Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Fallacy of “Fates Worse Than Death”

For those seasoned rescuer's we are often exposed to the worst of what mankind has to offer with our experiences with shelter dogs. But have we lost the ability to step back and see the lighter side that dogs bring to our lives. Dogs who ply, dogs who seem not to have a care in the world, why should we be the one's to choose whether ending a shelter dog's previous suffering is a excuse that overlooks a dogs amazing abilty to respond to just a small measure of love, care and consideration.

In January of 2007 I was asked to take in a beagle named Camilla from Northeast Georgia Animal Shelter. Camilla was about five plus years old and was suffering from a severe skin condition which caused her to lose over half of the hair on her body. One would assume that if rescue was about saving dogs from a "Fate Far Worse Than Death" the logical disposition for Camilla would be a humane ending to life as she knew it.

Rather then make this judgment call myself I decided to let Camilla make that choice. Despite her obvious suffering from what was a skin condition that didn't seem to respond to the many treatments we tried camilla remained stoically a beagle at heart, spending her days in search of a scent and ultimately in search of food for her belly. Despite her suffering she never seemed to stop wagging that tail or ignoring your every command. Yet, still, Camilla was still by definition "un adoptable (in her present condition) and a perfect candidate for a "no kill sheltering" for the rest of her life.

While we never gave up on finding a cure for her illness often times realty was to simply try and help Camilla hold her own. She would have good weeks and some that were not so good. Through it all I became tremendously attached to this little girl and by the summer of 2008 considered Camilla as one of my own.

However, this love for Camilla was not shared by our local animal sheltering world. Flexing the muscle's developed with the "steroid" bill we call our local animal ordinance of 2007 animal control and our local animal rights leaning solicitor's office zeroed in on beagles like Camilla by suggested she be included as one of ten beagles I surrender to appease the county over our dog barking ordeal.

Fate would decide that Camilla and others would become the local poster dogs for why poorly thought out laws can set a dangerous precedent where the courts, not the pet owner or rescue caretaker, hold the ultimate judgment of the Fate of Death which would be far worse then life itself for these innocent victims.

Despite assurances from insiders working with animal control who assured me ALL the hounds I surrendered would be turned over to rescue why would any reasonable person believe this when the shelter had such a dismal record with the healthy dogs that went through the shelter. The reality was that a dog suffering from the abuse of a previous owner would simply be moved from a home where she was cared for, loved and kept safe and become a statistic on a monthly spreadsheet instead.

Fortunately, our case went better then we expected, the judge refused to order surrender of any pets and as the news head lines leaked out the "hounds were elated". I still took beagles like Camilla to adoptions every weekend even though there was little chance anyone would share my commitment to this sweet but medically challenged little hound. Then along came that special person....

A little more then six weeks after our trial a woman approached the cages where the beagles were, well acting like beagles and ask if "that beagle was still available." Even though she pointed at Camilla I started pointing out the other more healthy beagles but she cut me off withy "no, I want THAT beagle - the one who's speaking to me..." Low and behold Camilla was speaking to her, wagging her tail and working real hard to get her attention". After a lengthy discussion about Camilla's health issues she was adopted.

From time to time over the next few months I would see Camilla on her trips to Petsmart. You really couldn't tell who was happier Camilla or her new proud mom. But what you could see was a gradual improvement in Camilla's overall health. Six months and over $1,200 in vet bills later Camilla is no longer Camilla in name or body. Her new name is Georgia and she has completely recovered from her illness.

Georgia has a beautiful beagle coat, has added six pounds to her once skinny frame and serves as a perfect example why we shouldn't be so quick to judge whether there ever is a fate far better then death. Certainly you would have a difficult time convincing Georgia or her mom of this ridiculous assumption.

From Nathan Winograd's blog:

The Fallacy of “Fates Worse Than Death”
April 28, 2009 by Nathan J. Winograd

Recently, I read a letter from a woman who has spent half a century doing animal rescue work. Her description of her experiences over the years, including the heartbreaking rescue of a near-dead kitten abandoned near a dumpster, makes it clear she cares deeply about animals. And yet, she opposes No Kill. She opposes No Kill because she believes that “there are fates worse than death.” And she cannot conceive of a No Kill nation because she sees a crisis of uncaring in the U.S., a conclusion drawn from decades of experience seeing abandoned, neglected, and abused animals. She knows this, she says, not from “percentages, data, and studies,” but from “what she has seen with her own eyes.”

Sadly, she, and other animal rescuers who share these views, have been in the trenches of rescue work so long, that they have become myopic, and as a result, they have come to believe that the world of animals is little more than pain and suffering. They have been led to believe in the inevitability of certain outcomes, and the things they witness seem to confirm this point of view for them. In addition, the large national organizations which they turn to for guidance reaffirm their beliefs: people don’t care, irresponsibility is rampant, there are too many unwanted animals, and the only available choices for a majority of these animals are a quick death in a shelter or suffering on the streets. Because they lack personal experience at progressive shelters which would debunk these views and have trained themselves not to see evidence to the contrary all around them, they have actually come to believe that “killing is kindness” and the alternative is worse. But they could not be more wrong.

And what is driving these misplaced perceptions is a lack of perspective—perspective which comes from a larger view, a global vision, a top-down image they cannot see and which the animal protection movement historically has failed to provide. They have a distorted view of reality. If they took a step back, if they allowed themselves to see what is happening nationally, if they kept an open mind and stayed informed about the emerging success of the No Kill movement, they would see something else entirely, as many other rescuers do. They would see the “big picture”—which reveals that there is a way out of killing and that a No Kill nation is not only possible, it is well within our reach.

There are roughly eight million dogs and cats entering shelters every year, a small fraction compared to the 165 million in people’s homes. Of those entering shelters, only four percent are seized because of cruelty and neglect. Some people surrender their animals because they are irresponsible, but others do so because they have nowhere else to turn—a person dies, they lose their job, their home is foreclosed. In theory, that is why shelters exist–-to be a safety net for animals whose caretakers no longer can or want to care for them. And the majority of animals who enter these shelters can, and should, be saved.

Based on dog bite extrapolation data, an analysis of intakes at shelters, and the results of the best performing shelters in the country, about 90% of all animals would be adopted if our shelters where compassionate places run by animal lovers dedicated to saving lives. Indeed, imagine if this were actually realized. Imagine if shelters provided good care, comfort, and plenty of affection to the animals during their stays at these way stations funded through tax and philanthropic dollars by a dog- and cat- loving culture. And imagine if all shelters embraced the No Kill philosophy and the programs and services which make it possible. We would be a No Kill nation today. Because while roughly four million dogs and cats are needlessly killed every year, there are also three times as many people—upwards of 17 million—who are looking to get a new companion animal next year and who have not yet decided where that animal will come from. And, as communities across the country have proven, a great many of them could very easily be persuaded to adopt a shelter animal.

For the rest of the story.....

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