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In this episode, Marissa, Ursa, and Kayla talk about the no-kill animal sheltering movement. All 3 of our hosts have worked at open-admission animal shelters and have had to work with many difficult cases at animal shelters.
This episode was recorded partially as reaction to events at the Pueblo, Colorado animal shelter – but it’s about much more than just this incident.
What’s Going on in Pueblo?
To understand what happened in Pueblo, we’ve got to go back in time a bit. All of the information I have here is thanks to an article from KRDO.
In February 2018, Pueblo passed the Pueblo Animal Protection Act (PAPA), which mandates that the local shelter must have a live-release rate of 90%. That means that 90% of the animals who enter the shelter need to leave alive, either through adoptions, return to owner, or through transfers to other shelters.
This was partially pushed on after a few high-profile dogs, primarily long-stay dogs with behavioral concerns, were euthanized at the shelter.
There are a lot of problems with this legislation – read more about them here.
Starting January 1 of 2019, Paws for Life took over the Pueblo animal shelter. The Humane Society of Pike’s Peak Valley had operated the shelter for 16 years, but the Pueblo City council members found that Paws for Life would save the city about $500,000 compared to HSPPV.
We’re now recording on April 2, just about three months later. There was a state inspection of the PAWS shelter that found some deplorable conditions, and long story short, PAWS is no longer operating the shelter in Pueblo.
According to the Pueblo Chieftain, this is what the inspection found:
- “Animals with a known history of aggression, and one supposed to be held on a rabies quarantine by state law, came in contact with humans and animals.
- Sick and healthy animals were housed together.
- Animals were in need of veterinarian care, including a cat with bloody drool coming from his mouth, another with a contorted face, and a dog unable to stand.
- Animals with documented health concerns were untreated for days. One cat, which apparently hadn’t been fed in a month, waited nine days to see a vet. It eventually died on the table.
- A dog, impounded after he bit a woman on the face and arm, was documented as not being up to date on rabies vaccination. An employee took the dog — which was supposed to be on a quarantine — on a “socialization” walk. During that walk, he nearly bit a customer service rep on the face. The dog also tried to attack a smaller dog.
- The shelter kept no records of animals that needed medications.
- The shelter was in deplorable conditions which can lead to disease, infecting the entire population.
- Felines of opposite sex were housed together, leading to breeding.
- The surgery room and the exam/prep area was not clean.
- A surgery room had dried urine on the floor from a paralyzed dog allowed to free roam.
- Dish tubs previously used for litter boxes were swapped for tin foil bread-loaf pans, which were too small to ensure all waste was contained in the pan.
- Animal enclosures were unsafe and potentially dangerous, with spaces too small for the animals kept there.”
Challenges With No-Kill Shelters
- Not open admission
- People who need to rehome their animals may be turned away, leaving them with few options
- Generally, the least adoptable animals are turned away, forcing people to go to open-admissions shelters
- Animals who are behaviorally or physically unhealthy will be kept in the shelter indefinitely, or until they are adopted out – which brings its own challenges
- This can cause stress, boredom, stereotypical behaviors, and exacerbate medical and behavioral conditions, making animals even less adoptable
- In shelters with no qualified or skilled behavior staff, behavior issues go untreated
- Warehousing dangerous animals creates risk to staff
- Dangerous animals
- Some animals simply do not make good pets
- The problems with placing marginal dogs
- Nobody walks into a shelter looking for a “project,” nobody wants to live next to a dangerous dog
- Domino effect of scary shelter dogs hurts many dogs
- As shelter professionals AND behavior consultants, we see both sides and the impact that aggressive or highly fearful animals have on the community, especially the families who adopt them
- Sanctuaries are few and far between, and can sometimes result in warehousing
- Weighing community risk, the individual risk with the welfare of the animal
- Open admissions shelters are forced to take the “overflow” animals, many of which are unadoptable and are realistic candidates for euthanasia
- If one shelter in a community changes to “no kill,” it puts more pressure on the other shelters (domino effect) causing the community to perceive the other shelters as “bad”
- Open admissions shelters then catch scorn for being “high kill”
- Not the hill to die on right now
- Unfortunately, resources in sheltering/rescue ARE limited and pragmatic decisions have to be made about where to use those resources, not emotional ones
- Shelters need qualified behavior staff!
- Healthy, highly adoptable animals should be prioritized – triage.
- Overall welfare needs to be considered, not just an arbitrary number
- Weigh risk to shelter, staff, community, animal
- Open admissions shelters need support, not scorn
- Realistic home options? Are there actually that many single women with no kids and no friends and a farm and no guests and a 10-foot fence and tons of expertise in behavior/training who want a dog with hip dysplasia?
- There are things worse than death
- This doesn’t mean all tough animals should be euthanized, though!
- Difference between owned animals and shelter animals – behavior consultants can do a lot more for a dog who’s got a family and a home than a shelter dog who’s in flux.
Where We’d Like Animal Sheltering to Go
- A standardized approach to assessing and diagnosing health and behavior issues (or lack thereof) A LA Asilomar accords
- Comprehensive medical care and triage
- Educated and qualified behavior staff
- Honest adoptions counselors who will disclose any potential issues to adopters
- Thoughtful euthanasia of animals with untreatable medical or behavioral conditions
- Collaboration between shelters/rescues in a community
- Socially conscious sheltering
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.