It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I don’t get along with the veterinarian who runs the municipal animal shelter in the city where I work. We come from different worlds and our history is just too rocky for us to recover. She likely doesn’t know it, but I became an animal welfare advocate as a result of a conversation I had with her in the summer of 2006. Her words led me to an epiphany about what happens to healthy and treatable animals in the shelter using our tax dollars. I got mad, I got smart and then I decided to speak out for the animals who cannot speak for themselves. We first met in person on January 22, 2009, after I wrote a letter to the newly elected mayor about no kill philosophies and he asked to meet to talk about the letter. The shelter director was outside the mayor’s office when I arrived for the meeting. She told me that she had read the copy of Nathan Winograd’s book about the no kill movement which I had sent to the mayor (“Redemption: They Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America") and that it upset her so badly that she almost quit her job. I was tempted at the time to offer to help her pack her things, but I bit my tongue and tried to play well with others.
In August of 2009, when the shelter director and I were still on speaking terms (at least to a degree) she asked me to write a white paper about adoption of pit bull type dogs. She said she was having issues with the attitudes of some of her staff related to adopting out these dogs and she needed some help convincing city hall to help her overcome what I understood was a de facto pit bull ban. The city doesn’t have an actual breed ban, but any dog entering the shelter which looked even a little like a pit bull type dog was destroyed.
I knew in my heart that she really didn’t care much about using a white paper to change her operation. Looking back, I think it was a way to keep me from being too critical of her operational choices while challenging me to give some proof or evidence that pit bull type dogs were worthy of redemption and should be spared. Because I felt like the paper would be of more use outside of my area than here, I began my research with the plan to make the paper of value to anyone, anywhere. Dog lovers, pit bull type dog advocates, opponents of Breed Discriminatory Legislation (BDL) or Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). I was not qualified to write a white paper. But I work in the legal field and I am familiar with how to do research and compile evidence, so I felt I could do a decent job of putting together something which may be of some value to someone.
I finished my first version of “Forsaken No More: Reclaiming the Truth to Save Man’s Best Friend” in September of 2009 and I felt pretty good about it. I had learned a lot in the course of doing my research and I had connected with one of the foremost authorities on my topic, Karen Delise of the National Canine Research Council. I sent copies of my paper to the shelter director and shared it with contacts across the country. The original version was posted to the Animal Law Coalition website and is still there to this day.
In early January of 2014, I was watching a local morning news program and heard the shelter director’s voice. Between the time I had finished my paper and that morning, a lot had happened in my life and in the community. The most relevant thing for the sake of this story is that I had formed a no kill advocacy coalition to take the topic of how our shelter runs to the public in order to get their support to stop the killing of healthy and treatable animals in our shelter. No Kill Huntsville had been rocking the community boat for change for a couple of years by then and people were starting to listen. The news segment was an interview of the shelter director to ask her opinion on the possibility of ours becoming a no kill community (a place where healthy and treatable pets are not destroyed for space). When she began talking about how many problems she was having adopting out pit bull type dogs, I got mad. From what I could deduce, nothing had changed in the way these dogs were handled and there had been no obvious public education programs developed to overcome stereotypes. I decided to channel that anger into a revised version of my research paper.
The 2014 version of Forsaken No More is found at this link. Because some of my citation links are no longer valid, the research to which I cite is located here. The topic of how we treat pit bull type dogs in our country and in other countries continues to evolve with each passing month so it is unlikely that I will work to update the paper repeatedly. I stand by the content and I think it is as relevant today as it was when I did my rewrite two years ago. I had my draft reviewed by Karen Delise to seek her input and I am grateful that she took the time to help me again.
Whether you are a dog lover, a rescuer, an animal welfare advocate, a public official or just someone who doesn’t like the idea that perfectly good dogs are destroyed using your tax dollars, you are welcome to read my paper and use it in any way which helps you. I am certainly not an authority on this topic. But I think if we are ever to bring an end to the destruction of healthy and treatable animals in places we call shelters, we need to educate ourselves enough to understand why they are being killed with our money and we need to see past the hype which leads to the destruction of dogs which have served us long and well as a culture.
Healthy and treatable pit bull type dogs continue to be destroyed in the shelter in the city where I work for space, for convenience and because the public has been bamboozled into believing the hype about these dogs which is not based in fact. I am powerless to do anything to stop that in my shelter or in yours. But perhaps we can save these dogs by making ourselves smarter and then making better choices so that their destruction is not some foregone conclusion. And we can work to fight junk legislation around the globe which spreads like a cancer and which does nothing to keep the public safe.
(images courtesy of Melissa Rickman and Joshua Grenell)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson