Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New year, perspective

Here we are, one full month into 2017. This marks the end of my time in Oklahoma and the last blog post of the Oklahoma era. I will be returning to my home state of Colorado,  what my role in the animal rescue world of Colorado will be, I don't yet know.
Since I began this blog a lot has happened in the town of Shawnee Oklahoma and it's animal shelter. It's been quite a journey.  I first learned about the Shawnee shelter before I even left Colorado. I would see posts from time to time about animals in need in this shelter, this gassing shelter. Rumors were rampant about the horrors that occurred at the Shawnee shelter, animals gassed for fun, animals abused prior to being gassed, an administration that didn't care. None of this really hit home until I moved to Oklahoma and became involved with members of the local animal rescue community. What an eye opener. They really did gas animals at the Shawnee shelter, at one point hundreds of animals were gassed each month. Rescues were reluctant to get involved with the shelter because it was so difficult to work with. Sickness was rampant in the shelter because animals received no vetting whatsoever. It wasn't at all uncommon for sick animals to suffer and die in the shelter. Volunteers weren't allowed, and very few rescues were involved. Being taken to the Shawnee shelter was almost certainly a death sentence for animals at one time.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to help, not just the animals, but the shelter as well. Things did not need to be the way they were! I began writing this blog in 2015. I also began a more hands on relationship with the animals of Shawnee. I began fostering, transporting, even keeping several myself.
There had been talk for some time about removing the gas chambers, but still they remained, and we're still in use.
In 2015 a new rescue appeared on the scene in Shawnee,  a group of locals doing incredible things. The kill rate at the Shawnee shelter dropped to almost zero thanks to the amazing efforts of this group. This continued until December of 2015. Word of the situation in Shawnee began to spread, eventually to a group of out of state animal advocates. This group organized a protest at the shelter. This was great news, so it seemed at first. Unfortunately this did not turn out to be the case. The first, most significant  impact of this protest was the gassing of three dogs in the shelter. Young, healthy dogs that had rescue interest. Three dogs that were condemned  to die a horrible death simply out of spite, an act of retaliation against the organizers of the protest. This act really focused the attention of the world on Shawnee Oklahoma and it's shelter. The outrage amongst the animal lovers of the world was loud and clear. In February of 2016 it was announced that the gas chamber would no longer be used. The world rejoiced, gassing would finally end in Shawnee! A local veterinarian agreed to euthanize animals by humane injection. Things were improving! Local rescuers continued to save most of the animals, but unfortunately illness was still rampant. There was still no vetting, and volunteers still weren't allowed to work with the animals. It was also discovered that animals were still being gassed, supposedly animals deemed feral or dangerous, and wildlife. Animals were still eligible to be euthanized after only 48 hours, and owner surrenders could be killed immediately. Most of the animals were rescued though, thanks to the wonderful local rescue. Despite the impressive work being done by this rescue they were the subject of a brutal smear campaign by the out of state group whose protest triggered the gassing of the three dogs in December of 2015. This group was doing everything in their power to discredit the group of locals responsible for saving most of the unwanted  animals of Shawnee . Eventually this died down and the local rescuers were able to continue their efforts without the constant harassment from out of state. 
Now, as of January 2017 we see very positive things happening in Shawnee. The gas chambers are gone, supposedly destroyed and used for scrap metal. The room that once contained the gas chamber is now an employee break room. Volunteers are now being recruited to work in the shelter. Some of the animals coming into the shelter are now being spayed or neutered. These animals are available to adopters or rescues. The shelter is open additional hours, allowing people to adopt or reclaim lost pets later in the evenings and on Saturday mornings. New kennels are being added to allow for more animals to be housed. That, and new policies on animal pick ups and surrenders  allow the animals to be safely held for much longer.  The shelter staff and the rescue community have developed a much better relationship which benefits everyone.
What a long way this Oklahoma shelter has come since I first became involved! I am so happy I was able to be a part of something so positive, and I'm very grateful to everyone who shared my posts, paid attention, and spoke up to help facilitate these changes . With that being said, please don't forget about the Shawnee animals and those who work so hard every day to save them. Also keep in mind, Shawnee is not an anomaly. There are still so many shelters in Oklahoma as well as the rest of the South, that desperately need change. Animals are still gassed, shot, neglected and abused in shelters everywhere. They need a voice and support just as much as the Shawnee animals did.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The more things change, the more they stay the same

