The image above has made the rounds on Facebook a couple of years ago, back when shelters in my area were still killing large numbers of healthy and treatable pets - a sad-looking puppy in sepia tone clearly designed to tug at heart strings. The text reads:
When your local pound or shelter is crammed with abused Pitbulls, Chihuahuas with birth defects, and thrown-away hunting dogs, It doesn't point to a problem with the shelter. It points to a problem in the community.
After this image was posted on the "Friends of" Page of one of these shelters, by a person who spends an inordinate amount of her time defending the nation's most regressive shelters, I was asked to provide a response. I did so by focusing on the words that I placed in bold above. "Crammed with" It was more than ironic that I found this image posted on the "Friends of" page at a shelter that is always more than half empty. Correctly, underneath the link to the graphic, someone posted a link to the dogs available at that shelter. The poster indicated that at that time, there were only four dogs listed. When I was first checking into this, I looked at the link and found five dogs, four of which are not available for adoption and were only available to rescue groups.
That shelter was not alone in being nearly empty. The same was true for most of the shelters in my area when they were killing large numbers of healthy and treatable pets. It was, therefore, easy to see that our shelters were not "crammed with" anything. Furthermore, even if they were, it would not, necessarily, indicate a "problem" with the community (more on that later).
Shelters can engage in many activities that will help empty their cages the good way, through transfers to legitimate rescue groups and adoptions to the public. Too often, shelters are unfriendly to the rescue community and the public, reducing adoptions. A "crammed" shelter can, therefore, clearly be a sign of a problem at the shelter... "Abused Pitbulls" The term "Pitbull" is one that all animal advocates should eliminate from their vocabularies, because there is no breed that is a "pitbull." Sure, the United Kennel Club recognizes a breed known as the "American Pit Bull Terrier." But, in the AKC, the most recognized registry in the USA, that breed is referred to as an "American Staffordshire Terrier." Perhaps more importantly, people refer to a number of other breeds as so-called "pitbulls," including Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Bulldogs and more. "Pitbull" is not a breed, it is a derogatory term, charged with stereotypes and laced with a history of discrimination. This reality is enforced by the fact that the image does not just talk about so-called "pitbulls." It talks of "abused pitbulls.." because, as the stereotype goes... only thugs would want "pitbulls." This stereotype goes against modern reality, which clearly shows that the various breeds often referred to as "Pits" are some of the most popular dogs with all kinds of Americans. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons for pets to end up in animal shelters, including, the death of their owner, the owner being transferred to assisted living, or other dramatic life-changes of pets' owners that prevent the owners from having pets. Yet, this graphic wrongly implies that so-called "pitbulls" in shelters must be "abused," as if having been an abused "pitbull" is reason to be killed. "Birth Defects" I have to say, that I found nearly everything in this graphic repugnant. This phrase, however, I find particularly troubling. Do shelters admit some dogs that do not completely conform to the "Breed Standard" for their recognized breed? Certainly. How many of those are suffering from what could reasonably be called "birth defects"? I can't say exactly. I am thinking the ones I have seen in the last 15 years it is probably in the single digits. The most serious of these defects have generally related to elongated soft palates in dogs, deafness in Dalmatians, and other non-life-threatening concerns that are correctable or manageable. Even if our animal shelters were being inundated with animals with birth defects (which, again, they are not), the idea that the solution to that problem is to kill the affected animals smacks of eugenics, and is so repugnant that the inclusion of this statement in this graphic left me speechless. "Thrown-Away Hunting Dogs" This is just a stereotype of a different flavor: "Only thugs want 'pitbulls'" and "hunters treat their dogs like trash." Tell that to the hunters who are passionately working to try to eliminate certain kinds of traps in Minnesota in order to protect their beloved hunting companions! I live in the Longfellow neighborhood of South Minneapolis. Next to the breeds often called so-called "pitbulls" the next most common dogs here are hunting breeds... that, based on the doggie jackets and jewelry they often wear, suggests they are beloved family companions. If they happen to end up at an animal shelter, it is not because they are "thrown-away hunting dogs." "It Doesn't Point To A Problem With the Shelter" Ah... now we get to the crux of it - killing in animal shelters is not the fault of the shelters doing the killing. Don't you see?! They are the victims of all of the horrible people out there! This graphic suggests you shouldn't be upset that shelters have failed to implement life-saving programs. You are supposed to feel sorry for the shelters, not the animals they are killing. "It Points To a Problem in the Community" "You see! People are bad! Our community is bad! Shelters have to kill pets to keep them from you awful people." The problem with this approach is, of course, that shelters need the support of their community to save lives. The vast, overwhelming majority of American pet owners love their pets, take great care of them and need to be embraced by their shelters, not scolded and told they are the "problem" and the reason shelters are mass killing healthy and treatable animals. If you don't believe me that most people are good, and love animals, and are willing to go to great lengths to rescue them, watch this inspiring video of everyday people rescuing animals in need...
The kinds of messages put out by the people who spreading these lies do a disservice to their communities and the animals they are supposed to serve, by driving a wedge between themselves and the population that would otherwise rally to support them. In doing so, shelters that put out this kind of messaging fail at the most basic aspects of their jobs.