Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Memory Game

Photo courtesy
My husband and I  enjoyed a ten day Royal Caribbean cruise on the Serenade of the Seas to get away from the harsh Wisconsin winter. We were headed for the Southern Caribbean, a long haul from Fort Lauderdale so we had a few days to enjoy the ship and it's amenities.  But one can only endure so much sunshine and after a few hours on deck, I headed down to the theater for a "Memory Seminar" put on by one of the ship's entertainers.  Heaven knows, I can use a little help in the memory department so I thought this would be an hour and a half well spent!

I was thoroughly impressed with the seminar and the speaker  so I will give him a plug here.  His name is Lance Ringnald.  He is a retired American gymnast who is also very talented at juggling, music and memory skills.  He has a great sense of humor and if you get a chance to see him on a cruise ship near you, don't miss the opportunity.  He demonstrated his gymnastic, juggling and musical skills in the main theater in the evening and as I mentioned, he gave a memory seminar during an afternoon on a sea day.  Here is a link to his website if you are interested in more info about Lance.

Lance is a mnemonist, someone who can commit extremely long lists and large pieces of information to memory.   My motivation to attend the seminar was more than just my impending old age.  I was intrigued to learn new skills that could help us at our work at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs of America.  An estimated 40 - 60% of animals in shelters are lost pets.  Putting a priority on getting those pets back home will help end shelter killing in America.

In our day to day volunteer work at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin we use our memory a lot.  Someone posts a picture of their missing dog on our Facebook page, and we KNOW we've seen that dog's picture somewhere before! Somewhere, someone posted a found dog that matched that lost dog!  But where was it?  Was it on Craigslist? Or a shelter website? Or on a grocery store bulletin board?  Or on Next Door - the neighborhood app?  Or one of the gazillions of lost and found Facebook pages that are popping up with hapless abandon?

Sometimes we remember. Sometimes we don't.  Since lost dogs have four legs and walk (or get picked up by a Good Samaritan and deposited at an animal shelter miles away from where they went missing) it is vitally important that owners and finders connect somehow, but the ease at which a "match" can be missed is frightening indeed.  Also consider that many municipalities have ridiculously short stray holds, so a lost dog may not be in the "stray" photos, but in the adoptable photos instead. Or unfortunately, the dog may have been put down at the shelter if the owner wasn't found in time.

Some days I feel like we are playing the Memory Card game. Remember playing that as a kid? You have to lay out all of the cards face down on a table and then try to make pairs by turning over two at a time.  The person who can make the most pairs in the shortest amount of time wins.  There are apps that you can download on your phone or tablet to play the game electronically.

Having a good memory is important for when we lose our car keys or forget a new acquaintance's name.  But it shouldn't be important for people wanting to help missing pets.  We don't need to have a memory like Lance Ringnald's to solve the missing pet problem in this country.

We simply need everyone to use ONE free centralized database, Helping Lost Pets.  Can you imagine if every shelter, vet clinic, police department and animal control facility listed all of their found pets in ONE database?  Can you imagine if all of those places directed owners and finders to enter their information into that ONE database also? Can you imagine if all the major players in the lost and found world shared data so that all photos could be viewed in ONE place?  We would have a lot more happy reunions and a lot less shelter pets needing new homes.

Unfortunately we're not there yet. But we're working on it and little by little, we're making headway with some major American animal control facilities recently joining! Until then, I'll work on my memory using Lance's suggestions I learned on board the ship.

If you would like to be a volunteer lost pets matcher for Helping Lost Pets please send me a private email message at and I'll get you started.  Good memories helpful but not required!

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." 
Helen Keller

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Are Pit Bull "Awareness" Days Still a Good Idea?

I delayed writing this blog until after Pit Bull "Awareness" Day in late October because the usual critics would have dispensed the usual criticism for raining on their parade.  But I want to throw out some food for thought because what might have been a good idea five years ago may not be such a good idea any longer.

Are Pit Bull "Awareness" Days a help or a hindrance to our cause?  Advocates are asking their legislators and the public to treat all dogs as individuals.  If we don't want pit bull terriers to be singled out for breed discriminatory legislation, then why are we doing it with special days and events?   We're working really hard to convince the public that all dogs are individuals; and that BSL does not make our communities safer.  Having "Awareness" Days sends the opposite message.  Just sayin'.

There have been several good blogs written on this subject by Animal Farm Foundation.  The links are below:

Raising Awareness:  We've Come A Long Way!

We Just Made a Big Decision about Putting Our Dogs on Petfinder

The Buck Stops Here:  Ending the Cycle of Canine Discrimination

A Closer Look at All Dogs Are Individuals

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Found Dog "Wendy" Killed at WHS-Racine

On February 20th this dog was found in Wind Point, Racine County and the finder filed a report with us.  Here is the information she submitted with the photo above:

FOUND DOG 02-20-2016! ‪#‎Racine‬ Co., #Racine (Wind Point Wisconsin), WI 53402. unknown/ Female *** Pit Bull *** Brown/ Adult/ Large (46~100 lbs)/ Hair Length is Short/. Very friendly dog with good demeanor. Sat on command and took food from my hand very gently. No chip found so she is now at the Racine County Humane Society. Has 7 days to be claimed. I have high hopes that she will be put up for adoption if not claimed because she was so friendly.

She was named Wendy at the Wisconsin Humane Society - Racine Campus and they posted the following photo of her:

When we received an update from the finder on the status of "Wendy" she said that WHS-Racine had called her and let her know that Wendy had been put down because she was considered "unadoptable" due to food aggression.

Wisconsin Humane Society participated in a 2006 study with Dr. Emily Weiss and the ASPCA Pro that concluded that dogs with food guarding issues often do not demonstrate the guarding behavior in their new homes.  Here is a quote from Dr. Emily Weiss in 2012:  It is time for all to adopt a program to save these dogs--they should be able to go home. We hope that this research will help you overcome any hurdles toward saving dogs with food guarding issues.

You can read the entire article here:  Q. Food Guarding? A. Treat and Adopt (and we have the data to prove it)

The ASPCA Pro has addressed the issue on several other occasions. Click this link to read more articles on food guarding and why it should not be a reason to put a dog down.

Unfortunately for Wendy, the WHS-Racine did not follow the guidelines set forth by the ASPCA Pro.  Guidelines that the management at WHS have proclaimed to be very proud to have been a part of.

And unfortunately for owners of lost pets, finders are going to be increasingly  reluctant to take them to shelters for their owners to find them. Especially now, since the stray hold in Wisconsin has been reduced from seven to four days.   Shelters should be our communities' safety net, not a place where good dogs go to die. Rest in peace, Wendy.  You were a good dog.

UPDATE:  Shortly after I posted this blog the WHS spin machine went to work posting the following comment in multiple places around Facebookland defending their decision to "euthanize" Wendy.  I would like to point out two things. 1. It seems as if this comment is "eluding" to a No Kill status for dogs, saying that they are saving 90%.  Of course, my readers know that No Kill is not an arbitrary percentage, nor is it "species specific".  No Kill means you are saving ALL healthy and treatable animals, dogs, cats, rabbits, etc.  Many shelters are now saving over 95% of the animals in their care.
In my opinion, WHS certainly has the resources  to do this.  They regularly import animals from southern states to their Milwaukee County shelter.   Which brings me to my next point.  2. WHS will often have online medical fundraisers for difficult cases which are very successful.  I'm not sure why Wendy didn't deserve one of these fundraisers.  She was happy and friendly.

Here is the update posted by Angela Speed, of WHS to my Facebook page:

Sunday, February 7, 2016

On a Wing and a Prayer

Just a few short years ago, Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) was a terrible place. Volunteers were  banned, rescues were banned, and animals were suffering from a lack of care and a lack of compassion. People were emailing me constantly with horror stories about John MacDowell's leadership as the interim director and about the failings of the facility. Everyone wanted me to write a blog on their personal experiences; and I did write a few.

There is no doubt that things are better now with new leadership, but has true change happened?  No. True change happens when laws are changed that will protect animals no matter who is at the helm.

No matter how much you love the new director of MADACC - the fact remains that she could leave tomorrow. She could take a new job, or get fired or heaven forbid - get hit by a bus.  And guess who would be in charge? John MacDowell.

Nothing has truly changed. There is still breed discrimination in Milwaukee County with neither WHS or MADACC showing any interest in taking an active role in repealing it. There still isn't a law that permits TNR in the City of Milwaukee (despite Wisconsin Humane Society making a public commitment last March to work on a new ordinance). There hasn't been a resolution passed by either Milwaukee County or the City to protect shelter animals. And now the very organizations that are supposed to be "sheltering" animals are asking permission to take ownership of lost pets three days earlier than they previously did. Will some of those animals make it into new homes quicker? Absolutely.  But will some animals die quicker? Absolutely.

There are still really bad shelters in Wisconsin. We all know that.  Unfortunately since we don't have a law that requires Wisconsin shelters to release their statistics to the state, we only get a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtain.  Attempts by the public and advocates around the state get denied when they ask shelters receiving taxpayer money to release their statistics.

