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Shelter director: ‘Yes, let the dog drown’
The impact of “Human Animal Support Services” includes a nearly drowned dog, a dog’s abusive death, potential starvation, protests, and abandoned kittens.
After two Davie, FL, police officers saved a dog from drowning in a canal, the town animal control officer tried to take the dog to Broward County Animal Care & Control, the county shelter. But Broward has embraced “Human Animal Support Services” (HASS). Under HASS, the shelter has closed its doors to strays, telling residents to leave the animals where they found them or care for them themselves.
Broward County’s director refused to accept the dog. The ACO for the town asked Broward’s director “if the officers should have left the dog to drown in the canal.” The director said, “yes, they should have left it if they did not have other accommodations prior to response.”
The Davie ACO filed a complaint, saying, “I’m still in shock from her statement that the dog should have been left [to drown] in the canal. I have no words.” But Broward defends its position, saying it follows the advice of Austin Pets Alive and the National Animal Control Association (where an APA director sits on the Board), the “brain trust” behind the HASS policy.
Against a backdrop of a possible scandal and an official complaint from the town of Davie, Broward County backed down and took in the dog. After scanning the dog for a microchip, they found one and contacted the owner, who picked him up within minutes.
Nesa was not so lucky. Microchipped and wearing a little pink harness, Nesa should have had her whole life ahead of her. Had El Paso Animal Services taken her in and scanned her for a microchip, she, too, would have been reclaimed within minutes. But El Paso also embraced the Austin Pets Alive policy where, in APA’s own words, “Intakes of healthy strays and owner surrenders doesn’t exist anymore,” and there is “No kennel space for rehoming, stray hold or intake.” As a result, Nesa was turned away by the municipal shelter; her finder told to release her back on the street. She was subsequently found dead. Her death led the El Palo City Council to revoke HASS.
Getting the city council in their city to do the same is something Rochester, NY, residents hope they can do, too. They protested this weekend “to demand that Rochester Animal Services take in stray and abandoned animals.” According to protestors, Rochester Animal Services also implemented “the HASS model that would allow them to close their doors to these animals,” telling people who find lost and abandoned animals to leave them on the street.
So does Miami-Dade Animal Services. When a Good Samaritan found a dog tied up and abandoned, she tried to take the dog to the Miami shelter. Pound staff told her to “put it back where you found it,” which would have meant the dog starved to death. The city staff did not care, “confirm[ing] that the shelter has instructed people who find stray animals on the streets to leave them in the area where they discovered them.”
Cats suffer, too
Dogs are not the only ones who suffer under the policy. Recently, a pregnant cat showed up in the yard of a Fullerton, CA, woman who took her in. The cat quickly gave birth. The woman then did what she thought was responsible: allow the kittens to nurse and then wean before taking them all — mama and kittens — to Orange County Animal Services. The shelter could immediately adopt them without finding a foster home.
But Orange County Animal Shelter has also embraced HASS, and staff told her to turn them loose, hoping “they will find their way home.” The woman explained that “Shadow,” the name she gave the mother cat, might not have a home. Not only was Shadow pregnant when she showed up, but she did not have a collar, tag, or microchip. At any rate, the kittens certainly had no home to go to because they were not yet born and would not know where to go even if they did. OCAS was unmoved and turned her away.
APA’s magical thinking
In a craven response, Austin Pets Alive has attempted to defend HASS by saying that it, too, “hopes” animals find their way home on their own since they “believe” most are rescued within a mile of it. But, even if it were true, one mile is still very far for an animal. Moreover, the study they rely on concludes it could be as far as 2.5 miles, and other surveys found it is even farther — upwards of 3.2 miles. Additionally, some animals may be moving away from their home (as soon as they wander from home, they are by definition moving in the wrong direction) or don’t have one to return to. Indeed, for dogs like Nesa, such “hope” was misplaced. She is dead. For a dog drowning in Davie, such “hope” would have meant sharing Nesa’s fate. The same would have happened to the abandoned dog found in Miami. And where were the Fullerton kittens supposed to go?
APA’s magical thinking notwithstanding, it is painfully apparent why HASS fails to win support among rescuers, No Kill advocates, caring shelter directors, and the public. No amount of “hope” can convince an animal lover that leaving a lost dog or friendly kittens on the street is a good idea. Moreover, the longer they are on the street, the more anxious and wayward they may become, and, therefore, further recede from allowing people to help them. Such an approach will never make sense to people who know what animals need and deserve.
Traditional vs. No Kill vs. HASS sheltering
What makes the No Kill philosophy so appealing is that it provides a humane, life-affirming contrast to the traditional sheltering model of taking in animals, putting only a precious few up for adoption, and executing the remainder. Instead, No Kill municipal shelters also take in all the animals. Rather than kill most of them, however, they find homes for upwards of 99%, reserving “euthanasia” for those who are irremediably suffering. They do this by implementing the No Kill Equation — cost-effective, readily-available, life-affirming programs like foster care, comprehensive adoption programs, socialization and behavior rehabilitation, medical care, working with rescue groups, marketing and promotions, TNR, a robust volunteer base, and more. That vision resonates with an animal-loving American public, so it is spreading like wildfire.
HASS, on the other hand, results in shelters closing their doors and ignoring lost and abandoned animals — to drown, starve, die in an alley, or whatever other fate should befall them. That is not an appealing alternative to the No Kill Equation model. Instead, it violates every sense of decency, humanity, duty, propriety, compassion, and empathy that people have when it comes to dogs, cats, and other animals.
Austin Pets Alive knows this. To thwart these values and subvert public expectations, it urged shelters to implement HASS quickly before the pandemic ended. APA leaders believed that it would be easier to do so while many services to care for animals in need were already suspended due to the pandemic. And that is what pound directors whose agencies have a history of mismanagement, neglect, abuse, or killing, like Broward County, Miami-Dade, Los Angeles County, Orange County, Memphis, and Rochester, did. These directors don’t seem to care what happens to these animals, so long as they don’t count against their statistics. As long as they are not taking them in, they can (dishonestly) boast of high “save” rates.
Unfortunately, HASS’s failure to appeal to people who care about animals (almost everyone except those who conceived and implemented it) doesn’t mean it is not causing harm to animals and heartbreak for people. It also doesn’t mean that it’s not going to continue to do so and perhaps even increase for some time as Austin Pets Alive appears intent on promoting it to other communities. But given that it fails to offer a humane vision for the future, it has a shelf life. With enough people fighting back — as they did in El Paso and are doing in Rochester — perhaps the body count, the suffering, and the pain it causes can be minimized.
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