« Can you help me help Suzie? | Main | A new life for Suzie »

29 December 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Just before Christmas, a dog named Bailey was left tied to a fence in the Canadian winter. He ended up in a shelter in a small city near here which is facing massive auto-industry layoffs.

The shelter was run-down but they were making plans to move to a better part of town. The week before Christmas there was a fire in the middle of the night, possibly due to faulty wiring, and only a handful of dogs and cats could be rescued. Most of the animals perished. There are no words for the heartbreak that the volunteers suffered.

Bailey was one of the lucky dogs who escaped.

As in your article, Christie, many many people came forward to help relocate or adopt the survivors and to start the shelter on the road to rebuilding.

I have to wonder what Bailey's former family thought, if they saw his photo in the local paper.


Thank you, Christie, for writing this. I just hope the right people read it. Those people would be the ones who always add things like "scum bag hubby laid off so he's getting rid of the pup", "family moving and giving up Fido because they DIDN"T take the time to look for a pet friendly home", etc. And alot of these statements are on the ends of posts from rescuers or shelter workers, and would be rescuers trying to get the word out to save the dogs and cats and rabbits, and horses...... Highly judgmental, and always detrimental in my opinion.



I volunteer at a animal shelter and have decided that the owners who are at the end of their tether and actually take their animals in are far more responsible than the ones who leave their animals out in parks and fields. Its not easy to take Fido into a building full of Dog People or Fluffy into a lobby inhabited by Cat People and have to fess up that your life is so f-ed up that you can't keep the little quadruped in kibbles and bits. Sometimes, they are surprised to find out that the shelter's happy to give them a bit of a hand in keeping that pet by giving them vet coupons or some free food. We had one guy who was homeless ask for help and we kept his cat in the office until he got back on his feet.

Susan G.

Although I have worked or volunteered for wildlife, domestic and exotic rescues for almost 10 years, I have always sworn that I would not, could not work at a kill shelter. I finally came to understand this year that I could not just ignore the shelter. I now volunteer every week. I now know that it is not as bad as I feared. Yes, most of the employees do blame the pet owners for most problems. However, the shelter does work with rescues, does allow people to foster animals and does adopt out pit bulls. For all the negatives, there are many positives! There are also many caring, helpful people out there.


Good post, Christie - though it went off-topic pretty quick.

HH - "glurge"? I like it, where did you pick that up?


I run a rescue for JRTs. I do it because of the dogs that would be lost due to the breed characteristics...and they deteriorate quickly in kennel situations.

Why do I do it? The great dogs (dogs that went on to be the best members to the family) and the valid situations when the dog needs to be rehomed (cancer that was caught because the JRT pushed the immune system over the edge but had to go through treatment; crying twins that caused the dog to loose half it's body weigh, the owner didn't know the breed...and the dog became a nightmare that was going to have to be put down if we weren't willing to take them on).

The great stories make up for the ones that you wish you could smack the owner! Luckily, my friends and family let me vent when I deal with a particularly challenging situations... so I can get back and focus on what a great life the dog will have moving forward.

If people REALLY want to put their money where their mouth is...adopt a rescue and take on a case that gets passed up for the "perfect" puppy!

Off my soap box and back to the 5 dogs I'm fostering and my own 4!


If people REALLY want to put their money where their mouth is…adopt a rescue and take on a case that gets passed up for the “perfect” puppy!

Oooo, now that's a pitch that will entice people to look at shelter and rescue dogs with an open mind! Not.

Amy, for many people, the perfect dog is not that "perfect puppy". For many people, the
right dog, the one they really want and that will fit in well with their families and their lives, is an adult dog waiting in a shelter or rescue. And if you pitched your great dogs and the kinds of homes they'd be right for, you might find that you have a tetch more success than by trying to guilt people into adopting a dog that they believe isn't the best match for them.


Failed to close a tag.:(


And the fact that in the craigslist ad she says she hates her job. Not comforting.

H. Houlahan

By the way, I wouldn't count on "shelter manager" being a real person, or a real shelter manager.

This is just an example of the self-righteous propaganda that some people whack others over the head with.

Wanna bet that the person who re-posted this fictionalized glurge to CL Pittsburgh doesn't work in a shelter, never volunteers in a shelter, doesn't foster dogs or do rescue transports -- is in no way part of the solution?

Maybe she wears a PeTA t-shirt and got a cat at a shelter and thinks she is "kind."

But that description of the shelter conditions -- well hell, it would make most normal people scared to death of walking in the door. Why would you want to adopt a dog as damaged as the ones described? How could anyone walk through the aisles and say "no" to an animal's face knowing that "shelter manager" was going to kill him next?

Barbara A. Albright

Thank you Christie for an excellent post. Working in breed rescue, many relinquishing were in equally sad situations: single older woman needing cancer treatments, elderly parent(s) going into nursing homes, nasty family splits, some rendered emotionally incapable.

But every, every adoptive home, particularly the ones willing to work out issues, had hearts made of purest gold.

Yes, indeed, many "pet-owners" care a great deal. Bless you and that shelter worker...the dog was lucky to have you both!

H. Houlahan

You want self-righteous, check out the stream of glurge on your local Craig's List pet section on any given day.

Here's an example from this morning:


Along with the attacks on anyone who is rehoming a pet.

Not that many of them are not *clearly* idiots -- but they are not going to grow a brain because the crazy cat ladies on Craig's List started a flagging club.

Gina Spadafori

In that Craigslist ad, the "Shelter Manager" writes:

"So how would you feel if you knew that there's about a 90% chance that dog will never walk out of the shelter it is going to be dumped at?"

If I were the Shelter Manager, I'd feel I was doing a very, very bad job. 90 percent kill rate? Only in PETA's shelter is the kill rate that high.

For what it's worth, I HAVE spent time in the kill room of several shelters. And I've held dogs in my own rescue program (two terminally ill, one terminally unsafe to place)as they've been put down.

When what you're doing isn't working, the answer is not to do it harder, but to do something else. That's why I support the no-kill revolution, with 90 percent live-release rates, not kill rates.

As regular readers know, I'm getting ready to breed my first litter in 30 years of writing about, training and competing in dog sports. During the same 30 years, my friend Mary, who co-owns my mom-to-be, has bred a well-planned litter about every two years. She knows what happened to all but two of those dogs, how they turned out health- and temperament-wise and what they died of. On the rare occasion (thanks to her very difficult screening process for potential homes and lifelong support to the owners of her dogs) a dog has needed to leave a home, she has welcomed the dog back back. Not one ended up in the shelter, and since a flatcoated retriever isn't that easy to find, you can safely assume they were educated, motivated buyers who had done their homework and knew what they wanted. That explains a great deal why almost all the dogs stayed with their families for life.

My oldest retriever is 12. The owners of Heather's littermates all stayed in touch with Mary except one, who was one of the two dogs in 30 years Mary lost track of -- moved, e-mail and phone changed, very frustrating to her.

She got a call recently from that owner. Heather's sibling, the missing dog from that litter 12 years ago, is alive and doing well with the family who got her as a puppy. They called Mary because they were thinking ahead, and wanted another of her dogs.

That family is on the waiting list to be considered for puppy from McKenzie's litter.

The point being, again, that there are good, ethical and reputable breeders, casual careless or clueless breeders, and puppy-mill swine for whom hell will never be hot enough.

We must continue to draw these distinctions and help to educate people away from breeders, even as we fight the forces of pet extinction to preserve our heritage breeds and indeed, our ability to share our lives with pets.


Oh, my. Self-righteous indeed--self-righteous about the fact that her shelter has a 90% kill rate, that they are killing dogs whom they KNOW have no problems except kennel stress, that they don't do ANYTHING to alleviate the conditions that they KNOW are setting dogs up to be killed under their rules. It's all on the Bad Owners; no moral responsibility at all lies with the people who create and maintain the conditions in the 'shelter', the people who actually choose to kill healthy, loving pets whose people (for whatever reason) couldn't or, yes, in some cases, didn't choose, to keep them.

That's a person that, if something happened to me and my loving little dog landed in that person's "shelter", they'd kill her gleefully because of her reaction to the conditions, secure in the moral certainty that they were "teaching the owner a lesson."


