Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Pendulum Swing

This fall, the two organizations I am involved with, Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Voters for Companion Animals have been attending several pet-related events around the state.

On one such occasion,  I took the back roads and thoroughly enjoyed the drive:  through scenic farmland and rolling hills. Most of Wisconsin is like this and I was travelling only a very small portion. We are the nation's largest producers of cheese, cranberries, oats and snap beans. Wisconsin ranks second (only behind California) in the number of organic farms and the value of organic sales. There are 78,000 farms in Wisconsin totalling more than fifteen million acres.  Agriculture is second only to manufacturing, as the driving force behind Wisconsin's economy. This doesn't include the thousands of hobby farms and acreage dwellers.

I started to think about  how much of our animal welfare community has lost touch with reality and the rest of Wisconsin. The pendulum of animal welfare has swung so far past the middle ground - into the realm of unrealistic expectations of "perfect" inside homes.

One of my good friends has spent most of her adult life working in animal welfare. She used to manage a small rural shelter in Wisconsin eighteen years ago. They adopted out barn cats then. Not so anymore. It saddens me to think of the lives lost because one small shelter changed a policy. Then multiply that by the hundreds of shelters and rescues  in Wisconsin, many who have implemented increasingly restrictive adoption policies in a misguided attempt to save lives. Thankfully, some shelters are reversing the trend,  to more open adoption policies that actually DO save lives.

Restrictive adoption practices: no farm dogs, no barn cats, no children, must have fenced yards. The KC Dog Blog wrote an excellent piece on this a couple of weeks ago " Loving Homeless Pets to Death"

I recently received this email from a rural Wisconsinite who had stumbled across my blog about barn cats:

 "I just read this blog of yours and am contacting you about the same situation with dogs. Specifically, since you are in favor of Barn Cats, are you also in favor of "Barn Dogs'? I want to adopt a dog (not a puppy) that will be kept outside, but obviously there is no shelter or rescue group that would ever let this happen. I am tired of being judged on how it is better to kill a dog than let it enjoy a yard with a family, food, and shelter."

Unfortunately, I didn't have a good answer for her.

Small,  rural shelters will suffer the most from these bad policies. If you aren't a welcoming place for your whole community you are doomed. If you deny adoptions and make judgmental decisions about the people who walk through your door, then don't expect donations to come flooding in when you ask for them. At a small shelter, the pool of available donors is pretty small - so you better not have turned them away or turned them off  when they came to you to adopt, surrender or find their lost pet.

When will the pendulum swing back to  the middle ground of common sense? When shelter and rescue staff , volunteers and management realize that their misguided philosophies are killing animals, instead of saving them.


  1. The rescue I volunteer with does not allow adoptions if the dog is going to live outside, but we're also no-kill. That being said - our temps in the winter can get as low as -40 C, sometimes -50 C with the windchill. Do I think it's fair for a dog to live like that - even in a barn? No.

    I'm not an animal behaviorist but I'm willing to bet that the majority of dogs, if given the choice, would choose to live inside with their people. What is that dog's purpose if they live outside? I would hardly call them a family member.

  2. That's nice that your rescue has the luxury of being able to be no kill and pick and choose your adopters. But it still isn't helping the dogs that are waiting in the wings. I think you missed my point - Are those dogs better off dead or living life on a farm? Note also, that most farm homes provide very good shelter for their animals. They value them and the services they provide whether they be farm dogs or barn cats.

  3. Even prior to my involvement in rescue, I was abhorrently against outdoor dogs. There are the odd exceptions (TRUE working farm dogs who derive a great deal of satisfaction and joy from doing what they were born & bred to do), but the average "family pet" wants to be just that -- And how much a part of the family can you be when tied to a 30' chain or kept in a 10' x 20' chain link pen with a concrete pad? Because that tends to be the life of a great deal of "outdoor dogs."

    Dogs are different from cats, I feel, in that they desire/require more interaction from humans. Cats are more independent and I can accept the argument that many cats would be better off living outside than stuck in shelters or euthanized. But dogs want to be with their people more than anything. I do not believe that dogs kept as pets outdoors have the quality of life I feel they deserve.

    I have absolutely no idea why people who won't allow pets indoors feel the need to have them at all. I would love to know what benefit my two neighbors with outdoor dogs (in concrete/chain pens) feel they actually get out of dog ownership. Those poor dogs are lucky to get out of their pens twice a week. Seeing that situation time & time again is what leads me to encourage adoption policies that do not allow for dogs to live outdoors.

  4. Just two generations ago 'outside dogs' were the norm. I remember my farming family having many. They were not neglected, they were fed and happy and had a warm place to sleep. They generally had another dog for company.

    And yet I have defended an 'indoor-only' policy for dogs without question; how interesting...

    Thanks for the think.

  5. Karissa, you seem to assume that an outdoor dog is going to be chained or penned. Farm dogs are usually neither. They have free access to the property and the buildings.

  6. If a dog ended up at a shelter as a stray, what would lead you to believe he would stick around a new place without wandering?

    Again, if a "farm dog" has a job (herding, livestock guardian, etc) then I can accept their need to remain outdoors. But if the dog is a pet, I see no justification to making them remain outdoors while the family is warm in the house at night.

    I have known a good number of folks who have dogs that run around the farm all day and come in the house at night. Why would you not want your dog to be part of the family?