A recent Open Records Request to the Wisconsin Humane Society Racine Campus which will receive over $250,000 in municipal government money from the City of Racine in 2016 was answered with this response: "Pursuant to Chapter 19 (19.32), the statute on public records and property does not apply to the Wisconsin Humane Society."

This from an organization whose  CEO made $178,413 and has $23 million in assets,  with 2014 revenues of $7,392,393 (according to the 2014 990)   A CEO who is on the board of Shelter Animals Count- an organization whose mission is to improve shelter transparency. 

A CEO who at the Public Hearing for SB450 on Wednesday February 4th answered Senator Wanggaard's question  "Do we have kill shelters in Wisconsin?" with "I don't know of any shelters in Wisconsin that "euthanize" for time or space." 

 I have written about "Time and Space" before.  One of the common "Smoke and Mirrors" tactics used by many shelter directors in Wisconsin is the statement that their shelter does not "euthanize" for "time or space".  You will see this on their Facebook page or website. This is an attempt to dupe the donor or volunteer into believing that they are a No Kill shelter.

The magic question becomes "If you don't "euthanize" (kill) for time or space what do you "euthanize"  for?"  The answer is usually any animal that the shelter deems "unadoptable" on that particular day.

  • Dogs and cats with behavior issues including things like litterbox issues, food bowl "aggression", barrier "aggression", leash reactivity and dog "aggression"
  • Cats deemed "feral"
  • Cats and dogs with ringworm
  • Cats with FIV or FELV
  • Cats and dogs that are owner surrenders that do not have the protection of the mandatory seven day stray hold.

The chart below shows some of the save/kill rates at some Wisconsin shelters in 2013.

As you can see from the numbers above, animals are very much at risk in Wisconsin.

Good advocates speak out for strong laws that will protect ALL animals in ALL shelters in ALL parts of the state, regardless of who is in charge. Good advocates will cheerlead for other advocates who are struggling with poor directors or a lack of transparency. Good advocates will not undermine their colleagues by supporting changes that will enable poor shelters to kill quicker.

Good laws include those that require shelters to:
  • not kill when they have empty cages or when a rescue is willing to take the animal
  • post their statistics online and provide transparency in all of their operations
  • scan all incoming animals for microchips multiple times including surrendered animals 
  • post photos of impounded pets online
  • use the US Postal Service to notify owners of found pets
  • protect owner-surrendered pets from being killed immediately without a chance for rehabilitation or adoption.
Good laws are NOT laws that empower shelters and stray holding facilities to kill animals faster.

Right now we're riding on a wing and prayer, hoping every day that we will succeed, but without the framework of strong laws to ensure protection for our animals.

 I'll leave you with these very wise words on true change for animals from Nathan Winograd:

"The goal was never mere promises that we would strive to do better as a society. The focus was always on changing the law to eliminate the ability to do otherwise. The suffrage movement did not seek discretionary permission from election officials to vote, an ability that could be taken away. Its goal was winning the right to vote, a right guaranteed in law. The civil rights movement did not seek the discretionary ability to sit at the front of the bus or to eat at the same lunch counters. Its goal was winning the right to do so, a right guaranteed in law. Without legal rights, one’s fate is contingent on who the election official is, who the restaurant owner is, who the mayor is and in the case of animals entering shelters, who the director is."  Nathan Winograd

Friday, November 13, 2015

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

A bill has been currently introduced into  the Wisconsin State Legislature that seeks to reduce the required stray hold for found animals from the current seven days to only four days.  The main intent of this bill (AB487) is to improve the outcome for seized dogs (often called Court Case dogs)  which of course is a very good thing!  Unfortunately,  the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS) and the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) who helped draft  the bill have also included a paragraph that reduces the stray hold for all animals (dogs AND cats).  These are two entirely different issues and should be treated as such, not combined together in one bill.

They have also published a set of Frequently Asked Questions to put their spin on the issue and are trying to convince the public that a reduced stray hold is a good thing.  The WHS and MADACC have not taken into consideration how seriously flawed our current system is. They have not taken into consideration that this is a large state and there are issues that need to be addressed everywhere (not just in Milwaukee County). Here are some of the current problems:

