As a no kill advocate, I am opposed to the spaying of pregnant shelter animals. While I do not believe in the myth of pet overpopulation, that has nothing to do with my opposition. Even if I believed pet overpopulation was real (I do not), I would still be opposed to spaying pregnant dogs and cats because doing so means killing unborn puppies and kittens who have the right to live. As Nathan Winograd wrote in his blog:
When we spay pregnant animals and the unborn kittens and puppies die, the fact that they are not yet born does not relieve our responsibility toward assuring their right to live. When we abort kittens and puppies, we are literally killing puppies and kittens.
If the kittens or puppies are viable, they must be individually killed, usually through an injection of sodium pentobarbital. Even when they are not, however, when a mother is spayed, the kittens or puppies die from anoxia (oxygen deprivation) due to lack of blood supply from the uterus once the vessels are clamped. They suffocate.
I tragically witnessed the spaying of a pregnant dog when I worked in a vet clinic a couple of decades ago. There were two vets on duty and one was performing the surgery. She threw the uterus containing the puppies into the trash. The other vet retrieved the uterus and placed it on a sink table. The puppies crawled around helplessly while she drew up injections of Fatal Plus for each. Had she not killed them individually, they would have crawled around in the trash can until they eventually died. Back then, I did believe that pet overpopulation was real. But I still knew these killings were wrong.
In a shelter environment, pregnant dogs and cats are either killed or spayed regularly. There are presumably times when pregnant dogs and cats are killed or spayed and no one knew the animal was pregnant. While there may be variations among individuals, it is generally impossible to tell if a dog is pregnant just by looking at her during the first 5 weeks of the normal 9 week gestation period. With some dogs, you can not tell even in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy. Luckily there are other detection methods which can be performed by an experienced vet but they are limited. It is possible for vets who specialize in canine reproduction to palpate the uterus at approximately 4 weeks. The puppies at this time are contained in walnut sized sacs and the window for palpation is brief – about 1 week. Even if the timing is right and the vet is experienced, there are still some dogs who carry their pups in such a way to make palpation impossible. Ultrasound is a more reliable method of detecting pregnancy and may be used from about 3 weeks onward. Radiographs can only be used to detect pregnancy during the final 2 weeks of gestation. By that point, the dog may be able to diagnosed by simple observational methods such as an enlarged abdomen, development of mammary tissue, and fetal movement. While I have very little experience with female cats, my understanding is that pregnancy detection methods are similar to those used with dogs and ultrasound is the preferred method for reliability.
What does all this mean for female shelter animals? I believe we have a moral obligation to protect the lives of all shelter animals, including the unborn. I would therefore offer guidelines for a certain portion of the shelter population. That portion includes all female dogs and cats who meet the following criteria:
- Have reached the age of puberty (approximately 6 months).
- Have an unknown medical history and no sign of having been spayed (such as spay scar or tattoo).
- Have not come into heat while in the shelter’s care. (Pregnant dogs and cats do not come in season.)
For female shelter animals who meet the above criteria, I suggest the following guidelines to protect the lives of any puppies or kittens they may be carrying:
- If the female dog or cat meeting the specified criteria has been at the shelter for less than 9 weeks, the operating assumption must be that the animal is pregnant. For those animals meeting the criteria who have been at the shelter for less than 3 weeks, an inconclusive veterinary determination must be interpreted as positive for pregnancy until a conclusive determination can be made at a later date.
- Under no circumstances should a female dog or cat meeting the specified criteria be killed unless a veterinarian determines she is irremediably suffering, in which case euthanasia should be performed.
- Once a female is scheduled for sterilization, she should be evaluated for signs of pregnancy by the shelter vet.
- If the shelter vet determines the animal is pregnant, the shelter may release her with reasonable restrictions to ensure that mother and litter are all sterilized prior to permanent adoption.
- If the vet’s determination is inconclusive, the female may be released with a signed agreement to avoid all contact with intact males of her species until 9 weeks have elapsed from date of impound at which time she can be returned to the shelter for spay (or spayed by a private vet of the adopter’s choosing with verifiable documentation to be provided to the shelter).
- Females meeting the specified criteria who have been at the shelter less than 9 weeks (but more than 3 weeks) may be spayed if a veterinarian determines, based upon ultrasound and confirmed by observation, that she is not pregnant.