When I ask people, just me chatting up folks at work, kid functions, whatever and they talk about getting a dog and I mention shelter adoption, the thing virtually everyone says is, I would like to, but I can't go into those places, they are too depressing" OR " I can't, I look at the dog/cats and know most of them wont make it".

So telling people that 90% or whatever are going to die is going to make people charge in? The guilt trip/bad owner and BAD Public thing may make a few self righteous people feel better, but it is killing pets.

My friend in Vegas got an e-mail from someone who is, supposedly, in a breed rescue this AM bragging at how he flags and harasses ANYONE on the local Craigslist who lists pets for adoption or sale. He brags that it takes him hours morning and night. It's a personal mission and he gets great satisfaction from it. Kind of explains a lot about personal motivation right there.

Gina Spadafori

Hey! I love it when we get "off-topic."

Although actually, we're not off-topic at all. The shelter industry blames "bad people" for business as usual killing for population control, instead of working with the majority of people who want to help pets.

That was the point of Christie's post, and all the discussion following. The need for a paradigm shift in how shelters see their role and the people and pets they claim to serve.


I can imagine, however, how frustrating it must be for the average employee/volunteer at a shelter to be so overwhelmed that they feel like lashing out at someone.

Kasey was adopted from the North Shore Animal League on Long Island and they were supposed to visit him after six months and we haven't ever heard from them again. It doesn't surprise me with how overwhelmed and crowded that place was. It did seem clean though and they day of Kasey's adoption there were so many people there looking at the dogs, it was actually kind of nice.

Gina Spadafori

Work "in the trenches" is not easy, that's for sure. That's why this isn't about "shelter workers" but about those who RUN shelters, especially of the non-profit kind. It's up to the leadership -- boards and executive directors -- to put in place programs that reach out to communities to help, and to recognize the need to be humane to staff as well, putting in place programs to help THEM deal with stress and anger.

Some shelter staff need to be in other lines of work. But I bet most of them could do very well with programs that acknowledge and address the difficulties of the work they do, and help them to cope better, while better helping people and pets.


There are worse things than dying.

Comment by Chris — December 30, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

Gina and Susan have already addressed the fallacies you've been fed about No Kill. I want to ask you one question.

Shelters routinely kill dogs who have become "kennel stressed." My little dog would be "kennel stressed" within at most a few hours of entering the shelter kennel environment. She'd be dead, most likely, by the end of the first day, but certainly by the end of the first week.

But because she had a responsible breeder to take her back, she didn't wind up in a shelter. She got rehomed to me, and she's a loving, well-behaved, happy pet who loves every child and most adults that she meets. Tonight, we spent an hour in our local Borders, and I didn't get to do the book shopping I came for because she was so busy charming other customers and giving me the chance to promote the benefits of rescue dogs to a family that wants a dog but needs to have one that will not exceed the maximum size in their development.

Is her current condition really "worse than being dead"--which would be her fate in any High Kill shelter in this country?


Okay, enough of this "kennel stress" -- Janeen had a link on her blog about a newly designed shelter where the architects put it together to reduce "kennel stress"

Is there a way to make this a trend -- to design shelters so that "kennel stress" doesn't happen?

With the housing market downtown, there are lots of underemployed architects -- perhaps it's time for HSUS (I'm picking on them since we all know they have bucks! ;-P) to sponsor a design competition for low-materials cost, community-based shelters that are people welcoming and prevent kennel stress in dogs and cats. . .


Since responsibility must be taught (especially in the case of caring for a living creature), an irresponsible pet owner would be someone who knowingly, and with intent, failed to provide a pet with it’s basic needs - someone who KNEW how to be responsible but CHOSE to act irresponsibly.

If pet overpopulation and/or the suffering of unwanted pets is to be blamed on “irresponsible pet owners”, and if the animal welfare community is the ONLY group out there funded to educate those people to be more responsible, then we must take responsibility ourselves; each and every pet that suffers or dies as a result of an irresponsible person, is a pet that we failed.

