“Dogman” says Kentucky officials need court-ordered obedience lesson
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2000:
ELLIOTT COUNTY, Kentucky––
Randy “Dogman” Skaggs, 48, founder of the
no-kill Trixie Foundation shelter, on July 10
bit 326 Kentucky county magistrates and commissioners,
70 county judge-executives, and
Agriculture Commissioner Billy Ray Smith
with a lawsuit accusing them of willful failure
to obey 1955 and 1958 laws requiring each
county to certify rabies vaccination, license
dogs, and use the fees to maintain a dog pound.
Skaggs warned the defendants for
more than four years that the lawsuit was coming.
Legal help from animal rights attorney
Katy Brophy and contributions of $2,500 each
toward the filing costs from In Defense of
Animals and the Animal Protection Institute
finally helped Skaggs get it underway.
Skaggs alleges that the lack of pounds
in 70 of the 120 Kentucky counties has cost
him $835,000 over the past 10 years to shelter
as many as 200 abandoned dogs at a time.
Co-plaintiffs, also claiming economic
damage, include six county animal welfare
groups and a dozen private citizens.
Even Kentucky counties that claim
compliance with the 1955 and 1958 laws often
fall far short of acceptability, Skaggs charged.
“You would not believe what they
call a pound in some parts of Kentucky. It’s
pathetic––pieces of crates and pallets,” Skaggs
told Karen Samples of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Skaggs, with family roots in Elliott
County, left the Cincinnati area to return to the
hills back in 1989.
“Ever since I arrived,” Skaggs wrote
to the Elliott County Fiscal Court in April 1996,
in his first notice of intent to sue, “I have
noticed animals cruelly abandoned and left to
die alongside roads, in garbage dumps, and at
mining reclamation sites. Maybe some of you
have seen me driving a dilapidated old automobile,
taking dogs for veterinary care. People
call me ‘Dogman’ behind my back. But I know
exactly what I’m doing and where I’m headed.”
Where Skaggs is heading next, he
told ANIMAL PEOPLE, if he wins as anticipated
in the Kentucky courts, is back to Ohio
and down into several more southerly states to
sue their officials seeking enforcement of similar
legislation. He has already begun the legal
These days Kentucky animal lovers
call Skaggs “Dogman” with the inflection
Gotham City residents give to Batman.
“This is a bold and admirable move
by Skaggs, and it may begin what will
inevitably be a long process to force change,”
wrote University of Kentucky men’s basketball
program staffer Meredith Nelson-Mendez in an
op-ed essay for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
“What must follow,” Nelson-Mendez
continued, “is a major shift in public attitude.
People want full-time animal control to protect
their safety and property, but are not willing to
foot the bill to care for animals who are
removed from the streets. Most shelters operate
entirely on private funds and struggle to provide
even basic care. A gunshot to the head is
the only method of ‘euthanasia’ available in
many counties, and that can hardly be considered
With Skaggs, Brophy et al coming at them,
Kentucky county officials may begin taking less confrontational
critics like Pam Burnett of Glencoe more seriously.
Like Skaggs, Burnett moved to Kentucky from the
Cincinnati area. Arriving in 1995, just as CNN broadcast a
news clip about Kentucky dogcatchers shooting dogs, Burnett
and friends mobilized 50 volunteers to form the Humane
Society of Gallatin County. They are now asking the county to
build a shelter and stop shooting dogs.
“Things are changing, and changing fast,” observed
Gallatin County dog warden Richard Farr to Shelly Whitehead
of the Kentucky Post. Farr took over the job from his mother,
who was dog warden for 25 years. Farr is paid about $100 a
week to catch strays and take them to Henry County dog warden
Ted Chisholm, of Campbellsburg. Chisholm also receives
strays from Trimble County. He shoots the dogs after a sevenday
holding period. The work pays Chisholm $13,000 a year.
Dogs are still shot elsewhere in North America––but
mostly in low volume, outside the South, and usually only as a
last resort. Haines, Alaska, for instance, is expected to
resume shooting dogs soon after a two-year lapse because the
only veterinarian in town, Robert Vogelsang, moved away in
April, and no one else is qualified to give lethal injections.
In Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, canine control
officer Dan Matthews shoots about 10 dogs a year who are too
ill, too badly injured, or too aggressive to take to the no-kill
Lillian Alldon Animal Shelter. But the town council in nearby
Truro, Nova Scotia, in late June ordered animal control officer
John Sitser to stop shooting dogs, and increased their animal
control budget 33% to subsidize the use of lethal injection.
SF/SPCA still setting pace
While Skaggs, Burnett, and others struggle to bring
animal care and control in rural Appalachia up to the standards
of nearly 50 years ago, and contend with neutering rates so low
that shelter killing rates run high as 85 dogs and cats per 1,000
residents where shelters exist, the San Francisco SPCA and
Department of Animal Care and Control together continue
breaking their own records for fewest dogs and cats killed per
1,000 human residents of any major U.S. city.
“Total euthanasias dropped again,” from 3.9 per
1,000 residents during calendar year 1999, to just 3.5 during
fiscal year 2000,” SF/SPCA president Ed Sayres wrote to ANIMAL
PEOPLE. The fiscal year ended on June 30.
“Over 72% of all dogs and cats who entered animal
shelters in San Francisco went on to homes,” Sayres continued.
“Deaths of feral cats were down 73% from when we started our
Feral Cat Assistance Plan in 1993. Deaths of underage puppies
and kittens dropped to 272, also a best for San Francisco. All
told, only 635 treatable dogs and cats died, our lowest level
ever. We are well on our way to eliminating treatable deaths.
“Proving that high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter is
absolutely essential to building a no-kill city,” Sayres emphasized,
“impounds fell to an all-time low of 9,779. Fifteen years
ago that number was 20,846. We continue to offer free neutering
for all San Francisco cats plus a $5.00 cash reward for
bringing them in, whether they are owned, unowned, feral, or
tame. Dogs can be altered for $35––but the surgery is free for
pit bull terriers, Rottweilers, and the dogs of senior citizens
and homeless residents of San Francisco. If we cannot give any
person an appointment within about two weeks at our clinic,
we’ll waive the fee and give the person a voucher for free
surgery at participating veterinarians around the city.
“We believe that the success in San Francisco can be
replicated,” Sayres said.
Following the San Francisco model, Humane Society
of the Tennessee Valley president Mark Siegel on July 1
announced that after this year, HSTV will no longer shelter and
kill animals for Knox County and the city of Knoxville. The
HSTV main shelter will be sold to a newly created city and
county animal control corporation, HSTV executive director
Vicky Crosetti told ANIMAL PEOPLE. Instead of spending
$154,000 a year to underwrite animal control, HSTV will fund
more neutering, humane education, anti-cruelty, and adoption
programs. HSTV will continue to run an existing no-kill adoption
center, Crosetti said, and expects to open perhaps the
most ambitious neutering clinic below the Mason-Dixon Line.
The HSTV reorientation parallels––at greater speed
––the transition that the San Francisco SPCA made between
1984 and 1989. The path that the SF/SPCA pioneered requires
forcing taxpayers to bear the full cost of animal control on the
one hand, creating greater public awareness of the need to fight
pet overpopulation, and on the other hand redirecting humane
resources to fixing vastly more dogs and cats.
Getting out from under the burden of doing animal
control killing, the SF/SPCA found, not only enables a
humane society to go no-kill, but also enormously enhances
fundraising appeal by eliminating the illusions that humane services
are taxpayer-subsidized and that donations are just helping
the shelter to kill more stray pets.
HSTV announced it would stop doing animal control
on the same day that Tennessee governor Don Sundquist signed
into law a requirement that all dogs and cats adopted from
Tennessee animal shelters be neutered.
A law creating a statewide neutering subsidy
fund––sought for 15 years by Justice For Animals founder
Nancy Rich––took effect simultaneously in North Carolina.
Few Tennessee and North Carolina shelters now have
the capacity to fix animals. The planned HSTV clinic could
end up serving many shelters, and might be widely emulated.
“The Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley is
strongly committed to neutering because it works,” Crosetti
continued. “Our own program of neutering all of our adopted
animals reduced the numbers of animals coming through our
doors by 10% in just 30 months.”
The biggest problem for HSTV, Crosetti anticipates,
will be coping with staff guilt over no longer handling animals
they might save but a public agency might not––even though
the new HSTV focus on neutering should prevent dozens of
killings for every otherwise doomed animal whom HSTV was
formerly able to rehabilitate and place through adoption.
But a major humane society going no-kill tends to
boost community expectations of animal control too.
Lexington County, South Carolina, in 1998 took animal control
duties back from the Humane Society of the Midlands, and
reassigned responsibility for animal pickups and sheltering to
solid waste management director Joe Mergo.
Under Mergo, Lexington County animal control has
a shelter killing rate of 87% and an adoption rate of just 4%. It
also has a newly expanded and refurbished shelter, however,
and a staff veterinarian for the first time, to fix all animals prior
to adoption––as is now required by South Carolina law.
Fixing more than 90,000 dogs and cats since 1982,
the Humane Society of Charlotte showed what that can do, by
cutting shelter killing in the Charlotte area 20%, 1990-1999,
while the regional human population grew by 18%. Shelter
killing per 1,000 humans dropped 31%.
Crosetti succeeded Jim Tedford as HSTV executive
director a decade ago, when Tedford became a regional representative
for the Humane Society of the U.S. Tedford moved
on from there to the Louisiana SPCA in New Orleans, and then
to the Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County, New
York, which––by coincidence––on July 1 returned management
of Rochester Animal Services to the county after 20 years.
Explained Tedford to Alan Morrell of the Rochester
Democrat & Chronicle, sounding more like a no-kill advocate
than a former apostle of the HSUS view that humane societies
should do animal control, ”By taking on the enforcement of
city laws, we spent a lot of time and energy doing things that
are not part of our mission. When you look for donations,”
Tedford added, “you look for the most politically correct way
to go. And it’s not politically correct to kill animals.”
While even HSUS is now softening its criticism of
no-kill sheltering in public statements, People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals founder Ingrid Newkirk in one of her
boldest of many criticisms of no-kill confirmed to Michael
Barakat of Associated Press in late July that her staff killed
1,325 of the 2,103 dogs and cats they picked up in 1999. The
rest were either adopted or transferred to other agencies.
PETA weathered an uproar in 1991 over news media
disclosures that it had killed a number of rabbits and waterfowl
at a sanctuary it formerly ran in Aspen Hill, Maryland.
Then, however, the animal sheltering community
withheld criticism of PETA. This time, Animal Adoption and
Rescue Foundation president Terry Foster, of Richmond,
pointed out to Barakat that her no-kill fostering organization
adopted out 1,062 cats and dogs in 1999, all of them neutered
and vaccinated, while killing none, on a budget of kibble.
The conflict between PETA and HSUS, on the one
hand, and no-kill humane societies on the other, has to do
mainly with the organizations’ perspective on if, when, and
how often they should kill animals for the animals’ good. The
PETA/HSUS position is compatible, however, with the basic
animal control mission of protecting the public from animals by
killing them––and conflicts with the more popular public
expectation that humane societies should save animals’ lives.
Perspectives clash with extra intensity when animal
control units and no-kill humane societies share premises, as
Stillwater Animal Control and the Humane Society of
Stillwater have since 1991 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Between
them, they have cut the city shelter killing toll by about twothirds.
Friction on the HSS board, however, recently led the
city to hire two HSUS consultants to evaluate the humane society.
Portions of the 115-page confidential report leaked to
ANIMAL PEOPLE indicate that the HSUS team recommended,
essentially, that HSS should abandon the no-kill position.
Reluctant to undergo similar scrutiny––which usually
becomes much more public than in Stillwater––many humane
societies struggle on with disadvantageous animal control contracts.
The basic terms were often negotiated––as in Nashua,
New Hampshire––when high-volume, low-cost neutering techniques
had yet to be developed, laboratory use of randomsource
dogs and cats was three times greater than today, and
humane societies hoped only to give homeless dogs and cats a
less painful death than they might otherwise suffer in a lab or
Selling shelter animals to labs is now illegal in New
Hampshire and 12 other states, and ANIMAL PEOPLE i s
unaware of any shelter still killing animals by decompression.
Meanwhile, wrote Humane Society for Greater
Nashua board president John Henry in a July 2000 appeal,
“The City of Nashua provided only 14% of our 1999 budget.
Twenty-one years of providing care for an increasing number of
animals,” as the human population of Nashua has grown by
half, “has eroded our reserves to less than 9% of our budget.
One minor emergency and we could be wiped out.”
Facing a similar crisis when proposed reorganization
of the provincial government appeared likely to erase an annual
subsidy for animal control work, New Brunswick SPCA executive
director Roger Couvrette in April 2000 threatened to
move opposite to San Francisco by halting cruelty and neglect
investigations. That was averted when the whole reorganization
was delayed for a year.
Other humane societies are finding themselves having
to drop animal control duties, sometimes piecemeal, like it or
not. In LaCrosse County, Wisconsin, for example, the
Coulee Region Humane Society got just $55,000 of the $90,000
it sought for providing animal control service, so effective on
January 1 it suspended cat pickups outside the cities of
LaCrosse and Onalaska, and suspended dog pickups in the outlying
areas after normal business hours.
After goading the county into approving a 1% sales
tax to fund building a $2 million shelter, the Cherokee County
Humane Society, in Canton, Georgia, voted in April to give
up the animal control contract it had held since 1996, rather
than cope with related political and economic pressures.
Cherokee County paid 70% of the shelter operating costs.
In San Juan Capistrano, California, proponents of
the traditional “full service” shelter model long advanced by
HSUS in July won a temporary victory of sorts when the city
council deferred a plan to go to no-kill animal control sheltering
because of the anticipated cost of contracting for shelter service
with a private no-kill agency.
But in Asheville, North Carolina, former HSUS
director of companion animal programs Marc Paulus resigned
on June 1 as executive director of Buncombe County Friends of
Animals and of the county animal control shelter, effective
July 31, after two years of acrimony that included the departure
of many senior staffers and volunteers.
Reportedly moving on to a position at the Atlanta
Humane Society, Paulus in his exit statement cited cumulative
adoption statistics dating to eight years before his arrival, and a
reduction in shelter intake attributed to a low-cost neutering
program that started three years before he came, from “nearly
13,000 five years ago, to only 8,500 in the current fiscal year.”
The current Buncombe County animal control contract
still has three years to run, but a movement is afoot to
return the contract and shelter management duties to the city of
Asheville. BCFA has meanwhile renamed itself the Asheville