Mar. 11th, 2009

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My organization (AHS) made local news a few weeks ago when it received 120 cats from a hoarder in a mobile home.  Shortly afterwards, we again made news after the community was informed that all of those cats were euthanized. 
http://www.animalhumanesociety.org/node/516

I can't speak for AHS, and I don't work directly with animals so I don't have access to information about the details of this case.  This case, though, still bothered me.   It may be that something good will come of this experience....

Once again, my coworkers impress me with their commitment to the care of animals under our roof.  I went in for an early meeting today in which we discussed and brainstormed ways to improve in 3 areas of performance.  One topic of discussion was our euthanasia rates.  Our organization is committed to being an open-door facility.  That means we do not turn away any animal that someone brings to us.  I agree with that policy wholeheartedly.  It also means, though, that some animals brought through our doors will not be adoptable because of health or temperament.  What to do in these cases is where all the emotion and concern become apparent.  The limits of our budget and facilities come face to face with the consequences of handing an animal over to an eager "parent" at our adoption desk. 

Can we accept the ethical responsibility of placing an aggressive animal with a person who thinks they can train the animal to better behavior?  Even if they have children in the house too?  Can the human community around us trust us if we release to a new owner an animal that we consider dangerous?  Can the person afford the medical procedures that we know an animal will require?  What if the animal will always be a carrier of disease, then does the health of the animal population outweigh the life of the individual animal?  Can we trust ourselves to test a dog for food aggression when it's obviously been malnourished?  Wouldn't we get aggressive at our first few real meals in a long while?

There are lots of good questions that I don't have good personal answers for.  I really like the idea of spay/neuter-then-release programs that some cities have.  They take stray cats, "fix" them so they can't reproduce, then return them to their alleyways.  Seems like a decent idea at first, since it reduces the overpopulation problem that brings animals to our doorsteps.  Then I look around our adoption floor and notice far too many cats with missing ear parts.  I assume that some of them have been lost to frostbite.  Who knows how many other cats died in the freezing weather here.  Maybe spay/neuter-then-release isn't such a humanitarian procedure when we live in this very cold climate.  I can't decide where I stand on this issue any more.

Still, I want AHS to remain an open-door facility.  Change can still happen here.  We do believe that there is room for improvement.  I'm convinced that staff are completely dedicated to reducing euthanasia rates.  Apparently, we keep bringing up the issue with management whenever we are given the opportunity (like staff surveys and all-site retreat).  I'm convinced that we will find ways to give these animals other opportunities, even if AHS decides that euthanasia is the least-painful outcome in the future of an animal.  Now it's just a matter of ensuring that actual changes come into existence after all of these frank discussions.

As I drove into work today in -2F/-19C (-25F/-32C windchill), I considered applying for a job I saw posted in "Nowhere", Arizona.  It'd be desert, but it'd be warm at least.  But then I got to the early morning meeting, and I realized that change at AHS will happen as long as all these dedicated people stay to ensure that change happens.  I want to help play a part in bringing about that change.

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