Thursday, September 16, 2010

No Kill vs Train-Wreck Dogs

 This dog is probably a great dog.
Photo and caption by Angela Palance,a tireless advocate for the dogs at the Montgomery County Texas Animal Shelter.

I'll be honest:  I'm not a total convert to Nathan Winograd's vision of a No-Kill Nation.  It's not that I don't want all Shelters to be "no-kill", but it's that I'm not convinced it is an achievable goal.  Or even the right goal.  But Winograd and his supporters brand folks like me as "part of the problem."  We're the "nay-sayers,"  blocking the path to a swoony no-kill paradise where puppies and kittens are loved forever and ever in homes that make PetsMart managers giddy with joy.

Just because I have some reservations, doubts or unanswered questions shouldn't make me the enemy.  I've put a lot of sweat and tears in animal rescue work.  I look at what flows through the doors of the Shelter and wonder what compels us to insist that dogs like the ones below are "adoptable."

Here is a sample of what you'll find in the Adoption Rooms this week:
  • Pit Bull mixes with heavy heartworm.
  • Untrained, barely socialized young Lab mixes who will yank your arms from the sockets.
  • Elderly Labs who aren't housebroken.
  • Anxiety-riddled Rat Terriers.
  • Chihuahuas that look like genetic mish-mashes.
Checkers  is falling apart in the Shelter. I can't foster him until my husband leaves for his next business trip because this poor little guy is so anxious he just can't stop barking.  It's Shelter stress.

Most of our dogs have at least one and often more health conditions, including (but not limited to) mange, flea dermatitis, giardia, worms, or bad teeth.  And almost all of our dogs come with unknown (and unknowable) health and behavioral histories.

Who in their right mind wants these dogs?  Who on earth can afford to treat and care for these dogs?

And don't think I'm just a heartless cynic.  I know what these dogs cost because I just adopted one, my Miniature Pinscher, Chopper, who joined our pack this summer.  Chopper was an ideal adoptable candidate from our Shelter.  He was already neutered when he arrived, and he received a rabies booster, a heartworm test, microchip, and the Parvo-Distemper shot, plus Strongid for worms.

Chopper, my own personal (and much-loved) train-wreck dog.

However, Chopper is heartworm positive--so I need $400 to $600 to treat that.  He's got one rotten tooth that needs to be pulled at some point (say, $300 or so if I get the tartar scraped while he's under), plus he was positive for giardia.  Once my adoption was final, I spent $300 getting Chopper Vet-checked, including a leptospirosis vaccine, fecal smear, urine culture and a blood work panel to make sure he can handle the heartworm treatment and the tooth-removal.  I bought two antibiotics, heartworm prevention tabs, flea meds and a round of de-wormer.  These were not out-of-the-ordinary expenses.

Nathan Winograd can talk all he wants about "no-kill" policies, but the one hitch in his giddy-up, the thing that he doesn't address in his best-seller "Redemption," is whether all those wonderful Americans who would love to add a pet to their household are actually willing to put in the financial and physical work it takes to bring a Shelter dog around.  At the rate people keep bringing dogs in for owner-surrender, I don't think the American public is near as dog-friendly as Winograd paints it to be.

Li'l Dude, an un-altered Chihuahua boy is my latest foster.  He weighs all of six pounds.  He is anxious and very needy.  While crated for four hours, he managed to bend the wires on this crate with his teeth, and he chewed up the bed into 2-inch pieces of foam, plus, he got the plastic tray scooted part-way out so he could "push" the crate across the room.  He got hold of a cord to a foot control to the sewing machine (after "pushing" the crate) and chewed that up ($89--and I can't tell my husband), then he somehow finagled the door open and left poop surprises upstairs.  He was a very naughty boy.
To top it all off, he's not yet housebroken.  And he's a pushy little guy 'cause he's hung like a Clydesdale and has enough testosterone to equip a baseball team.  Since Li'l Dude needs to gain weight before he can be neutered, it's going to be awhile before he loses his family jewels.  I'm in conversation with a rescue group who might be able to take him.

 Shelter dogs are no bargain.  In fact, they are a gamble. And the Shelter doesn't offer guarantees.

Consider the heartworm issue.  Our Shelter was offering the heartworm treatment vaccine for heartworm positive dogs, but that program has been tabled due to the expense to the County. Most likely, I'll be paying for the treatment at retail prices.  Meanwhile, at the Shelter, our current dog population is running about 40 percent heartworm positive.  So step right up and get yourself a dog, but be prepared to spend some serious money--and shoulder the risks that come with heartworm treatment. At least the dog will love you back.

And just so you don't think I'm totally against the good news as preached by Winograd, I'm signed up to go to the No-Kill Austin conference at the end of September. I'm willing to listen and be convinced.


  1. Making all shelters no-kill is very much like world peace, IMHO. It's a great goal to work towards. But there are also some very serious obstacles to getting there, and I don't think it'll happen in my lifetime, if it ever happens at all. I'll take every reasonable step I can in that direction, though, and at least try to improve my corner of the world. Those who would yell at me for not being idealistic enough are really missing the point.

    Also, I'm seriously impressed with Li'l Dude! As troublemakers go, he is truly inspired. I hope it works out well with the rescue.

  2. Li'l Dude is a spunky, handsome Chi. He'll make somebody a super pet. I love him in spite of his naughtiness.

  3. Truer words were never typed..
    "Shelter dogs are no bargain. In fact, they are a gamble. And the Shelter doesn't offer guarantees."

