I have been putting off writing this blog post for quite a while but I feel that now is the time. People need to know about the issues facing us in the very near future. The animals in Pennsylvania are in for some very tough times – and other states are probably facing the same troubles. It’s tough already, so how can I possibly say it will get worse? The ARL had 80 kittens/cats surrendered on Saturday. Can it get worse than that? Oh yeah. Just wait.
I recently read that the Pennsylvania SPCA in Philadelphia will be dropping their animal control contract as of December 31. Combine that with the Delaware County SPCA no longer taking in strays as of July 1, where will the animals go? Between the two shelters, that’s about 40,000 animals annually.
You may ask, “How does this affect us in Berks County?” In Southeastern Pennsylvania, the only open admission shelters are Chester County SPCA and us, the Animal Rescue League of Berks County. The animals will need to go somewhere or else they will be roaming the streets.
Being an open admission shelter is difficult, to put it quite mildly. But where else are the animals going to go? Someone has to try to help the animals. Delaware County has yet to produce a plan for controlling strays. People in this county will have no place to take the animals. Without an open admission shelter, all of the 49 municipalities must handle the problem on their own.
Picture that here in Berks. Chances are, most of the 80 cats brought in on Saturday were strays. That was just Saturday. One day. If the ARL announced that we were no longer going to take strays, what would happen? Could your township deal with it?
The movement for shelters to be “no-kill” is growing which sounds terrific on the surface but there are many, many caveats that go with it. It’s so easy for a shelter to declare itself as “no-kill,” close its doors to strays and carefully select the animals they take in. It’s a fact that no-kill shelters are well-supported by donations because people mistakenly see them as being more humane and better than open admission shelters. In reality, unless the no-kills are working closely with open admission shelters in their area, rescue groups, local government, and have a large foster home network, being a no-kill simply means that they are no longer taking responsibility for the animal control problem. That amounts to turning their back on the problem.
The saying goes, “Things tend to get worse before they get better.” Will it take things getting worse in order for our society to bar up and take responsibility for the animals? Turning all of our shelters into no-kills is not the answer. It will take a community effort. Will it be legislation to require mandatory spay and neuter? Breed bans? Ban the feeding of stray cats? What else can we do?
As a society, we cannot assume that the shelters and a handful of dedicated animal welfare advocates can carry this tremendous load. Unfortunately, it’s the animals who are caught in the middle of this crisis. They will continue to over breed, languish in shelters and get killed in shelters until people take person responsibility for their pets. I'm worried.
It was February 5 when the ARL received a call to come to a garage in Muhlenberg where Pit Bulls were being bred. The caller said that starving dogs were on the premises. When the ARL’s on-call staff member, Nicole Van Art, arrived on the scene, the conditions were worse than expected. She found two dogs already dead, confined in areas set up for breeding. The floors were covered in filth, blood, urine and feces. No water or food were anywhere in the area. The dogs had obviously starved to death.
In the corner of one of the small rooms cowered a skin-and-bones female, still alive but barely. She was a friendly little thing, grateful to finally be saved from her horror. She was brought back to the ARL. Her name was Skyy.
Nicole took dozens of photos of the scene and gave them to Tracie Graham, one of the ARL’s Animal Control Officers. Tracie thoroughly investigated the scene and interviewed the owner of the garage. He claimed that another man had been breeding the dogs but the man skipped town.
Tracie filed charges against Shawn Herbein – three counts of animal cruelty. And she did her homework to ensure that the ARL would win this case to get justice for these poor helpless dogs. Armed with overwhelming evidence, Tracie won the case in mid-May, resulting in a 30-day jail sentence and a fine of $2,250 for Herbein. He has until June 10 to appeal the decision.
According to Tracie, this is only the second time in her 14-year career as an animal control officer that someone has received jail time for a summary animal cruelty offense. We have District Judge Dean Patton to thank for this precedence. Through this judgment, a message is sent that animal cruelty will not be tolerated.
The story does not end here. Skyy, the surviving Pit Bull, was nursed back to health at the ARL and found to be an exceptional dog. She was happy, loving and friendly. She found a forever home with Peggy Epler who loves to share pictures of her new friend, now named Scooby, on Facebook so that everyone can see what a true survivor looks like. Scoob, as Peggy calls her, loves to play and is living out the puppyhood that she was denied when she was being held in captivity. The ARL is most appreciative that Peggy gave this sweet girl a chance to know love.
How many times have you said to yourself, “I want to start my own animal rescue group.”? I know I have, and I’ve heard others say it too. But do you really know what’s involved, other than pulling animals from shelters or finding them on Craigslist and then getting people to adopt them? Here at the ARL, we depend on other animal rescue groups to get animals out of the shelter. We work with many groups who either specialize in certain dog breeds, take only cats, or they accept any animal. Without these groups, the ARL couldn’t handle the numbers of animals coming into the shelter. And we could still use more help.
