Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Beg to Differ

This post is in response to a blog post by Shannon Hill, which you should read first here.

These are my opinions, but I hope they will stimulate a unified response.

Regardless of the individual opinions of the “inactive” volunteers, it is childish to keep pointing fingers and playing one-upmanship games that make one group of volunteers look “better” than another. We should fling off our martyrdom cloaks and work together.


As one of your so-called “inactive” volunteers, I submit that one doesn’t have to be “at the shelter” every minute of every day in order to address the needs of homeless animals in Montgomery County.

I’d like to share my thoughts with you and your blog readers about this.

Many people, including the “inactive” volunteers, are out working within the community to prevent animals from coming into the shelter.

If the intake numbers are reduced, I think we can all agree that would be good for the animals already in the shelter. To this end, I (along with others) have been working in a different set of “trenches”.

Please do not assume that we hesitate to spend countless hours and our own money to rescue, vet, foster and place homeless animals. Just like the shelter volunteers you describe in the list below, we:

• Foster animals
• Clean cages
• Take photos of animals
• Bathe animals
• Walk animals
• Run adoption events
• Deal with the public
• Organize donations
• Spend our own money to donate supplies.

Specifically, here’s what we, those supposedly “inactive” volunteers, are doing.

  • We’re working with another animal welfare group to sign up pet owners in the East County/New Caney for extremely low-cost or free spay/neuters using both the services of Spay Houston and the MCAS. In many cases, we have helped out with transportation for those who need it. We have assisted with more than 200 spay/neuter voucher redemptions in the past 9 months. These programs currently target larger dogs (30 to 60 pound or more), dogs who typically have large litters (8-12 puppies). In reviewing the animals-received lists produced by MCAS, and available to everyone (“inactive” or not) I have seen the tubs, boxes and crates filled with large-breed puppies that arrive at the shelter on a disturbingly regular basis. I hope that the shelter staff and “active” volunteers appreciate and see the value in reducing the number of unaltered dogs. Our typical voucher user is a pet-owner, often with multiple dogs, who cannot afford to shoulder the typical vet’s cost of $300 or so for a large-dog spay. Many of these dogs have already had litters, and our clients are relieved that they don’t have to deal with any more “oopsie” litters.
  • We have conducted trap-neuter-release of feral cats in the south county, dealing with several colonies, and placing dozens of kittens that have been socialized by our fosters. As we all know, kittens have a much better chance at survival if they never set paw into the shelter. TNR keeps cats out of the shelter and reduces the need to kill feral adult cats.

  • We have established a "Flight for Life" program. Our “inactive” volunteers have worked with “active” volunteers to take long-term dogs (many in the Diamonds in the Ruff) program out of the shelter and put them in foster homes, were they are vet- and temperament-checked (paid for by use) and then into our “Flight for Life” program. The Flight for Life program sends qualified animals (via cash donations) by small plane transport to a shelter in New Hampshire for placement. While this program is small, the novelty of transporting by plane has raised public awareness about the needs of long-term dogs in the shelter.
  • We have picketed and talked with roadside breeders, who market dogs with little legal oversight. We are working to address Texas laws that affect the welfare of all animals both in and out of the Shelter.
  • We have had several long-term dogs from the shelter enter our foster system. The balance of animals in our program come from county citizens who otherwise would take these animals to shelter, thus adding to the intake numbers.

As for me, I’ve spent a lot of times working in the “trenches” of the civic-government end to encourage public-funded entities to improve their animal sheltering programs.

In my experience, politicians are overjoyed when volunteers bicker among themselves because then the politicians don’t have to make any changes. Plus, our civic processes allow for expression in public forums whether we agree with everything that is said or not.

Furthermore, privatization of public entities is often a good thing.

However, the process needs to be transparent, and we need to know with some certainty just how the potential bidders plan to improve the shelter.

Certainly, the shelter has improved, and kill rates have gone from 80% or more to about 49%, based on the public numbers on the County website.

However, when my college-age boy insists that a “C” (a 50% save rate) is a lot better than a “D-" (a 20% save rate), like most parents, I’m not satisfied. I'm not paying hard-earned cash for C performance. A 50% is not a "good grade”. In fact, at the The Woodlands High School, a 50% is a failing grade. Likewise, I'm sure that the animals on the losing end of the 50% rate don't represent a successful outcome.

It is not an unreasonable to or hostile request to ask the shelter operations bidders to demonstrate publicly how to improve the statistics for dogs and cats at the shelter. It’s simply prudent.

There are multiple ways to improve the lives of our homeless animals. Working in “the trenches” at the shelter is not enough.

All our efforts are necessary. We can keep fighting amongst ourselves, about “active” and “inactive” or we can take responsibility to address the broader spectrum of factors that affect our shelter and the animals inside.

Like you, I want to improve the lives of animals in our shelter and in our community. I am proud that I'm actively involved in doing so.

Just because I'm not at the shelter, don't discount my efforts.

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