I have written many times about the phrase "no kill" and what it means to me and the people in my circles. No kill is an animal sheltering philosophy in which healthy and treatable animals are not destroyed for space, for convenience or just because that is what has historically been done. Shelters which euthanize animals to alleviate suffering can still be no kill because they are doing what is ethical and right; no one would argue that animals should be kept alive if they are in pain or are so terribly injured that they simply cannot be saved. Shelters which destroy dogs who are genuinely dangerous for legal reasons related to public safety can also be no kill shelters. It is not reasonable to expect shelters to allow all dogs to be adopted out into our communities if those dogs may ultimately present a public safety risk and either injure or kill someone. I've dealt with legal cases about dog bite fatality attacks and they are both gruesome and preventable.
Determining which dogs are actually dangerous is the tricky part. Although numerous dogs are destroyed in our nation’s animal shelters for behavioral issues which are categorized in a number of ways (fear, aggression, public safety and “high arousal”) experts have opined that shelter evaluations of dogs are no better than a coin toss and the number of dogs who are genuinely dangerous make up less than 1 percent of all shelter intake. Shelters are nothing at all like the homes or lives dogs may have known outside the shelter environment, even if that life was not good. As was stated in an article published by the National Canine Research Council:
Shelter evaluations may tell us as much or more about the effect of the shelter as they do about the individual dogs. Shelters are noisy, alien environments, filled with strange smells, unfamiliar people, and dogs they may hear, but not see. We should not be surprised that some dogs may... behave differently when confined in a shelter, with its barrage of stressors that the dog cannot control, than they will in the safe, secure, predictable environment of a home, cared for by people with whom they are able to form positive attachments.
Even though I know about dogs being destroyed, I decided the time had come to volunteer at the shelter. I refused to volunteer for years during the period when large numbers of healthy and treatable animals were destroyed. My position was that I would no sooner volunteer at a kill shelter than I would work the production line at a chicken processing plant. Because the city has made a lot of progress - and because it is the city's position that it has not destroyed any dogs for space or convenience for four years - I decided the time had come to give it a shot. I have never given any value to the opinion of my many critics over the years who have professed that I am not allowed to have an opinion about what happens at the shelter unless I volunteer there (as if volunteering is the Golden Ticket to free speech). I can absolutely have an opinion about how tax dollars are spent, But I was spending less time on political advocacy locally so I told myself that I could spend some time volunteering instead.
On Friday I met a dog named Lulu. I had seem images of her on social media used to help promote her on Valentine's Day. One was of her wearing beads and a headband with hearts on it; I remember thinking to myself that not many dogs would tolerate having that much "stuff" put on them and then actually sit still for photographs. I knew from contacts that Lulu had been showing signs of stress inside the shelter. On the day I met her, a volunteer had taken LuLu outside for a walk. I talked to Lulu, touched her, took some photos and recorded her walking nicely on a leash so I could make a short promotional video to help her get adopted. She was happy. She was calm.
I learned later that afternoon that she had lunged at her kennel door when meeting a potential adopter and had tried to bite a volunteer. I finished the video of her and shared it with others on Monday, hoping someone would see it and decide to adopt her or foster her. I was sure that if she could be introduced to someone not inside the shelter, but outside, she may have a chance to be placed. I've seen dogs who were incredibly stressed inside shelters change completely once they are no longer confined in that environment. One woman did offer to foster her. But it did not matter.
I found out today that Lulu was killed yesterday. Some of the words used to explain the decision were, "she had become unsafe" and "we were worried about her potential for harming people." I appreciate the fact that some dogs are broken and are unsafe. I do not think we can "save them all." I do think we can save almost all of them and that it takes a commitment to try everything before we give up. We need to look for every opportunity to keep the dogs who are struggling the most alive. A foster home. Housing the dog outside in a kennel for a few hours a day to get them out of the shelter building itself. Working with a contract behaviorist.
I have a hard time reconciling the image of the happy dog wearing beads and my memories of the dog walking calmly on a leash with a decision to end her life three days later.
Grief makes no sense. I will grieve for the dog named Lulu whom I just met not only because she is gone but because she represents so many other dogs just like her.
I'm sorry we failed you, Lulu. You were beautiful. You were smart. And this image of you is forever seared in my memory.