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12 February 2009


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Susan Fox

"You" being Jenniferj. Not quick enough on the submit button.


Was it on this site or another that there was a post about new research into how people intent on punishing or revenging an act do not get closure or their expected level of satisfaction from the act. ie: yelling at your kids or punishing an employee and so forth does not resolve the feelings of anger and the desire to punish.

I know someone here knows what I'm talking about. I would love the link.

The gist was don't do it, it won't make you feel better, it causes damage and those bottled up unresolved feelings are likely to escalate and breed rather than diminish or be replaced by better emotions.

I always think of it during the shelter system vs whoever (public, breeders, other sheltering philosophies). Rightous anger and the desire to punish or revenge are powerful emotions and many times I think people get into a mind set wherein it defines them and their views of the world.

Tough stuff to quit, but also not the right place to solve problems from. getting people to let go of long held grudges, emotions and deeply held, emotionally charged and fueled beliefs is going to be a big challenge. Maddies Fund I think might be able to play peacemaker pretty well.


Do you know how many dogs get dumped out here in the desert because our animal control has the reputation for lecturing people who need to abandon a pet? A lot. As horrible as the thought is that a person must give up their dog, the lives of those dogs and cats are made unacceptably dangerous because it's just easier to dump them out in the desert, at night, when it's mostly deserted.

Susan Fox

One of the reasons I volunteer where I do is that the kind of negative behavior you describe is minimal. There's definitely snark sometimes about feckless owners, usually accompanied by much eye-rolling, but not an overall, on-going blame game.

I've been around other animal rescuers who were very vocal people haters (And the animals are going to be adopted by what other species?). It got tiresome. For me it was a distraction from why I'd gotten involved, which was to help and work with the animals.

The anger and venting seemed self-indulgent and ritualized (as in knee jerk). Very attractive environment for getting and retaining volunteers. Not.


Excellent, excellent article, Christie. And I wholeheartedly agree with this statement:

"Every time I see someone say that the goal of the shelter movement should be to put itself out of business because there are no more animals in need of their services, I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry."

I realized long ago that to claim the goal of the shelter movement is to put itself out of business fits right into "the check is in the mail" category... it *sounds* good, but that's about it. And now that so many shelters are going with the corporate model of doing business, it's an even more ridiculous idea.

As someone who's worked for 15 years in a shelter that has undergone all kinds of changes, I have a lot more to say on this, but no time now. But I am really glad you did write this and am hoping it will get some eyes opened up.

In the meantime, I'm linking here to a story on ZooToo (which I hate with a passion, our marketing person seems to think we have a chance at winning one of their "makeovers," so she wants us all to participate).

If you read the story and can stomach a few pages of the comments, you'll see what kind of mentality we deal with out here in the trenches:


It's been my general observation that lectures and scolds work about as well as shoving a kitten's nose in it when it doesn't make the litterbox: it might make the scold feel better in a nasty, brutish sort of way, but all it teaches the person scolded is fear and avoidance.


Interesting. My local "animal shelter" (county run) has ZERO requirements for adopting an animal besides you paying the fee and signing a piece of paper stating that you understand there's no health guarantee and yes, you'll see a vet with the animal in the next 7 days or whatever.

But it also *costs* to drop an animal off - I don't know about dogs, but it's $10 to leave a cat with them. It costs $15 to "buy" a cat (and yeah, legally it's a purchase). Dogs are more expensive - forty-something dollars to purchase, don't know how much to drop off.

And yet, people bring animals in and pay the fee. They aren't given guilt or hassle (even when the animal is in obviously bad shape), just pay your money, sign the paper relinquishing rights, and leave your critter.

If folks are willing to pay money to leave an animal in a safe place (mind you, this place does have time limits and does kill animals for space), how much more willing would they be to take an animal to a true no-kill shelter where they know that the animal will get a real shot at a new home?


Yes, but what if it makes them think twice about coming to the shelter with the next pet they feel the need to abandon. Justified as the lecture might be, no one likes to be talked to like that. So next time they'll just dump them on the side of the road.

The education needs to take place BEFORE they have already decided to give up the pet. And, no, I don't really know how to make that happen.