    Sigh. I knew a family that wanted to get a new dog for their large family.
    I was (at first) enraged that they did not want a shelter dog. But I totally understood where they were coming from, when I thought about it.

    My own old red dog (adopted from a shelter) had a bite in her. If I hadn't adopted her, she might have ended up in a very bad situation, with an owner not as willing to work through her issues as I was. And a large family really doesn't have the time to invest in these troubled souls..

    great post, thank you..

  4. I agree, with you. May dogs, whether they come from a shelter, a drama filled home or a puppy mill, are anxiety ridden and will never ever be a happy pet. Add that to health issues that may be involved and a happily ever after may not be possible. Isn't it more humane to euthanize?

  5. I've put in my own hours volunteering for my local shelter and I, too, have seen the 'bad' side of sheltering. The people who dump their animals, the same excuses over and over. The people who come in and say they want a pet, but don't want to do any work. But I work really hard to not let the bad ones color my perception of ALL of the public. After all, I've also seen a lot of wonderful people, too.

    I see people every day who go the extra mile for their pets, even though they're poor, or uneducated hicks, or don't do any volunteering or fostering themselves and aren't in my 'in crowd' of animal welfare circles. It's seems a little bitter and presumptuous to assume there AREN'T enough nice people out there to adopt all the animals in shelters.

    No one offers a guarantee on ANY living creature, not shelters or breeders or pet stores. Not everyone who's looking for a pet realizes this, of course, but to emphasize it in shelter animals will only add a little bit more discouragement to someone who might otherwise adopt.

  6. I put my time into a no-kill shelter here. The No-Kill is why I volunteer with them. The "no-kill" part has a clause attached, though.

    Any animal that comes in to us will not be euthanized unless it is deemed unfit by a behaviouralist or a trainer or has physical issues (hit by car is euthanized; heartworm positive is euthanized; if the vet bills are over $500 the decision goes to the board of directors and they make the final decision based on MANY factors). The No-Kill simply states that the animals will not be euthinized for time/space constraints.

    Yes, a gamble is taking in the shelter dog ... but how much more of a gamble is buying the puppy from the pet store?? No matter where you source your dog from, you make a gamble unless you are buying a trained dog (and even then I've seen some horror stories). I've seen the "perfect dog" bought from a trainer turn around and attack/maul its new owner. I've seen the shelter dog turn around and become a therapy dog. It goes both ways.

    There are MANY great dogs in shelters. I would always encourage a person to adopt.

    We have to remember that there are always outside influences to these sorts of decisions. The organization I volunteer with just finished construction of its building. They will have runs for 13+ dogs ... in the 5 years I've been with them, they have NEVER had over 5 dogs at a time and when they did hit 5 it was because they busted up a BYBer!

    In our particular area, we don't have "too many" dogs. In fact, people have to go out of our area to adopt/buy!

    Re: Cats ... We have seen HUGE improvement in the number of strays in our area since beginning a spay/neuter program. We are able to adopt our cats more quickly now than we could 5 years ago (when I started). I do believe this is because of our spay/neuter initiative.

  7. Thanks so much for all the thoughtful comments. This is what makes this blog so awesome for me!

    CyborgSuzy--I'm not bitter, just frustrated! I'm not saying that there aren't enough nice people. Most of my clients are not that wealthy and many are what you might call "hicks." I love 'em! But Nathan Winograd tosses his numbers about available homes around with such abandon that you'd think that we're denying people the chance to adopt a dog! That is SO not the case!

    However, I know most of my clients aren't expecting a hefty Vet bill when they take their adult adopted dogs to the Vet. I try to prepare them by talking about basic well-check costs on a dog that may have parasites, mild skin issues etc.--the average around here seems to be about $125 before buying HW tabs or performing special tests.

    DDF--I realize no one guarantees their pets, but it seems that the fresh-out-of-the-Shelter dogs that have health issues will end up worse off after their tour through the Shelter due to stress. And this is not an issue that is discussed openly with the paid-staff or other decision-makers.

    Of course we have lots of great dogs! My Off-Site team Coordinator has a shelter dog that is now a therapy dog. I've heard other super success stories. Most of my fosters have turned out to be delightful pets--it's just that our current Shelter policies mean that we have a surplus of questionable or "challenging" animals. Have a look at the pets at to see what our "average" admission looks like.

    We don't euthanize for HW positive. Otherwise, my Chopper wouldn't have made the cut and he's a super dog.

    DDF--Out of curiosity, do you think Nathan Winograd would approve of your group's definition of No Kill? I'd be interested in seeing you post on this.

    DDF--5 dogs! IN OUR DREAMS!!!! We get up to 200 animals a day at this County-operated Shelter. Our current EU rate is nearly 50 percent as a result.

    We were supposed to start a TNR program but the Shelter Director resigned or was fired/let go (I don't know which) in May, so we are rudderless at the moment while the County ponders its next move.

    Again, thanks for the comments and keep 'em coming--I learn so much from ya'll!

  8. You've written a very thoughtful post! And you've made some excellent points. Good job.

  9. good post...and I think it is an ideal but not quite attainable. I'd be happy to see very low- kill shelters, myself.

  10. The voice of reason!!! Love it!! ... & here I thought logic was dated. I support a "Triage" approach (process of determining the priority of patients treatments based on the severity of their condition.) When faced with a battle employ methods of catastrophe.

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