It's been one year since I began writing this blog in an effort to let the world know what's going on at the Shawnee Oklahoma animal shelter. My first entry was about a young puppy who was picked up over the weekend and left to die in a kennel in the shelter. It was titled Innocence lost. I began writing this because there are a lot of things wrong in this shelter in Shawnee, a lot of things that desperately need to change.
The Shawnee Animal shelter has been in the spotlight quite a bit this past year, with stories in the local news media as well as nationally. It began last December when a group from out of state descended on Shawnee to protest the shelter and it's use of the gas chamber. This protest initially looked like a good thing. Things need to change in Shawnee, and this protest would bring the eyes of the world onto this Oklahoma town. The best part about this event was that it brought local Shawnee residents together. Locals who were opposed to the way things were being done at the shelter came together and began standing up and speaking out at city council meetings! In mid December the out of state group arrived for the protest. People in Shawnee were paying attention and speaking  up against the shelter, what could go wrong ? Apparently a lot could go wrong, so wrong in fact, that it resulted in three dogs being gassed to death shortly before Christmas. It had been months since any animals had died in that gas chamber. Rescues in Colorado and other parts of the country were stepping up and saving  them all. The local rescuers were tirelessly pulling and transporting the Shawnee animals to safety. The three dogs who died that day Delilah, Elroy and Brutus also had rescues willing to take them. The shelter was not full at that time in December, it was nowhere near capacity. The dog's were healthy and highly adoptable. So why were they subjected to that long agonizing death in the gas chamber? They died that day as an act of retaliation. The individual in charge of the shelter did not like the attention and harassment that was directed at him from the organizers of the protest. His act of "defiance" against this was to have those innocent dogs brutally gassed to death. It was this act that brought the initial wave of press and attention onto Shawnee and it's shelter. The city manager announced shortly after this that they would be stepping up their effort to end the use of the gas chamber. Within a few months it was announced that they had finally contracted with a veterinarian and would switch to lethal injection as the method of euthanasia. This brought the next wave of publicity into Shawnee. "The Shawnee shelter announces that it will no longer use the gas chamber"!!! People around the world celebrated, after years of talking about stopping the use of the gas chamber, the city finally announced that they were done with it!
The shelter also announced that they would extend their hours, staying open an hour later and opening for half a day on Saturday. Plans to expand and add more kennels were also announced. The shelter did extend the hours, which has been helpful to those looking for lost pets as well as rescues that want to pull animals on the weekend. The expansion has not yet happened.
So what's happening in Shawnee now, September of 2016? The local rescuers have continued their super human efforts to save the animals of Shawnee and get them to out of state rescues or adopters. The shelter has extended its hours, and a vet is humanely euthanising some of the animals. The bad news is that animals are still dying, recently large numbers of them. The people of Shawnee are still failing to spay and neuter their pets. Ridiculous numbers of unwanted litters are finding  their way into the shelter. Since these litters are unwanted, they are also unvaccinated, as are many of the other animals in the shelter. Shawnee Oklahoma is NOT  a model for exemplary pet care. The number of pets going unclaimed in the shelter speaks volumes towards that. The fact that most are unaltered, unvaccinated and often sick really sums up the attitude of Shawnee towards its pets. Many of these animals, especially the young ones are dying from illness, either in the shelter or at the hands of the vet that now euthanizes. One thing that has not changed in the Shawnee shelter is the lack of vet care for animals in the shelter. Animals are brought in sick, injured and malnourished nearly to the point of death. They are left in the shelter in these conditions until a rescue is able to save them, or until they die. Illness is rampant in the shelter because of these conditions.
Since Delilah, Elroy and Brutus were gassed last December many other animals have died after entering the Shawnee shelter. Some have died of illness or injury while in the shelter. Some have been euthanized by the vet due to illness, of course they don't attempt to treat the illness, there is still no vet available to the animals in the shelter. Some animals that find themselves in the Shawnee shelter are gassed. BUT THEY MADE THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT THEY WERE NO LONGER USING  THE GAS CHAMBER!!! Yes they did announce that, what they left out is a list of animals that that announcement doesn't apply to. Any wildlife captured by animal control or brought into the shelter is gassed, unless of course rescuers are able to get them released and taken to wildcare. Wild care is an excellent wildlife rescue and rehab facility not too far from Shawnee. Very few make it there from Shawnee, most are gassed to death. Then there is the matter of animals determined ( by animal control) to be feral or dangerous. These are often gassed. I am not privy to what criteria determines whether or not an animal is feral or dangerous. Having spent my life with animals I know how many could SEEM feral or dangerous when trapped or caged. I've had cats that turned into Saber Tooth Tigers when put  into a carrier.
Anyone who has paid attention to the intake numbers of animals posted on the Shawnee shelter web page is aware that there have been a lot of missing numbers over the past year. What happened to the animals attached to those numbers? How many were deemed  feral or dangerous and subsequently gassed? The answer is in the shelter records for anyone who wants to know.
So what has really changed in Shawnee and the shelter? They have expanded the hours, and some animals are being humanely euthanized by a vet.
Lately however, a lot of animals have been dying. Why? Illness, euthanasia and people no longer paying attention to the shelter and the plight of its animals. They announced that the gas chamber wasn't going to be used anymore, so now everything is magically ok in Shawnee! I'm here to say things are most definitely not ok in Shawnee. Animals have been gassed, ridiculous numbers are dying, there is still no vet care and far too many citizens of Shawnee still don't care. No one goes to city council meetings anymore. Rescues and pledgers are losing interest because they think things are ok in Shawnee.
Things are not ok and they won't be unless people continue to step up and work for positive change.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Someone saved this baby, now what?

