Little Boy Blue is a book that I haven't really heard a lot of people talking about, but I happened to see a copy of it at Barnes and Noble a couple of months ago, and the cover, and story were intriguing, so I thought I'd pick up a copy.
The book is the story about a dog named Blue (the cute pup pictured). Blue was adopted by the author, Kim Kavin, from a rescue in New Jersey. However, when Kavin began asking questions about the history of Blue, she began to uncover a story of a world she wasn't aware of.
Kavin meets the rescue people she adopted from; the woman who fostered her dog after saving it from a high kill shelter in North Carolina. She visits that shelter (Person County Animal Control in North Carolina), and learns a lot along the way.
During the route, she uncovers that the shelter Blue was pulled from was a shelter that killed more than 90% of the animals that came into it. And not only did they kill them, they did so via the gas chamber - a topic she tackles extensively in the book.
I think the meeting of the shelter director at Person County Animal Control is particularly interesting -- as she meets the man who had a childhood dream of being an animal control officer, and yet ran a shelter where more than 90% of the animals in his "care" were killed. In spite of this, the director was proud of his operation, in spite of the reality that they didn't take photos of their animals to promote them for adoption, are only open from 9-4 Monday through Friday while most people are at jobs or the fact that they didn't bother to even manage a Facebook page to promote animals in need.
Blue's foster, the woman who saved Blue's life, is an intersting story as well. When Kavin visited her home, the rescuer was "caring for" nearly 30 dogs that she had rescued and was fostering - -showing a bit of a shady light on some of the rescuers like thos we've all met -- who are saving lives, but not always by the prettiest means.
She dived into transport groups that ship animals from southern shelters up North where there is more demand. And even uncovers the world of low cost spay/neuter programs, including those that are done in mobile vehicles that serve rural populations in North Carolina. She also dives into particular realities of major national organizations sometimes not being as helpful as their resources would allow when it comes to solving problems on the ground-level. Kavin also discusses her first experiences with fostering, and the both the joy and sadness that comes with finding a home for one of your fosters.
As for the elimination of gas chambers, Kavin uncovers that opponents of banning gas chambers come in all forms -- including the Farm Bureaue, American Kennel Club, and various hunting and breeding groups who fear the "slippery slope" of more legislation telling them what they can and cannot do.
She also covers fairly extensively the success of rescue organizations like North Shore Animal League (NY) and Northeast Animal Shelter (MA) that are promoting adoptable animals, have evening and weekend hours to be more convenient to adopters and ultimately, saving lives. She also touches on the frustration that is often caused when organizations like these ship in highly adoptable animals from southern shelters while local area shelters continue to kill animals in their shelters (a topic I will cover more at some other point).
In highlighting the difference between shelters like Northeast Animal Shelter and public facilities like Person County, an NAS employee notes: "The mind-set in a lot of these shelters is not to rescue. It's to kill. It's the dogs that are a problem and the job is to eliminate the problem."
Overall, I have mixed feelings about the book. On one hand, I have to confess that the book wasn't written for people like me as the intended target. I often found myself frustrated with her "discovery" of things like gas chambers, low cost spay/neuter clinics, transport groups, etc in the "HOW DID YOU NOT KNOW THIS?" sort of way.
While I think there are times when the book is on target, I have a whole host of issues with the book. In many instances Kavin seems to, instead of relying on research, fall into the trap of repeating urban legends and perpetuating mis-information that exists in animal welfare. In one section she begins to perpetuate the mythology of bait dogs in dog fighting, the idea that dog fighters might pose as rescues in order to obtain dogs for fighting or bait, and that dog fighters might make a a common practice of "buying" fighting dogs from shelters. In another section she promotes the idea of mandatory spay/neuter ordinances nationally (which tend to cause more harm than good), and then reports that "I have seen no evidence, with any dogs I've known, that spaying and neutering changes a dog's personality or causes him health problems" -- but then notes that this is based on very annecdotal evidence of just 3 dogs. While the science on this one is a bit up in the air (the best science thus far does not prove a causal relationship) her commentary is a bit wreckless based on annecdotal information of a tiny sample set.
In the end, I realize there are a lot of people like Kavin who are unfamiliar with what many of the readers of this blog deal with every day -- and in that, Kavin tells the story of canine rescue in a compelling way that will help others undertstand the story and hopefully become involved (and she provides a list of ways to get involved at the end of the book). And even though I think she at times misleads people with incorrect information, her storytelling that allows others to get involved in the rescue community probably do far more good than harm to the movement.
But at the end of the day it's the story about a dog, and a woman's love for her dog, and how the love for this dog inspired her to learn his story. I think through the story there are some hits and misses, but the storytelling offers an outsider perspective offers a fair amount of insight as to how the general population will respond to certain aspects of rescue -- both good, and bad.
She also dares to ask some questions that I think, if the public knew what was going on, would be asking too.
How many billions of dollars doled out to American shelters each year are being spent on gas chambers instead of digital photographs?
How widespread is this problem of gas chambers, in a nation where more than half the pet owners surveyed say they call themselves mommy and daddy? Kavin later determines that around $15 million a year in taxpayer fund is spent nationally in operating gas chambers).
How on earth did we get to this point, of the lucky few like Blue being snatched from the brink of death while the masses are killed every day?
If so many people are dog lovers like me, how did the system get so warped and dysfunctional in so many places?
In her final analyis, Kavin does provide some really good insight into the animal welfare world as an outsider. She discusses the idea of people fighting for the elimination of gas chambers (something that should have been done decades ago) and notes:
"Just as paralyzing to me is the realization that, instead of working primarily to save the lives of healthy, adoptable puppies and dogs, so many people have to fight to ensure that they at least die peacefully, without pain and torture. That certain regions of the United States continue to arge about gas chambers vs lethal injection, well, to me, that's just ridiculous. The conversation should long ago have moved on to how best we can find homes for dogs like Blue while enhancing spay and neuter operations -- not remain stuck in the mire of the least offensive way to kill them en masse."
And in the end, I think this is an idea we can all agree on.