- Females who have come into heat while in the shelter’s care and who have been prevented from any unsupervised contact with intact males of their species may be assumed not to be pregnant and may be spayed without veterinary consultation regarding possible pregnancy.
- Females meeting the specified criteria who have been at the shelter for more than 9 weeks and who have been prevented from any unsupervised contact with intact males of their species may be assumed not to be pregnant and may be spayed without veterinary consultation regarding possible pregnancy.
October 28, 2012
The risk of possible animal abuse by a screened adoption applicant exists at all times, not just Halloween. There is no evidence showing the risk of possible animal abuse by a screened adoption applicant increases at Halloween. And yet some shelters and rescue groups “protect” black cats by refusing to place them with screened applicants in the weeks leading up to Halloween. This myth-based practice results in increased cats in the kill room – which is the opposite of “protection”.
While I don’t know if Memphis Animal Services refuses to adopt out black cats at Halloween, I do know they kill them, just like they do all year. And here, MAS reminds us that the real threat to black cats comes from those with the license to kill, not from mythical animal sacrifice ritualists at Halloween.
This pair of black kittens could not have weighed more than 2 pounds combined. They were just one month old when someone brought them to MAS on October 11. James Rogers, the interim director at the pound, allowed them to live overnight before deciding they were taking up too much room and had to die. Each kitten was killed, using enough Fatal Plus to kill a 10 pound dog, on October 12. It must have been difficult to find a vein on these tiny scared kittens and I wonder if they were in fact injected IC or IP instead. There was no sedative given according to the records.
These healthy baby cats had a right to live. They were never offered for adoption and to my knowledge no plea was issued to rescue groups, fosters or the public before MAS killed them. How many more for your chamber of horrors, Memphis?
September 28, 2012
Newborn kittens can not regulate their own body temperatures and require a source of warmth. If they are not stimulated to void their body waste, they suffer from both great pain and toxic build-up. And orphans can not eat on their own so must be bottle (or tube) fed every 4 hours. If they are not fed, they become dehydrated and starve.
When a shelter takes in orphaned neonatal kittens, there is an immediate need for care. The kittens must be either placed with a nursing mama cat willing to accept them or cared for by a person. If the latter, the kittens must be stimulated in order to void their bladders and they must be warmed. After that, a clean and warm area must be created for them, feedings with kitten milk replacer must be offered every 4 hours and the amounts consumed by each kitten should be recorded after each feeding. Body weights must be recorded daily.
If the shelter maintains a foster list for bottle babies and/or a list of local rescue groups, everyone on these lists should be contacted immediately. If no such lists are maintained or if they don’t yield quick results, a plea should be issued to the general public via social media sites, local media outlets and the shelter’s website. It is important to get the kittens into a foster home as soon as possible. If a foster home is not secured before the close of business and no employee is able to take the kittens home overnight, the staff on night duty should be instructed to provide necessary care every 4 hours and document same until the day crew returns.
On the night of September 14, 2012, a Memphis ACO impounded 3 stray kittens, 2 of whom are pictured below:
The records mention only 3 kittens being impounded – no mama cat. So presumably these were orphaned kittens. There are no notes in the records to indicate that any care was provided the night of impound to the two kittens pictured nor that they were placed with a nursing mama cat. No weights were recorded in their records and they did not see a vet. There are no notes indicating any pleas were issued to the public for fosters or any rescue groups contacted.
The following day was a Saturday. MAS was open. There are no notes in the records to indicate that any care was provided that day. No weights were recorded in their records and they did not see a vet. There are no notes indicating any pleas were issued to the public for fosters or any rescue groups contacted.
On Sunday the 16th, MAS was closed. There are no notes in the records to indicate that any care was provided that day. No weights were recorded in their records and they did not see a vet. There are no notes indicating any pleas were issued to the public for fosters or any rescue groups contacted. Given that the kittens were apparently still alive on Sunday, I am assuming they had received some care, whether from a mama cat or a person, but that is not something confirmed by the records.
On Monday the 17th, MAS was again closed. There are no notes in the records to indicate that any care was provided that day although again, I am operating on the assumption that they were in fact receiving some form of care given that they were still alive. No weights were recorded in their records and they did not see a vet. There are no notes indicating any pleas were issued to the public for fosters or any rescue groups contacted. A supervisor noted in the kittens’ records that they were taking up space needed for other animals (in a facility with plenty of empty cages) and their time had expired. In fact, their time had not expired and the review date listed on both kittens was September 20. Both kittens, and presumably the sibling, were killed on the 17th, violating the legally mandated holding period for strays.