I've been involved with a number animal shelters over the past decade. Your average animal shelter is not in the business of preventing people from having pets. Sure, some places can have stringent adoption requirements (and yes, some of those are so strict that it gives all shelters and rescues a bad name) and many shelter folks are rightfully jaded about humanity, but nothing makes those employees happier than seeing an animal go to a new, loving home.

Adoption requirements are in place to protect the animals, many of whom have already been through so much. What good is it to adopt a pet out only to have it returned again a year later...and to let that happen again and again until the animal is so stressed out that it needs to be euthanized? Is it a good idea to adopt an animal out only to have it reclaimed as part of a cruelty case later on? I've seen these situations and many others happen. I've also seen good homes get refused because of the requirements. It's an imperfect system, but it's the result of shelter folks doing the best they can with the reality of the situation.

When people turn an animal in, they often do get lectured (although, in my experience, there is sympathy for situations where someone doesn't want to relinquish their pets, like if they've lost their home)...but not with the intent of getting them to keep the animal they don't want. Is it better to just take the animal and smile like it's okay to treat a living thing like a leased car? I think people need to know the reality that what they've done is not okay, that their animal won't necessarily get another chance in another home, that their animal may not even be able to stand the stress of the transition. Most of these people won't listen, but if it makes even one or two of them think twice before getting another animal, then you may have saved dozens of animals in that person's lifetime from being condemned to a life of neglect and abandonment.

People do suck and cause animals to suffer...and if shelter employees don't do their best to make sure adopted animals go to loving homes and to let people know the reality of turning their animal into a shelter, then they aren't doing their part to care for the animals in their community.

Ark Lady

Nice rant--as usual. ;-) Many years ago before "No Kill" became fashionable I found a facility that housed animals for life. They had large catteries and the dogs got to romp outside in a very large compound.

Within a few years I found myself working for a humane society aka low kill shelter as an adoption counselor.

The place was ridiculous about their adoption policies. They would rather see a cat rot in a cage instead of placing it into a home because they did not meet one of the long list in their criteria of the perfect pet parent.

Some of the staff were animal rights people so anyone (like me) that wore leather or was non-vegan or vegetarian got blasted.

There are all kinds of well meaning people who get it in their heads that they are the "chosen" ones when it comes to animal welfare.

I've see the us and them in the zoo world versus private ownership facilities (never mind that zoos were once all private menageries) and in many of the pet industry businesses that provide pet related services.

Your proposal calling for "reducing need and increasing resources" is a logical one but implementing it is another.

Here our animal services really doesn't try to serve the potential adopters and they are little more than a bunch of temporary prison cells.

The humane societies--sorely lacking and non local now.

When you figure out how to catalyze this change--let me know. I am always at the forefront banging my head on the wall to break it down.


I love my pets dearly and make a lot of personal sacrifices for them. But would I live in my car before I gave up my pets? Honestly I hope none of us ever has to make that choice but how would living in my car with my pets be good for me or them? I don't get that.


Excellent! Off to tell everyone to come over and read this.

Susan Fox

Great idea, EmilyS. Christie- could I submit this to our local paper? No idea what the protocol is.



Of course, the shelter in the next county took a different approach - they changed their name from "shelter" to "animal control" because they had no intention of sheltering, just "controlling". And yeah, their kill rates are very high...

Tell me again how it doesn't start with leadership at the top?

Susan Fox

"We should BEG them to give up those pets to a shelter that will find them a new home with someone who really wants them."

That would certainly be preferable to what too often happens- pets abandoned on our back roads because someone either didn't know any better or didn't want to have to face someone and offer an explanation. It probably wouldn't have taken them any longer to drive to one of the local shelters then to out back of beyond.

If they'd known, really known, that someone would have welcomed the little critters with open arms, no questions asked, maybe the five kittens wouldn't have been thrown off a bridge into the river in a paper bag last year. Someone saw the bag in time to save two of them.

The good news it that whoever did it would very likely have been prosecuted if they could have been identified.

And this in a caring community with three no-kill shelters and at least three private cat rescues. Maybe we need a coordinated local campaign to explicitly do the "begging". I shudder to think about what happens elsewhere.


wow.. totally on the mark. I wish you could get this reprinted in every newspaper in the country. In fact, I bet you COULD get it printed.

Jason Merrihew

Well said Christie!

Dr. Patty Khuly


(Sometimes the best posts get one-word comments because there's nothing more to say.)

