Friday, August 19, 2011

Thinking, planning, moving towards humane communities ...

What is a humane community? A simple term that's been around for a long time, I'm always surprised that we hear so little talk about the value and process of developing humane communities. Talk abounds around shelter adoptions and spay/neuter options.  But relatively little talk comes around to considering the full picture of effective, humane pet management in communities.

While I'm not aware of a given definition for a humane community, I'd suggest that a humane community is one which values life, both human and animal, and chooses to promote that value by building and supporting responsible animal management practices that benefit both the animals in a community as well as the safety and well-being of the humans that interact with those animals.  These practices include, at the minimum, education for animal guardians about humane and responsible animal care, enactment and enforcement of laws that promote humane and responsible animal care, and the inclusion of animals in a community’s emergency services plan and operation.  In partnership with responsible community administrations, charitable agencies can provide significant support in conceiving, developing, and sustaining programs to promote humane communities. It is this partnership that is often found lacking. 

Often misunderstood, “SPCA” is merely a term commonly applied to non-profit animal shelters.  An “SPCA” organization has no connection to other SPCA organizations and has no meaning other than that given by the organization applying the term.  Increasingly, the term SPCA has been applied to organizations whose primary and perhaps sole purpose is the management and re-homing of homeless animals.  The original intent of the name – Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – has lost much of its meaning given that so many SPCA’s currently do little to significantly address social issues of cruelty or neglect to animals.   By law cruelty and neglect issues are handled by a community’s Animal Control service.  It’s not uncommon that significant discrepancies exist between the attitudes and beliefs of Animal Control officers and those managing an SPCA shelter.  However, little public attention comes to these issues and the shelters typically have their hands full with the job of managing a shelter and re-homing countless animals.  They understandably have little time or ability to address larger issues of animal cruelty and neglect.

Pet management, and the problems of ineffective management - neglect and abuse, backyard breeding, bite cases, animal aggression, owner-surrendered pets, and disease transmission – are issues of community and individual responsibility and education.  Pet rescue/adoption and low-cost spay/neuter address pieces of the solution, but, as evidenced in the ongoing pet management problems in communities, they don't provide effective solutions in isolation.  While some may espouse a vague notion of responsible pet ownership, few people seem to understand that "responsible pet ownership/guardianship" is a process that is as dependent upon the active involvement and support of a community's administration as it is upon the actions of pet guardians.  This concept is slowly beginning to materialize in forward thinking communities and is embraced by the National Canine Research Council.  It's my hope that we can begin to weave some of these practices together for the benefit of communities and their animals in Central Virginia. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

The No-Kill debate … an Introduction

With the annual conference of the No-Kill Advocacy Center just over and with dire forecasts for the American economy ahead of us, the question over the potential reality of a no-kill society takes on new fervor and heightened attention – and nowhere more so than here in Virginia.
For the uninitiated, “no-kill” refers to the practice of finding adoptive homes for all shelter pets that are of sufficient health and temperament to be adoptable. (There are specific guidelines on this which I will not go into here.)  The basic premise is that, since there are estimated 23 million people adopting a new pet in the U.S. each year, and there are now only about 3-4 million dogs and cats being euthanized in shelters each year, there should be an ample supply of good homes for these pets if only the effort is made to get them matched up.  Those seeking a good look at the no-kill topic are often referred to the book “Redemption” by Nathan Winograd, founder of the No-Kill Advocacy Center.
Representing the flip side of this debate is PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – an organization often known for its radical animal welfare activities.  According to PETA, the notion of “no-kill” shelters is misleading when the reality is that such shelters, when full,  must decline the intake of homeless animals and, when unable to adopt animals in a reasonable time frame, are forced to warehouse animals in confined situations that may result in fates worse than death.
This question is no more alive than right here in Virginia where the Virginia Alliance for Animal Shelters (VAAS) has arisen as an alternate voice to the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies (VFHS) , the long-time central voice for animal welfare in Virginia.  While not embraced as part of its official mission, VFHS is generally seen as promoting the no-kill goals of the private shelters that dominate its membership.  In contrast, the focus of VAAS is upon the “open-access” shelters “which cannot or do not ‘pick and choose’ the animals they receive. “  Often, these are municipal shelters but they may also include privately run shelters that practice “open-access” admission.  In its case statement VAAS provides an informative account of the nature and history of this division. 
The “no-kill” debate is an important and often misunderstood issue.  Some people question the availability of truly “good” homes and worry about the fate of animals not adopted or adopted into hoarding, abusive, and neglectful situations.  Others counter that achieving a truly no-kill society is simply a matter of a willingness on the part of those managing shelters to be committed to it. 
While I cannot address the issue in depth here, I'll occasionally return to this issue bringing different facets into discussion.   And I invite readers to consider and explore the issue:  how it plays out in your own localities and what you can offer to help promote understanding and collaboration among shelters and individuals who strive to find the most effective balance for the well-being of animals in your community.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Speak the truth - even if your voice shakes."

I love this quote.  I stole it from Lisa Compton who provides a great example of how speaking the truth helps her advocate for and improve the lives of chained dogs all around the Richmond area through her organization Rescue of Chained k-9s (ROCK).

Speaking the truth when those around you don't want to hear it can be very challenging. Especially for those who don't seek to be confrontational but only to extend a compassionate hand to the desperate animals in need around us. It can take practice to learn to speak out about the truth when those around you wish to keep it silent.  It's an important practice to undertake.

Monday, August 1, 2011

How change comes about...

Successes in the battle to end slavery in the American South did not come from polite, heartwarming stories about all the happy, free negroes and patient, ego-soothing strokes to those that resisted change. It came out of deep uprising, extended violent clash, and a long history of harsh political struggle and attacks on those who resist change and lawfulness. Ending the deep-seated practice of individuals to neglect and abuse animals and communities to disregard the laws protecting them, will also require unpleasant confrontation. Do not let this dissuade you.