very little about. The bottom line here is, when this all went down... NOBODY knew how many dogs this bust would yield but what was known was that NONE could or should have been left behind on the yards. HSMO orchestrated a VERY coordinated emergency rescue and they have done a fine job of caring for the dogs seized in MO and IL. I have personally been to the bunker to and have seen the team work in place and it is AMAZING!

What do you suggest be done with all of the dogs confiscated when there aren't NEARLY enough resources to absorb every single one... those with even marginal issues or life threatening health issues are sacrificed to save as many as possible. Our group is scheduled to take a dog who's tested positive for Bebesia... something A LOT of groups cannot take on because this is an illness that is not easy to treat.

I propose that those of you who want to sit on your soap boxes and complain about the number of dogs being euthanized (when you don't even know why) instead of celebrating those who HAVE made it out alive... put your money where your mouths are and take some dogs instead of talking the talk and not walking the walk. Shit or get off the pot!

YesBiscuit! said...

Dear "Anonymous",
No I haven't volunteered to care for or rehab dogs and I have an excellent reason for that: I am not a rescue nor in any way qualified to do so. I contribute to the pet community in the ways I am capable but traveling around the country and/or rehabbing bust dogs are not among these.
Frankly, I am sick of hearing the tired old argument that we must kill some to save others. If that is the best a rescue can offer, we need to do better. There is not "one space" here and "another space" there and only so many dogs can occupy these spaces. If that was the case, that would mean there is no expectation or intention of growth and outreach in the rescue community - and I believe this is false.

Nichole said...

What do you mean you believe it's false that there's only so many spaces for dogs?

I have worked with two foster-home based rescues here in Indianapolis. Most of the pit bull rescues I know of are foster-home based.

They are constantly begging for foster homes. Most of the foster homes pay for food, toys, etc for the animals. The adoption fees from the rescue just barely cover the vetting, which we get at discount from a wonderful vet. The people who run the rescues use their own money to cover any other expenses. They rescue for the love of the dogs.

Sure, new foster homes crop up - but some fosters (like me) have to take breaks from fostering.

It's frustrating to hear people complain about rescues when the majority of rescuers spend their free time wading through emails, begging and pleading for help, using their last $100 to board a dog hoping they can find a space for it somewhere. I know that I would do more if I could, but I just can't. No one LIKES that dogs are euthanized.

Anonymous said...

One of the missing issues here is the lack of substantive HSUS involvement in the lifesaving. In a July blog, I noted that while HSUS was a bit more involved than in the past, and did not push automatic destruction as they have, rather than rejoice when they say they are “assisting” in the care of the dogs; this is the tenor of the statement we should expect from HSUS to animal lovers around the country who were anxious and concerned about the ultimate fate of these dogs:

"The Humane Society of the United States wants to assure everyone concerned over the fate of these dogs that we are doing everything in our power to provide unconditional love and the best care possible for the victims of these crimes. Their welfare is our utmost concern, and every action we take on their behalf will be guided by compassion for their plight, respect for the lives, and an unwavering commitment to ensuring we find them a safe, loving environment, in which to spend the rest of their lives. We know that rescue groups often have stretched resources. We know that shelters, like the Humane Society of Missouri, also have to care for the daily influx of dogs and cats in their shelter. So as the nation’s largest, richest, and most powerful animal protection organization, we are stepping up to the plate. If any rescue groups have the capacity to help, we’ll welcome it. But rest assured: we will not allow a single one of these dogs to lose their lives. However long it takes, however much it costs, we will save all the puppies. We will save all the dogs. And if any are aggressive, we will undertake a comprehensive rehabilitation. That is our pledge to them. And that is our pledge to you."

They didn’t say this, of course. But they should have. And an organization with that much wealth, should have a bit more vision by being intimately involved in saving these dogs.

The second issue here is that regardless of the justifications offered to kill these victims, regardless of the claim that it is a fixed practical necessity that these dogs be killed, there is no denying that killing, even under the euphemism "euthanasia" is still a further act of violence against these animals.

If we are going to argue that it is a necessary evil, the dog loving public, including bloggers such as Yes Biscuit, have the absolute right and moral duty to continue asking tough questions: is this really necessary? are the tests fair? are we doing all we can to save them?

To criticize her for doing this is nothing more an attempt to deny responsibility, to oppose transparency and public scrutiny, which are the hallmarks of accountability. I share the fear and concern that there was a rush to judgment here.

