The Case for Free Shelter Pets

Wendy, adopted from a shelter for free, loved and valued.

Wendy, adopted from a shelter for free, loved and valued.

Free.  People get excited when they see the word in front of most anything – except pets.  In recent years, anyone who advertises or seeks a free pet has been subject to attack from seemingly well-intentioned animal advocates and probably alienated about the entire concept of adopting a pet in need.  If you are giving a pet away for free, you are scolded for ringing the dinner bell for every dogfighter, animal torturer and other animal abuser in a six state range.  If you are looking for a free pet, you are smeared as an animal abuser (because they are the only people who want pets for free and if any doubt, see previous sentence) and told that if you can’t afford to pay for a pet, you shouldn’t be allowed to have one (because you are too stupid to know that pets come with expenses which obviously your broke ass will never be able to pay).

The teensy problem is that all this is wrong, so wrong, totally wrong and wrongissimo.  To my knowledge, there is no research that backs up any claim regarding free pets and negative outcomes that exceed the standard amount of negative outcomes which can be expected with all pet adoptions.  The data that we do have tells us what should be obvious:  people love their free pets just as much as they love pets they paid money for because they bond with the animal, not the sales receipt.

Nathan Winograd has written about the unfounded fears of giving away shelter animals:

From the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine to the ASPCA, from Maddie’s Fund to the experiences of shelters across the country, every study that has looked at the issue has concluded that waiving adoption fees—in other words, giving the animals away for free—does not impact either the quality of the quantity of the adoptive home, but does increase the number of lives saved.

Lives saved. Sounds good.

And to reiterate, people love FREE.  All people.  As Christie Keith writes:

Free pet adoptions are not aimed at people who otherwise couldn’t afford a pet, and that’s not primarily who they attract. Just as Nordstrom holds special sales only for its best and, presumably, wealthiest customers, just as car dealers and appliance stores and luxury hotels have special promotions, shelters and rescue groups who do free adoptions know that the “free” part is a marketing strategy, not a hand-out.

Free and special price promotions are designed to be attention grabbers. They also serve to focus people on pet adoption not in a “someday when I get around to it” kind of way, but in a “better go this weekend because it’s exciting, fun, and I’ll save money!” kind of way.

Dismissing a group as a whole because of misconceptions about who wants free pets is keeping shelter animals out of homes. And that means resources are tied up, pets are kept in cages or taking up valuable space in foster homes, and tragically for millions of shelter pets every year, it means they end up in the kill room.

This is usually where the folks who like to say “There are fates worse than death” chime in. Let me be clear: There are no fates worse than death. Where there is life, there is hope. While I am in no way denying that animal abusers exist, I know that they represent a tiny minority of pet owners and that at least some of them are willing to pay for the pets they abuse. (Does the name Michael Vick ring any bells?)  Most people try to do right by their pets and love them as family members.  Most adoption applicants will fall into this category, regardless of the fee being charged for the animal.

While Nathan Winograd advocates for reasonable adoption screening, a practice I too support, he makes clear that even without screening, adopted is better than dead:

[I]n shelters where animals are being killed by the thousands, and where they are horrifically neglected and abused in the process, I’d rather they do “open adoptions” if it means getting more animals out of there and doing so quicker because in truth, there is no greater threat to companion animals in this country than the so-called “shelter” in the community where those animals reside. Shelter killing is the leading cause of death for healthy companion animals in the U.S.

[…]

[I]f the worst thing that could happen to them if we gave them away is the very thing that will happen to […] them if they stay at the shelter, is the cost-benefit analysis even close?

Although it is my wish that more shelters would give away more pets more often, I think it’s appropriate to offer some additional lifesaving marketing ideas which could be used in conjunction with or as an alternative to fee waived adoptions:

  • Offer low cost promotions in conjunction with holidays and other special events:  $4 or $17.76 adoption fees for July 4th or $11 adoption fees for June 11, Just One Day event for example.
  • 10 for 10 (can be used with any numbers):  Pick out the 10 animals in most urgent need of homes (long timers, elderly pets, etc.) and offer them for $10.  As each animal gets adopted, replace him with another so the promotion can run continuously.
  • Pay what you will:  Offer animals for a fee of any amount of the adopter’s choosing.
  • Donations appreciated:  Offer pets for free while letting adopters know they are welcome to make a donation of any amount.
  • Run promotions based on physical characteristics:  Tabby Tuesdays or Big and Beautiful Fat Cats for example.
  • Peruse this online book for more marketing ideas.