To do animal rescue correctly, it’s a lot of work. While it’s true that anyone can pull animals from shelters and get them a home, doing it responsibly is another thing. Here is an excellent article which describes the business end of starting up an animal rescue group: How to Start a Non-Profit Animal Rescue.
Some other things to consider:
· No man is an island – don’t try to do it alone. Enlist friends to help you find foster homes and do other chores such as setting up a web site, posting pets on Facebook and Petfinder (and other sites), and helping with fundraising. I once knew a woman who left her own daughter’s wedding reception so that she could go home to take care of her animals, and she never had a day off either. She eventually burned out and stopped rescuing.
· Every person who runs an animal rescue group should have solid knowledge of animal behavior. Taking in unfamiliar animals who may have behavior issues can be dangerous. I once heard of a person who ran an animal rescue group from her home and she had a habit of pinning down the dogs if they misbehaved and, predictably, one of the dogs tried to bite her. As we know, this type of action, also known as an alpha roll, is inappropriate and may cause more problems. She needed to learn better animal-handling skills.
· Do you know how to temperament test dogs before you pull them? You cannot tell a dog’s behavior just by looking at it and saying it’s cute. If you do decide to pull an animal with behavior issues, do you have the skills and time necessary to rehabilitate it? And if it cannot be rehabilitated, will you be able to make the decision to have it euthanized? Unfortunately, being in animal rescue frequently requires some very tough decisions.
· If you have your own animals in the house, ensure that you have a plan to introduce the new pets and ensure all of their safety. If pets are not introduced properly, problems such as territoriality and aggression can result. Will your house set-up allow you to keep them separated? Another consideration is disease. Some pets can carry illnesses like canine flu or feline leukemia. It’s imperative that you are careful for all of the pets’ sake.
· If the rescued pet is not spayed or neutered, will your organization pay for that surgery?
· Befriend a trainer or behavior consultant to help with behavior issues. Some pets require help in overcoming behavior issues such as housetraining, separation anxiety and shyness before they can be adopted. And remember that it is unadvisable to adopt out a pet with known aggression issues.
· Know your limits. How many animals can you take in or find foster homes for? I’ve seen many, many hoarders who started out as rescuers and very quickly became overwhelmed.
Yes, it’s a lot of think about. That’s why it’s best to start slowly and gain experience before taking on too much. Every pet who comes into your organization will be a new learning experience for you and a chance to say, “I saved a life!”
The season for storms is just beginning. Spring brings severe thunderstorms and the possibility of tornados, and summer into autumn is hurricane season. Last week’s tornados in the South and even the tornado warnings in the York and Lancaster areas really frightened me, especially because of the devastating effects that disasters can have on pets. While the news from Alabama of course has focused on the dead and missing people, I wonder how many pets are now wandering the streets or are in shelters because their people are homeless. Even though there’s not much we can do to protect our pets if something like a tornado strikes without warning, there are plenty of things we can do to prepare in case of disaster.
The number one thing that all pets need is a way to identify them should something occur that they would be found wandering. Microchips are best and collars with identification tags are also preferred. Dogs need to have licenses. All of these sources of identification will help to bring your pet back to you in case of disaster.
It’s also a good idea to identify your house as having pets inside. Stickers can be obtained from the ASPCA or even from pet stores. On the sticker, you can indicate how many pets are inside and an emergency contact number. If you should happen to need to evacuate, you can also write on the sticker that your pets have been evacuated with you.
Anything can happen during storm season that may prevent you and your pets from living in your home: Power outages, wind damage, fallen trees, flooding, devastating tornado damage. Because pets are not allowed in most evacuation shelters, pet parents need to have a plan for where to live with our “best friends.” That is step number one in a disaster preparedness plan: Determine a place to go if you cannot go home. It’s best to have several alternatives, one or two places close to home and one or two places out of the area in the event that the disaster affects your whole region. Place calls to hotels in your chosen areas to determine their pet policy. Also get the names and numbers of the area pet boarding facilities.
Next, your pet should have his or her own “disaster kit” that you can assemble quickly. Included in the kit should be:
· several days’ worth of your pet’s food and treats;
· bottled water;
· any medications and supplements;
· name and telephone number of your veterinarian;
· leashes, collars/harnesses, and carriers;
· toys and beds (if there is space);
· kitty litter and pans;
· the names and numbers of pet-friendly hotels and boarding facilities.
If you have birds, reptiles and small critters, consider their special needs and pack a kit accordingly.
By all means, take your pets with you! You cannot assume that you will be able to return to your home quickly. Pets cannot fend for themselves.