I realize this blog may cause some emotions, but it is a subject that needs to be looked at more carefully.
My thoughts and opinions come from being a dog lover my entire life (my first Best Friend was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier), a Registered Veterinary Technician, a shelter volunteer/ foster parent and a dog trainer/ behavior consultant. Over the years I have watched shelters go from only having a 7-day hold before an animal was euthanized to the current no kill no matter what shelters. As with everything, I think we need to realize there needs to be a balance.
The shelters that have a 7-day hold often euthanize lost pets or pets that can be adopted out easily while the “no kill no matter what” shelters keep pets that may never be adopted for a lifetime. The thing that both types lack is a behavior assessment plan.
Fortunately, more and more shelters are implementing a behavior assessment plan, but I don’t think it should be optional, I think it must be a mandatory part of a shelters business plan.
Obviously, with the 7-day hold, friendly pets do not have enough time for families to come to meet them. The less obvious problem comes with the “no kill no matter what” shelters. These shelters often hold animals that have come to the shelter because they have bit or injured a person or another animal. I realize that not every animal that bites is aggressive but these animals need to be assessed. The part that saddens me the most are the dogs that have severe behavior problems. These dogs cannot be adopted by the average family because the rehabilitation is time-consuming and there is no guarantee that the problem behavior will not return. Instead, these dogs live out their lives- often for years- in a cage. In some cases, a trained staff member can take them on walks but in other cases, these dogs live their lives in a prison.
Euthanasia is hard, and no one wants to do it, however as a Veterinary Technician I also was able to see it as a gift we can give to some of these animals. Most people recognize the gift of euthanasia when an animal is extremely ill or in immense pain but freeing an animal from living in a 4x6 cell is also a gift. Animals that are not adoptable often develop mental disease like obsessive-compulsive disorders or can become more aggressive because they cannot leave their cage to get exercise and mental stimulation. Is it fair to make them live their lives this way?
The other downside to having animals live their entire lives in a shelter is that the animal is taking a space for another homeless animal that might have a chance to find a new home. If a shelter is full, the homeless animal is often turned away and in many cases, end up being euthanized.
I think it is important that we find a balance. Sadly, we cannot save every animal - I wish we could. However, if we are smart, do behavior assessments and be willing to euthanize if we have to, we can get more animals out of shelters and into loving homes.
Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as a handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West. Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State. She is a "Registered Veterinary Technician," a "Certified Professional Dog Trainer" (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the "Association of Pet Dog Trainers"and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians. Shannon's dog training philosophy revolves around force-free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal. Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes (Venturapetwellness.com). Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training.