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Pet Politics and Symbiotic(ally Dysfunctional) Relationships

Posted 02-23-2008 at 04:59 AM by Brimshack
Updated 02-23-2008 at 06:29 AM by Brimshack

Okay, so I'm still getting used to my new job, Community Relations with the local Humane Association. It's a whole new range of political angles for me, not to mention a new work regime. Yesterday was kind of a watershed day, and I sometimes think with my keyboard, so ...a post is born.

Part I (Ooh! I am long winded, I have to break this up, er... a title) ...Um, Part I: A Dilemma is Born

(Two figurative births already, and I haven't even started.)

First, the day before - one of the Kennel Guys moved all the dogs from one row of the shelter. We have 60 regular Kennels in 4 separate rows + 5 or 6 more in Dog-Isolation. So, he effectively removed 15 Kennels from operation. Turns out, this was in preparation for a high pressure steam cleaning operation, which precedes a paint job. We get it at a huge discount, so it's whenever the service decides there is time in their schedule, and suddenly it was time to commence. Okay, the Kennel Tech expresses frustration, but not desperation. I go about my business.

Today (I'm just going to write this as though it were still yesterday) - I start the day by cleaning the cat cages (move a cat to a different cage, throw away the litter and food, and newspaper, wash the cage and replace everything for the next cat. Takes less than 2 hours, and I'm happy. We had enough cats to make it interesting, but not so many I can't give them a little attention. (I feel bad when I have to move fast and can't afford to pet them a little. ...some of them, getting moved to a new cage is the highlight of the day.) First order of business is done, I go to my office and start thinking about various projects, trying to decide on the individual project for the day.

So, around 11:00am one of the Kennel Techs walks into my office with a little card that says "Celebrity Pet." We put these on Kennels of dogs that we put on the local news station. We go twice a week. And there are 2 "Celebrity Pets" in the Kennel today, so she leans in the door and she's clearly looking for a place to put the card. I'm thinking, cool, one of the two got adopted. As one is a Pit Bull that has been at the shelter for over a month. We've been trying various extra angles to get her adopted, and she's grown on all of us. I'm hoping it's her Turns out I'm only half right. She's returning the card for "Peggy" the Pit Bull, but not because someone is adopting her.

We are maxed out. All the available Kennels are full, and since we are legally obligated to take any animals brought to us (including those by security after hours), we HAVE to have about 6 Kennels free. So, we are going to be putting at least 6 dogs down today. Peggy is one of the oldest dogs, and Pit Bulls are really hard to place (people are justifiably nervous, even when the dog is as sweet and lovable as Peggy.)

The Kennel Tech proceeds to enlist my help in selecting dogs to put down. She says she's gone through the Kennel and turned the information cards sideways for all the dogs that she thinks ought to be put down. She tells me to let her know if I disagree with any of her decisions. Well, I don't. There are several that appear aggressive and a couple that are ill. I agree with those. But Peggy is up, and so is another Pit Bull-Boxer mix that I had been trying to get adopted through online sources. Her name was "Brandy," and both Peggy and Brandy were absolutely the most lovable dogs, always trying to get someone to take them out of the Kennel, always gentle, and always affectionate. Unfortunately both are full grown and both have been here awhile, so they are the logical choices if we have to put a dog down. I don't disagree here either, but it makes more of an impression. I'm sick. The Kennel Tech is sick. Today is going to suck.

And, as I am about to learn I am going to be a full participant in the day's suckage.

Now, the Kennel Tech asks me if I've assisted in euthanizing any dogs yet? I said, no, and we both knew that this is supposed to be part of my training. No-one tapped me for it yet, but I'm in no position to say 'no.' She wants me to help her put Peggy and Brandy down along with all the others. Great!

Part II: Desperation Measures

I start thinking (Yeah, I know. Don't laugh. I do think on ocassion).

We have a Foster Care Service that is supposed to come by on ocassions and get older dogs, test them for aggression, and if they're okay, take them out of the shelter and place them with foster pet-owners. I can call them. They may have some space, or they may not. It's a possibility, but it could take awhile to put together.

There is a high profile pet shelter out of state that has proposed a swap of about 5-10 cats for one difficult-to-place dog. (They have about 800 cats from a cat-hording case in Nevada, and they are placing a lot of Michael Vick's dogs, so they ought to have good connections for placing pits). We have very few cats right now, so it's not a bad offer. When I tried to take them up on it by email (hoping for 5 cats in exchange for Peggy or Brandy), that issue was lost in a range of other discussions. And they're a ways away, so the likelihood I could get anything done there is low.