Keep it coming!




Excellent! I agree with you 100%. Thank you for putting this into words.

Phyllis DeGioia

When reading some self-help type stuff, one thing I read that stuck with me was "Consider how hard it is to change your own behavior, and then realize how much more difficult it would be to change someone else's behavior." Behavioral change is slow to come, but remember that 40 years ago it was okay to smoke at work and drive drunk, and to keep your cat outside for the night. Given thoughtful approaches like this, a new era of reducing need and increasing resources can begin.

Christie, you rock.


Phyllis-that reminds me of my favorite Robert Heinlein quote (it hangs on my office cork board):

"Humans hardly ever learn from the experience of thoers. They learn--when they do, which isn't often--on their own, the hard way."

--Robert Heinlein in Time Enough for Love


I'm proud to work for a shelter that trains us to respect relinquishers and adopters alike and tries to provide help for those in need either to keep their current pet, relinquish one, or adopt one even though they may not have a mansion for the pet to live in. We are also progressive about breeders, though I, myself am biased on the side of mixing breeds to provide better genes.

Aside from that issue, I have another issue around the question, "What are Animal Shelters For?"

Do we exist to attempt to provide care for the homeless pets in our community alone? If we can provide good care for those animals, should we take in animals from other communities who don't have the same resources we do?

Do we exist to provide similar veterinary care as a pet might get at a private veterinary clinic? If a shelter across the street can only provide minimal veterinary care for the animals in their care,and we can afford to spend hundreds of dollars in veterinary care for individual animals,is it right to spend the money on the individual animals when others can't get adequate vet care, and may be euthanized because they have an upper respiratory infection?

Many shelters use universal categories to determine if an animal is Healthy, Treatable, Manageable, or Unhealthy.

Some communities demand that animals only be euthanized who are in the Unhealthy category. There is gray area in the definitions. One shelter may not consider an animal unhealthy unless it is nearly dying, another shelter may euthanize far sooner. This causes sometimes misleading data from shelters across the country as to which animals are chosen for euthanasia and whether they could have been saved after all with a little more time and a recategorization as "Treatable".

Which animals are "worth" putting resources into? Only young, friendly animals? Is age a consideration? How much senior care is too much?

These are the ethical issues shelter managers struggle with daily, and I am plagued by these questions, so much so, that I must find a year-old article to attach my rant to in the middle of the night.

I will say, it is very hard on the people who work at shelters who don't have a final say in which animals are saved. It leads to a lot of feelings of hopelessness to want desperately for someone to just once allow you to be the one to directly make the decision to save one animal that you just have that good feeling about.

I do have my opinion on these matters. I have a very specific idea of what should be the veterinary care provided to shelter animals. I feel going above and beyond basic care leads adopters to think we have unlimited resources to "fix up" their animals, instead of sending them out the door with some issues that their veterinarian can help with. I think any resources spent above and beyond that care, i.e. any specialist/emergency care would be better spent on animals in other shelters where they can't even provide basic veterinary care.

I don't believe it is responsible to adopt animals who only have a few years left and have serious diseases like diabetes out to adopters. I think It's too much to ask them to take on, and I think often they take it on because they feel bad for the animal, not because they fell in love with it.

I think euthanasia of the old and sickly in shelters is reasonable and responsible. If space is created by the euthanasia of these animals, that space can be filled by animals from other shelters who are younger and healthier, allowing that shelter's euthanasias to decrease. I think sharing a common goal would be fabulous, and I don't even share my goal with my superiors, much less with other shelters. It's a quandry.

It makes people (specifically, people on the board of directors) feel good to point to one animal and say- I helped save that old cat with medical problems, who otherwise would have been euthanized. when I hear that, I only think of the 3 or 4 other animals in other shelters that might not have been euthanized, if we would have taken the money for vet care for the old, sick cat and treated the younger, less sick ones.

Maybe I'm a communist, but I just don't think it's fair to let shelter animals in a poor area suffer, while shelter animals in a rich area (with rich donors) thrive. I don't think it's fair to the shelter workers in poor areas to make them watch the animals they care for have to be euthanized, while we, who work in a shelter in a wealthier area, get to save just about every animal that isn't dangerous or dying of illness. We are lauded for our efforts and they are criticized, when we all do the same work and love the animals in our care equally.

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