Anyone who's ever seen a post for a dog in a shelter needing rescue has seen the comments; "someone please save this baby", "don't let this one die", "where are the rescues", "someone help", "praying"

Sharing these posts, and making pledges to help the dog are so important. If no one sees the dog, how can they save it? I've seen threads with thousands of comments and shares. Some rescues will only take a dog if the pledge amounts are high. Other rescues will pull the dog then solicit donations or pay the expenses with their own money. Sometimes, I think, on the animals where the drama and emotion is very high, rescues will pull with no resources or plan.
Once the announcement is made that the dog is safe and freedom photos are posted we see all the thank you's and words of celebration and happiness.
But what happens to the dog after all the feel good comments in the thread? Rescuing a dog is a demanding thing, financially, emotionally, and time wise. Once the dog is out of the shelter it needs a place to go. Most rescues use Fosters, some have kennel facilities,  others put dogs into boarding until....

We like to think that any rescue pulling a dog will have all these things in place and all will be safe and appropriate for the individual dog. How do we know? Just because a rescue has a 501c3 designation doesn't mean it is a quality organisation. If the dog goes into boarding, what is that like and how long will the dog be there? What are the Fosters like? How many animals do they have? Do they have experience with dogs with behavior issues? What is the dog's life like at the Fosters home? Is it in a crate all day? Chained in the yard? Locked in a bathroom? If the dog is to go on transport, what is that like?

The bottom line is that just because "someone saved this baby" , there is absolutely no guarantee it is truly safe. We hear horror stories everyday about abuse and neglect at the hands of a rescue.

Instead of praying the dog is safe it would be nice if people followed up, especially the rescue claiming the dog. Ideally anyone would be able to follow up on the dog at any given time after it is pulled.
Unfortunately we don't live in an ideal world. I would love to see as much transparency as possible in the rescue world, after all the dog's are the priority, right?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The thin line between right and wrong

