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Throwing the Dog Away*

Posted: September 28th, 2004, 8:02 pm
by abcrystcats
It’s anathema to me that we have constructed a government-run disposal system for unwanted pets, with no checks or balances, no monetary fees or fines, no restraints or questions before the disposal is accomplished.

Our tax dollars are invested in the wholesale murder of hundreds of thousands of dogs each year whose only crime is lack of training. Like broken toys after Christmas, these dogs are tossed aside impatiently, when the solution, for perhaps as many as 80% of them, is as simple as a professional course in obedience.

Although our government conscientiously outlaws the casual disposal of even a can of paint without proper procedure, any person living in this country can turn in an unwanted animal, free of charge, in almost any community. Shelter workers are specifically enjoined to issue no challenges, make no judgements, present no difficulties, when a family member enters the local animal control agency with a pet to turn in.

A popular argument is that if animal shelters imposed any restrictions on owner turn-ins, our streets would quickly fill up with unwanted pets, spreading disease, scavenging garbage and wreaking general havoc in the community. In other words, if pet owners aren’t given legal, nonjudgemental means of throwing away animals, they will resort to illegal means, destructive to society and animals alike. In the past, this argument was accepted unquestioningly, and few attempts have been made to study the problems in depth.

Sociologists working within the animal welfare system have recently discovered that an alarming number of dogs relinquished to shelters have not been given even the slightest chance to prove their worth to their prospective owners. Time, money and owner education are crucial factors.

According to one study, an overwhelming 50.4% of owner-relinquished dogs turned in to shelters are less than two years old. Well over 50% of all relinquished dogs have not been neutered (predisposing them to various behavioral problems). Of the dogs under two years old that end their short lives in the animal shelter, a shocking 48.3% have spent less than one year in their original adoptive families. Worst of all, an average of 90.4% of the relinquishing owners interviewed confessed that their dogs had never been taken to obedience class or seen a professional trainer, nor had they received instructions from a dog trainer themselves.

What you are likely to see, when you go to the animal shelter these days, are the canine equivalents of children and youths, untrained but trusting, knowing little of the world besides steady good food, a warm bed, play and the love of a family. Most of them will die in that place because the people that turned them in never took the time to figure out how to make them productive members of their family pack.

It is certainly true that some dogs are untrainable. Some dogs demonstrate behavioral problems that make them dangerous to have in the home, even if proper training is possible. Indeed, one study indicated that 22.2% of owners relinquishing dogs to animal shelters cited “biting” as their number one reason for surrender. Assuming the owners are reporting the nature of their problems with their pets accurately, there may be nothing we can do about the deaths of one in five surrendered dogs. Perhaps the best remedy in these cases is euthanasia, since that is the only way to guarantee the safety of future human owners.

As for the rest, animal shelters can save themselves the expense and tragedy of putting thousands of dogs to their death by initiating owner training programs and imposing mandatory time extensions on owner-surrender of dogs. Since approximately 90% of owners interviewed for these studies admitted that they had never sought professional assistance in training their pets, a six week mandatory probationary period for animal and owner, including low-cost obedience classes at the shelter, might significantly increase satisfaction in owner-to-dog relationships. Making acceptance of the dog into an animal shelter conditional on some investment in training is not only preventative, it is reasonable. An untrained dog cannot be expected to behave.

Similarly, the shelters might offer vouchers for a low-cost spay or neuter to pet owners who complain of sex-related behavioral problems.

Strangely, it costs no money to surrender a dog to the shelter, although it does cost money to take one out. I find this state of affairs peculiar for a number of reasons. The same studies indicated above revealed that a purchased animal is as much as four times less likely to enter an animal shelter than one obtained for free. Considering that it is human nature to value purchased goods and services more highly than free ones, it makes good common sense for animal shelters to begin charging owners directly for the added expense incurred by accepting an animal. It costs the shelter money to feed, house, medicate and euthanize other people’s pets.

When the owners of relinquished pets were questioned, it was discovered that approximately 53% were college educated, 63.5% were white, and nearly 60% had a household income greater than $27,500 annually. As for income, the vast majority (35.6%) reported income between $35,000 and $75,000. This certainly proves that many of the people using our shelter system are not poor or disadvantaged. They are, instead, individuals who are well aware that there are other options available to them. They fall back on the shelter system, perhaps because it is free of cost, obligation, and moral judgement.

Furthermore, 20.5% of all animals surrendered to shelters are specifically surrendered for euthanasia by the owners themselves. That means that a little over one in five animals entering our shelter system were going to die, anyways. This 20.5% of pets do not represent “animal overpopulation”, but instead, they possibly represent “owners working the system”. Everyone knows the animal shelters euthanize free of charge, while the local veterinarian charges approximately $100.00 to $150.00 for the same service.

