My last day in our shelter

Visiting other shelters and talking to those that work there is one of the best ways to learn.  Whether it’s cleaning protocols, volunteer programs, adoption procedures, or just things as simple as making your lobby brighter and more welcoming to the public; there is much to be gained by visiting other shelters and learning from their experiences.    Unfortunately, sometimes what you learn is more a cautionary tale.

With laws in our state so vague and lacking in the area of animal care, relying upon State Code to direct us in any real meaningful manner is pretty unreasonable.  Regardless, there are those that question some of our practices and procedures and wonder why we would go to the effort and expense that we do especially when there is no law or mandate requiring it.  And it’s absolutely true, we do much that the law and our contracts are silent to. 

I would and DO argue that State Law is totally insufficient to ensure humane treatment of animals whether in our shelter or in a home.   As such we augment the law with what we believe is morally responsible and what are best practices (and often what the HSUS and ASCPA also recommends) to ensure animals in our care are being treated humanely and with compassion. 

Most notably:

We keep animals for as long as we have space. 

  • State Law requires  you keep stray dogs for 5 days to give the owners a chance to find them.  After that we can “sell” them or euthanize them.  Probably useful to know that only about 6% of all animals are reclaimed by their owners.  Which means that if we euthanized every dog that wasn’t reclaimed in 5 days, that would be 94% of them!  Beyond the ghastliness of this ideas, the staff turnover would be immense and you’d have no volunteers either if you chose to follow the law.  Add to that it’s just not the right thing to do!

We take in and care for cats even though the law is virtually mute on cats. 

  • While the Law certainly does not require providing any shelter or services to homeless cats nor does the County really want to pay for such, not doing so creates a huge problem.  Not only in the volume of cats in the community but also in how they are dealt with when there is no shelter.  Not long ago, I became aware of a large business in our area who chose to provide their own animal control for a cat problem on their property because we wouldn’t come and trap cats for them.  So instead they hired an exterminator who would trap the cats and then drop the cat filled traps into the river.  Returning later to haul the traps out and then tossing the dead cats in the dumpster.  Rest assured this practice has been stopped through threats to the Manager of the business of public disclosure.  But I also assure you that if we didn’t provide a shelter for cats this sort of practice would not be the exception.

We vaccinate and worm every animal as it arrives at our shelter. 

  • We could choose NOT to vaccinate and leave the animals susceptible to easily transmittal diseases like Parvo that is so rapidly spread and can be so deadly.  It is all too common that a shelter has a Parvo outbreak and the solution is the killing of every single dog. 

If an animal has an obvious illness we treat it with medication. 

  • We could fail to provide such treatment and stand by and watch that animal grow sicker and suffer and ultimately euthanize it as “unadoptable”. 

If an animal has an injury or suffering, we will do our best to help cease that suffering.

  • Yes, we could allow the animal to languish in pain waiting for the 5 days to be up and then euthanize it at the end of that period. 

Every dog is removed from their cage during their twice daily cage cleaning and each cat cage and litter box cleaned at least once a day.

  • We could hose out the dog cages while the dog remains inside.  This is the common practice at a shelter I’ve visited and not only do they hose around the panicked dog but since they have no heat in their building, the concrete freezes in the winter and the dog is left to lay on wet frozen concrete. 

Every dog is given potty breaks in an outside run at least twice each day.

  • Yes, we could leave them in their cage for 24 hours a day and for that matter, there is no stipulation on how often the cages are cleaned.  Some shelters only clean the cages every few days.  Leaving the animals laying in their own urine and feces while providing an environment for the spread of disease.

Every dog and cat is housed inside a building with heat and cooling.

  • Some shelters have dogs tied up outside to dog houses 24 hours a day.   Yes, in the winter too!

We sanitize every blanket, bed, towel, bowl and toy daily.   We also mop the floors, cage walls and floors with bleach every day.

  • Sure, we could NOT do this and create an environment where disease spreads rapidly.  And there would be no law stopping us from euthanizing the animals that become sick as a result. 

We work hard to isolate kittens and puppies from adult animals and from public handling so as to minimize disease and illness. 

  • We could take kittens and throw them together with other kittens, without testing for disease and without vaccinating, and watch while they share their illnesses and go untreated until they are so sick we have no other choice but to euthanize them.   Once when visiting another shelter, I found this very thing and could not help myself but take all the sick kittens home with me.  They were not JUST sick but the shelter was providing no treatment at all!  Assuredly they all would have died or been euthanized.  No one adopts sick kittens no matter how cute they are. 

We are staffed to provide care 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

  • There is nothing in law that says this is necessary.  And horrifically, I’m aware of a shelter a few counties away that has been known to euthanize all the animals on Christmas eve so that their staff doesn’t have to work on Christmas day. 

Obviously the last example is the extreme or I sure hope so.  But some people may think that some of our standard operating procedures are excessive as well.  Certainly they are not mandated by law and we could choose not to do them.  Maybe one day we won’t be able to afford this sort of compassion and decency.  When that day comes, I have to wonder if I will be able to be involved.  Going backwards is not something I’m very good at.  Especially when it’s about something that I so strongly believe in. 

If that day ever comes, where an injured animal is allowed to languish in pain for days because the law doesn’t mandate that we treat it OR when we euthanize every animal that comes in the door 5 days after its arrival that will most assuredly be my last day in our shelter! 

I’ll leave that kind of business to someone who doesn’t have a heart. 

Categories: Shelter Facts

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8 replies

  1. Best blog ever! I can’t tell how often I come across this in the poor, rural Southern shelters I work with. Holidays are always a nightmare of scrambling to get them out before the mass killings. Laws in every state need re- worked to give the voiceless a better chance at a humane enviroment, and survival. Thanks for writing about the ugly facts. This happens daily at thousands of shelters, and few people know, or care about it.

    • This culling of the “inventory” before a holiday is just about one of the sickest things I’ve ever come across. There are much easier ways to give the employees a holiday off…we rally volunteers to work on Christmas day and have a ball…and plenty of people and often times the staff shows up anyway! .

  2. As an appreciative mom of two Parkersburg dogs, I say thank you for the extra effort. Milo and Noelle are a joy, and give us so much unconditional love.

  3. I had no idea shelters were being ran this way. Thank you for having a heart for the voiceless!

  4. If so many shelters are being run the way you have described I am so very grateful that I have begun my volunteer days in Parkersburg shelter. I am so excited to be a part of HSOP and can’t wait until I am well enough to be able to work with the dogs as well. For now, the cats are keeping my satisfied.

  5. I never cease to be educated, sadly not in a good way. There are many shelters between my house and HSOP. Just lucky we found you 13 years ago. You all have been our favorites ever since.

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