  • There is no centralized database being used by shelters in Wisconsin for reporting lost and found pets.  (There is a database available, that is completely free to use called Helping Lost Pets, but stray holding facilities are not making use of it). Stray holding facilities can include large shelters, vet clinics, boarding kennels, police departments, town offices, or individual contractors who may hold the dogs in their garage on their property.  These facilities do not cross-communicate making it very difficult for an owner to locate their lost pet.  Unlike car keys, that usually stay where you lose them – dogs and cats can easily wander and cross jurisdictional borders  ending up in a stray holding facility many miles from where they went missing.
  • Many Wisconsin stray holding facilities do not post photos of found animals on line, which requires  the owner to visit the facility in person to check. This is often time consuming and costly, and many owners do not even know all of the places they should check. I wrote about this previously here in Annie's Story. 
  • Many Wisconsin stray holding facilities have exhorbitant fees and fines to reclaim a lost pet. Owners often need a few more days  to come up with the money to reclaim their pet. It is not uncommon for reclaim fees to be in excess of $200.
  • Many Wisconsin stray holding facilities have not embraced the changing demographics of our state and do not offer bilingual assistance to owners who have lost their pets.

For more information on the problems with the current system please click here.  I have also written about this in: Navigating the Maze of Stray Holding Facilities

Instead of working to correct the current broken system and to ensure that owners have every possible opportunity to be reunited with their lost cat or dog, WHS and MADACC have put the cart before the horse.

A few points to consider:

* MADACC had only a 29% return to owner rate for dogs in 2014.  Instead of working to improve that and bring it up into the 50% or better range that other shelters  (such as the Washington D.C. Humane Society) are achieving, their knee jerk reaction is to reduce the stray hold and claim that people aren't looking for their dogs.

* Return to owner rates around the country for cats are low for many reasons - but not because a cat's owner loves them any less than a dog's owner.  It has more to do with the number of feral cats entering shelters, the lack of uniform terminology to describe cat's coat color,  and the number of indoor/outdoor cats that may take a day or two for owners to worry about them.  A reduced stray hold will be especially harmful for scared lost cats and community cats because it will enable the shelters and stray holding facilities to kill them on Day 5 if they are deemed "unadoptable" because they are showing stress in the shelters.  Instead of working to create a new progressive Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return (TNR) ordinance for Milwaukee County, which other counties could follow,  WHS and MADACC have chosen to draft and support a bill that will allow the quicker killing of cats in shelters.  We have many shelters in the state that already have a very high kill rate for cats.  This gives those shelters the power to kill quicker.

* WHS and MADACC's FAQ tries to imply that there is a correlation between length of stray hold and save rates.  Ironically, although no mention has ever been made by WHS or MADACC that they aim to make Milwaukee a No Kill community - they imply that if they had a shorter stray hold, they could do better, like Austin and Kansas City which are true No Kill communities.  In fact, there is no correlation between short stray holds and save rates. You can find plenty of shelters with short stray holds and horrific kill rates.

* WHS and MADACC are saying that shelters don't "have to" comply with the shortened stray hold. They can keep an animal as long as they want. But of course, shelters like Sauk County Humane Society in Baraboo,  whose director believes that "killing is kindness" will kill animals on Day 5.

*WHS and MADACC use the example of a black cat being hard to identify as a reason to not support requiring shelters to post photos of found pets or use a centralized database. Of course, there are some breeds and animals that tend to look alike. But discouraging the use of a centralized database and online photos  by using the "black cat" example is utter nonsense.  Thousands of animals have been reunited with their owners because their picture was recognized on a database, a website or social media.

*WHS and MADACC say that impound facilities have a legal obligation to keep records regarding euthanasia.  Unfortunately, getting these records are next to impossible in Wisconsin from most shelters that are private organizations holding public contracts.  Wisconsin Humane Society's  - Ozaukee and Racine locations are two examples of shelters in Wisconsin who do not make their records publicly available. So making "guesstimates" about Return to Owner and euthanasia numbers are simply that - guesstimates.

It would have been nice to see WHS and MADACC work towards fixing the problems to make sure  ALL Wisconsin shelters and stray holding facilities comply with minimum standards to improve their return to owner rate by doing things like:

* using a centralized database like the free system,
* posting photos of impounded animals online
* scanning every animal for a microchip at least twice with two different scanners using best practices for scanning (including not scanning them on or near a metal exam table or metal door)
* putting signs up where the dog or cat was found
* using volunteer pet detective groups to help match lost and found reports and track down dead end microchips
* reducing or eliminating high reclaim fees
* requiring shelters to microchip or provide an ID tag for all adoptable animals (many Wisconsin shelters do not microchip adoptables, where in Illinois it is required by law) and offering low cost or free microchip clinics (including enrollment) to pet owners.

Example of a sign put up by an animal control officer to indicate where a dog has been found. 
Photo courtesy Donna Watson - Help Find Rudy

The ASPCA has also recently come out with some very strong guidelines regarding what shelters should be doing to help reunite lost pets with their families. You can read them by clicking here. 