  7. As I continue in rescue, I learn more and more of the value of diversity in homes for dogs. I grew up in suburban Minneapolis, MN. All our pets were indoor; my late brother-in-law grew up on a farm - all his pets and farm animals were outside. All our animals, inside and outside, were well cared for, offered good shelter and had work to do, whether helping my mom clean or following my brother-in-law as he did his chores. I now am much more open to fenceless yards (I did not have a fence with my growing up dogs nor with my adult dogs till I finally put one in; we walked a lot) and farm homes than my personal upbringing wants to allow; limiting homes for my adoptable dogs because of my background is not fair to them. I am very careful about how adopters use tethers and ensure the dogs are involved in family life. Thank you for a most excellent post. BTW, my dad grew up in Sparta, WI - we grew up knowing WI is "God's country." :).

  8. @Karissa I think you are putting words in my mouth. I never said I didn't want a dog to be part of a family.

    I am just suggesting the restrictive, close-minded adoption policies cost lives. Shelters still need to help adopters find a good match. But when they have denied a person, they miss that opportunity to educate and gain a potential supporter and donor.

    Potential pet owners are going to get a pet whether it is from a shelter, a pet store or a breeder. All of the "Adopt, Don't Shop" bumper stickers in the world aren't doing a lick of good, if the opportunity to adopt isn't there.

  9. I feel that one point is being missed here. Nobody is advocating to toss a teacup yorkie out in a concrete pen in the middle of winter. Your regular adoption process is followed to determine if it's the right home for the animal. I know too many dogs that were adopted to "good" inside homes that do not have the life you would expect. Many are in kennels all day while the family is at work and school. They are let out into the fenced in yard to run alone for a while. They are then put back in the kennel for the night. I would argue that the dog adopted to a working farm has far more people contact. There are generally people working there all day long while the dogs run along side them. I have been in dairy barns and horse stables in the middle of winter. If there are large animals there, it's warm! I have seen so many dogs brought back because they are too wild, too hyper. That's when you see the husky that was adopted to a sedentary family who sit around the TV all night and are gone all day. These dogs need to run! There are many dogs who fall into this category. There are many breeds of dogs who were bred to be outside working, even in the winter in Wisconsin. As far as I am concerned, it is more inhumane to put them in a home where they don't get the chance to run every day. Nobody is saying that it's OK to throw a dog into an outside kennel and leave it. The people who are looking to adopt these dogs want their interaction. It's all about adoption policies and procedures and making sure it's the right match.
    And Kathy, if you still have that person's name, I bet I know a great rescue in IL that would be happy to pull the perfect dog from the local ACC. Many big dogs are killed every day as they get looked over for smaller dogs when adopters come through. I think if you could get inside that dogs head you would see that he would rather go run on a farm and sleep with the cows than die in a shelter.

  10. If you think a dog would be better off dead than in an outdoor home, move to a farm, put up a dog door, and get a large, active dog. See how much time the dog spends outside.

    Outdoors does NOT mean permanently chained or penned. That's what screening is for. That's where you ask the question, "Where will the dog be kept?" "On a 100 acre farm with access to (in many cold places, very well heated) barns, a garage, or a very good dog house" is an acceptable answer to me.

    I think most dogs would like access to a house. A reasonable concession might be allowing the dog to some kind of heated space. I had an application on one of my fosters (a Kangal dog). The man was FROM Kangal, Turkey. He lived in Massachusetts. He wanted to keep the dog outside, but had built a large shed for it with heat AND a/c for summer/winter. He was DENIED by every rescue for this very hard to place breed! I agreed to give him the dog, although transport from TX proved too difficult. That kind of "screning" kills animals. A 5 acre lot with a heated AND air conditioned shed is a wonderful life for a Kangal dog. He even planned to buy goats for the dog. Because he checked "outdoor" on where the dog would live, he was denied a dog. Still doesn't have one, s'far as I know.

  11. Couldn't agree with you more, and thank you for writing this. I live in Fargo, N.D. Most of North Dakota is rural, yet all of the rescues in Fargo will not adopt to someone who wants an "outdoor" dog. They won't even adopt to someone who wants to keep the dog indoors but has an additional dog (or cat) that is mostly outside. It's unfortunate. I take interest in your blog because my parents live in Menomonie, WI.

  12. I also want to add that many "outdoor" dogs are happier than "indoor" dogs. Many indoor dogs are confined to their kennels all day or a basement or a backyard much of the time. I know plenty of outdoor farm dogs and they are some of the most content, well-mannered dogs I know because they get a lot of exercise and socialization and they experience all kinds of new things every day.

  13. EXCELLENT READ!!! I have been an animal lover all of my life, dedicating much of my time working at a veterinary clinic in a rural area in Northern Montana. Many dogs came into the clinic for medical treatment and were then abandoned. We placed many of these abandoned dogs with farmer/rancher families instead of euthanizing them. This was a GREAT arrangement for both man & beast(dog). I have met MANY happy & spoiled farm dogs that have very comfortable living quarters in the barn or garage. I'm all in favor of outdoor adoption policies.


  14. I'm glad that I found your blog! I recently started a canine rescue in SE Minnesota and had planned on denying adoption to people who intended to keep the dog/s outside. This has definitely made me rethink that policy. In fact, I think most "rules" should be considered on a case by case basis. Very rarely does one size REALLY fit all.

  15. Nancy,

    I'm so glad that this wonderful post changed your opinion! Best of luck to you with your new canine rescue organization.