Since I can not verify via the records that these kittens did receive some form of care while at MAS, I want to make clear one specific point, regardless of whether it applies to these particular pets. I do not condone the killing of kittens who are not determined by a vet to be medically hopeless and suffering. But if a situation occurs where a shelter outright refuses to do its job, makes no effort to find anyone willing to provide care for newborn orphaned kittens, and does not place them with a nursing mama cat willing to accept them, I see no justification for forcing the kittens to suffer in a cage for any length of time without care. The pain from distended bladders, illness from the toxic build-up of waste, dehydration and starvation from lack of bottle feedings and chill from a lack of heat source would be excruciating for neglected orphan kittens.
The MAS records for the two kittens pictured seem to indicate at least some degree of neglect (the severity of which is difficult to determine due to the shoddy record keeping practices at MAS) and a violation of the stray holding period law. This was the entirety of their brief lives.
Memphis, this is your public animal shelter. These are the people you pay to care for the community’s pets in need. How many more must suffer and die within these $7 million walls?
July 16, 2012
In May and June of 2012, records obtained via FOIA show the Memphis pound killed a total of 20 kittens and 22 puppies for the crime of being “too young”. Being born is not a medically hopeless condition requiring euthanasia. It is a gift, something to be cherished and protected.
Compassionate foster owners value the lives of newborn kittens and puppies and are willing to put in the work to make sure they are well cared for and given every chance at a good life. Shouldn’t a taxpayer funded “shelter” at least do as good a job as the so-called irresponsible public?
June 29, 2012
April 12, 2012
Pet rescuer Villy from Meows and BowWows reports that there is something fun to do tonight in Memphis – adopt a kitten. There are 4 litters at the Animal Emergency Center. But wait, there’s more!
Two of the litters have kittens that are old enough to adopt separately. There is no adoption fee. All the litters have been tested negative for FIV/Feline leukemia and have been de-wormed. They will also be de-flea’d additionally if there are any residual fleas.
Anybody interested to see/ adopt/rescue the cats and kittens can do so starting tonight at 6pm and all night until 8 am.
The Animal Emergency Center is located on: 3767 Summer Ave., Memphis, TN
Their phone # is (901) 232-4563.
If you get one of the all night partay kittens (mama cats are available too), send us a picture!
January 27, 2012
One of my favorite websites is Letters of Note. Today they have a letter from Mark Twain which he posted permanently on his front door after his home was burgled in 1908.
June 12, 2011
January 7, 2011
I know some of you have been following the story of this Shelter Pet of the Day kitten from earlier this week. I want to bring it to the forefront because this cat’s life matters.
From a comment by reader Kristi, this is part of a plea from a shelter volunteer that was posted online:
The little black kitten ID 11/26-4886 has an amazing story. He was 15 feet down in a narrow well shaft, our on call officer rescued him over the Thanksgiving holiday by lowering a net with a can of cat food [in it]…
When I look at this baby cat’s face and hear how he was rescued, I immediately think ADOPTION BOOM! Typically, this is exactly the sort of local interest story the newspaper and/or radio and/or TV station will pick up. (And the Henry Daily Herald already has a Pet of the Week feature so they’d be first on my list to contact!) Many people will run down to the shelter to save the Well Kitty but of course there’s only one of him. It’s up to shelter staff to turn all the Well Kitty adopter-wannabes into Other Kitty adopters.
First we need a better picture – not one where he’s in his litter box in a cage. Second, we need a great blurb for the media. I’d want to highlight the compassionate actions of our own ACO who went out on Thanksgiving to fish this kitty out the well. And of course mention what a wonderful pet Well Kitty will be for someone. And most importantly, put in a word for Well Kitty’s friends and neighbors at the shelter – each with their own special story and all of them ready to interview you for potential future cohabitation arrangements. While the director works on this, the staff and volunteers can rush around putting that extra sparkle on the place – rhinestone collars on the black cats, spit shine on everybody, everything tidy and in its place. Make sure we have plenty of adoption applications, clipboards and pens on hand. And don’t forget the dogs. Some people may hear about our kind-hearted ACO and feel motivated to come down and look at the dogs since they’ve been thinking about getting one recently. Lots to do and so exciting! Well Kitty is going to get a home and hopefully lots of other shelter pets too!