Also, there is another shelter in the area. They are essentially "no-kill", which also means they only take highly adoptable animals, but we have an arrangement to place dogs with them from time to time. I had tried placing a dog with them the previous week, but they never showed, and the main person I was to contact had never returned my emails. There is a lot of friction between the two shelters, because...

1) We compete for donations. That's in the back of every admins mind, even if folks don't talk about it.

2) They're essentially no-kill and we obviously will put down animals. So, the ideological differences between old fashioned Humane Association ethics versus the No Kill movement plays into a lot of what we do. And there is an artificial ecology to all this that totally undermines and complicates the polemics in weird ways ...essentially no-kill and will-kill shelters interact in a variety of ways, both planned and unplanned ...whether they want to or not.

3) There is a history of bad blood between the organizations, cooperative agreements not followed and lots of explanations as to who is at fault, ...and the kicker, I'm replacing someone who left our shelter to go work there. So, it's all very personal. ...lots of animosity, made still worse by the prospect that we all really ought to get along.

Anyway, I'm not getting actual cooperation from this other shelter (though admittedly, it hadn't been urgent before Today), and no-one at the Humane Association really wants to try anyway, because they don't trust the other shelter.

I mention the other options to the Kennel Tech who dismisses them as too slow. She also points out that they won't take either of the Pits, which are the ones we really want to save. But to be fair those are the two that should go next if we have to put any down for reasons other than health or safety. So, most likely, we're screwed, even if they take a couple dogs off our hands. The Tech definitely doesn't think it's worth trying.

I'm supposed to help put some animals down in a little while, but I have a little time. So, I figured I ought to at least try.

I call the other shelter and leave a message. Then I call the Foster Service. I get the lady in charge of the Foster Service, and tell her quite frankly that we've run out of space. She gets my point and says she will see what she can do.

I drop the out-of-state shelter as being too far fetched, and too slow even if it does work.

After thinking about it, I call the other local shelter again, and I actually get a person instead of a phone router. I ask her for various people. They are all in a meeting. So, I tell her what I want and who I want her to get, and I tell her it's urgent. I ask her as politely as I can to please contact that person as soon as the meeting is over and ask her to please contact me as soon as possible.

Kennel Tech lady comes and gets me.

Part III: Dammit!

I get introduced to Euthanasia. We put down a few animals.

Part IV: Can Has Cavalry?

I walk back out front and get a message that the folks from the foster program will be coming at around 2:30. They might be able to take 2 animals. We adopt out a dog. Then we learn that 2 animal control vans have been dispatched to a nearby town. That means they expect to bring back a few dogs, maybe several. So, we're counting open Kennels against probable placements, cringing and hoping. An argument is fielded that maybe we can at least use Kennels marked for cleaning and painting as back-up, so maybe we don't need 6 clear Kennels. The discussion ends without a verdict, which means the verdict is most likely, no.

Foster Program shows up about the same time we get word that we are getting a blind dog from Animal Control (in addition to those from the other town). Even with 2 dogs fostered, which we are told is what the foster agency can handle today, we're probably going to be break-even. That means a few more trips to the "Blue Room."

I show the foster people in, point out a few dogs, and they head to the side yard to start testing. Now, mind you, the foster program is normally invited to take older-harder-to-place dogs. Today, it's take-what-you-can.

The Foster Program lady tries calling the other local shelter. She tries 3-4 numbers to specific people in authority over there. Nothing. I go back to my office and try a few more times. I'm just dialing the regular number, hoping the young lady at the front desk will pick up again. On the 3rd try, she does. I ask about my previous message, and find out the person she gave it to left after getting the message. I ask to speak to anyone with authority. Apparently, there isn't anyone available. I ask to speak to the director. No-can-do; she's in a meeting. So, I tell the desk lady what is going on, and ask her to please contact the owner when that person gets out of HER meeting. She agrees to do so, and I thank her before hanging up.

(By now I am obvious about our situation, and this will weaken our political leverage in future engagements with the other shelter. They'll be able to say that they bailed us out when we needed help, and I know this will bug other people at my own shelter. Me? Well, I almost care about this sort of problem. Really, I do.)

