DEAR DR. FOX: Because I have worked for a veterinarian for 13 years, I find your ideas both interesting and useful in our clinic. I have been a volunteer at my local animal shelter for 25 years. My shelter is county-operated, so we must accept all strays, turn-ins, ferals, etc., from anyone who lives in our county. We are open seven days a week, and we do have bona fide hours of operation, but those go by the wayside daily because there is so much that doesn't get done by the end of the day.
We never have enough money, personnel, volunteers, foster families or fundraisers. Although this shelter is county-operated, the budget for animal welfare is very small. Usually, the money allotted for medical care has run out by February or March. We try to raise funds any way we can, but the county residents get resentful because they think that their taxes should pay for everything. I know this sounds like a personal problem, but when you write a three-column article in a newspaper like The Washington Post, it is going to get noticed. And when you say that most animals entering a shelter need quiet quarantine rooms, I am not sure you know the nature of a crowded animal shelter. How can we provide any more than we already do when we don't have enough people to help us? The turnover of paid help and volunteers is enormous because of the stress and sheer volume of the daily work. I have spent an entire day just doing laundry. It never ends.
What I would like you to know is that shelters all over the country are having the same issues. It usually boils down to lack of money. Can you give us some solutions to these problems instead of drawing attention to problems that will keep people from checking out shelters for adoptable animals because they are afraid of what they might see? We are doing a marvelous job with what we have; our animals are safe, warm, fed, watered and exercised as much as possible -- but it is not easy. -- J.O., Stevensville, Maryland
DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you for writing about what a shelter should do to enhance the adoptability of its animals. Even better, shelters should find a way to minimize disease; instead, newly adopted dogs frequently have kennel cough, or worse, and cannot show their true personalities because they are sick.
You are so right about trap-neuter-release (TNR), which turns its back on cats so that its advocates can feel good about themselves. They won't acknowledge pictures of starved, maimed, diseased, injured and dead cats who are victims of the concept. As for no-kill shelters, they often flaunt the term. Some warehouse animals, but many also ship animals they can't adopt out to another facility that euthanizes.
The other flaw of the no-kill movement is that it endorses adoptions to practically anyone who can "talk the talk" and knows how to fill out an adoption application, often with omissions and falsehoods. People surrender pets to a shelter because "he didn't know how to behave" or "he got sick," and then they ask to see other ones. Home visits are not conducted to educate pending adopters on successful transitional techniques and how to work through inevitable problems. Most public and private shelters/rescues do not choose to meaningfully screen and educate adopters because the marching orders are to get these hapless animals "adopted." Even some private rescue organizations have succumbed to handing out animals. Thus, these animals are really "sold" for fee generation, and they often pay a terrible price.
Rehabilitating and nurturing shelter animals would save more of them, but why bother if the animals are being shoveled out the door or handed over to someone who has an irresponsible attitude toward defenseless pets? In my mind, euthanasia is a better option to a life of hell. I believe there are far more adoptable pets than responsible pet owners.
Please do not use my name, as I have been in the rescue business for 15 years and have been attacked by people who don't like it when I stand up for animals and tell the truth. And thank you for you relentless efforts on behalf of animals. -- Anonymous, Rockville, Maryland
DEAR J.O. & ANONYMOUS: Thank you for sharing your experience working in the trenches of animal rescue and sheltering, and blessings to you both for doing so. I wish more people, especially active, healthy retirees, would volunteer and, more importantly, do fundraising and get old blankets, towels and other supplies to local shelters.
We are still in the season of giving, and I urge all people to consider donating to their local animal shelters that should have nonprofit 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, so donations are tax-deductible. Better to start locally rather than donating to the well-heeled national organizations, whose big money doesn't always get down sufficiently to the local communities and may actually turn off potential donors to local shelters thinking that the problems are being cared for by the larger organizations. We need both -- national appeals and grassroots activism and involvement, plus more dollars coming from the municipal coffers.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)