This adoption promo ad is from 2011 but still a favorite of mine:

Many shelters have been successfully using free adoption promotions in order to save lives for quite awhile.  But among animal advocates, there remains a stigma – baseless as it is.  Let’s embrace the word free.  If you are looking for a word to replace it – one that you can hang your Hate hat on – use kill.  The people who needlessly kill animals instead of sheltering them are deserving of your lectures, not the people who want to save a shelter pet’s life by giving them a home.

MO Shelter: Rescues Down, Adoptions Sluggish, Killings Up, Director “Happy”

The city of Chillicothe, MO contracts the Livingston Co Humane Society (LCHS) for animal control services.  LCHS manages the Forest O. Triplett Memorial Animal Shelter, aka the Chillicothe Animal Shelter, which is run by Lesley Patek.

In 2014, the number of dogs and cats transferred from the Chillicothe shelter to rescue groups dropped markedly from the previous year:

In 2013, 276 dogs were sent to rescues, and in 2014 158 dogs went to rescues.

[…]

Rescued cats decreased from 10 to zero[.]

Adoptions remained stagnant while cat intake numbers increased.  Cat killings also increased in 2014 with Chillicothe killing 64% of its cats.  In summary, a dismal performance for the year which any shelter director should be working furiously to turn around for fear of losing her job, if nothing else.  But:

Lesley Patek, shelter guardian, said she is happy with the numbers. “I think we do an excellent job, but we can’t save the world,” she said.

[…]

“We had to put down litters and litters of kittens this year,” Patek said.

[…]

[The killing of pets at Chillicothe] is no fault of the animal’s or of the animals shelter’s, but more so a fault of irresponsible animal owners, Patek said.

If you can’t own it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it – and this person clearly can’t own it.

I checked the facility’s website to get some insight into the excellent job they do there.  Chillicothe doesn’t disclose what they charge to adopt pets but it sounds like adoption fees are set on a whim:

A pet’s adoption fee will sometimes be higher due to veterinary costs for illness or injury, or due to the fact that it’s a “popular” breed.

There are 8 pets listed for adoption on that page:  3 adult cats, 2 American bulldogs, 1 miniature poodle, 1 papillon mix and 1 chihuahua mix.  I’m guessing the cats all had vet expenses and the dogs are all “popular” breeds.  New pets were last added to the listings on October 10, 2014.  They’re doing the best they can, probably.  I hate that the irresponsible public keeps forcing them to kill animals instead of marketing them for adoption.  And we all know why there are no kittens for adoption at a place that kills “litters and litters of kittens”:  irresponsible pet owners.

Potential adopters are required to sign a contract which states that the adoption fee isn’t really an adoption fee but rather a “gift” so they can’t get their money back if they return the pet.  And the adopter will be required to return the pet at any point during the pet’s life if someone from LCHS conducts an inspection and determines “the animal’s condition and/or living conditions is/are unsatisfactory or that I have violated one or more terms and conditions of this contract.”  So you’re not actually buying the pet and your right to keep your family member is subject to the whims of the LCHS representative’s idea of “unsatisfactory”, whenever.

Aaaaaaanyway, excellent job there Chillicothe, doing your best to get animals into homes.  You can’t save the world.  Or even one kitten, apparently.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Rescue Group Denies Foster Family’s Request to Adopt

Kaiya at home with her family, including her photobomb cat, as shown on the WOWT website.

Kaiya at home with her family, including her photobomb cat, as shown on the WOWT website.

Most readers are probably familiar with the term “foster fail”, used to describe the situation which arises when an owner intends to provide a temporary foster home for a pet in need but ends up falling in love with the animal and deciding he can’t part with the pet.  It happens a lot, primarily because foster owners tend to be compassionate animal lovers and the heart doesn’t always fall in line with the head.  It’s a win for the pet since, instead of adjusting to a foster family then being placed in a strange home environment with a permanent adopter, she gets to stay with the family to whom she has already grown attached.  And it’s a win for the rescue group since it’s one less pet in need of advertising, transporting to adoption events and screening applicants for, potentially opening up a space for another animal in need.