But that’s just me. Apparently what happened in real life is a shelter volunteer got a picture of the cat in his litterbox and posted it on Petfinders with his story. From the shelter director, we got a resounding meh. And Well Kitty, according to commenters claiming first-hand information, got needled with Fatal Plus, along with a bunch of other cats. Valerie, the reader who submitted Well Kitty for Shelter Pet of the Day, contacted the shelter at Henry Co to try to follow-up on him. This is what she sent me:
I asked about the kitten by id number and the person who answered the phone (Cindy) said he was “not available”. “We don’t have any more 11/26s anymore.” I asked what had happened to him and she said that there was “no way to go back and look”, and she was “just filling in” and would transfer me to her boss, which she did. The boss (Geri Oder?–not sure of the spelling) repeated that the kitten was not available and told me that they are “not computerized”, so the records are all on paper, filed by month, not by id #. I mentioned that this kitten had fallen down a well, but that didn’t ring a bell with her.) She said that you could file an Open Records request, which would require her to “pull an employee off their job” to look for the paperwork pertaining to this kitten by hand, something she seemed a bit miffed about. Never mind that it is a state law that the public has a right to know, and hence part of her and her employees’ job. I inquired about the cost of such a request since she indicated that there would be one and she said that it would reflect the pay of her lowest-paid employee, which was $13 per hour. I asked approximately how long it might take to retrieve this information and she said that they handle 500-600 animals per month and the employee would have to sift through all files by hand, but didn’t give me a time frame for how long that would take.
She said that you’d have to “come down” to file an OR request, but my understanding is that they can be done by mail or email and that fees must be reasonable and that if you wanted to look through records in person they have to provide a place where you can do that at no charge.
So, do you want to do an OR request?
Several things here bothered me. First, the director didn’t remember a kitten her own ACO had fished out a well on Thanksgiving? This should have been the shelter celebrity cat! Second, no one would need to go rifling through hundreds of records if they simply filed them by date and/or number. It seems illogical to think they use a “filing system” akin to tossing their records into the air and letting them fall where they may. Why would a shelter do this?
For background information on the Henry Co shelter, I contacted Nathan Winograd who went there a little over 5 years ago. What he told me about the shelter was shocking:
I did go there back in 2005, October or November-ish. I harassed them to close down that ghastly gas chamber. I think they ultimately did, but I can’t take credit for that as they ignored most of my other suggestions. Keep in mind that I was not there at the invitation of the shelter. I was brought there by two community advocates/rescuers for one day. But I did meet with the county manager and the head of the shelter and ultimately sent them about 40 pages of recommendations if memory serves.
I am enclosing some photographs I took just to give you an idea of what the place was like. There is one where food is mixed with litter and cleaning chemicals, sitting right next to the gas chamber that was being held together with duct tape and the freezer where they put the bodies.
The physical facility was actually better than many I have seen. It was new, opened that year, though it was not built by an architect who specializes in shelter design. Although they had rooms where young animals were separated from adult animals, a separate room for sick animals, and a visitation room where potential adopters can meet and greet shelter animals, the internal programs and policies undermined any utility the building had. But that is not saying much to begin with. The dog kennels were much too small to allow species typical behavior, the HVAC system should have been designed as a closed system with 12-14 air exchanges per hour, with 100% outside air, and outdoor exercise facilities should have been incorporated into the design. There was a “feral pen” which was as filthy as it could be, with no protection from the elements. I begged them to close it down as every cat that went in there was killed (including friendly ones who were nervous on intake, misclassified as “feral,” and never reevaluated.) They had tons of office space. I suggested converting some of it to a “feral” room so that cats could be kept clean, safe, reevaluated, and protected from the elements. Ultimately, they refused and cats did end up dying of exposure.
I tried to get information about how many animals were being impounded, adopted, killed, etc. but they could not tell me as they were a paper-based system and no one had gone through them. All I had were “approximations” but what they did give me was downright scary. In one month, for example, they had somewhere in the neighborhood of only 40 adoptions, 500 or so killed, and about 65 or so animals who “died in kennel” or were missing. Not only is that 40 to 500 ration downright scary, but that last number is truly frightening. Deaths in kennel should never be above 1 or 2% of the total or you have serious neglect going on in the shelter.