Can and should every dog be saved? That's a question every rescuer and animal lover should spend some time really thinking about. It's a very touchy subject in the animal loving world. All of the big hearted animal lovers of course want to say yes,  save them all ! Is that really accurate though, and is it fair? Unfortunately hearts aren't the only oversized things in the rescue world,  far too many egos fit that description as well.  This is an excerpt from a post that I came across recently for a dog in a shelter;  "Bares teeth, growls, barks and charges the kennel trying to bite the assessor through the kennel.
02/29/16 15:58 mucopurulent ocular discharge, muscle atrophy, lichneification, hyperpigmentation, alopecia of chest and abdomen. yeasty smell. suspect allergies." This describes a highly aggressive dog, a dog who, in my opinion, hasn't been properly cared for in a home environment. Is this dog truly aggressive or is it fear and confinement causing this response? That's where things get difficult. Most shelter workers and volunteers aren't really qualified to do assessments on the animals that come in to a shelter. There really isn't time to do a thorough assessment either, sadly most shelters are busy places.
In a "perfect " world, only breed or behavior specific rescues would be able to pull this dog. A qualified assessor would evaluate the dog to determine the likelihood of successful rehabilitation. The dog would then go to a very skilled foster with no other animals to begin the process of becoming adoptable, or even more ideally, the dog would go to a behavior correction training facility. The dog would remain there until all the undesirable behaviors are corrected and the dog can safely be placed in a home. Of course the final placement would need to be carefully considered,  this dog may never be suitable for a family with children, but it could be great in a working home. A qualified person needs to make this decision as well.
Sadly we don't live in a perfect world. Dogs are not always pulled by the most qualified or appropriate rescues. Most often these dogs are pulled by those with the biggest hearts or the biggest ego's . Neither of these scenarios is ideal for a dog like this. What happens if the dog truly is aggressive and the behaviors don't diminish outside of the shelter? This opens up the possibility of many bad situations.
No one wants to admit defeat and put a dog down. This is absolutely heartbreaking,  and a very difficult decision to make. First of all, you face the "critics" the people who will criticize and attempt to paint you as a bad rescue. We've all heard the stories of the "horrible" rescues who pull dogs and then have them euthanized. Rarely do we hear the whole story in these situations. We mostly hear a lot of negativity and condemnation from the computer critics and the arm chair experts. Some dogs truly can't be saved, that's just the way it is. They are too badly damaged for too long. Prolonged attempts to help them will prove too dangerous, costly, and ultimately futile. The cost of trying to rehabilitate an aggressive dog goes  beyond just financial, time, danger and frustation are all elements here. Plus, what about all the other wonderful,  highly adoptable dogs who are not pulled because the rescues have committed all their resources to saving a high risk dog? How many dogs die each day because of these scenarios?
I don't have all the answers to these dilemmas, I would love to save them all! Unfortunately my common sense and experience with dogs tells me that's just not possible. I would love to see more common sense and intelligent handling of aggressive dogs in shelters and the rescue community. Please get an ACCURATE assessment of a dog before you decide to pull it, and please have a realistic plan for it after you pull.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Something stinks in Shawnee

 Something stinks in the town of Shawnee Oklahoma, and this time it isn't just the animal shelter.
 There was an incident in town recently involving an allegedly vicious dog, a pit bull named Blue. The statement given by Blues owner is that she was at school when she received a call from Shawnee animal control. The animal control officer allegedly told her that her dog had been picked up and impounded. According to animal control the dog would need to be quarantined at the shelter for ten days, the owner was responsible for paying the cost of the quarantine. If she did not pay these costs they would gas Blue and cut off his head to verify that he didn't have rabies. To me this seems very strange. All that is required to verify an immunity to rabies is usually a call to the dogs vet to get the date of the last vaccination, or a simple blood test to to check the titer level in the dogs blood. A sufficient titer level shows that the dog has immunity. Cutting off the head seems a bit extreme.
 According to the dog's owner, Blue was securely locked in the house when she left for the day.  Blue's owner claims that someone broke into her house and the dog got out at that time. This is the second strange part of the story. Blue apparently got into a fight with another dog, the other dog's owner tried to break up the fight and may or may not have been bitten. This possible bite might have been caused by Blue or the other dog, as far as I know this has never been made clear.  Blue was then picked up by animal control and taken to the shelter without incident. It is my understanding that Blue did not show any signs of aggression when he was picked up or at the shelter. Blue's owner managed to have Blue transferred to his vet for the quarantine period. Within just a few days a court hearing was held  to determine Blue's fate. How is that possible? A court date occurring just days after the incident? Even a town the size of Shawnee must have enough court cases to fill it's schedule at least a few weeks out. The court date was set and Blue's owner appeared with a statement and witnesses willing to testify to Blues character. Here's the next strange part, supposedly Blues owner was not allowed to give her statement or produce any witnesses, not even the animal control officer who picked Blue up and witnessed no signs of aggression. Blue was sentenced to death and his owner allegedly sentenced to jail time. 
 The next piece of this puzzle that may or may not fit, is the assistance Blue's owner was receiving from an out of state animal advocacy group. This is the same group that sponsored the shelter protest back in December. The same group that played a role in the events that lead to a retaliatory gassing of three dogs. Is there perhaps a bias amongst Shawnee city officials against this group? Could that be part of the reason for this crazy situation?  A pit bull who, by all accounts is not aggressive, was sentenced to death for a very vague and questionable  first time offense that might not even have involved a bite? Of course, its possible that Blue's owner wasn't truthful about everything that happened or maybe there were other misleading statements along the way, it's a very strange situation all the way around.
 There are facts in this case that are very questionable however, the speed of the trial, the harsh sentence, the fact that the animal control officer who picked up Blue was never asked for a statement. These all seem very strange to me and my instinct is to suspect corruption and bias among the small town city officials. Sadly, this sort of corruption and cruelty is seen all too often in and around animal shelters. Shawnee is not unique in that. 
 I will never understand how we humans, as so called higher beings, can allow and perpetrate this kind of unfairness and cruelty upon the most innocent among us, the animals. It's even more appalling to realize that many of those responsible for unthinkable cruelty, call themselves Christians.
 An appeal has been filed on Blue's behalf and the final outcome is yet to be determined.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Happy New Year?