The Wilson family in Omaha began fostering a senior dog named Kaiya for Golden Retriever Rescue in Nebraska (GRRIN) one year ago.  They opened their home and hearts to Kaiya and recently decided the bond they’d developed with her was too precious to break.  The family let GRRIN know they wanted to go ahead and officially become Kaiya’s permanent family.  But GRRIN denied the family’s request, without providing any reason, and the group’s president came to the Wilson’s home to take Kaiya away:

Roger Wilson even told the President he was filming a recent interaction when the President came to the Wilson home. The President can be heard on camera telling Wilson, “I’m not going to talk to you about this on camera, I’m here to transport Kaiya.”

The Wilsons had taken Kaiya to their daughter’s home ahead of the president’s visit in order to protect her from being taken.  They are vowing to fight for Kaiya:

“I’m not going to give her up,” said Wilson. “I’ll fight tooth and nail all the way to the end. The dog belongs with us.”

GRRIN’s president told WOWT that an 11 person volunteer board will hear an appeal regarding the adoption at some unspecified future date.  He refused to comment on any legal action the group might take to gain custody of the dog.

GRRIN’s online listing for Kaiya has been removed from its website but the cached version indicates the page was posted in May 2014 and reads:

I am a 7 year old sweetheart. Yep that’s me. I love to hang out, play a little, and cuddle. I do like to play with a ball or a toy, but mostly I like snuggling up. I have terrific house manners and have been trustworthy in the house. Sometimes I get a little frightened but you know how it is when things are new, they can be a little scary. I get along great with cats and am learning to like my foster dog buddy, and I might be ok around much older children. Fast movements can scare me a little. If you like to snuggle, I might be the girl for you.

GRRIN seems to acknowledge that Kaiya was frightened in the first few months while adjusting to her new home environment.  This would not be unusual for any foster dog, especially a senior.  The video accompanying the WOWT story clearly shows how comfortable Kaiya now is with the Wilson family.  But GRRIN apparently thinks it’s in Kaiya’s best interest to take her safe and secure home away from her and place her in another strange environment.  And they won’t say why.

It sounds like another case of a rescue deeming a home good, but not good enough.  In this case it’s particularly bizarre since GRRIN obviously believed the Wilsons were fine as a foster family for an entire year.  Does the group place foster dogs with people they feel are unsuitable to own pets?  Why was Kaiya’s adoption denied?  Is GRRIN one of those groups that believe that good homes need not apply to adopt pets?  A rescue group that doesn’t rejoice at a foster fail is puzzling, to say the least.  How many people, probably including the Wilsons, are learning about Kaiya’s story and deciding fostering is a terrible idea?

Further, this story is yet another illustration of why it’s so dangerous for pounds to send cats to rescuers without holding them first so their owners can reclaim them.  There is little to no legal accountability for rescue groups regarding adoption screening.  They can deny anyone a pet, anytime, for any reason – or as in Kaiya’s case, for no reason at all.  They can deny someone who has clearly been providing a loving, long-term home to a pet while refusing to discuss the matter. This is not what rescue is supposed to be.

(Thanks Clarice for sending me this story.)

Rescue Group: I Will Hold You Back

Toto, a band well known for a string of hits in the 80s including the song “I Won’t Hold You Back”, was fronted by singer Bobby Kimball.  Kimball and his wife, Jasmin Gabay, formed a rescue group called Saving K9 Lives in California in 2011.  The group’s website has a number of pleas posted for more foster homes in the Los Angeles area.  Rescues typically ask for more fosters so that they can pull more pets from area pounds to save them from being killed.

Saving K9 Lives recently received an offer even better than a foster home – an area pet owner fell in love with one of the group’s dogs and offered to give the dog, called Eloise, a permanent, loving home.  Criss Keeler filled out an adoption application, sent photos of her home and of her 10 year old dog Finnegan.  She was initially approved for the adoption and was eagerly awaiting the arrival of her new family member:

The one remaining step was a home inspection to be conducted the day Saving K9 Lives Plus delivered the dog to her “forever home.”
According to Keeler, the trouble started the moment the group’s founder, Jasmin Gabay, stepped out of her car in front of the apartment building.
“She said ‘I’m just not comfortable in this neighborhood.’ That was kind of the first words out of her mouth. Not even ‘hi’ or anything,” Keeler recalled. “She then went on to say that if she had known this wasn’t West Hollywood, she wouldn’t have gone this far in the adoption process.”