They used to be computerized at one time, but since community activists were using the data against them, they actually got rid of the computer system (though they left the computers) and went to a paper based system. Whenever anyone asked for data, the response was an “approximation” as it would cost too much manpower to go through the individual animal records and provide that information. I kid you not. It was the first shelter and still the only one I have ever seen go from computerized data entry to a paper system. And it was by design to thwart community oversight.
The staff were terrible. The animal control officers were lazy and cruel, ignoring injured animals, not responding to neglect and cruelty calls in a timely manner or at all, while the actual shelter care was done by prison inmates with no supervision. The officers were required to clean in the morning and then go out on the road, but they didn’t clean while I was there. They sat around smoking cigarettes and talking before heading out.
The shelter did not vaccinate or do physical exams. And the officers did not try to assist needy animals. I remember during my visit that a dog with a bloody club foot (missing all toes) was brought in by a field officer who did not identify the injury or flag shelter staff. Another dog had an injury from a tight chain around its neck, and a third dog (a puppy) had bloody diarrhea and was a potential parvovirus risk to the rest of the population. No one cared. No one responded. They just sat there until I raised hell and called the head of public safety who oversees the shelter.
They complained of frequent parvovirus outbreaks which are almost always preventable. By employing a rigorous cleaning protocol, vaccinating on intake, and segregating puppies, a shelter can control the spread of parvovirus. They did none of these things. They didn’t even really clean or disinfect, just hosed down kennels. They cleaned cats and kittens without washing hands or using gloves. Water bowls were not cleaned and disinfected and I had to tell the inmates cleaning that day to give fresh water to the animals.
Even while I was there, some of the care I saw was incredibly hostile and I feared what it was like when I was not there. I remember seeing an inmate slamming a kennel cage door repeatedly out of frustration, further inciting an already traumatized dog because he could not restrain the dog. I also witnessed an inmate removing a cat from a cage with a catch pole secured around the cat’s neck and lifting the cat off of the ground, choking the cat. I had to order him to stop. I tried to explain to him (and later the head of enforcement) that control poles should never be used on cats. I later sent the head of public safety information on humane feral cat restraint systems which are incredibly inexpensive. If you are going to use a control pole (which you shouldn’t), but nonetheless, you loop it around the neck and a forearm, not just around the neck. He was literally hanging the cat to death.
For lost and found, they had a bulletin board where people posted lost animals, but no one in the shelter ever checked or matched them with animals brought to the shelter. It was a joke. I suggested procedures to increase the reclaim rate. They refused. Since they were not proximate to retail and residential traffic, I suggested partnering with local businesses like Walmart to do offsite adoptions. They refused. I suggested a TNR program. They refused. I suggested and provided them oversight forms to make sure animal control did their job, protocols were followed, and to increase save rates. They refused. I suggested off-the-shelf shelter management software (the computers were still there, just not being used), including free software in order to provide oversight. They refused. In the end I gave them about 40 pages or so of recommendations, everything from data entry to vaccinations to how to conduct physical exams to adoption policies to matching lost with found pets. I was completely ignored.
I forgot to mention that only staff had access to the feral pen in the back. A few months after I was there, the animal advocates who brought me out demanded that they close the “feral pen.” After they went public, several of the cats in the pen were found dead. The advocates managed to get one of the bodies which they took to a local vet for a necropsy. The cat had been poisoned by anti-freeze. Retribution for complaining? That was the consensus and it really caused a chilling effect. In fact, one of the advocates gave up afraid that any effort to help the animals would just cause more harm. Truly ugly.
Here are some photos Nathan took at the shelter during his visit:
Given this revolting report of what the shelter was like 5 years ago and how resistant the powers-that-be were to making changes, it’s not too surprising Well Kitty was killed there. But it should be. We should be shocked and horrified and disgusted any time a healthy, adoptable pet is needlessly killed in a place calling itself a shelter.
I’m sorry that this life was so brief and full of misfortune for you Well Kitty. Your life matters. Even if the people being paid to care for you didn’t recognize that, we do. What could have been for you, was not. You are loved. You are missed. You are remembered.
We are a humane society of pet owners who don’t want adoptable pets killed in shelters. Join us.