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Friday, May 6, 2016

My problem with "no kill" shelters

Today I was evaluating Fancy,  a lovely little Rottie mix who'd just come into a shelter in my area over the weekend.  One of the kennel attendants was in the "meet and greet" room with the dog and me, and we were discussing her sweet disposition.  She'd be perfect, I hoped, for an elderly friend who has asked me to help him find a companion dog to replace the boxer he'd recently lost to bone cancer.

Suddenly there was a lot of commotion on the other side of a closed door to an adjacent viewing room.  It was obviously a big dog hurling himself against the door in hopes of getting in to see Fancy.  The kennel attendant looked nervously toward the door and said, "Oh no, I hope Cody doesn't give us any trouble."  Cody was a huge, beautiful American Staffordshire terrier who was on display for the public that day.  He was purportedly a real lover of people, but he apparently had a bad habit of trying to kill every other dog he ever saw.

Just as I was snapping a leash onto Fancy's collar to evaluate her leash manners, the heavy metal door between Cody's viewing room and ours burst open.  In an 80-pound flash of brindle muscle and frenzied snarl, Cody pounced on Fancy and locked onto her jowls.  As he clamped down on her, she screamed and moaned. The attendant and I tried to pull them apart, but to no avail.  She said, "Go get help," so I staggered clumsily to the door, leaned out and yelled "Help!  Help!  Dog fight!"  No one was in the lobby at the time, but within five seconds (which seemed like an eternity) several attendants came running from various directions.  They all descended upon the two fighting dogs, grabbing both and holding on.  One of them stuck a spray can and air horn in Cody's face, but the spray and noise were totally ineffective.  Cody wouldn't let go. The staff asked me to leave the room, so I did, feeling useless and sick.

Within a minute, the noise of the fight was over, and an attendant came out to find me in the lobby.  She apologized profusely for what I had "had to witness."  I told her I was more familiar with the predicament than they could ever realize, and that I fully understood what had just happened.  I asked how they finally got the dogs separated.  She said Cody had eventually eased up in preparation to get a better bite, and that's when they pulled the dogs apart. 

After a few minutes of calm, they let me visit Fancy again in an outdoor kennel.  She'd come through the attack amazingly well, without any lacerations or puncture wounds in her muzzle.  She'd be sore and swollen, and she stunk from having expressed her anal glands, but she was okay.

So here's my heartburn:  I believe Cody should be euthanized rather than put up for adoption.  This behavior is neither normal nor acceptable in any breed, and he is a huge liability for the next owner.  Can his behavior be fixed?  Probably not.  At best, it would be a temporary fix until it was pathologically triggered again.  As lovable as he may be with his people, he's psycho with other dogs.  He is a time bomb, through no fault of his own.  Eventually he will kill another dog, possibly injure a person in the process, and cause deep heartbreak for many people.  Yet this is a no-kill shelter, so Cody could remain there until he finds a new home where he will likely inflict his damage again.

In my 30 years of dog training, I've seen and experienced just about everything in the realm of dog behavior.  I know which behavior modification techniques work and which do not, and I've become brutally realistic about projected outcomes.  Some dogs are easily reformable while others are like the psychotic humans we commit to mental institutions....our human "no-kill shelters."

The goal of this shelter  (which, by the way, is the most outstanding shelter I've ever visited in terms of  facilities, caliber of it workers, and dedication to continued training for its staff and volunteers) is to get all its animals adopted out to "forever homes."  When I voiced my doubts about Cody getting successfully adopted, one of the attendants confidently said, "Oh, he'll get placed.  There's a good home for each one of them."

I beg to differ.  A dog with dangerous, truly abhorrent behavior should not be saved.  Nor should a dog who is critically ill and at risk of spreading its illness to others in the shelter and beyond.  There are WAY TOO MANY really good dogs of all breeds being euthanized all over the country in "kill shelters" due to simple overcrowding and ridiculous, indiscriminate breed ban ordinances.  THIS IS HORRIBLE.  But to keep a known psychopath in a shelter and try to re-home him is equally as wrong.

Some of you who are familiar with my situation know that I chose to have my own dog euthanized due to her escalating aggressive tendencies.  Lizzie was a therapy dog, a great obedience competitor, and an agility champion.  Everyone loved her--most of all, me. But when I saw her senselessly attack and nearly kill an older Lab one day in our front yard, I knew she had crossed the line.The behavior was not normal, nor was it fixable.  To prevent her from inflicting that kind of harm ever again, I had her euthanized that same day.  That was two years ago, and the painful wound in my psyche was re-opened by today's incident.

The term "no kill shelter" may warm the hearts of the naive and beckon them to open their wallets and donate.  But to me, the term sends up red flags.  A shelter should be a place offering temporary safe haven to animals until a responsible and permanent solution can be decided.  If that means one out of 200 dogs should be euthanized, then so be it.  I had my own dog killed, for God's sake!  The memory of that day will haunt me to my death, but my only solace is knowing it was the responsible thing to do.

1 comment:

Toni Aulerich said...

Jan, I am so sorry to hear of Lizzy. I knew she had passed but not the circumstances. I am not one who believes in euthanizing an animal or pet, but sometimes there are those very reasons you wrote of. Being the person you are I understand the responsible thing to do was exactly what you did. I find that if a pet needs to be euthanized for the reasons similar to yours and with all that happened recently, we need to step back and ask ourselves if it is fair for the animal to continue on their path to possibly hurting other animals or god forbid, humans. It is not fair for a pet to continue on that path and I can't help wonder what the animal feels. Every case is situational and those variables need to be weighed to make that determination. Again, I am sorry for what you have gone through.