I think it is high time that the shelters begin imposing fees and certain obligations on relinquishing owners. It seems to me that the figures here prove that many animals die unnecessarily because we live in a society that offers free and convenient means for their disposal even before other options have been explored. Since the shelter system is supplying the means, and has been doing so for many decades, it is now up to the shelter system to address these issues and begin imposing conditions, if not penalties, for the deaths of our pets.

*Statistics credit to the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. Studies conducted by authors Lori Kogan, John C. New, Jr. Phillip H. Kass, Janet M. Scarlett, Mo. D. Salman, Mike King and Jennifer M. Hutchison. Copyrights 2000, 2001. Details available upon request.

Posted: September 30th, 2004, 8:59 pm
by mnaz

I'm basically in agreement with you here. I like your suggestion that shelters make relinquishment of a dog subject to certain "good faith effort" obligations and fees charged to the owner; a concept I think many, or most of us would agree with in principle, even if we might not agree on how far these obligations
should extend.

At the very least, I think that surrendering a dog should be subject to a fee which is representative of an appropriate factor times the average cost to house and euthanize a dog. This seems like common sense to me. Furthermore, I agree with you on the mandatory training period, especially if it was provided free of charge or nearly so. But I wonder if this would ever really "fly" with the public at large. This requirement might push some people to falsely claim that their dog is "untrainable" (biting, etc.) just to avoid the hassle, or to bypass the shelter altogether via abandonment. Still though, I think having the "probationary" training requirement would be better than not having it. Good idea.

Anyway, thanks for the post. It made me think. Your posts always do.

Posted: September 30th, 2004, 11:20 pm
by abcrystcats
Thank you Mnaz, for taking the time to read the post and respond.

I found the statistics by accident when I was researching the topic. I was overjoyed to discover that sociologists are actually working on the details of animal "overpopulation" and and are conducting serious research on the subject. My resources were PSYETA and the National Council on Animal Overpopulation. The studies appear to highly reliable, which is why I based my article on them and invested in a year's subscription to JAAWS. Now that I know something is being done, I want to keep up on what they are discovering.

I was shocked (but not surprised) to learn that well-educated, middle class people freely use shelters as a dumping ground for unwanted animals, and free euthanization of aged pets. The figure of 20.5% of pets abandoned at the shelters specifically for euthanasia derives from surveys of over 2000 animal-relinquishers across four states from East to West(including my home state of Colorado). Clearly, animal shelters are being abused by the general public in ways that were never anticipated by their founders nearly 100 years ago.

I omitted a sentence from my article that referred to "temperament testing". This is a highly controversial practice. If you look, you will see many pro and con editorials about temperament testing of dogs. Public animal shelters have recently been accused of abusing canine (and feline) temperament testing as a way of thinning out shelter animal populations. In general, I agree that dogs and cats do act very differently in shelter settings. The smell of death, the overall unfamiliarity of the environment, and the unfamiliarity of the practices incorporated in "temperament testing" create many unnecessary false positives. However, temperament testing could be used to advantage by animal shelters if owners began to falsify information about their pets to avoid accepting responsibility for extended training, fines, fees and so forth. Temperament testing may not be 100% reliable, but it could certainly be used to protect dogs from death if their owners pretended their dog was aggressive to avoid the penalties.

I am generally unhappy with my article. It reeks of "statistics" and lacks the punch of Lightning Rod's gut-powered editorials. Even so, I can't tell you how pleased I am that there is a group of serious scientists devoted to improving the animal-human bond, and actually conducting research to find out whyso many pets are relinquished to an almost certain death. The studies I've read appear to be directed towards "education" of the general public. This is useless, IMHO. Education can only do so much. The real culprit is not ignorance, but human nature. If you give people an easy way to dispose of their troublesome pets, they will do so. If you put obstacles in the the way of the disposal, they will definitely think twice.

The reality is that MOST animals enter the shelters because they are relinquished by their human caretakers. Animal "overpopulation" is a myth and a lie. It's all about turning in your old, inefficient model and replacing it with a new, cute one.

There are feral cats and dogs, it is true. There are animals who enter the shelters for their own protection, after legal surrender by authorities via cruelty investigations. However, the vast majority of the pets we kill in the shelters are voluntary owner-relinquishments. I think this is an outrage. I have to ask why it is that a person who disposes of a can of paint illegally can be subject to fines and criminal prosecution, but a person who doesn't want to bother with a living being(a pet, a family member) is exempted from any obligation. This outrages me. Our shelter system began with good intentions, but it has entirely backfired.

I am fed up with protecting humans from the consequences of their actions and frankly, I couldn't care less how the "public" might feel about changes in animal shelter practices. I am sure you feel the same way. Animals deserve a commitment from us, if they enter our homes and our lives. They aren't disposable toys. If there were a place to relinquish our children, as we currently relinquish our pets, I am sure it would be filled. As you can see, I have little or no faith in human virtue. I am sick of seeing so much death and suffering because we care only about ourselves.

