In mid-February, we were contacted about a pregnant pit bull in a KS shelter. Even under the best of circumstances, pregnancy and whelping are risky times in the lives of mother dogs and their offspring. But in shelters, the risk is even greater due to stress and the risk of disease exposure. Foster homes willing and able to provide care for litters of puppies are few and far between, but we are blessed to have one local family who routinely does this for us. Winnie, the mom dog, came to BDAR and spent about two weeks in foster care before she went into labor. All seemed to be well and she delivered 8 fat, blocky-headed babies. Hours later though, things took a scary and potentially deadly turn.
Britney Wallesch, Executive Director
It’s not the thing anyone really wants to hear (or read) about, euthanasia. It’s definitely not the thing I want to be doing at any time on any day. So when I found myself sitting in the vet’s office yesterday afternoon, cradling a terrified little red dog in my arms while we quickly and painlessly ended her life, it really wasn’t a good day.
But this responsibility is exactly the thing I signed up for when I decided to go down this road, to pursue this career in animal sheltering. We don’t know the whole story of course, but she was adopted from our program last summer and apparently began to struggle in her adoptive home shortly after. The owners never took her to a vet, never called a trainer, never reached out to us for advice. The only time we heard from them after adoption was when they called to return her, reporting now that she’d attacked their other dog and bitten the owners on multiple occasions, including one bite to the face of an adult in the home.
Could she have made it in another environment? Possibly. The dog we got back was not the dog we adopted out. We are always on alert for problem behaviors in our adoptable pet population, because we have to be confident when we send animals back to the public that they are going to be safe. Our staff have trained for years to recognize these problems, to coach our foster homes through recognizing (and reporting) them. If this dog had those red flag behaviors, she masked them very well for the more than 9 weeks she was with us prior to her adoption. But the dog who was returned to us was incredibly fearful. She tucked her tail and flattened on the floor when anyone new to her tried to approach or touch her. When a staff member made to pick up the leash she was dragging, the dog whirled around, snapping at the air and backing away - eyes wide and wild with fright.
There’s no reality in which you can call up a foster care volunteer and say “Hi, can you take this dog home with you? She has attacked other animals and bitten several people and she’s scared to death and tried to bite us too.” Even if someone well-meaning and forgiving said yes and tried to give her a chance, we can’t ethically take the risk that something will happen at home. And in all likelihood, it will happen again. There are no transfer options for dogs with this history, there are no magic solutions, and there is definitely no way we could ever responsibly ask someone else to adopt her after this. In this world, our duty is to protect people from animals like this, and to try and facilitate adoptions that will be safe and will likely result in the very rewarding experience of a new and deep human-animal connection.
A Bigger Problem
Meanwhile, in Colorado, we’re watching another organization’s refusal to shoulder this responsibility play out on a much larger and far more devastating scale. In early March, an organization providing animal services to the city of Pueblo, Colorado failed a state inspection due to overcrowding, lack of veterinary care, and many other infractions. The group had only recently assumed the responsibility for this work in January of this year, having been awarded a contract from the city after the city passed sweeping ordinances demanding the shelter be no-kill. The previous service provider could not meet the demands of the city, despite being far better resourced and having served the city of Pueblo in this capacity for decades.
No wants to euthanize animals. Especially not the people who enter this field because of a deep love for and commitment to them. But - leaving them to suffer in isolation, in over-crowded kennels, without adequate veterinary care, disease prevention, behavioral rehabilitation or intervention, or the chance of ever having a normal life - is a far worse scenario. Take the little red dog, for example. She was craving a connection, and found one with me in the parking lot before I brought her in. She wrapped her paw around my arm and buried her head in my chest. This is a dog who desperately wanted to connect, but for whom any number of mistakes, failings, or misguided actions resulted in the earlier acts of aggression. Because of that history, she’d likely never be adopted again and in another organization may have spent the rest of her life in a kennel connecting only briefly with staff or volunteers who simply don’t have the bandwidth to give her all that she really needed.
I read a post today on my Facebook feed calling No-Kill a Slow Kill. And because I was once one of those card-carrying, flag-waving no-kill proponents, it hurts my heart a little to see it put this way. But the evidence is there, time and again. As professionals, we cannot make euthanasia decisions based on a desired quota. And the fact that now we are seeing some places enact law which mandates exactly that is frankly terrifying.
I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating. The No-Kill movement had good intentions. It brought about much needed transparency, innovation, and change. But it’s run its course at this point and has sadly convinced a large number of people that it takes exactly zero education, expertise, or experience to serve animals in a high volume setting.
When the Beatles sang “All you need is love” they weren’t singing about animal shelters. Because no, love is in fact, not all you need.
What you do need is a community which collectively takes responsibility for its animals. It’s not just the job of shelters and rescues to support these pets and their people. It’s not just the job of shelters and rescues to protect others from dangerous animals. It’s not just our job to seek medical and behavioral support for animals when they need it. These are the jobs of every single person in the community who chooses to make a companion pet part of their life.