Gabay took Eloise and left.  An hour later, Keeler checked the group’s website and saw that Eloise had been re-listed as a dog in need of a home.  She immediately emailed Gabay to again offer to give Eloise a good home.  Gabay replied stating that the adopters were good, but the neighborhood was not and therefore – no pet for you.

Gabay confirmed that she felt Keeler’s neighborhood wasn’t safe for Eloise. The rescue group founder also issued a written statement defending her group’s adoption standards.

“Our adoption process follows the standard of most rescues. There is an application requesting information, reference check, a phone interview, followed by a home visit. Home visits are an important part of the process,” the statement said.

“If an adopter has never had a five pound dog, they won’t know that the space between their fence and front gate is wide enough for that dog to escape. It’s our responsibility to look for any possible dangers before an adoption takes place and to work with an adopter to remedy those dangers. Of course we also endeavor to match our dogs to an adopter based on activity levels, long term medical needs, training experience and personalities. We have to consider whether a dog will do well in a home with small children and/or if they are compatible with the other animals in the home or if the dog can handle the new adopter’s work schedule.”

Right.  But none of those things were a factor here.  So I assume the only reason any of those issues are being brought up is because the first draft yo-hood-so-skanky didn’t pass muster with the group’s PR peeps.

So let’s tally up:

  • Saving K9 Lives prevented an adopter who wanted to rescue a dog in need from saving one.  Now that person may be soured on the process and will perhaps seek another source for a dog.  Maybe it will be a source we all think is wonderful.  Maybe not.  I’m guessing she’ll probably look for a source that isn’t so snooty.  I can think of several.  And she’ll perhaps tell her friends and family that applying for a rescue dog is a bad experience and recommend they find alternative sources for their next pets.
  • Saving K9 Lives prevented Eloise, who is in a foster home, from going to a permanent home.  Now Eloise is back in limbo instead of learning to feel secure and comfortable in her new life.  But at least she doesn’t have to set her paws down on those inferior sidewalks in East Hollywood, I guess.
  • Saving K9 Lives returned Eloise to her foster home, which they say they need more of, so now there is no free space available there.  I’m sure the dogs currently waiting to be killed at area pounds all completely understand why Eloise had to take up that foster space.  It will surely be a great comfort in the kill room.

Everybody loses.  Congratulations.

Pets do not know or care about their neighborhood status.  They want to love their people and feel loved in return.  Eloise had a chance for that but was denied because of an unfounded bias against poor people.

Discriminating against “good adopters” because they don’t have a fancy zip code holds us all back.  If Saving K9 Lives truly wants to save pets from being killed at the pound, the group needs an attitude adjustment.  Otherwise, a name change may be in order – something like “Saving K9 Lives from Being Wrecked by Having to Suck the Same Air as the Poors” might more accurately reflect the group’s mission.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Main Line Animal Rescue Refuses to Return Lost Pet to Owners

Many people looking to add a pet to the family are open to the idea of getting one from a rescue group.  It’s got a built-in feel good that people enjoy.  And a satisfied customer is likely to refer friends and family in future.  In these ways, rescue groups have got a good thing going.  In fact, they would have to work hard in order to negate the positivity inherent in their work and turn it into disdain.

Unfortunately, there are too many rescue groups doing exactly that.  They discourage people from adopting by employing restrictive screening protocols, shut poor people out of the opportunity to rescue by selling pets for large amounts of money and/or sell lost pets whose owners want them back because the rescue deems the owners unworthy.  That’s a lot of effort to shoot oneself in the foot.  And it’s widely accepted that unsatisfied customers tell many more people about their bad experiences than satisfied customers.  Homeless pets continue to be homeless and so-called shelters continue to kill, citing the long debunked “not enough homes” reason for the killing.

When a PA family’s beagle accidentally escaped his home last week, the owners immediately began searching for him.  The Kreksteins left their contact information with both the police and the local SPCA.  Their dog Flash was microchipped and they were reassured that if any animal group scanned that chip, they would receive a phone call.  And they did – from Main Line Animal Rescue, the place where they’d adopted Flash two years ago. But it wasn’t about getting their dog back:

The Kreksteins say the organization’s executive director, Bill Smith, then sent them an email letting them know that Flash would not be returned to their care because the family violated the adoption agreement. The message said the family failed to call the animal rescue and notify them the dog was missing and said they were not properly caring for him.

The Kreksteins are understandably outraged. They love Flash and consider him a member of the family. And they want their family member back home with them. Main Line Animal Rescue is refusing to reunite Flash with his family because the owners have been deemed unworthy due to the failure to contact Main Line to advise Flash was lost.

Rob Krekstein says the family technically broke the adoption contract, but that he doesn’t consider his dog “a contract.”

“I didn’t rent the dog. The dog lives in my home. It’s a member of my family,” Rob Krekstein said.

Smith said The Kreksteins know what they agreed to when they signed the contract.

Apparently what they agreed to was to make a homeless pet a part of their family, to love and cherish him, and to allow Main Line Animal Rescue to abruptly tear their family apart if the group ever determined the contract hadn’t been followed to the letter, regardless of circumstances. Now everyone knows. If you adopt from Main Line Animal Rescue, don’t get too attached, don’t fall in love with the pet and definitely don’t consider him a member of your family because one mistake and Main Line will smash that bond to bits. Tell all your friends.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

On-Call KY ACO Charged with DUI

Take a look at the And-For-My-Next-Trick-I’ll-Jump-Through-These Rings-of-Fire adoption application required to save a pet from being killed by the Scott Co pound in KY.  The last question on the form is:

Would you allow a home visit by a representative of the Scott County Animal Shelter?

See, the Scott Co ACO must judge you. To see if you are good enough to save a homeless pet from going to the landfill.

Scott Co ACO Leitha Burton was on-call Monday night when she took the county AC truck home with her.  But instead of responding to emergency animal calls that night, ACO Burton allegedly got drunk and her truck smashed into two vehicles and a house on her street, causing over $30,000 in damages.

When police arrived at the crash scene, they reportedly found ACO Burton alone:

Police say Burton was charged with DUI because she admitted to drinking and driving, and because she smelled of an alcoholic beverage and was unsteady on her feet.

While ACO Burton reportedly admitted to drinking and driving the county truck shortly before the crash, she claimed another woman had been driving at the time of the crash and that the driver had run away before police arrived.  Police are investigating.  Meantime, it’s business as usual in Scott Co:

Scott County Judge-Executive George Lusby says Burton won’t be disciplined without a conviction and her use of county property will be examined.

Any adoption applicants volunteering to have ACO Burton drive over to their house to pass judgement on them?

(Thank you Clarice for the link.)

Karma Rescue in CA Sells Lost Pet While Ignoring Owner’s Pleas

When a CA family’s 8 month old puppy got lost last month, owner Rosa Torres began looking for her right away.  She visited her local shelter repeatedly but never saw her puppy, called Raffiki.

In fact, Raffiki had been found running loose and was taken to a neighboring shelter – not the one the owner kept searching.  An area group called Karma Rescue pulled Raffiki from that shelter and listed her online as an adoptable pet.  That’s how Ms. Torres found out where her puppy was.  The owner immediately tried to reach Karma Rescue by phone but had to leave a frantic message explaining she wanted to get her lost pet back.  She then went to the group’s website and filled out an adoption application for Raffiki.

“The application form says why do you want this particular dog. I said because she belongs to me,” Torres said. “I said we love her and we miss her and we want her back home with us.”

But no one from Karma Rescue got back to Ms. Torres.  Instead, they sold Raffiki for $300 to another owner.  In a statement to the L.A. Times, Karma Rescue said Ms. Torres’s application “did not meet the qualifications that Karma looks for when adopting a dog to a home.” The L.A. Times writer explains:

As someone who’s worked with animal rescue, let me translate that: Torres is young; she and her son live with her parents in a small rental home in a not-so-great part of town. Her dog wasn’t microchipped, spayed or wearing ID tags. If she couldn’t manage to find the dog in a week, she doesn’t deserve to get her back.

Worse:

“Had [Ms. Torres] been a little more diligent, we would have spoken with her,” acknowledged Karma Rescue’s lawyer Susan Willis.

Karma Rescue decided that Raffiki’s owner wasn’t even worth talking to, never mind considering the return of her family member to her.  Not everyone agreed with the decision:

“You’ve got groups that help people and their pets, through education and support, versus people who just focus on the animals and tend to demonize owners,” said Jessica Gary, who spent the last year volunteering with Karma Rescue and considered the group one of the city’s best.

She resigned last week because this case revealed an elitism that’s shocked and disappointed her.
[…]
“If they’d returned this dog to the original owner, this new family could have adopted another dog, one that might die in the shelter now because it doesn’t have a home.”

Affirmative.

As we’ve discussed numerous times on this blog, rescue groups have no right to act like they are the 1%, trickling down animals upon the unwashed masses as they see fit. Poor people love their pets too. If rescues are truly wanting to save as many lives as possible, returning a lost pet to an owner should be a no-brainer under normal circumstances. It’s a way to put another one in the WIN column while reallocating resources to save the next animal on the local pound’s kill list. Instead Karma Rescue appears to have been determined to break up Raffiki’s family, because they deemed Ms. Torres unworthy.

On its website, Karma Rescue claims that the human-animal bond is sacred and must be respected:

“Unfortunately, your pet does not have a voice,” the Karma Rescue website reminds pet owners considering giving up their pets. “He can’t tell you he would rather stay with the family he has known and loved all his life.”
“Dogs and cats … go through psychological torment when they lose their family. Your pet deserves to stay with the family he/she loves.”

Apparently Karma Rescue neglected to include a giant asterisk there.

The owner who bought Raffiki is refusing to return her and it’s unclear to me whether Karma Rescue would send her home to Ms. Torres even if the puppy was returned. Ms. Torres and her 4 year old son are heartbroken that their family member will not be coming home. And you can probably guess what Ms. Torres’s opinion of rescue groups is at this point:

“My image for a rescue was always kind people who wanted homes for animals that need rescuing,” she told me. “I was really in shock that they weren’t trying to help me get my dog back.”

Instead of putting one in the WIN column and saving another pet in Raffiki’s place, Karma Rescue has broken up a family and needlessly given other rescue groups a bad name. It’s not lost on me that the group chose the name Karma. In Buddhism, there is no one to deem you unworthy like this group did Ms. Torres, but bad karma must be worked off, no matter how many lifetimes it takes. They might want to get started on that now. Ending their discriminatory practices and focusing on lifesaving would be a step in the right direction.

(Thanks Anne and Davyd for sending me this story.)

Seven People Apply to Save “VERY FRIENDLY!” Pitbull from Memphis Pound

Dog #259497 as pictured on the Memphis Pets Alive page on Facebook, October 8, 2013.

Dog #259497 as pictured on the Memphis Pets Alive page on Facebook, October 8, 2013.

Dog #259497 was impounded as a stray by the Memphis pound on September 25, 2013. A note appears on his cage card: VERY FRIENDLY!

259497 MAS cage card

MAS records for the dog, obtained via FOIA request, indicate a member of the public expressed an interest in adopting this dog on September 28 and gave his name and phone number. Records state that a few months prior, the potential adopter had passed the background check and fence inspection required by MAS. I assume he was not allowed to take the dog home that day because the holding period had not expired.

On October 1st, both a member of an approved rescue group and a second member of the public placed their names on this dog.  MAS conducted the background check on October 2 for this second potential adopter but the yard check had still not been completed by October 8 when the applicant informed MAS he had found another pet.  There are no notes indicating why the dog was not released to the first applicant or the rescuer, both pre-approved, after the holding period expired on October 1st.  For whatever reason, the dog was forced to continue living in a cage at the pet killing facility.  And people continued to fall in love with him.

On October 12, a third member of the public applied to adopt this dog.  MAS completed the background check for that potential adopter on October 15 – the same day a fourth person submitted her information in hopes of taking this dog home.  The background check was completed for the fourth applicant on October 16.  MAS never conducted the fence inspections for either of these applicants according to the records even though both passed the background check.    There are no notes indicating why the dog was not released to the first applicant or the rescuer, both pre-approved, after the holding period expired on October 1st.  For whatever reason, the dog was forced to continue living in a cage at the pet killing facility.  And people continued to meet him and fall in love.

