Letters [Jan/Feb 2010]
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2010:
I believe the animal welfare movement has lost its compass.
In its quest to “save” individual animals, the movement has lost
sight of what’s best for dogs and cats as a whole. What used to be
called animal shelters now offer no shelter unless there is room or
the animal is especially adoptable. The quest to become “no kill”
has created untold cruelty and suffering for animals turned away by
organizations who proclaim that their mission is to protect those who
cannot protect themselves. All too often, animal care and control
facilities, both private and public, no longer accept animals
surrendered by their owners, with the inevitable result that the
refused animal winds up dumped on the street or comes back to that
same facility, this time as a “stray”.
In the early 1970s I wrote an allegory about endless dogs and
cats floating down a river. Let’s get out of the river, stop
trying to save one in a thousand, I opined, and instead go upstream
to find out how and where they are falling in. We did that, and to
a great extent pet sterilization has reduced that flow to a
comparative trickle. But rather than see this strategy through to
conclusion, the movement is now back in the river saving one while a
hundred suffer. The movement has gotten misdirected on adoptions,
often to the exclusion of spaying and neutering.
In 38 years working in animal welfare I’ve had to kill more
than my share of unwanted dogs and cats. I know what it’s like to
shoulder that responsibility: to look them in the eyes and do what I
believed best. So let’s stop abandoning animals to their fate on the
streets, or with owners who don’t want them. Let’s not be seduced
by gurus telling us the problem is our adoption policy. Our primary
problem is too many animals, and the solution is spaying and
neutering. We’ve known this for years; let’s not turn our back on
it when we’re so close. The animal protection movement should
return to full access for unwanted animals. Until overpopulation is
solved we must have the courage to do what’s best for all the dogs
and cats in our communities. And please, let’s stop demonizing
shelters because they kill animals. It is far more humane to end an
animal’s life than to put him or her in a cage for life. Let’s
re-calibrate our moral compass and do what’s best for all animals.
Charleston, South Carolina
Allegations that no-kill shelters “turn away” animals,
however true they might be, tend to overlook that the millions of
animals they do accept now amount to nearly half of the total volume
of dogs and cats entering shelters, including many who are rehomed
through extraordinary efforts that conventional open-admission
shelters are not positioned to make.
Animal control agencies historically are obliged by law to
accept all animals, including those who are too dangerous to adopt
out, or are otherwise un-adoptable. Therefore, they do a
disproportionate share of shelter killing. Recently we have seen
some agencies rebel against this role by, for example, instituting
high surrender fees. This usually does result in increased animal
Discussion of “abandoning animals to their fate on the
streets” unfortunately often overlooks that most feral cats and
street dogs have never lived anywhere else, were never pets (though
many are fed by someone), and have thrived since the dawn of
civilization as semi-tame urban wildlife. Feral cats, abundant in
the U.S., and street dogs, abundant in the developing world, tend
to be happiest and healthiest in the habitat niches they have evolved
to fill. If they are perceived to be too many, neuter/return is
usually the only effective way to reduce their numbers.
The actuality, though, that feral cats and street dogs
rarely need help from shelters is not to be confused with the plight
of abandoned ex-pets, who seldom thrive on their own, and often
spend the rest of their brief lives trying to find their way back to
the homes they have lost.
I was very appreciative of your November/December editorial
“No-Kill sheltering & the quest for the holy grail.”
The current environment fostering character assassinations of
those in animal welfare leadership is not in the best interest of the
animals, nor do these attacks help to increase the community
resources needed to improve the plight of the animals.
I am very disturbed by how former Toledo dog warden Tom
Skeldon was treated. I worked with Tom when I headed the Toledo Area
Humane Society. We did not see eye to eye on every issue. However,
Tom worked to reduce the numbers of animals coming into the Toledo
animal control shelter. He worked with the primary local spay/neuter
organization to ensure that dogs who returned to owners for various
ordinance violations were sterilized, including pit bull terriers.
He worked hard to eradicate dogfighting. His training for meter
readers and postal personnel prevented many a bite. This in turn
prevented many a dog from being deemed dangerous and possibly being
destroyed. Tom was hard-headed but a liar never. On several
occasions he took the heat for staff mistakes, which he would not
have made. After 22 years he deserved better.
