Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Euthanasia for Lack of Space and Shelter Transparency

Anyone remotely associated with the animal rescue movement over the past ten years would agree that we have made enormous progress. Not long ago, the majority of animals turned into shelters didn't make it out alive, and not due to any unsolvable medical or behavioral failings of their own. 

Today, a quick Google search reveals that about 2.4 million "healthy, adoptable" dogs and cats are euthanized each year, and many shelters in unlikely communities are releasing more than 90% of their animals "out the front door," alive and into adoptive homes, rescues, or sanctuaries. These shelters often rightly advertise their save rates, proclaiming that they are no longer euthanizing for lack of space.

Just a few years ago, the number of animals euthanized was closer to 4 million--so we are making enormous progress, and fast.  But if you work or volunteer in a shelter, or if you are heavily involved in animal rescue, it is natural to question these numbers. 
Lima Bean

What does a 90% live release rate really mean?

Does it mean that 90% of adoptable animals are really leaving through the front door? 

Or does it just mean that "adoptable" has a new, more narrow definition? Does it mean, by any chance, that a healthy pit bull who loves other dogs and loves people, can be euthanized because he has some separation anxiety, or barks a lot, or is having trouble with housetraining, and is therefore "unadoptable"?

Does it mean that animals whose owners request euthanasia, can be killed without altering the shelter's proclaimed bottom line--even if the request is prompted by behavioral issues that may be relatively simple to address? If the shelter euthanizes those animals without conducting its own evaluation and attempting its own interventions, should the shelter's "live release rate" be unaffected? 

And if, once we get answers to these questions, we find that a shelter is in fact euthanizing for lack of space, the next question is why? 

Why would a shelter with a number of empty kennels euthanize for lack of space? 

Why wouldn't a shelter house compatible animals in pairs or small groups, to dramatically reduce stress and accommodate more? 

Why not aggressively promote foster programs, and let existing fosters know when help is needed? 

Why does a shelter, like Prince George's County Animal Management Division in Maryland, euthanize around 6,000 animals a year when there is a demand for roughly 27,000 pets every year in that county, and the shelter makes available for adoption only around 9,000 animals? 

(And incidentally, why in God's name is PGAMD closed on Sundays, which may be the only day working people have available to look for a pet?)

Of course there are lots of possible reasons. Shelters are understaffed, underfunded, they can't afford enough trained staff to do all the behavior modification that would save lives. 

Potential adopters want a purebred dog, they want a puppy, they want a goldendoodle.

And of course, some shelters are undoubtedly succeeding despite all that, and have every reason to trumpet their high live release rates because they are real and the result of a lot of hard work. 

The Washington Humane Society in Washington, DC has seen enormous progress in its live release rate in large part due to the success of its phenomenal Trap-Neuter-Return program for feral cats. The many communities that lack these programs will be hard-pressed to reduce their euthanasia rates...a fact that DC's Department of Energy and the Environment should consider as it contemplates rolling back TNR as part of its proposed Wildlife Action Plan

Some communities of course face far more challenges than others in saving lives, such as densely populated urban areas and areas that suffer from a dearth of pet-friendly housing. Prince George's County is among several that still have pit bull bans on the books, meaning that all pit bull-type dogs that come in the county shelter's doors face euthanasia if they are not rescued by an entity from outside the county. Situations such as this of course pose a monumental challenge to getting the majority of animals out alive. 

To raise questions about live release rates and transparency is not to minimize the enormous efforts that many shelters have made to save lives, nor is it to suggest that achieving save rates near 100% is an easy task. It is merely to demand that claims about shelter successes be accompanied by complete, clear definitions of terms used, and articulation of the challenges that remain.

Shelters should not fear being honest with their volunteers, adopters, and even their staff about the grim realities of not being there yet with respect to No Kill. An increasingly educated public will increasingly demand that they do so anyway. Getting out in front of that trend will only encourage loyalty from those who understand both the challenges, and also the ultimate feasibility, of achieving live release rates that blow away all notions of what we once thought was possible.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Checking out a Shelter Pup with iPAW

Though I've come close a few times, I've somehow managed not to foster any dogs since foster failing with Dahlia. 

And you might ask, why is fostering something to be resisted, and not joyously embraced? Well, because I know myself, and I know I get these foster urges, and then I end up with not one not two but three difficult, energetic, high-maintenance, leash-reactive dogs who wrestle and play and play-fight and harass one another constantly, and I end up wondering where I went wrong and why I had to turn out this way.

So recently, I decided to just once make a rational decision with respect to dogs, and find a way to help them that doesn't involve massive upheaval to my life. So I stopped by the shelter and checked out a dog for the afternoon. This is Troy.
Troy is friendly, outgoing, joyful, calm in the car, and has a soft mouth. He's been in the shelter for a long time--so long that his adoption fee is waived!  I can't figure out why he hasn't been adopted yet. 

I think people just don't give a dog a chance when the first impression is so overwhelming. 

Ha! I wish I could show them what Fozzie was like when I first got him out. Troy's a piece of cake. 

So much so that the following week, when Florian was with me, I decided to go back and check him out again. We went for another nice walk through downtown, bought him a burger, and had some amazing cuddles. 

Then Florian had to go to work, but I didn't feel like I'd had enough. 

So I went back to the shelter and checked out another dog.

Phoenix is more mellow and shy than Troy. 

She has a really gentle, precious manner about her where she keeps looking at her human during a walk, and wants to be as close as possible to your legs. 

When you stop, she loves to put her paws up on you just to be close. Not in an obnoxious jumping up kind of way, but in a sweet, wanting reassurance kind of way. 

I think she must have come in to the shelter recently as she is still really skinny, and she had a bit of dandruff. 

So after walking around with her downtown and meeting lots of fans, I decided to take her home so I could give her a bath.

I had a feeling she would do well with Dahlia because of her sweet personality, so I decided to introduce them.

Not surprisingly, she was sweet and deferential. And surprisingly, Dahlia was pleasant and calm! 

Since it went so well on leash I decided to let them play a bit in the back yard, and I was so proud of everyone. 

Dahlia was very interested in Phoenix, and Phoenix really liked Fozzie. 

Fozzie wasn't thrilled with the whole thing but he was tolerant, and he got some really good treats. 

What a revelation! Dahlia humped some of the time but she also spent time calmly sniffing, and just doing her own thing. 

She didn't obsess with Phoenix the way I was afraid she would. So yes, I am rethinking the self-imposed foster ban. And I'm not gonna lie, it feels good.

I was so in love with Phoenix by this point that I would have kept her right then, but I had to let the right people at the shelter know first. So I brought Phoenix back nice and tired and a bit cleaner.

I had seen another dog, Snoop, when I was picking up the others and I just had to spend some time with that sweet little face. 

Snoop is a precious little baby, energetic and exuberant but not bad on the leash. When we saw another dog, she went wild with the most ridiculous loud squeaky barks but when I got treats out in time, she sat nicely for them and just watched the other dog walk by. 

Her face and her kisses are completely to die for and I think she'll get adopted soon!

Could it be by you? Why not check out these pups and others at the Washington Humane Society today!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

End-of-Summer Round Up

These weeks have included some quiet pleasures and a few new discoveries. 

While it was still near 100 and humid, it was a good time to go spend some time with Aunt Nancy at the pool.

Dahlia loves being outside with us all day, sunbathing--with lots of sunblock on her ears and nose-- 

getting lots of affection,

 and her favorite, being around the people food. 

Better enjoy the pool while we can, because after that it started to cool off. 

Still lots of opportunities to take the dogs into the woods and let them run so they get nice and tired, 

and at the first puddle Dahlia just can't resist the opportunity to lie down in it 

and then roll around so her entire head gets covered in mud.

Good thing we were near a stream so we could rinse that thing off well. 

Why is it that the more disgusting and idiotic they are, the more irresistible? 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pre-birthday Date Day

This year my birthday fell on a Monday, so it seemed fitting to dedicate the entire preceding weekend to celebration. Saturday was the Greenbelt Blues Festival. I only took one picture, but it was a good one. 

That's my dad, with the cigarette.
But it was a fun festival, with good music and a nice time with the family. I got to dance with my sister, see some friends, and my buddy Eric gave me a long-handled branch trimmer. 

Sunday was time to get away from everybody with Florian and the dogs.

We found a new hike that is just a short drive away, but since there isn't really a trail, there was no one around and the dogs got to go off leash. 
Sometimes I just love a hike where you have to walk through the water,

especially since the dogs just love it 

and since you don't have to worry about them overheating or getting dehydrated.
And with those two nice and tired out, there was absolutely no guilt in taking the afternoon away from them to go boating. 

Just south of DC and near the Pentagon are a tangle of highways that are impossible to keep straight, but after missing exits and driving in circles a few times we found our way to Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove. This is a nifty little park and marina on the Potomac, a refuge of tranquility in the midst of all that traffic and development. 

We had Florian's little inflatable boat with the electric motor, 
so it was an adventure any time a big boat, with its big wake, got close to us. 

A little bit stressful, but also fun. And it was also kind of fun to look at all those enormous, expensive boats and gloat quietly about how peaceful, 

fun, relaxing, and scenic 

it is to just go out on our small, inexpensive, easy to set up little dinghy.

I have to say, Florian made a good purchase with that thing. 

It barely fits two people but that just makes it more romantic, and it definitely is not dog-friendly but we already decided that boating is not our dogs' strong point.

Glad the days are still long enough to fit in both a dog hike and a dog-free boat trip! And a fitting way to celebrate the coming Equinox.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

Dogswell Vitality Treats from

We just love these monthly deliveries of high-quality snacks from 

Dogswell Vitality Duck Strips Dog Treats, 5-oz bagThis month did not disappoint with Dogswell Vitality Chicken Strips.

I decided to see if they could be used to interrupt a hard-core wrestling, romping, tugging session between Fozzie and Dahlia.

This time, there was a distant thunderstorm as they wrestled 

so Fozzie was extra anxious and intent on channeling his anxiety through chewing on Dahlia. 

Would they even notice when I dangled a tasty snack in front of their foaming, frothy gurgling little mouths?

The answer is yes. These limited ingredient, chewy strips are so savory that those dogs disengaged from their idiotic game and were all ears and noses the minute they caught a whiff of their gluten-free, flaxseed-flavored goodness. 

And after enjoying a few, they seemed a lot less anxious! Thanks for helping us get through another stormy night!