On October 19, a fifth person submitted information in hopes of adopting this dog.  MAS completed this applicant’s background check on October 22.  MAS never conducted the fence inspection for this applicant according to the records even though he passed the background check.    There are no notes indicating why the dog was not released to the first applicant or the rescuer, both pre-approved, after the holding period expired on October 1st.  For whatever reason, the dog was forced to continue living in a cage at the pet killing facility while MAS staff did nothing to get him out alive.  Meanwhile, this note appears in the dog’s records on October 21:

mas note 10 21 13

To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Coleman is not a behaviorist.  There are no notes indicating a behaviorist ever saw this dog.  There are no notes indicating this dog was ever walked and no behavioral notes beyond the one above.  The dog who was “VERY FRIENDLY!” may have started going kennel crazy inside the pet killing facility, I don’t know.  With two pre-approved safe places to go and several other applicants just waiting for MAS to complete the fence inspection, this dog could have been released long before this date.  Meanwhile,the dog continued to be housed in an area visible to the public and people continued to meet and fall in love with him.

On October 24th, a sixth person applied to adopt this pet.  There are no notes indicating MAS conducted either the background check or the fence inspection for this applicant.  On October 25th, the records contain this note:

mas very friendly

Despite having 6 members of the public plus an approved rescuer who each offered to save this “VERY FRIENDLY!” dog, MAS killed him on October 26, 2013.

MAS dog #259497 as pictured on the Memphis Pets Alive page on Facebook, October 22, 2013.

MAS dog #259497 as pictured on the Memphis Pets Alive page on Facebook, October 22, 2013.

Adoption applicant #1 was pre-approved.  The rescuer was also pre-approved.  Why didn’t MAS send this dog home with either one of these people as soon as the hold period expired?

Applicant #2 waited for MAS to do a fence check for more than a week and finally adopted another pet.  Another missed opportunity to save this dog’s life.

Applicants #3, 4 and 5 each passed a background check but MAS could not be bothered to perform the fence checks for any of them.  Three more opportunities wasted.

Applicant #6 did not have either check performed by staff and MAS killed the dog two days after the applicant’s information was submitted.

The Memphis pound requires Pitbull adopters to jump through special hoops in order to save pets from their kill room.  But MAS can’t be bothered to perform the inspections they themselves require.  Even when a pre-approved applicant and a pre-approved rescuer were willing to save this dog, MAS couldn’t be bothered to release him.  Why?

This pet had seven chances to get out of MAS alive and MAS dropped the ball seven times.  And instead of finally doing right by the dog, they sent him to the kill room where he was probably tortured in the squeeze device on the wall before ultimately being dropped in a garbage bag.  Seven people fell in love with this dog while one vet with a notorious track record made one negative behavioral note and that trumps everything?  Nobody WANTS to kill animals?  Seriously MAS, you people are creeping me the math out.

Discussion: Yay or Nay on a National Animal Abuse Database?

Regular readers know that I have long supported the idea of having a national database of animal abusers as a tool for shelters (as well as rescues, breeders and everyone else who gives or sells pets to strangers) to help protect animals.  I believe a brief adoption application, a photo ID (verifying the applicant’s name, address and date of birth) and a check for animal cruelty convictions should be the only screening methods used by any facility which kills animals.

In the absence of an official national database, we have use of the internet to search for animal cruelty convictions.  But a well organized and monitored database containing reliable criminal conviction data from state records would be superior.  Such a tool may be available soon:

An animal rights group out of California is creating a national database of convicted animal abusers. The Animal Legal Defense Fund of Cotati, California is asking states to provide public data in hopes of alerting adoption centers of convicted animal abusers.

HSUS however issued the following statement of opposition:

“Animal cruelty—like other crimes—must be reported, classified, and analyzed in a comprehensive manner that results in swift and efficient enforcement of the law and the general improvement of society. It is not clear that the current round of proposals to create a public registry database would materially advance these goals. In fact, it probably does nothing to help these people learn a new way of viewing and treating animals. Strengthening the human-animal bond is our ultimate goal, not deepening the break. We must utilize what energy and resources we can muster on the most effective approaches to the scourge of cruelty.”

Civil liberties groups also object to the registry on the grounds that it will be used to publicly shame individuals.

I asked several animal advocates for their thoughts on the cruelty database.  They raise some interesting points.

Nathan Winograd, director of the No Kill Advocacy Center:

I would rather this be in the hands of accountable public officials, but in the absence of that, giving people with animals access to legally accurate information so that they can protect the animals in their care is important. As I wrote previously, “By knowing the right lies to tell and which truths to omit, convicted animal abusers can potentially acquire animals even from those who are dedicated to their protection but are currently forced to operate in a state of ignorance simply because they lack access to valuable information that would help them make better, more informed choices about the animals in their care.” Although this was written to support a model law, the proposed database likewise would “strip abusers of this advantage and prevent future animal abuse with nothing more than a few simple strokes of a keyboard.” As to HSUS, this is another example of their putting abusers before animals.