Thanks again for taking the time to post. I hope your move is going well and I hope to get a chance to meet you in person when you move into this general area.


Posted: October 1st, 2004, 10:41 pm
by mnaz
hey Cat...

Could you briefly explain what "temperament testing" is, since I'm too lazy at the moment to look it up? Why is it highly controversial?
Because of the way it is being used (abused)? Or because of disputes over its accuracy? Just curious.

The move is hitting a few snags, actually. My truck was in the shop for awhile, and I had a couple of unexpected issues come up with the house. Plus, after further research, I now have some doubts about Albuquerque's economy, so I'm looking at alternatives in the area.... I'll try and let you know more when I figure it out...

Oh well...

Posted: October 1st, 2004, 11:16 pm
by abcrystcats
Mnaz, My aunt and uncle were over for dinner last night and I actually asked savvy ex-British, real estate Aunt about Albuquerque. She said you are dead right. New Mexico is a happening place for retirees and everyone expects it to boom in the next 5-10 years. Albuquerque especially, since Santa Fe has gotten too overpriced and trendy. I personally think Denver is a great investment. Despite its on-again, off-again past, it's become quite a hot spot for yuppies who are tired of the California lifestyle and want to move "east" but don't want to end up in some hick town. But that's just me. I like it here, so I'm prejudiced. I do see a lot of people coming here, however. That could ultimately change my evaluation.

Temperament testing. No biggy. If you want to see it in action, then turn on "Animal Planet" any night of the week. Shelters increasingly use it to evaluate dogs (and cats too) either for euthanasia or a potential adoptive home. Take a dog into separate room. Try to take its food away while it's in the midst of eating. If the dog growls, snaps, actually bites, it's usually a goner. Make weird noises. Wear masks and disguises around the dog. Again, aggressive behavior means the dog usually gets the Big Pink Shot and a trip to Dog Heaven, and not a home. Do I think this is totally unfair? Does it suck? Yes.

Dogs and cats KNOW they are in a place where there is death. Dogs and cats are naturally fearful and protective in strange surroundings. As for that, if you were starving and someone tried to take YOUR food away, would you be nice about it? How do humans act when other humans try to fool them? Frankly, I think temperament testing sucks the big one, especially as it's used now, as a way to cut down animal populations at shelters. Even so, I think it could be used to at least rule out the potential liars you referred to in your previous message.

Cat temperament evaluation is a MAJOR joke. Cats are even more defensive than dogs, and it's natural for them. Constance (a cat I had rescued from the DDFL, who recently died) was going to be put to sleep within 24 hours. They believed she was vicious. I have no clue why they thought that. She was sick with a URI when I got her, and of all the cats I ever had, THIS one actually lifted her head obediently to take medicine. She was the sweetest, most docile, human-loving cat I ever met. In a shelter, however, I can see how she would be scared out of her wits. She was going to DIE for that. How stupid!

I hope this explains what temperament testing is, and my feelings about it. It's very simple, really. The evaluation process was created by some person (whose name I forget) who is quite popular in the pet-owning world. The method was universally adopted and it is now the new Death Sentence in most shelters. The method has its merits, but it's ridiculous to expect a fearful dog or cat to act normally in extremely ABNORMAL circumstances.

Posted: August 9th, 2005, 9:55 am
by stilltrucking

Posted: February 24th, 2006, 12:59 pm
by stilltrucking

Posted: February 25th, 2006, 1:25 am
by abcrystcats
"Where do the children play?" That is one of my favorite Cat Stevens songs.

Yeah, your neighbor THINKS she loves her cats, but she sounds like a COLLECTOR to me, responsible for more SUFFERING than anything else.

You have a great opportunity to do some good here. Read my new topic, with your name on it.

BTW, what STATE do you live in? I have just gotten some vacation time and this lady is starting to piss me off. If you are reasonably close, I may come and start something myself. These cats shouldn't be breeding indiscriminately and suffering and dying all over the place.

Sorry I didn't see your posts or respond to them before. Your neighbor needs animal control to turn her over. I'm serious. She's messed up.

I may have more cats than the law allows, but my cats are indoor, altered, well fed, vaccinated, medicated and MOST of the time they have clean litter boxes to shit in (apologies to Mnaz, who saw my place at its absolute worst, just after I'd gotten my first two insurance licenses.)

People like your neighbor are NOT "cat lovers" in the conventional sense. Trust me on this. She's got an illness.

If you live reasonably close, this sounds like a good way to spend my time. I'd rather those cats were euthanized than letting her continue to encourage their breeding, and other cats suffering like the one you described.

Eye infections. PAINFUL. Unbelievable suffering. You couldn't even imagine it. Shooting the cat would have been a mercy. FEEDING such a cat, but not medicating it is totally unconscionable.

Like I said, this lady is messed up.

Tell me you live one or two states away from me, because this is BAD.