Spay/Neuter Kansas City is one of our local low-cost spay/neuter facilities that also does outreach into the low-income areas of Kansas City helping people get their pets altered and helps provide other assistance for low-income pet owners.
Last week, they posted a story about a woman who owned three dogs and was having trouble feeding them and called SNKC for assistance. Upon evaluation, the SNKC staff found three skinny dogs, a pit bull, a Rotweiler and a terrier mix. The owner had no money for food and the dogs were living solely off of table scraps. The dogs were primarily outdoor dogs (although welcome indoors any time they wanted), their dog bowls were dirty and chewed up, but they all had fresh water. They had doghouses in the yard -- that was mostly knee-high grass. However the dogs were happy and loved by their owners.
So SNKC asks the question, "what would you do?"
Your answer is something that is often overlooked, but a major difference between communities that are high-kill communities and low or no kill communities.
In the nine tenets of the no kill equation -- sitting at #7 is pet retention. Pet retention takes many forms:
1) Helping low-income people take care of medical costs that they cannot afford
2) Helping people to overcome training obstacles that would otherwise lead them to relinquish the dog (things like house training, nipping, walking poorly on a leash, being too "high energy", separation anxiety, etc)
3) Or often just basic care things that people cannot (or do not) afford on their own.
With the current economic recession, many people have found themselves without work for a very extended amount of time. The current unemployement rate is just under 10% (and over 10% in 124 metropolitan areas) -- and has been for over a year now. Many people are struggling to make house payments, rent payments, pay heating/cooling bills or even feed themselves. Obviously this has made for trying times for many pet owners.
All too often, the solution for animal control, and for members of the animal welfare community, is to seize the dogs into the shelter and make it a part of the homeless pet population. Or, when the owner sadly brings their dogs to the shelter because they could no longer afford to keep them, the animal shelter would take the dogs, decide this owner was "irresponsible" -- and all too often, the dogs would end up being 'euthanized' in the shelter. And this has often been accepted as the only option....when, in reality, these dogs could have been kept in the home for at least another 3 weeks for the cost of a 40 lb bag of dog food (at a cost of $23 at Costco - the same cost as one day of boarding the 3 dogs at the shelter).
And yet, all too often we haveall-to-often failed at this form of pet retention -- and been quick to condemn the owners for being irresponsible, or decided that if they were too poor to afford food, they shouldn't own the dogs anyway. And the dogs, or the dogs they replaced in the shelter died because of it.
Being poor, or down on their luck, doesn't make someone irresponsible.
Shirley over at YesBiscuit! had a brilliant post today entitled Being Held Accountable. There are many great parts of the blog post -- please make the time to go read it -- but there are a couple of pieces that I want pull out.
If I had a shelter and I noticed the same woman coming in with a box full of puppies every six months, I’d ask myself – Do we offer low/no cost spay-neuter? Have I made her aware of this service? Do I know if she has any means of transporting her 90 pound mama dog to and from the clinic? What can I do to make it possible for this owner to get her dog spayed?
Unfortunately some shelters would simply wag their fingers and guilt trip the owner, ultimately discouraging her from returning. The result of which is a mama dog who still isn’t spayed and the next litter of puppies being taken somewhere probably far less desirable than a shelter. I would much rather hold this person “accountable” by helping her achieve a solution.
And then there is this gem:
A shelter should be a place people can feel good about bringing a pet they find who needs treatment. Shelters should be continually reaching out to the public to send the message: If you know of a pet who has no one to responsibly care for her, we are here. We will take care of her. She’ll be safe with us.
Instead, we have many shelters doing the opposite – making the public feel that they are irresponsible and unwelcome at the shelter. We have shelters telling the local paper, “We kill our friend every day”. Does that sound like a place you’d take a dog in need of care?
While I certainly appreciate that many shelters are doing their part to help (and to them, thank you) - it seems like the default in many of these cases is not to help the pet owner. And instead of a happy ending for the dogs -- granted by giving the pet owner the gift of dog food and being a help to the dog owner keep their loved pets, many shelters and animal control divisions have driven a wedge between themselves and people in need -- leaving no place for needy people to turn for help. And the end result is that dogs end up dead in the shelter. Even if a shelter can only afford to help 5 people per week with some type of retention program, they would still prevent 250 animals from coming into the shelter each year. That's a lot of saved lives.
Meanwhile, when an organization earns a reputation of helping people in times of need, people begin to seek them out for help, instead of just dumping a dog or dropping it off at a shelter because they feel like there are no other alternatives.
I'm pleased to finish this post with a happy ending. Spay/Neuter Kansas City works very hard on their pet retention programs. They realized that if these dogs were seized, they would end up at the city shelter which still kills about 50% of the animals impounded. They helped the dog owner out with the gift of some dog food. The dog owner smiled, invited the SNKC outreach crew into their home and the dogs greeted them with wagging tails and sloppy kisses.
Helping with pet retention is an incredible way to help people achieve the happy solution for both themselves, and the dogs - -and it is a fabulous way to help prevent pets from ever entering the shelter system. If you have an orgization in your comunity that provides pet retention services, please consider helping them with your time and financial help - -and if you live in Kansas City, SNKC is a great organization to donate to. If your community doesn't have a group that focuses on retention services, maybe it's time to start one within your own organization. Keeping pets in homes is the best way to keep them from dying in the shelters.