Many shelter and rescue folks tend to forget that the majority of pet owners in this country are not in tune with the goings on at animal shelters. In fact, they may not even know where their closest shelter is. So I treasure the conversations I have with average dog owners, because I feel like I get a good snapshot of the pulse of public opinion. Some people may criticize the public's lack of knowledge about their local shelter; but you have to remember - most people are wrapped up in their work, their children, their lives. They love their pets, but they don't live and breathe animal welfare day in and day out like we do.
It came as a big surprise to me when I realized how many Wisconsin residents believe that their local shelters are no kill. Some people that I've talked to think that the whole state is no kill (in my dreams). They are horrified when I explain the truth. They've been deceived by the smoke and mirrors marketing and correspondence sent out to the public or posted on the websites and Facebook pages.
Most of this deception comes through the twisted use of the words "healthy" and "adoptable". Instead of clearly defining what a healthy, treatable or adoptable animal is, by using a matrix like the Life Saving Matrix of the No Kill Advocacy Center, shelter management manipulate the definitions of the words for their own benefit. Very few Wisconsin shelters have any type of statistics available for public viewing. So it is very easy to keep the donors and the public in the dark.
How do shelters kill and get away with it? They may say they save every healthy and adoptable animal. Or they may say they never kill a healthy, adoptable animal for space or time. It's all in the definition of healthy and adoptable.
Shelters will call feral cats "unadoptable" and they usually are. But feral cats should be trapped, neutered, vaccinated and returned. Instead they are killed but because they are considered "unadoptable" the shelter absolves themselves of the guilt of killing them.
Dogs that entered a shelter perfectly healthy with good dispositions, get labelled "unadoptable" if their behavior regresses because of a lack of proper enrichment opportunities or foster homes.
Cats that come into a shelter healthy but develop upper respiratory infections are labelled "unhealthy" and get killed.
Cats that are surrendered with litterbox issues are labelled "unadoptable" and are killed.
The possibilities are endless. Dogs with kennel cough, cats with ringworm; treatable conditions but classified as unhealthy or unadoptable.
Twisting the words to trick the public into thinking that the shelter is no kill or low kill is common practice.
Elmbrook Humane Society in Brookfield, Wisconsin is a shelter that does a lot of things right, but they've missed the mark on their new "adoption guarantee" policy. Transparency isn't their strong point. As a matter of fact, there isn't any statistical data on their website at all.
A few months ago they came out publicly saying they are the only "adoption guarantee" facility in Waukesha County. Well, there are only two shelters in Waukesha County so I guess they are thumbing their nose at HAWS (Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County). Most people understood this statement to mean that Elmbrook was becoming a no kill shelter. I'm sure their donors and supporters were thrilled. But, here's the catch...
Here is their statement from their Facebook page:
"EBHS is the ONLY adoption guarantee facility in Waukesha County. EBHS has no deadline for animals in its care. Animals are placed for adoption as long as they have an adoptable temperament, have reasonable health, and there is room at the shelter."
If it weren't so sad, it would make me laugh. It's like somebody saying they're a vegetarian... except on Friday when they eat fish; and on Sunday they like a nice roast beef dinner; and oh, after 9 p.m. they often eat a hot dog.
You either are or you aren't a vegetarian. You either are or you aren't an adoption guarantee shelter. There isn't all this wiggle room allowed.
So donors and taxpayers: please be smart and ask the right questions. My next few blogs are going to focus on knowing what questions to ask and what the correct, life-saving response from the shelter management should be. Don't let the smoke and mirrors fool you.
A half truth is a whole lie. ~Yiddish Proverb