It is also the job of the shelters to skillfully and compassionately balance our duty to the animals with our responsibility to the public. Shelters create a temporary refuge, we work to triage animals and prevent cruelty or suffering. We also work to identify dangerous animals and prevent their reentry into society. We do these things quickly and always with the hope that live outcomes will outnumber the opposite. For almost all of us, they do. But that metric cannot be the only thing which drives our work. Because as we have seen when it does, people who don’t know what they are doing make tragic mistakes. Animals and people suffer. Communities suffer.
Change Is Coming
There’s a new movement brewing. The Socially Conscious Sheltering movement. Pay attention. This is the best tool we have to date to balance the needs of animals with the needs of people in the face of real social problems, systemic challenges, and passionate but misguided advocates.
Will it save them all? No. But it will save almost all of them, and it will prevent the unnecessary suffering and neglect that have played out in Pueblo this year. The little red dog may have died yesterday, and for her I am very sorry and my heart is aching. But I know too that that outcome was by far the most humane option, sparing her from further isolation, potential cruelty, fear, or a life of loneliness in a small and sterile kennel. There are fates worse than death.
When we moved into our new building last July, we knew we'd need to make an effort to get to know and trust the neighbors. But what we couldn't have predicted was that one of those neighbors would be a filthy, matted black cat! Soon after we began operating out of our 9th St. location, our staff began to notice the cat sitting on the front porch of a nearby abandoned home. The house was boarded up, but it was lifted off its foundation, and the cat had found a hole through which to enter and stay warm. Nearly every morning, the cat was spotted sunning himself on the dilapidated front porch. But despite our efforts to coax him in, he was having none of our advances.
As a rescue that deals exclusively with rescuing dogs after they have been in a home and/or animal shelter, we often see that many people still have confusion surrounding obtaining a pet. While most of us want to make a responsible decision, many still don’t fully understand the implications and complications about where your pet comes from. Often, our desire to “help” or “save” an animal in a store can cause more harm than good. We have come a long way since the “How Much is that Doggie in the Window,” but we are still here to help you understand the differences in how where your pet comes from can impact their long-term well-being, and the well-being of others.
In January of 2015, a skinny, sad, 6 year old male hound was transferred to BDAR from a rural WY shelter. His past before that was unclear, but what we did know was that the dog, who we called Trapper, had had a rough life. Shy and malnourished, with a dull coat and and a faraway look, Trapper came to BDAR in the hope that the individualized care provided by a loving foster home would bring out the beauty and potential in him, and lead to a loving, forever home.
Check out our adoptable pets that qualify for this promotion!
Even though the term “Rescue” is becoming more common, there are many who don’t know exactly what they are, or the role they play in any given community. While it can vary from place to place, at BDAR we serve to fill a gap in animal welfare that previously didn’t exist. Our rescue doesn’t replace an animal shelter, but serves as a resource for animals before or after they enter the shelter.
We have a chance at $100,000 in lifesaving funds, but we need your help!
The Petco Foundation, in partnership with Petco, will be granting more than $750,000 to animal welfare organizations like ours during their annual Holiday Wishes campaign.
That’s how many puppies Zoe had. She’s not even a year old and her immature body is hard at work trying to raise this huge family.
Zoe was left by her people at an overcrowded shelter in Wyoming just weeks before her delivery date. This happy, sweet dog waited at the front of her kennel, belly heavy with babies, hopefully wagging her tail at every passerby. Thankfully, a foster home was available for Zoe, one with the determination and compassion needed to help see her through the whelping and raising of her litter.
We have heard ‘em all folks…Reasons why people choose not to foster a dog or cat in need. And it isn’t like we aren’t listening, agreeing, or sympathizing. We really do. It isn’t an easy thing to do. It is a big, sometimes inconvenient, commitment. However, there are some things you may not have thought of when it comes to taking in your first foster animal.
A decade ago a new Wyoming pet rescue appeared on the scene. Based in Cheyenne, this group of volunteers saw a need to save dogs in our state from euthanasia. They began at a facility in the community where I live: Casper’s Metro Animal Control. Dogs there were being killed at an alarming rate. Seeing an opportunity to save dogs’ lives, Britney Wallesch and others stepped in, seeing the “black dogs,” the ones people overlooked, with Black Dog Animal Rescue (BDAR). Now, ten years later, Britney and her committed crew have ridden many waves to become a significantly strong voice for dogs and cats in Wyoming and the surrounding region.
Most of our adoptions work out well. In fact, over 80% of the animals adopted from BDAR remain in their homes. However, it is not uncommon for adoptions to not be a good fit, and for pets to be returned shortly after adoption, say within about 90 days. After that, we will still accept them back, but we consider those pets to be private surrenders. If the pet makes it three months in the home without problems and then get returned, we have to assume it is due to circumstances beyond our control at the time of adoption.
Recently, we have been flooded by these types of surrenders.
Daisy originally came to BDAR in December 2015 from Hobbs, NM where she was found as a stray. She was adopted almost a month later, kept for 11 more months, and then returned for not getting along with the children in her house. She does have a nervous demeanor when small kids are around, but nothing reactive so we happily put her back into the BDAR’s care. Now it’s December 2016 and Daisy is back with Ray and Wendy, her foster family. They kept her, enjoying her company and fun antics, for a month before she was adopted again.