Third, we need to stop clinging to the notion that 'you have to kill some to save others,' which too many accept with the unthinking and uncritical embrace approaching religious fervor. If we really look at this issue, without barfing out platitudes before real reflection begins, we are taking an ahistorical view that stops progress dead in its tracks.

We have the right to demand more. We have a right to what we have a right to expect: no more killing.

We may not be there yet. We may not get these as quickly as we would like or we can but for defenders of the status quo and the roadblocks they place to widespread implementation. But as long as we push the envelope, as long as we hold people who have the power of life and death to the most rigorous scrutiny, we will get there.

Rest assured: the pundits who act as apologists for killing will disown their views and statements in time. In fact, many of them, already have.

Nathan J. Winograd

EmilyS said...

Anon, no one has said that HSMo and the volunteers are doing a terrible job caring for the dogs. That's just rhetorical b.s.... as is your contention that no one can care about this issue unless she is able to clean cages or adopt/foster a dog. All the evidence I've seen is that the care for individual dogs was exemplary... miles from what the poor Vick dogs had to endure until they were sprung. And no one has said differently.

But, 160 (and counting, according to Bad Rap) dogs did die. That's a separate issue and it's perfectly legitimate to ask why.

One of the whole f'ups in this situation was the huge bust of dogs (some of which may not have needed to be removed from their owners) at the behest of HSUS... who then provided little financial assistance. Did ANY of the big national groups pushing the antidogfighting agenda (completely justified in the case of real dogfighters.. but too many people who aren't dogfighters get caught up.. their dogs confiscated/killed and their lives destroyed)?? At least Best Friends is taking on a few of the dogs.

Once it became clear that there wasn't going to be much support from the promoters of this bust, and that the financial burden was going to fall on the small rescues and individual donors, there was no way all the dogs could be saved.

Our Pack said...

I agree with Emily that this case and others are showing the dogs as victims. There is such huge progress here. I agree it's ok to ask why dogs are euth'd even though illness and injury, unless one needs an itemized list, should suffice until more specific data can be released.
This is the second case I've worked on with HSMO on and both times they have worked very hard to help save every dog they could....very hard. I'm sure that SPECIFIC details cannot be released due to gag at this time, details even AP did not get. Some dogs such as ours can be talked about to a degree as they've been forfeited. Believe me, these guys don't want to see dogs killed. We have two lovely dogs from this case with more on the way. We are all still looking for rescue so if you can take any dogs or know anyone who can please contact HSMO or myself.

Anonymous said...

Placing difficult dogs in foster, shelter or adoptive homes is a difficult and complex problem. While I think that no kill is an excellent and admirable goal - I don't think we have the resources to acheive it - yet.

I work with a rescue group that recently had to deal with a situation that inundated us with twenty times the number of dogs we typically see in a very bad year. Just a few weeks after every one of these 280 or so mostly semi-feral dogs was placed in an adoptive or foster home - another 30 ferals turned up.

It was heart-breaking but impossible for us to place them.

FWIW I'm not posting this as a whiney, couch-sitting, bloviating do nothing - I took one of the most aggressive dogs from the seizure into my home. A dog that I'm certain would have failed just about any shelter test around. I'm a professional trainer who does a lot of work with aggressive dogs and it has taken me months of work to integrate this dog safely into my home - and he's still far from trustworthy with strangers.

I adore the little fellow and I'm learning a lot from him, but the several months to a year that he will need to be here represents time that I can't take in another foster dog.

Like it or not, we live in a society where the large number of behaviorally-challenged dogs losing their homes is taxing our resources to care for them beyond our ability to deal with it effectively.

We need better owner education; better and more timely enforcement of hoarding and cruelty cases; better education and supervision of shelter and foster staff; and greater availability of inexpensive spay / neuter -- or it is just going to get worse.

EmilyS said...

I want also to say that asking questions about the decision to kill dogs is NOT the same as criticizing the on-the-ground workers and rescuers and I'm sorry if anything I have said has made them feel that way. Especially since I kind of doubt the decision was made by any of them...

Susan said...

It is bogus logic to respond to an argument you dislike by saying, "Hey! Why didn't you use all your energy solving all these other remotely possibly similar problems which are really serious?" while brushing under the rug dozens of unanswered questions of whether your "opponent" had the ability (legally, practically or otherwise) to solve problem B. You're just looking for a way to dis the opponent. Apples and oranges, and your song is getting old. Pets Alive could help Oreo. We have no idea whether it was legally or practically possible for them to help the HSMO dogs. Period.