We have written before about the balance public between public safety and animal welfare, particularly as it relates to decisions to destroy dogs for behavior. We last wrote on this topic a couple of years ago when we had concluded that otherwise healthy and treatable dogs were being destroyed at Huntsville Animal Services for space and not for reasons of behavior as had been presented by the city. We were pleased back then that the city retained Kelley Bollen of Animal Alliances to train the shelter staff and volunteers on evaluating dogs in the shelter environment. Kelley trains on a method she developed at the Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine and which we felt would serve the shelter staff well. The training was held in March of 2016.
In September of 2017, we were told by City Administrator John Hamilton that the city had not destroyed any animals strictly for space in three years. Although we had concerns about dogs being needlessly destroyed for reasons of behavior, even following the March 2016 training, we took his statement at face value. Just a few days after our meeting with Mr. Hamilton we learned that the number of dogs destroyed in September was double what it had been in prior months. When this continued for a few months, we knew something had gone wrong. We offered the city free training on evaluating dogs in a shelter environment from a shelter expert. Our offer was refused. The city decided to bring Kelley Bollen back to train the staff again in April. We are currently doing a fundraiser to offset the costs of that training as a show of good faith.
We have worked exceedingly hard to be diplomatic in our dealings with city officials. If we are too critical of the city, we run the risk of making it sound like nothing the shelter staff does will ever be good enough for us. Being hypercritical in the face of much progress does not serve the animals well. Having said that, our role is the same now as it was when our coalition was formed in January 2012. We exist to hold the City of Huntsville accountable for how the municipal animal shelter operates using public funds. We are the voice for the animals who cannot speak for themselves and we remain boat rockers for change. It is part of our mission to encourage the city to do better, but it is also our responsibility to call out the city when it fails to meet what we consider basic standards or otherwise use common sense.
We want the city to stop destroying so very many dogs for behavior. We genuinely do not believe that the number of dogs who end up in the shelter and who pose a public safety risk are as high as the number of dogs being destroyed for behavior-related reasons each month. Yes, we know some dogs have cognitive problems or are so under-socialized or traumatized that they really are dangerous and cannot be allowed out in our communities. But the occasions when euthanasia for behavior is warranted should be taken incredibly seriously to ensure that good dogs are not destroyed. The subject matter expert we had hoped to retain to help the city has since offered to help the shelter director by email and phone for free. Another shelter director in Colorado who has an incredibly high save rate for dogs has offered to do the same. Both offers have been communicated to the shelter director and she has failed to reach out for help.
On February 24, 2018, this post was found on the Facebook page for Huntsville Animal Services. It simply added to our level of concern about the dogs being destroyed in the shelter for behavior-based reasons.
There is a lot of information on the Internet related to dog bites, dog bite fatalities and about the role of breed in those subjects. We rely upon data compiled by the National Canine Research Council. The data used is not based on media reports and is based on science and verifiable facts. Some other the sources of information, however, are completely unreliable and are considered “junk science.” Websites managed by Merritt Clifton, Colleen Lynn and Jeff Borchardt are based on fiction and emotion and not on science. Merritt Clifton has a long standing bias against pit bull type dogs and has been called an academic imposter. Colleen Lynn is a web developer who was once bitten by a dog and has since been on a campaign to eliminate pit bull type dogs entirely. Jeff Borchart’s son was killed by his babysitter’s two pit bull type dogs and has developed a platform which is based on his inherent bias against pit bull type dogs. We do not discount that some dog bite fatalities have involved pit bull type dogs and that those instances are incredibly tragic. But science has shown that breed alone is not the reason for attacks.
The fact that our shelter director, Karen Sheppard, who is a veterinarian, would “study” a website as inaccurate as Dogsbite.org tells us a lot about how she makes decisions about which dogs in her facility will live and which dogs will die. It is both alarming and shocking that she would rely not on data and science, but on sensationalized content which is driven by an agenda not meant to serve all dogs equally.
In 2009, Dr. Sheppard asked a member of our coalition to write a white paper advocating adoption of pit bull type dogs. She said she needed it to use with some members of her staff and with the city attorney’s office so she could adopt out more pit bull type dogs. “Forsaken No More” was first published in 2009 and was shared with Dr. Sheppard. It appears on the Animal Law Coalition website and has been used nationally. When the author, Aubrie Kavanaugh, saw Dr. Sheppard on the news in late 2013, lamenting problems adopting out pit bull type dogs, the research paper was revised. The paper itself is found here and the research for the paper is found here. The paper was reviewed by Karen Delise of the National Canine Research Council and by Ledy VanKavage, the senior legislative analyst with the Best Friends Animal Society. The paper continues to be used nationally and by advocates seeking to educate elected officials, public officials and the public about the truths related to pit bull type dogs.
It is unfortunate that the person who asked that the paper be written in the first place either did not read it or has just chosen to rely on junk science as a source of information. Not to mention failing to take advantage of networking with her peers (which costs nothing) who can help her save more dogs.
Every single dog which enters our shelter deserves to be treated as an individual and given the maximum opportunity to make it out of the shelter alive. Think about your dog would behave in a shelter environment which is nothing like your home. Would he or she be scared? Fearful? Would he or she cower in the corner of a kennel or bark non-stop? Would he or she get along with other dogs and even cats in that environment? How dogs behave in a shelter environment says more about the shelter than it does about the dogs which is why shelter evaluations have been described as no better than a coin toss.
We are hopeful Kelley Bollen’s visit in April will lead to more dogs’ lives being saved. There appears to be bias at work which has not diminished with time.
(image courtesy of Molly Wald and the Best Friends Animal Society)
No Kill Huntsville
Keep up with our updates and latest news regarding Huntsville becoming a no kill community.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson