Yellowknife and Connecticut incidents feed the “humane relocation” debate
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2003:
YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories, Canada–Overcrowded
with 64 dogs seized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from
itinerant rescuers Harry and Pat Shermet, the 12-cage Yellowknife
SPCA on September 16, 2003 sent 25 puppies to the Edmonton SPCA.
First Air donated the 650-mile flight. The Great Slave
Animal Hospital donated the required vaccinations.
“We’re glad to help,” Melissa Boisvert of Edmonton SPCA
told Nathan VanderKlippe of the CanWest News Service.
The Edmonton SPCA had only six dogs in its 60 kennels before
the puppies arrived, a legacy of successful pet sterilization and
The Yellowknife rescue exemplified both the promise and the
problems associated with transferring shelter animals to match supply
to demand. The Shermets actually had almost the same idea, after
they were evicted from the cabin where they had amassed 66 dogs in
three years. Loading all the dogs into a trailer on September 5,
the Shermets hoped to find homes for them in Manitoba, but were
intercepted by the RCMP in Rae, just 100 miles down the road. Six
dogs escaped and two were shot during the ensuing chaos.
“Humane relocation,” as long-distance transfers of animals
are called, has proved highly effective in boosting adoptions and
reducing shelter killing since the technique was pioneered about 15
years ago by the North Shore Animal League America.
But it remains controversial, a decade after ANIMAL PEOPLE
in March 1993 documented the positive early results of the North
Shore humane relocation program.
In May 2003 ANIMAL PEOPLE reported about opposition to humane
relocation organized by the National Animal Interest Alliance,
founded in 1992 by Oregon dog breeder Patty Strand, and noted the
allegation of British quarantine kennel operators that recent
relaxation of British quarantine standards may allow rescuers to
accidentally import parasitic diseases.
Well-managed humane relocation programs help to put
sterilized pets in homes, cut into pet store and breeder sales, and
make funding available for pet sterilization in the communities whose
shelters provide the animals. Many shelter operators and breed
rescuers, however, see humane relocation as unwelcome competition
for chances to place older and/or behaviorally difficult animals.
The Foundation for Animal Protection in Brookfield,
Connecticut, Animal Friends of Connecticut in New Britain, and New
England Border Collie Rescue each vociferously opposed humane
relocation in September statements, likening the practices of humane
relocators to those of puppy mills.
Indeed, humane relocation by insufficiently trained people
can have catastrophic consequences. Connecticut has seen two recent
Rachel Witherspoon, 40, of Litchfield, Connecticut,
volunteered for two local rescue/adoption groups, and was allowed to
borrow a mobile adoption van from North Shore to help rehome animals.
Unknown either to North Shore or to the local groups Witherspoon was
working with, however, she had also imported nine puppies on her
own from the Kentucky Humane Society, and was seeking homes for them
without going through the North Shore procedures that ensure the
health of animals placed for adoption through their facilities. In
March 2003 Witherspoon on two occasions allegedly adopted out sick
puppies without issuing the health certificates that are supposed to
accompany any animals who are adopted or sold in Connecticut. She
was eventually charged with operating a pet shop without a license
plus nine counts of importing dogs without a health certificate.
In August 2003 evangelist Ivan Truman, 65, of Smiths Grove,
Kentucky, was charged with 10 counts of cruelty after police in
Stratford, Connecticut, found 69 dogs packed into 12 carrying
crates in his van. Three cats were reportedly loose in the van.
Eleven of the 69 dogs were already dead from heat stress.
Intercepted on his way from the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane
Society in Kentucky to the Oronoque Animal Hospital, Truman told
police that he was making his seventh journey as a pet relocator.
Legislation to regulate humane relocation was introduced into
the Connecticut legislature after the Witherspoon episode, but was
withdrawn pending revisions.