Whether we failed to prevent that pet’s birth, educate his owner, provide his family with support, or rescue him from the hands of a true abuser - it was our responsibility (our business!) to have used our donations, our resources, and our energy to prevent that tragedy.

How can we take money from the public to educate the public only to turn around and blame the public for being uneducated?


"kennel stress" takes many variable forms and while expensive designs are nice, and may reduce visual and audio stress on animals, even cash strapped or ad hoc facilities can do many things to keep dogs sane and adoptable.

Whenever possible, sensitive or fearful dogs should be fostered. Or given time in some ones office to escape the noise and commotion of the main kennel area.

Walks, play time, kong toys, some basic positive training exercises every day, a cozy bed, a dog-loo to go into to get out of the noise and bustle, all these things go miles to keep dogs mentally healthy and most can be accomplished with volunteers and charitable contributions from an engaged community.

A well engaged community is the key, it provides volunteers, donations and support. And new homes! And it is becoming increasingly obvious that the community, the public, is far more willing to support earnest No-Kill efforts than doom and gloom, status quo facilities.

Susan Fox

"When a shelter is “no-kill”, that means they have limited space. That means that they have to start turning away animals, which in turn means more animals being left by the roadside to starve or freeze to death. There are worse things than dying."

ALL shelters have limited space, even Best Friends. So?

Chris, I volunteer at an open admission, (but no owner turn in), county shelter run by our sheriff's dept. It is No Kill, as in we do not kill for space. We have a volunteer rescue coordinator, a volunteer transport coordinator, a long list, including myself, of people who transport dogs and whole group of volunteers from the local high school and lots of community support.

Why? Because our director wants every animal possible to leave on four paws, so we all pitch in to make that happen.

We've had 58 dogs when our capacity is officially 55 because we double 'em up temporarily if necessary. Dogs waiting for rides sometimes spend a night or two at a boarding kennel if we're jammed.

No Kill is quite doable, even in a rural county like ours. But first you have to decide to save animals instead of kill them. The rest flows from that. Because...it's a SHELTER.

Gina Spadafori

When a shelter is “no-kill”, that means they have limited space. That means that they have to start turning away animals, which in turn means more animals being left by the roadside to starve or freeze to death. There are worse things than dying.

Comment by Chris — December 30, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

Chris, that's NOT what no-kill means. That's what you've been TOLD it means by the sheltering industry that can't see beyond the way they've always done business. "Choosing to kill" is exactly what's happening here, for there are proven alternatives.

Check out a copy of Nathan Winograd's "Redemption" and find out what no-kill really means.


I find it disturbing to read of those who believe that shelter workers can't wait to euthanize animals ("choose to kill"? Really?). As a volunteer at a shelter, I can honestly say that that is the last thing they want to do.

I do not believe in "no-kill" shelters. When a shelter is "no-kill", that means they have limited space. That means that they have to start turning away animals, which in turn means more animals being left by the roadside to starve or freeze to death. There are worse things than dying.

H. Houlahan

"Kennel stress" = where is your fostering program?

Before I started working exclusively with NESR, I got my start in fostering by taking in "stale" dogs from a local shelter for two-week "cage breaks."

Did them a world of good, got them evaluated in a home environment, and was an easy way to foster without making an open-ended time commitment. It was much easier for me to do a short-term foster once a month than it was to drive the 45 minutes to the shelter to work with an animal a few times a week.

This shelter has legions of cage-break foster homes.

And if you have 40-50 animals out on cage breaks at a given time -- guess how many runs they are NOT occupying?

I agree, too, that thoughtful design can mitigate kennel stress. Dunno if the butt-ugly Ozzie facility that Janeen had on her blog is it, but stress control is something that should get top priority, with safety and sanitation, when designing new facilities and upgrading old ones.

And facilities that minimize stress for the inmates also contribute to employee well-being.

Barbara Saunders

I love Joy's comment! This has been my frustration working in the animal welfare field - failure of critical thinking. If pet owners are "ignorant," then the animal welfare community's job must be "educate them." Who else's job would that be? The industry needs to evolve in response to the problems that must be addressed, not define itself tautologically, according to its own rules and existing practices.