WHS and MADACC have hijacked the Court Case dog bill to serve their own needs.  This is a shame - a shame for the Court Case dogs and a shame for the lost pets and their owners who need the help and support of an efficient return to owner system in our shelters and stray holding facilities.

Preserving the owner/animal bond should be at the heart and soul of every animal shelter's core mission.  Lost pets don't need a new home. They just need to go home.  Let's work together to fix our broken system.

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. ~Anatole France 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Audit of Cook County, Illinois Department of Animal and Rabies Control Released

(L to R) Susan Taney, Lost Dogs Illinois; Becky McKinley Monroe, author, advocate and blogger
(I took the picture!)

On a very snowy day in January 2015, Susan Taney, Becky McKinley Monroe and I took the train into Chicago to attend a Cook County Council meeting at Chicago City Hall. We entered written testimony to the County Council about the dysfunctional lost pet recovery system at Cook County Animal and Rabies Control.  You can read more about this here  and here on the Lost Dogs Illinois website.

Change is often agonizingly slow when it comes to government.  But thankfully, the animals of Cook County have a champion on the Board of Commissioners, Commissioner John Fritchey.  He had already been hearing complaints from his constituents and also had a personal bad experience with the department.

John Fritchey requested an audit of Cook County Animal and Rabies Control and the findings were released on Friday, August 23, 2015.  You can read the entire fifteen page report at this link. I have reproduced my favorite section below:

Will this bring about change? Will more lost pets make it back home and less be killed in the shelters that contract with Cook County? Time will tell. But at least, there is now some documentation and recommendations to work from.  Going forward, the citizens of Cook County will need to hold the Department's feet to the fire. They will need to hold their government accountable and make sure that the changes recommended are implemented.

Advocacy is boring. And it's slow. And it's frustrating.  But the animals can't do it for themselves.

So please go ahead. Make that call to your local representatives. Write that email.  Find that champion on your local council.  Attend council meetings and introduce yourself. Shake their hands. Ask them to listen to your concerns.  It is never in vain.

On that slow train ride home we never would have dreamed that in such a short amount of time, such a comprehensive report would be released.

Thank you to Susan Taney of Lost Dogs Illinois for the countless hours you devoted to making this happen.  You are my hero.

In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins - not through strength but through perseverance. - Author Unknown

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tax-Payer Funded Animal Control is Everybody's Business

I was listening to the Jeff Wagner talk show on the radio on Friday.  He was discussing the terrible story of the 82 year old Milwaukee woman who was knocked to the ground by a stranger and sexually assaulted after she got off a bus near her home.  The Milwaukee Police Department took THREE HOURS to respond. (here is a link to the story if you didn't hear about it). Jeff was quick to point out that he didn't feel it was the fault of any individual police officers (most of whom are really good people) but it was the fault of the system as a whole. Milwaukee has a dysfunctional police department with many problems that are causing rampant crime in the city.

I listened carefully to the callers who called in.  They were outraged.  They showed compassion for the woman and were angry that their tax money was funding such poor performance. I never heard one of them say that if people only stepped up to volunteer or donate to the police department that all of it's problems would be solved. I never heard one of them blame the woman for her attack. I never heard one of them attack Jeff, saying that he had no right to criticize the police department because he didn't work there or volunteer there.

There is a real disconnect when it comes to government-funded animal control services.  Any attempt to shine light on shelter operations or the dysfunction within are met with the usual tired old phrase:  "Adopt, volunteer, donate and foster".  And if you don't do those things - well, you don't have the right to have a say in how your tax dollars are spent. And besides, it's all the public's fault anyways, that the shelter is killing animals.  It doesn't matter if  citizens work two jobs or  volunteer their time elsewhere, perhaps at their church, or school or another animal organization.  If they aren't at the shelter scooping poop and walking dogs they have NO RIGHT to expect the shelter to do any better.

But  that is wrong. Just like we have the right and responsibility to expect excellent police protection, or fire protection, or garbage services, or snow removal - we have the right to expect excellent animal control services.  It's time to lay the old mantras to rest. And it's time for us all to demand excellence.  Our animals deserve it.

I loved this quote from No Kill Huntsville this week :   "There are many in our community who tell us that we are too critical of the city; that the city has made a lot of progress and we should just be satisfied with that and move on. To those people we would ask this question: but what if it was your dog who was destroyed? What if it was your cat?"  The link to the entire text can be read by clicking here. 

I wrote on this same topic in May 2011. - The Right to Criticize - Mine, Yours and Everyone's