So, I hang up and go back out to deal with the Foster people. Several have left their day jobs early for the day to come help. They've called anyone they can, including anyone they knew that was looking for a dog of x, or y, type. A couple shows up, having been called in. They want to look at a boxer, and she can't bare to go through the kennels and look at the dogs in their cages. So, I shuffle them through the hallway to a side yard, careful to provide the least exposure possible to the Kennels. Then I head over to the foster service and they give me "Brandy" (whom they are testing) to take over to the couple. Wife is nervous about Brandy, and it turns out they really wanted to see an 8 month old boxer-pit that we had just gotten in. I take Brandy Back over and get them the younger one, and take it to the couple.

Somewhere in here I get a message with the phone number of the woman who had formerly occupied my own position and who now works at the other shelter. She returned my call. So, I head into the office and call her. I tell her exactly what the situation is and offer to drive a dog over if that's the only way to make the switch (but as they will need to run a test, I could end up just driving her back). By now it's 4pm. Everyone closes at 6pm. She talks with her staff and concludes that she can't help me today. Tomorrow, they can have someone show at 10am, when we first open. That won't save any dogs tonight, but it could tomorrow, because it'll take several days to complete the painting process. So, I say thank you, and tell her to have her staff ask for me when they show.

I head back out. Now the Foster Service has at least half a dozen people there and they are testing several dogs at once. I talk to the couple some more, put the 8 month old back and take them back over to the foster service because they have some more questions about Brandy. Brandy is scared of all the strangers, and she keeps coming to me for comfort. I'm trying not to tell anyone that she'll likely be put down if they don't adopt her, and the dog is absolutely begging me to help her. I didn't expect that; it was hard to deal with. Anyway, the service runs an assessment on Brandy (...to see if she'll show aggression over food, when exposed to another dog, handled a certain way, and even a cat. We show them the resident cat, Digits, and see if they want to eat him. Brandy has to pass all these tests, or for sure, they'll leave her behind.)

The Foster Service concludes Brandy is safe (Whew!), and they say that they will take her if she doesn't work out with the couple. So, the couple adopts Brandy. Two of the foster staff end up adopting a total of 3 dogs themselves and the group also takes 2 off to foster. Someone else drops by in the interim and adopts a small dog.

When the foster people leave, we are in the clear, with just enough open kennels that we don't have to put any more animals down. It's a relief, but we're not in the c;ear, really. The painting will last for a few days and the kennels can fill quickly. Peggy is still sitting in our pens. I place a call to the out-of-state shelter and leave a message asking them to call us back about a possible swap. It's a long shot, but if we can delay overload, maybe I can get her placed after all.

Part V: Postscript - Today (Actually, Today)

10am, the folks from the other shelter show, and they are prepared to look at one and only one specific dog, the one I had tried to place a week ago. They don't have room for large dogs at all, but they can take ...after some discussion, 2 medium dogs.

I bring them in, and think what the hell; I show them Peggy. I show them big black labs. I show them coon hounds. I show them all the large dogs we wanted them to take, because there isn't a lap dog in the shelter right now, and the only medium-sized dog we have is the one they already came to look at. That dog fails their aggression tests (i.e. it acted like it might hurt someone), but they test Peggy and they test a Coon Hound. They end up taking Peggy after all, and they say they could find room at the shelter for the coon hound too (it apparently takes some kennel shuffling on their part), but they have no space for a second dog in their vehicle. I ask them to fill out the paperwork for both and offer to drive the hound over myself.

There is some unpleasantness between staff over procedures and I can tell some of the participants don't like each other. They have their reasons. Bottom line is that we are clearing 2 more dogs and they have offered to come back next week and maybe take 3 more. So, I'm just hoping the boat won't get rocked at this point.

Anyway, Peggy is out of the Kennel and we have clear Kennels again tonight. Except for safety and health issues, no-one will be going to the Blue Room.

Part VI: Lessons

1) Other organizations can and will help us, even if it is aggravating. Our staff is sour on the prospect of getting such help, but the foster agency absolutely bailed us out and the other shelter helped us as well.

2) I think the Kennel tech played me like a violin today, ...which is fine. I hope she liked the tune that came out.

3) Countere to Lesson 1: Come Spring and Summer, this sort of solution will NOT be possible. We will be getting as many as 50 puppies or kittens in a given day. These other agencies can help, but they will not be able to take up this much slack when we have a continuous stream of animals. ...Plus, they'll have their own intake issues. Cases like Peggy and Brandy will not be possible, because we won't be able to hold an animal that long when we have such high volume. In a few months, we'll be facing the need to put down numbers that dwarf today's dilemma, and we will not have the resources to stop it. Now I know why shelter staff often hate that time of year.