Does it ever occur to you that you’re doing a great disservice both to dogs and humans by encouraging the keeping of dogs? I like dogs. I just can’t abide the ignorant, selfish, irresponsible, antisocial morons who own them. Dog owners are definitely the most common nuisance breed of all.

Most dogs in are kept in Suburban housing estates. Dogs need huge amounts of exercise and almost constant companionship which is why dogs confined to back gardens tend to bark and howl excessively; they are literally going slowly mad from loneliness and lack of stimulation. Anyone who locks a dog in a small back garden all day, only taking it out for walks once or twice a day, is abusing an animal. Please stop kidding yourselves that you are “dog lovers” A dog deserves better than that, and so do your neighbours.

A dog is a wonderful companion if you live in the country and have plenty of space so that the dog can get plenty of exercise without bothering the neighbours. A dog is great company if you work in forestry or farming or any job which allows you to take your animal with you for the day. I don’t have a dog because a dog is most definitely not suitable for a standard urban or sub-urban back garden. The people of this country who are not stupid or selfish enough to own dogs have a right to walk the streets of their neighbourhoods unmolested by your annoying animals. They have the right to sleep peacefully at night, or sit quietly in their gardens on a sunny afternoon without being driven to despair by the cacophony of barking that has become endemic in this country, courtesy of the local “dog lovers”.

A dog is not a piece of garden furniture. If you are considering getting a dog you need to ask yourself some basic questions.

1. Do I have at least 3 to 4 hours a day to spend exercising the dog?

2. Do I have any idea how to properly train and look after a dog?

3. Can I be sure that my having a dog will not unduly infringe on my neighbours right to peace and quiet?

Few dog owners can answer these questions in the affirmative. Most are simply too selfish to even consider them. Most believe that their right to keep a dog supersedes everything else and that they are somehow absolved of any responsibility either to their neighbours or even to their own dog. I would appeal to anybody not to support dog shelters or dog charities. Unwanted dogs should be humanely put-down, not farmed out to irresponsible idiots; “dog lovers”, who just add to the already massive dog menace in this country.

Gina Spadafori

Nice try, Kevin. You're no dog-lover. You're just another crank.

I know perfectly happy, healthy, well-loved and well-cared-for dogs who live in Manhattan studio apartments ... and suburban homes ... and on ranches. Dogs are the most adaptable of species: They are happy where we are, to be where we are.

Yes, of course they need care. And of course some people don't give their pets enough time and training, and some allow their pets to be a nuisance.

But no dogs? Not a chance. You prove, once again, that humans are the most common nuisance species of all, not dogs.


For the benefit of people whom Kevin might be fooling:

I live in the city in a tiny house with no yard. My sister lives in a larger house with a fenced yard. My neighbor lives in an intermediate-sized house with a larger fenced yard.

All of our dogs live inside with their human pack members. They are loved, cared for,and well-exercised--not living outside and left to exercise and entertain themselves, as you apparently envision happening to the "happy" dogs living in the country.

Even those of my neighbors who, in my judgmental opinion, don't walk their dogs often enough, or who let them get their air in the yard or on a tether, take them inside, and keep them inside, with the family, when they're not out to potty. Even one dog whom I'm not sure is walked regularly, their dog is normally inside the house with the family. The only occasions when I see that dog outside, is when he's going out for a ride with his human family (happens regularly), or when the first-mentioned neighbor's dog is out in her yard (always with one or the other of the couple that owns her, or with me, because I'm there visiting with my dog.) Then that dog is nearly always let out, and the two (or three) dogs play together (yes, play, not fence-fight) along the fence between the two properties.

A dog loose on the street is unusual enough to prompt an immediate call to Animal Control (who believe their job is to help animals as well as people), with whatever information is available about whose pet it is that's gotten loose accidentally. (Sometimes that information can be very exact; other times there's some guesswork involved.)

Do we have some annoying barkers? Sure! But that family is fostering rescues, and always manages to improve their health and behavior significantly before they move on to their forever homes.

The city is a wonderful place for a dog to live, because a city dog generally has a lot more time with family and a lot more opportunities for socialization.

The comments to this entry are closed.