Another Clear The Shelter is now in the books and thousands of animal across the country found homes. Amazing right? Not so fast.
In 2015, the Dallas Morning News writer, Sharon Grigsby, wrote a column about Clear The Shelter. It ignited a firestorm. We also wrote a blog post in response as well. Three years later, we want to take a moment to reflect again on the concept of Clear The Shelter. As we reflect, we want to share an opinion column from The New York Times this week, entitled, “Are We Loving Shelter Dogs to Death.” The article asks us to consider that,
“No-kill policies can be helpful, but without assistance for struggling families, they may be making things worse for America’s pets.”
The NY Times op-ed states, “A big part of the reason shelters fill is poverty: An estimated one-quarter of shelter animals are there after their owners have surrendered them because of family dysfunction or financial pressure.” The poverty influence is true here in Dallas. We have talked about this before, and we have tried to influence city policy and local animal welfare groups to be mindful of the challenges of poverty. It is the reason we researched and wrote the original spay / neuter surge grant, it is the reason we crafted an enforceable tethering law and parallel outreach plan. You might ask, how is poverty filling our shelters?
After a year long on going collaboration with Dallas Pets Alive’s PAS program, Dallas should have data on why people surrender pets. They should. If they have meaningful data, how are we addressing the top 10 surrender causes? We’re not, but why?
The article continues, “A dog may be sick and there’s no money for a vet; a landlord may be threatening eviction. The animals of the poor end up in shelters even when their owners desperately want to keep them. If a dog gets out and is picked up by animal control, for instance, impound and reclamation fees and fines can make retrieving it unaffordable.” We’ve recently talked about this too as the city reduced the hold times for microchipped dogs. The city absolutely jumped to reduce hold times based on data, but they never asked the important question, “why?” Therefore, their response will not address the root of the issue and leverage long-term change.
Again from the Times article, “…Adoption promotion and events like low-price giveaways address none of these issues and can create problems of their own by enabling abusers and, far more commonly, impulse buyers.” In addition to the consequences of buyers remorse where an animal is concerned, there is plenty of research that shows we humans value things more when have to pay something, anything. The 25 cent Aldi shopping cart model supports that research.
So why is the City giving away pets once a year like it’s companion animal Black Friday? According to the op-ed, “Adoption becomes a feel-good “numbers” game, in which we carefully and proudly track only how many animals have left the shelter.” Truth. Right in the feels. “Perhaps most significantly, continued overemphasis on getting animals out of the shelter obscures the fact that we need to acknowledge the connection between animal and human struggles before we can prevent so many from coming in.”
Stop. Don’t react; listen with intent. We’ll rephrase that to reiterate:
The OVEREMPHASIS on getting animals OUT of the shelters obscures the struggles that will allow us to prevent animals from coming IN.
Let’s step out of our comfort zones and take a deep, dark look into what “no kill” looks like when we only look at dogs getting out. Animal shelters stop picking up loose dogs; shelters allow dangerous dogs out into community homes; dangerous dogs go to adoption events in public places and suddenly pounce small children pinning them to the ground while bitting and requiring three grown men to pull the dog off of the child. No kill has also allowed for this dog to sit in protective custody and rot in isolation while the rescue appeals a court ordered euthanasia and fights for his life, not his quality of life, in court. No kill puts pressure on and gives permission for the wholesale warehousing of dogs in kennels and boarding facilities with little or no enrichment and exercise. That is not a life better than a humane euthanasia. The live release rate becomes king over public safety, animal well-being, and fiscal responsibility. That was all too true in Dallas under the previous DAS management.
Let’s revisit August 2015, our North Oak Cliff community experienced a huge spike in dog bites against neighbors. Serious dog bites with serious bodily injury. It was that spike in dog bites that caused Councilman Scott Griggs to trigger the DAS budget briefing that changed the course of DAS history. It was later determined that during the month of August, DAS was bringing in animals from outside of Dallas so they could win an adoption contest. They lost, as did so many residents who were bitten and injured because DAS directed officers to stop picking up dogs so they could have room for “more adoptable” dogs imported for the contest. (records exist for this). Not only was this unconscionable from a safety and quality of life standpoint, DAS was euthanizing Dallas dogs to make room for the imported dogs and spending tax payer money in excess of any amount they may have won IF they had won the contest. Management’s actions were illegal on many levels and qualify as malfeasance – all in the name of a live release rate and an adoption contest.
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) outlined a multifaceted plan to help Dallas grow past its dangerous loose animal issues. The city is not following the plan. This brings us back full circle to what the NYT op-ed is telling us: “No-kill policies can be helpful, but without assistance for struggling families, they may be making things worse for America’s pets.” We feel better, but we might be actually making things worse.
Here at Gypsy Dog Ops, we’re currently working a plan to elevate the animal culture and create more resilient communities – and we will do it by bringing assistance and information to struggling family. Stand by for some big news soon and in the meantime, remember, every action has a reaction. Ask yourself, is Clear the Shelter all it is cracked up to be (remember it is your tax dollars) or should we be spreading out reduced pricing over the course of the year to prevent a fire sale mentality surrounding the care and responsibility we owe to sentient beings? Should we invest in education efforts to actually CHANGE the animal culture and elevate our safety and quality of life? Should we teach humane care as part of social emotional learning in our schools? Or do we want to, as the op-ed would suggest, “cling to our simple, comforting narratives and our old and easy solutions.” Let’s change the narrative and assess and improve the Clear the Shelter model to have higher impact and more inclusive long term goals.
With the proper focus, we can elevate our animal culture while reducing unwanted homeless loose animals, reducing dog bites, family violence, and crime, all while raising healthier children with stronger immune systems and higher social emotional intelligence. Clear The Shelter, that’s a temporary warm and fuzzy that wears off fast. Next week, the shelter will be full again making Clear the Shelter a short lived victory. Resilient communities, that’s the kind of long term change that truly raises the bar. Let’s get uncomfortable and get to work.