Christie Keith, journalist and shelter pet advocate:

In general, I oppose anything that reinforces the widely held and false idea that there is an army of animal abusers lining up to adopt pets from shelters and rescue groups. The hysterical aversion to Craigslist, draconian adoption policies, and onerous screening and application processes are hindrances, not helps, to finding good homes. I also have a concern that this registry would simply reflect the unfairness of our criminal justice system, with its heavy bias against the poor and people of color.

All that said, as a journalist, I believe in the right of the public to be able to easily obtain public information. To say that public information should be available, just hard to find, is hypocritical.

If civil liberties groups like the ACLU — an organization I normally support — want to end the public availability of criminal convictions and trial records after a sentence is served, they can advocate for that. But to oppose putting this public information in a searchable database so citizens can access it seems contrary to the ACLU’s own beliefs.

Ann Brownell, board vice president at UPAWS:

In my personal opinion I think it is a good idea. We have a “Do Not Adopt” list that we check for every adoption we do, but personally I think to have a larger database to check would be a benefit. The bottom line for shelter and rescues is protecting the pets they are finding new homes for. It would not be the intent to shame anyone. I am all for people getting help and being rehabilitated. But if they are habitual and convicted animal abusers, shelters and rescues should be able to get that information for the sake of the lives they are saving, rescuing and protecting.

Denice Ryan Martin, Wisconsin Voters for Companion Animals:

I think that all the major animal welfare groups (ALDF, Best Friends, No Kill Advocacy, HSUS, ASPCA, American Humane Assocation) should collaborate on this critical issue. They should start a healthy dialogue with each other and settle on a model that makes sense for all fifty states and that legislators will embrace on fiscal, practical, policy and emotional levels.

If the ALDF model, or a version of it, makes sense, then all the groups should endorse it. If we all present a united force against animal abusers, then perhaps positive change will take place.

What are your thoughts on a national database of animal abusers? As an adopter, would you object to having your name searched in the database by an organization from which you wanted to obtain a pet? As someone giving or selling pets to strangers, would you make use of such a national registry in screening applicants? What potential benefits and/or downsides might an animal abuse registry offer that currently do not exist?

U.S. Government Reports on Our Pet Expenditures

On the subject of how much money we spend on our pets, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published “‘Tails’ from the Consumer Expenditure Survey” on its website and the Hartford Courant breaks down the information:

The average amount each household spent on pets in 2011 was $502.

Households tended to spend 1 percent of income, no matter how much or how little they earned.

The release tracked spending from 2007 to 2011, and it didn’t show any trends of households trading down to cheaper food brands during the recession, or surrendering dogs due to foreclosure.

Additional tidbits from the government:

In 2011, households spent more on their pets annually than they spent on alcohol ($456), residential landline phone bills ($381), or men and boys clothing ($404).

Average household spending on pet food alone was $183 in 2011. This was more than the amount spent on candy ($87), bread ($107), chicken ($124), cereal ($175), or reading materials ($115).

Even when spending at restaurants dropped during the recent recession (December 2007–June 2009), spending on pet food stayed constant.

From 2007 to 2011, spending on pets stayed close to 1 percent of total expenditures per household, despite the recession that occurred during this time.

The main takeaways for me:

Shelters and rescues that discriminate against poor people who want to adopt pets based on the assumption that middle/upper class adopters will spend a greater portion of their income on the pet are not only behaving unethically, their assumption is baseless. Poor people spend about 1% of their income on their pets, just like other pet owners. While it’s true poor people have less to spend overall, it’s noteworthy that everyone is on the same level when percentages are calculated.  In other words, those who can afford to spend more generously on their pets, don’t.

The survey did not find any increase in surrendering dogs (presumably to shelters) due to foreclosure.  This “increased surrenders due to foreclosures” is a claim I’ve heard countless times in recent years from shelters all over the country.  Is there a disconnect here?

The recession does not appear to have impacted pet expenditures.  To my mind, there is a simple explanation for that:  Pets are family.

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