Normally I don’t do commentaries on animal shelters because the dog lobby has its hands full with the politics of bad animal legislation. But every once in a while I’m reminded that animal shelters play politics all their own; politics that tend to replace the mission and cause people to forget that they’re supposed to be saving animals.
Maybe that’s what happened at Animal Friends shelter in Pittsburgh where after a mere year in their care, they killed a formerly-abused “pit bull” named Blue simply because of “canine aggression.” In other words, the shelter claimed Blue was dog unfriendly.
Chief Operating Officer Kathleen Beaver stated that,
[Blue] came across another dog that was on a leash and unprovoked, he attacked the dog” . . .
Then we’re told that “The recent attack came a couple months after Blue went after another dog at the shelter, killing it.” I don’t know about you, but this raises my hackles.
First of all, anyone who operates a shelter ought to know there is no such thing as an “unprovoked” dog attack, or a dog that attacks without warning. For instance, the parenting section of a typical question-answer website informs parents of the common signs of an impending dog bite or attack ” which can include stiffening, raised hackles, a standing tail, a showing of the whites of the eyes, and of course bared teeth and growling ” adding,
Dogs typically dont attack without warning. In most cases, dogs are sending subtle cues that signal distress before resorting to an attack.
Simply because people may be ignorant of the subtle cues that a dog of any breed may give before attacking, doesnt mean they arent there.
So hypothetically the other dog could have given Blue a look of aggression and Blue showed the whites of his eyes or stiffened, but neither the other dog nor the human handlers gave heed. Still, the unprovoked attack of the so-called pit bull is an easily disprovable urban myth that simply wont die. Yet shouldn’t a shelter operator and supposed trainers know better?
Second of all, if Blue was as canine-aggressive as they say, why was he allowed within proximity of other dogs such that he could kill one, and attack another? (at least until Blue got his bearings or was taken out of the very stressful shelter environment.) Does this not suggest negligence?
I adopted a Labrador Retriever once who had been abused by his former owner, and likewise it took a really long time for him to get over that abuse. At first he would wince any time someone would raise their hand even to wave, pet him, or just gesticulate. He too was canine-aggressive, and much more so than any American Staffordshire Terrier or American Pit Bull Terrier I ever met or worked with.
So you know what I did with my Labrador? I kept him away from other canines! Novel, I know, but what do you know, it worked. I gave him a safe harbor — a secure home he could finally relax in where he eventually came to understand he would always be fed and would never again be abused — and he eventually let go of his canine “baggage.” He was then able to be around other dogs and became the happy, well-adjusted dog I always knew he could be.
Yes, every once in a while there will be a dog of any breed who just can’t overcome their prior abusive situations. But, ironically, that has never been my experience with American Staffordshire Terriers or American Pit Bull Terriers (if, indeed, that’s what the shelter means when they refer to Blue as a “pit bull,” and of course, we don’t know and the shelter may not either).
The situation with Blue is even worse when you consider Animal Friends is supposed to be a No-Kill shelter. Well, for a No-Kill shelter, they sure do kill a lot of dogs for supposed behavior problems. According to Animal Friends’ 2012 report, the shelter
” . . . euthanized 58 animals, including 24 dogs with behavior problems.” The others had medical problems that could not be cured.
No-Kill means you don’t just arbitrarily kill animals because of space issues or because the shelter workers are too lazy or too unskilled to train or rehabilitate animals.
Dodging the negligence and laziness issue, however, Blue’s “trainer,” Lillian Aiken, claimed that Blue was unadoptable because of the potential liability to the shelter:
At least one private trainer offered to take Blue. Ms. Aiken said that’s not an option because “there is not a waiver that a shelter can sign that would absolve [it] of liability if the dog kills or injures someone” after leaving the shelter, if the shelter was judged to be “negligent.”
Oh how ridiculous! Have you ever heard of such nonsense? If that were true, no shelter could ever adopt out any animals ever because there is always a potential liability because all dogs of all breeds have the potential to bite, but once that dog is adopted, the owner assumes the liability. Blue had at least one potential adopter, the above-mentioned private trainer, who offered to take Blue. So the liability claim doesn’t really hold up.
And besides, there is a vast difference between dog-on-dog aggression and dog-on-human aggression and the shelter acts like one will cause the other! Seriously, how can any self-respecting shelter not know the difference???
The “private trainer” that Ms. Aiken was referring to who offered to take Blue was most likely Animal Control Officer and professional dog trainer Paul Anthony who summed up the situation with Blue best when he said,
“I dont think [killing Blue] was justified because Ive had dogs come in here that have attacked other dogs, and now theyre playing with other dogs” . . .
As noted, Mr. Anthony even offered to take Blue, thereby assuming the responsibility for the liability the shelter is claiming as the reason for killing Blue. (And no, I refuse to use the word “euthanize,” because killing Blue was not a “mercy killing,” but a lazy way to get rid of an inconvenience. Nor will I use the euphemism “put down” either because Blue was outright killed, and not after having exhausted all possible options.)
Mr. Anthony concluded,
They have one tool. You dont use a screwdriver on a nail. You use a hammer. They gave the dog two shots with positive training. We give the dogs nine to 10 shots. Our toolbox is full,” he said.
It would seem that Blue wasn’t just a victim of his former abusive owner; Blue was also a victim of a shelter that ironically doesn’t seem to understand canines, canine behavior, the special needs of a formerly abused dog, and certainly not the needs of the dogs they call “pit bulls.”
So my questions for the shelter would be: How many trainers did you try? How many training techniques did you try? Did you try foster care where Blue was the only dog in the home? Did you try medications? And again, why was Blue in the proximity of other dogs if he was so canine-aggressive that he killed another dog?
To me, it looks like Blue is dead purely because of the negligence of the shelter, not because the shelter feared liability. Nobody’s buying that story anyway. The shelter was either lazy, unskilled, or apathetic, and since it was at least one of those, but quite possibly all of these reasons, it is certain that Animal Friends should not be sheltering any animals and certainly not under the guise of No-Kill.
[Photo courtesy of fungopher.com]