I was vehemently opposed to the manner in which the public
was led tobelieve that the fighting dogs confiscated from Michael
Vick could easily be evaluated, rehabilitated, and rehomed into
loving homes. In truth, about two dozen remain in high security
impoundment, and are never to be adopted. I wrote a letter to the
American SPCA voicing my concerns about this. However, the
treatment of the “A” over their decision to euthanize the dog Oreo is
beyond my comprehension. I do believe that rehoming fighting dogs
and other vicious or aggressive dogs was made to look much too easy,
and that the public now has highly unrealistic expectations about
what shelters can be expected to do in such cases.
Thank you for researching the facts in these situations.
–Mary Pat Boatfield, RVT, M.Ed, CAWA
Nashville Humane Association
213 Oceola Avenue
Nashville, TN 37209
I thought you would like to know that the last known “dancing
bears” in India have just been rescued. So far as we are aware,
there are no more of these poor sloth bears suffering on the roads of
India. I have just come back from India, where I helped to take the
last bear to the Bannerghatta Bear Sanctuary, operated by Wildlife
SOS in Bannerghatta National Park.
This is a most gratifying time for all of the members,
sponsors, supporters and volunteers of the Free The Bears Fund, who
have dug deep to help fund the Kalandar Rehabilitation Program,
which has enabled the retirement of the Kalandar people from the
dancing bear business. We have helped to fund the rescue of more than
500 bears, but the most successful part of this program is that we
have funded help for more than 500 Kalandar families, who are
earning much better livelihoods and enjoying a much improved quality
Working closely with Wildlife SOS cofounders Kartick
Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani, and with International Animal
Rescue and One Voice, we now help to fund four bear sanctuaries in
Agra, Bophal, West Bengal, and Bannerghatta, near Bangalore.
–Mary Hutton, founder
Free The Bears Fund Inc.
PO Box 1393
Osborne Park DC
Western Australia 6916
Fax: 08-9244 4649
The Government Accounting Office reports that U.S. taxpayers
pay $144 million to the Bureau of Land Management to manage the
private livestock grazing program.
This program only generates $21 million in land use fees. If
that program ended and the land was restored to the public and
mustangs, there would be no wild horse overpopulation problem.
Zoo & circus eles
Thank you so much for “India bans keeping elephants in zoos &
circuses.” It throws so much light on the elephant scene in India
and the world–very useful for all of us working for captive
–Brindha Nandakumar, Advocate
Karnataka High Court
Elephants & bears
Re “India bans keeping elephants in zoos & circuses,” what
an excellent resume of the history of captive elephants!
We have been campaigning against the use of elephants in
temples. Unfortun-ately, since this is a religious issue, these
elephants are not protected by any law.
I just read that the last dancing bear in India now walks
free. Congratulations to former Indian minister for animal welfare
and social empowerment Maneka Gandhi. It was her idea to find
employment for the Kalandar bear trainers and handlers that took them
away from catching and training bears. If they had not found
alternate employment, it would not have been possible to free all
the bears. The law banning dancing bears, like many others, would
have remained on paper only.
Retraining the Kalandars gave me the idea to train the
Kurumbas in the Nilgiri Hills. They are excellent trackers and were
the poachers’ guides. After the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation
trained the young men of the tribe to paint on paper, they became
occupied and well-paid in their new career–and the number of tigers
in the Nilgiris has gone up. The forest departments of Tamil Nadu,
Karnataka, and Kerala say there are now 266 tigers, where there
were just 16, but I think the figure is high, since the tigers move
all over the area and each state has a separate census–there must be
some double counting. However, the population has gone up
considerably, due to weaning the Kurumba tribes away from hunting.
The Nilgiris are probably the only place in India which show a steady
rise in the number of tigers.
-Nanditha Krishna, Ph.D.
Re “‘God is not Dracula’–but sacrifice continues,” in your
November/December 2009 edition, news reports mentioned that many of
the animals sacrified in Nepal to the goddess Gadhimai came from
India, as Nepal did not have enough. If this was true, the crime
started here, and we can at least question how animals protected
under Indian laws came to be smuggled to Nepal and slaughtered. Even
if the numbers were small, and no matter how porous the borders are
between India and Nepal, they were our animals, supposed to be
protected by our laws.