2016 is here, we've turned the page on 2015. 2015 ended on a very bad note in the town of Shawnee, especially for Delilah, Brutus and Elroy. These were the three dogs who died in a retaliatory gassing back in December. This led to more unpleasant events for those involved with the animal shelter. The shelter supervisor was put on administrative leave and news stories about these events were seen everywhere. The question of whether or not Randy Newton gassed the animals on his own initiative or on the order of his boss, Chris Thomas, grew from a whisper to a roar. We may never know for sure, either way it won't bring back the three innocent dogs who lost their lives in the gas chamber that day in December. With luck, the questions raised from this incident will prevent it from ever happening again.
 The new year has brought with it hints of possible change at the Shawnee shelter, potentially big change! An entirely new shelter administration may be on the way in soon! With a new administration, hopefully the desperately needed changes will also come to the Shawnee shelter. This is a bit hard for me to believe since the attitudes and behavior of many people connected with the animal shelter seem to belong in "The Hills Have Eyes". I would certainly love to see it happen though!
 One thing we know for sure, the winds of change have begun to blow through Shawnee. The events of last month and the resulting attention, in the media and of course, social networking, have forced the city and shelter administration to address the issue. Hopefully this really will result in a new and much improved shelter administration and policy. Perhaps Shawnee will become a no kill town, at the very least, may we never again  see innocent animals killed in anger or spite.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

V is for victory or vendetta

The spotlight continues to shine on the town of Shawnee Oklahoma. Tonight kicks off the first of two nights aimed at protesting the Shawnee shelter. The events are no longer being called a protest however, they are now deemed a "victory demonstration " yes, victory. Since the protest and its associated events was first announced we've seen residents of Shawnee finally go to a city council meeting and speak up about the problems at the animal shelter. This is something that should have been happening for a long time now. In my mind that is a victory. 
 A few short days after this city council meeting, three dogs were gassed to death. The circumstances of this gassing clearly spell retaliation, at least in my mind they do. Someone was unhappy with all the negative attention being directed at Shawnee and its animal shelter. So unhappy it seems, that three innocent dogs suffered a horrible death as retribution for the unwanted attention.
 Less than a week after the dogs were gassed to death, we see announcements and headlines proclaiming that the shelter supervisor has been put on administrative leave pending an investigation. Even more attention is on Shawnee! Within hours this man is the object of everything from hatred to death threats. Is this the "victory" that is supposedly being celebrated? If this individual is responsible for a retaliatory gassing of three dogs, then yes, it is somewhat of a victory. My question is, what if it wasn't this individual's decision to kill the dogs? He has a boss, right? He is a city employee, subject to the authority of several others in the Shawnee city government. How do we know he wasn't following someone else's orders?
 With all that being said, lets examine this "victory " that is being celebrated in Shawnee by the group of people initially planning to protest. The gas chamber is stil being used, three dogs died in it on Friday. There is still no clearly defined timeline for the gas chamber to be discontinued and replaced with humane lethal injection. The rumor that has been going around is that gassing will be replaced with heartstick, definitely not something to celebrate. Nothing at the Shawnee shelter has changed. The shelter is still closed on weekends. The hold time for stray animals is still only 48 hours. Animals are still brought in sick and injured with no veterinary care available. The adoption process is still complicated and unappealing. It is still very time consuming and cumbersome for rescues to become approved to pull from the shelter. Volunteers are still not allowed to work with the animals, providing temperament assessment or other information that rescues and adopters need. 
 From what I can see absolutely nothing has changed other than one shelter staff member being placed on administrative leave, and it's uncertain whether or not he is even the one responsible for the decision to gas the dogs. The reality in Shawnee today is that nothing  has improved and three dogs are dead. Where is the victory?