Saturday, January 1, 2011

The State of the State of Wisconsin

 Here's a recap of the state of animal welfare in Wisconsin this past year as I saw it.

Puppy Mills and Pet Stores
The rules for Act 90 -  the Commercial Dog Breeders Law are still being hashed out in committee meetings. As with any negotiations, it will be difficult to please everyone, but as long as the committee members remember that the ultimate goal is to improve conditions for the dogs in the breeding facilities, we should come out okay.  The bill, and I'm sure the economy has had an effect on the number of USDA breeding facilities in the State. There are now 44 active licensees.  This is down from approximately 95 at this time last year.

Petland Pewaukee closed out. It was bought by an independent owner who is still selling puppies and kittens in the same cramped cages that Petland did.  This leaves only two Petlands in the state: Racine and Janesville. But there are numerous independent pet stores that sell puppies and kittens.

Wisconsin brick and mortar shelters quickly adopt out the highly adoptable, small fluffy dogs.   Small dogs languish in rescue organizations longer than shelters - mostly because of the restrictive adoption policies imposed by the rescues on the adopters.  The rescue groups still don't seem to understand how this perpetuates the cycle. Denying adoptions and/or overly restrictive adoption policies drives people to the very same pet stores that the rescuers abhor. Many dog rescuers are pet store protestors on the weekend. This doesn't make sense to me.

Bully Breed Issues
The Brew City Bully Club had an outstanding year raising awareness with two major newsmaking events. First was the kick off of their End Dogfighting program in Milwaukee. Second was the "Ride to End Dogfighting".  Members from Rescue Ink attended and rode borrowed Harleys for the ride.

Another group -  Battle Against Dogfighting also put on several events. Between the two groups, awareness of dogfighting in Milwaukee was brought to the forefront.

Breed Specific Legislation reared it's head in Sheboygan, but quick action by concerned citizens and pit bull lovers prevented it from being passed by city council.  A breed neutral, dangerous dog ordinance is being drafted instead.

The largest problem is still  the number of stray pit bulls and pit bull mixes that end up at the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC).  Most people do not even know that this facility exists and by the time they figure out where their dog is - the reclaim fees are beyond their means.

MADACC implemented a foster, adoption and volunteer program. This has been very well received by the community and will hopefully continue to grow and succeed.

Many shelters in the state are very good about taking as many pit bulls and pit mixes from MADACC as they can reasonably hold and adopt out. But the longer stay and increased costs are a burden on all of the shelters. Returning more of these dogs to their owners would go a long ways towards making us a no-kill state.

The Executive Director of MADACC resigned in early December to take a job in California. The position is still open. I hope a progressive thinking pro-redemption (return to owner), pro-Trap Neuter Return candidate will be hired.

Community Cats
Several shelters are now offering limited trap, neuter, return programs.  This is an improvement over last year but we still have a lot of work to do in this area.  As mentioned above - a pro TNR, Executive Director at MADACC will help tremendously.

Pet cats continue to adopt out very quickly especially when shelters use innovative pricing programs.  Since we have research that shows that people value a discounted or free cat as much as a more expensive one - why not save a life?

Research shows us that almost all (87%) pet cats are spayed or neutered. So as TNR programs improve and we get the community cats out of the shelter system - the population of pet cats will level off in the shelters - attrition will meet demand, and we will be well on our way to no-kill for our cats as well.  Keeping the community cats out of the shelters (where they don't belong anyways) will also help prevent the overcrowding that makes disease prevalent - especially in the older shelters with poor air circulation.

Shelter Intake
I was pleased to see a lot of new innovative organizations start up this year in Wisconsin.

These organizations are designed to keep animals out of the shelters in the first place.  Barney's Blessings is a food pantry and more for pets.  Nose to the Ground to Help Hounds  is a website and resource for hound lovers and owners.  Lost Dogs of Wisconsin is aimed at getting lost dogs home quickly, before they end up in shelters.

There are also some great organizations with strong no kill philosophies that are becoming front runners in the animal welfare movement in Wisconsin. Most notably - Milwaukee Animal Rescue Center in Southridge Mall and Community Cat in Whitewater are two that I want to mention. Strong leadership and the determination to save lives brings these two to the front of the pack.

Other issues:
Dairyland Greyhound Racing Park closed in late December 2009. Amid much internet hysteria that hundreds of greyhounds would be euthanized, I did not hear of any such outcome. Some dogs went on to race at other tracks while many others were put up for adoption.  Greyhound racing has become a thing of the past in Wisconsin, not because it was outlawed, but because it had lost it's public appeal.

Social networking has taken the state by storm. Shelters that are not using Facebook and Twitter are sadly missing out. Maybe it's our cold, dark winters - but most evenings the internet is abuzz with animal welfare news from around the state and nation.

The words "no kill" seem to still cause concern around the state. One shelter is now calling itself an "adoption guarantee" facility.  Great news for those of us in the know; but I've had a few phone calls from average citizens wanting to know if this means that they can get their money back if an adopted pet doesn't work out!  And honestly, I can see where that misunderstanding might come from.

I also get phone calls and emails almost daily from people who want to know which are the "good" shelters so they can decide who to donate to. I don't endorse any shelter. I tell people to do their own research. But with a few mouse clicks people can now google "no kill" and Wisconsin and come up with a list.  Donors are demanding greater accountability and transparency from shelters and rescues.

In 2010, the term "no kill" went mainstream, around the nation and the world. Wisconsin can either be a leader or a follower. Wouldn't it be nice to be a leader?  Here's to a Great 2011!


  1. That's a wonderful wrap-up of the year's events in Wisconsin. Looking forward to more progress in 2011.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Great recap. It's easy to forget how much can be done in a year. As for the "adoption guarantee" facility, how is it "great news for those of us in the know?" I feel that the motto is completely misleading when the facts are known.

  3. If an "adoption guarantee" facility actually meets the definition set out by Maddie's Fund - then it would be a step forward for our state. At the very least, donors can hold their feet to the fire. Unfortunately though, we have the same old transparency issue that we've always had. No transparency - no accountability.

  4. Great summary that hits so many critical points on the road to a No-Kill Nation! Thanks for all you do, Kathy. Here's to more great progress in 2011!!

  5. I have to say I disagree with your take on rescues vs. shelters. Rescues seem to take more time (and spend more money) with their dogs. They become attached to their dogs and want to make sure they end up in a home that is suitable. Shelters just don't take that time. Adopting a dog out to a person who might not be able to care for him/her properly doesn't do the dog any good.