In Defence of Animals India
7, Shanti Kunj, 124,
Hindu Colony, 5th Lane,
Dadar, Mumbai 400 014
Eid ul Azha slaughter in Saudi Arabia may be declining, as
you reported in “‘God is not Dracula’–but sacrifice continues,” but
in Pakistan the Eid slaughter of cows increased 15% and the slaughter
of other animals increased 4% from November 28 to November 30, 2009.
Approximately 12 million animals were slaughtered, including eight
million sheep and goats, 2.5 million cows, and one million camels
and buffalo, according to the president of the hide and skin
merchants association. Animal Save Movement Pakistan strongly
protests this debacle, and wants to abolish it.
–Khalid Mahmood Qurashi, President
Animal Save Movement Pakistan
Invasive adoption screening & high fees
After thousands of Chihuahuas were rescued in California
and sent to Washington and other states for adoption, I searched for
one to adopt, and was amazed by the extensive applications one needs
to fill out just to give one of these little dogs a home. I have
seen 14-page adoption applications, that cover bank accounts and
lifestyle, even requesting photos of the applicant’s home and
requiring home visits to verify the details. And the costs! To
adopt a little dog runs between $300.00 and $600.00. Now I know this
covers the costs of vaccinations and altering, but still, these
costs are a little high. I wonder how a lot of these little orphans
will ever find homes.
Orcas Island, Washington
Adoption screening evolved first to protect human children,
when humane societies often managed orphanages. The first animal
adoption screening questionnaire was adapted by the American Humane
Association circa 1948 from the human adoption questionnaire that the
AHA had introduced several decades earlier. The AHA reduced the
original 114 questions to 101 by eliminating inquiries about such
matters as where the adoptee would attend school and go to church.
Many adoption screening questionnaires based on this model
remain in use. Yet despite the intensive questioning, the animal
adoption failure rate remained at about 20%, nationwide, for
several decades. Eventually Mike Arms, then shelter manager at the
North Shore Animal League America and now president of the Helen
Woodward Animal Center, reduced the old questionnaire to just 20
questions, worked to prevent adoption failures with post-adoption
follow-up, especially behavioral help, and adopted out more than
40,000 animals per year at peak in the early 1990s with an adoption
failure rate of just 4%. In the ensuing 20 years, most shelters
have moved to the 20-question screening format, and the national
adoption failure rate has dropped to about 5%.
Unfortunately, there are still many adoption counsellors who
remain unaware that effective adoption screening means getting
truthful answers about a few key points, not just a blizzard of
Shelters and rescuers currently spend between $250 to $400
preparing each dog they place for adoption, from the costs of intake
to the costs of advertising, and including the costs of boarding the
dogs until they find homes. Adoption fees are typically set at about
half the actual cost of facilitating the adoption, in order for
shelters to compete successfully against pet stores & puppy mills,
but with small dogs, who are almost always in high demand, the
adoption fee may be set at full cost.
I am dismayed to have learned on December 24, 2009 that the
Pakistani government is awarding hunting permits to sheiks and
dignitaries of the Persian Gulf States and Saudi Arabia to kill the
endangered houbara bustard. These gentle creatures are facing
extinction and are protected under Pakistani and international law.
It is a shame that the Pakistani government is allowing foreign VIPs
and kings to carry out an illegal act for which a Pakistani citizen
could go to prison.
At one time these birds migrated through the Gulf nations,
but years of shooting sprees eventually extirpated them from that
flight path. Now their killers are venturing into neighboring
countries like Pakistan to destroy the remnant houbaras.
These kings and sheiks who claim to be protectors of Islamic
values by enforcing Sharia laws are hunting contrary to the teaching
of the holy prophet Muhammad, who said “One who kills even a
sparrow or anything smaller without a justifiable reason, will be
answerable to Allah.
Engineers and Scientists
for Animal Rights
San Jose, California
Action for Animals coordinator Eric Mills in his
November/December 2009 letter “Time to ban horse-tripping and
steer-tailing” listed nine states that have already done so,
including Arizona, and nine states where these events still occur as
part of charreada-style rodeo. Arizona was inadvertently included on
the second list, as well, in place of Arkansas.