Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Truth About (Most) Shelters and Pounds

Many of us came to pet-law because of bad experience with animal control or animal shelters. Most of the rest of us know stories that would curl your hair. But there is a danger that we make exactly the mistake that some people at the worst shelters do: assume that everyone with a certain label (like 'breeder,' 'pet owner,' or 'shelter worker') is evil.

First, it simply isn't true. Each such label covers a wide spectrum of people and attitudes. In fact, the majority of breeders, owners, and shelter workers are sincere and good hearted people doing the best they can with their respective duties.

And secondly, one universal truth is that wrong assumptions lead to bad results. Those animal control personnel who believe all breeders are exploitive abusers and/or all owners are irresponsible idiots, cause more damage than they do good through their mistrust. And exactly the same will be true if we make unreasonably bad assumptions.

Virginia's a large enough state to offer a reasonable example. Guessing from the number of counties, we have over 100 public shelters of some sort. There are three or four that are run by hard core AR types and some others that have problematic people or policies but the majority are doing the best they can in the circumstances. Some of them set examples to all of us: The shelter in our area has been getting steadily closer to no-kill since before no-kill was cool.

They haven't done it through tricks like shipping less-adoptable dogs somewhere else to be killed, either. It has been 100% via hard work -- use of PetFinders (mostly outside of paid work hours), participation in shelter transport programs, advertising of dogs, and cooperation with rescue, breeders, and others.

I'm sure much of the problem is that we hear a lot more about problem shelters than we do the good ones, but of course that's exactly the same defense that the problem shelters can offer: "We only see the bad owners and the messed-up dogs they dump on us."

Shelter work is hard in general and doing it right is very hard. It insults the very people and organizations who least deserve it when we talk as if they were all trying to kill as many as they can while making owners walk over hot coals. Can't we do better?