4) I am beginning to really resent pit bull breeders. They like to say how sweet and loveable the dogs are, and to me that is precisely the problem. They really are the sweetest dogs you ever saw, but that doesn't change the fact that they are so dangerous. We get a LOT of pits and they are very hard to place, because people are justifiably scared of them. The fact that they are the most solicitous things in the Kennel just makes it that much harder to deal with the fact that we are likely to end up putting them down.

5) I've identified several individuals and issues in our shelter as well as others who may well be obstacles to further cooperation. I think it's going to be important that we do cooperate, and getting past the people who won't take my calls to speak to the ones who will is going to be really critical. Hopefully, I will be able to just plow ahead on my own as a means of overcoming resistance at my own shelter. We'll see.

6) I actually like this job.
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  1. Old Comment
    One for Sorrow's Avatar
    Oh wow, Brimshack. I commend you for actually being able to do that job. . . I'm sure I never could. I'm glad that you were able to save Brandy and Peggy, and I know it's going to be so difficult when you can't help dogs like them. But, those two owe their lives to you and I hope knowing that you're doing all that you can will be of some comfort to you during the busy months.
    Posted 02-24-2008 at 02:09 PM by One for Sorrow One for Sorrow is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Brimshack's Avatar
    Thank You, OFS

    (...and congratulations on your new Kitteh.)
    Posted 02-25-2008 at 05:02 AM by Brimshack Brimshack is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Dingfod's Avatar
    Where you are and you're have trouble getting rid of dogs? Have you tried Towaoc? I've heard things about them.
    Posted 02-25-2008 at 11:25 AM by Dingfod Dingfod is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Brimshack's Avatar
    Thank you for trh suggestion.

    We're usually okay as far as pacing dogs, but with the sudden shinkage of the Kennels we ran into trouble. With Pits though it always seems to be hard. I'm not familiar with the facilities at Towaoc and I'm afraid my Google skills have failed me in this instance. I see that they have a Humane Association up there, and it even has outside cages, but they aren't on the radar screen as far as places we could potentially place dogs out to. What have you heard about them?
    Posted 02-27-2008 at 09:26 PM by Brimshack Brimshack is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Dingfod's Avatar
    I was kidding about Towaoc. The only facility for dogs and cats there is the BBQ grill, or so I heard one time a long time ago.
    Posted 02-27-2008 at 09:37 PM by Dingfod Dingfod is offline
  6. Old Comment
    Brimshack's Avatar
    LOL, I'm still new enough I check all new references out. I did find what looked like a shelter there, but I couldn't figure out what they were doing that could help.

    Maybe a good beer-based sauce.
    Posted 02-27-2008 at 11:35 PM by Brimshack Brimshack is offline
  7. Old Comment
    One for Sorrow's Avatar
    I check Craigslist pets periodically because I'm still planning on adopting a dog at some point in the near future. I've noticed that there are a lot of messages from people who either work in the shelter, or visit and take a liking to a particular dog that they don't end up adopting that say, "Take a look at this sweet, wonderful dog! Doesn't have much time left! Please adopt/sponsor this pet!" Those messages seem to work sometimes.

    Are the dogs at your shelter online, either on the shelter's webpage or on Petfinder.com? If not, it seems like those probably help quite a bit. (The closest animal control did have pictures of pets, but the past two weeks haven't been putting any pics up because of "staffing issues". I got my cat there because I saw the picture. I'm sure they're having a harder time adopting them out because the shelter is in the middle of nowhere and I doubt many people would drive all the way out there unless they had a particular pet in mind. Actually, I should probably get off my duff and volunteer to take pictures for them. But anyway...)

    Anyway, I know you may be doing this already, but I just wanted to throw it out there that Craigslisters at least sometimes respond well to such postings.
    Posted 02-28-2008 at 01:42 AM by One for Sorrow One for Sorrow is offline
  8. Old Comment
    Crumb's Avatar
    Damn Brimshack, that sounds like a tough job.
    Posted 03-16-2008 at 03:05 AM by Crumb Crumb is offline
  9. Old Comment
    Seven of Nine's Avatar
    Posted 05-27-2008 at 09:35 PM by Seven of Nine Seven of Nine is offline

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