Regarding the recent incident of a dog death at Best Friends, I contacted Patty Hegwood, Director of Animal Care at BFAS, for some clarifications on the information that has been put forth regarding the circumstances of the case. With her permission, I’m sharing the exchange below. My questions are in italics and her responses are in bold.
1. What is the standard of care for housing sanctuary dogs with known aggression issues? Is it double fencing? Something else?
Answer to No. 1:
All of our runs at Dogtown are designed to provide a secure environment and since we operate a sanctuary that houses upwards of 1,700 animals, we are always re-examining our facilities, including fencing and borders, to see if changes are needed. A dog with aggression issues may be housed in a variety of fencing environments, some of which include double fencing and some of which include single fencing in a variety of thicknesses. As a result of the incident, we are planning to take a close look at the enclosures that house our more aggressive dogs to see if we can make improvements.
2. While you did respond at length to Holly Smith’s comment on your blog, I felt you really didn’t answer her specific allegation that “The dog died because there was no double fencing and the care givers were warning the management that this could cause a serious problem.” Could you please clarify in a simple yes/no format whether Holly Smith’s assertion (that caregivers were warning the management that the lack of double fencing could be a serious problem) is true?
3. Regarding the comments on your blog from “Vicki McDog” (“I worked at BFAS and I know how hard it is to get a request for fencing or whatever for the dog’s completed.”) and “Marti” (“Many of us tried so hard to get double fencing put on all the lodges. But management said that there was no money to do so. Again and again, we saw dogs with chewed off ears, tails, legs-all wounds done thru fences. (Example: Nicole got her lip totally damaged because a dog in the next run pulled on Nicole’s lip and tore it to pieces.) We begged, we cried for double fencing, but the answer was always the same, “No money.”)
You responded to these in your post from yesterday by saying, “For the record, there has never been a request for fencing that has been denied due to lack of funds, period.” Could you clarify/expand on that? Are both of these people mistaken or lying or…? Has there ever been a request for double fencing for aggressive dogs that was denied for some reason other than lack of funds? Has there ever been a request for double fencing for aggressive dogs that was not denied per se but perhaps postponed for an extended period? I think you can see what I’m getting at here – basically trying to reconcile your assertions against these other assertions. If it’s a matter of wording, let’s clear that up. If it’s your contention that these people are lying, let’s call a spade a spade.
My answer to both 2 and 3 above
Some employees, both past and present, have differing views on the best way to house dogs and some have weighed in through the social media pipeline. While we always need secure environments for dogs with aggression issues, we also make it a point to keep in mind that we don’t want barriers to adversely affect the emotional well-being of our animals. So we are always trying to find that delicate balance in using the right materials for and combinations of fencing, but still allow our dogs, as much as possible, to interact and become more social.
Some ex-employees, I’m sure, are not aware of changes that have been put in place in recent years to monitor our animal care spaces. Many of these ideas for change came from the employees themselves through a mechanism that’s in place for such suggestions from caregivers all the way to upper management. For example, for quite some time now we’ve had regular bi-weekly team meetings to discuss various aspects of Dogtown, and what improvements might need to be made to address things like medical, training and maintenance needs, including fencing and enclosures.
Regarding your question on previous requests for additional fencing, in my blog last week, I said that there have never been any requests for fencing that have been denied because of lack of funds, and that’s true for all the years I have been at the sanctuary. It is possible that quite a few years back, under different management and budgeting levels, improvements may have been put on hold. But that certainly has not been the case in the last four and a half years.
The assertions “Again and again, we saw dogs with chewed off ears, tails, legs-all wounds done thru fences” and “We begged, we cried for double fencing…” are exaggerated misrepresentations. It is certainly true that there have been some injuries through fences, and it is those incidents that have given rise to changes to more secure fencing methods, but ‘again and again’ gives a completely erroneous impression.
4. Can you clarify the housing the three dogs were in the night of the incident? Were they each in regular dog runs similar to other dogs at the sanctuary who do not have aggression issues? What preventive measures were in place that night and were they the same as every night or, for example, is there usually a nightwatchman who patrols specific areas but he was out sick that night? In other words, did BFAS have 3 dogs with aggression issues in runs w/out double fencing, left unsupervised at night so that if they got out, serious injury or death might result?
Answer to No. 4:
The dogs were in their regular, separate runs with fencing of various kinds that has always been adequate for our needs. As you know we’ve had 22 of the Michael Vick dogs in our care since early 2008. They are part of a canine population that is usually between 400 and 500 dogs. We use many types of fencing, depending on the dog, the type of housing (individual or group), the terrain, and other factors. It is also true, despite some ill-informed postings to the contrary, that the holes that were made in the fencing that night could also have been made through double-fencing. That being said, although we couldn’t have predicted it, something here was clearly inadequate, so we are in the process of determining what changes are needed. One possible solution would be to reinforce areas that house our aggressive dogs with thicker, stronger wire. Should we find this to be necessary, we will make the immediate changes and send out an update.
Running an animal sanctuary as large as Best Friends (more than 1,700 animals on any given day) is no small task and our experience tells us that there is no such thing as being incident free. Most of our animals come to us from abused and abandoned backgrounds. They have emotional or medical issues that challenge us every day. Our constant is keeping the safety and well-being of our animals and staff at the forefront, and at the same time striking a comfortable balance between absolute physical safety and enriching opportunities for social interaction and a strong emotional life.
I want to emphasize that checking fencing and barriers is something that’s a constant process. Beyond the approximately 50 caregivers at Dogtown, we have three dog experts who live right beside the dog areas at the sanctuary. In addition to this, we now have an all-night patrol as an extra security measure.