Large-Scale Animal Transports Sound Good, But, Do They Help, and Are They Legal?
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
An emotional Facebook post was recently brought to our attention. The Executive Director of the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS), Alison Black Cornelius, posted photos of a large semi-like truck, loaded with dogs. The post indicated that "more than 130 dogs" had been loaded and were on their way "up north last night."
If you believe the implied premise of the post, it is all good news. The general belief is that pets "up north" are safe and that there are simply "too many" animals "in the south." Shipping animals en-mass from the South to the North, therefore, "saves animals' lives." At least that is the theory. But, there is a problem, because neither of those things are true. Pets in "the north" are not necessarily safe and there are plenty of homes available for pets "in the south" without shipping them out-of-state. The notion, therefore, that they result in increased life-saving is not guaranteed.
In this specific case, these 130 plus dogs were reportedly transported by "Animal Transport Alliance" a cooperative effort between the Animal Humane Society, in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, the Wisconsin Humane Society and Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society, into the communities those agencies serve. In looking into this, what we found should be disturbing to most animal lovers. Two critical questions need to be asked: 1) Are these mass transports of dogs effective? 2) Are they humane or even legal?
Are they Effective?
If a person only focuses their attention on the fact that these dogs were taken out of GBHS, a shelter with a poor and declining Live Release Rate (LRR), then the story seems all positive. But, there are two ends to every transport. We, therefore, decided to look at what is happening to shelter animals in the communities to which these dogs were shipped.
The most important thing to note is that healthy and treatable dogs and cats are still being killed in animal shelters in all three of the communities where these animals were sent. Overall, the best performing community in the group was the Twin Cities, Minnesota, with the Animal Humane Society itself consistently reporting Live Release Rates (LRR) of 92% and higher for the last three years (when a law regulating animal shelters was passed in Saint Paul). Additionally, many of the local animal control shelters also report LRR of more than 90%. There is, however, a significant exception to the success in that community and it is the animal control shelter for the largest city in the area. Minneapolis Animal Care and Control (MACC) had a LRR of only 77% in 2016. Healthy and treatable animals are still being killed in that shelter, right in the back yard of the Animal Humane Society. Furthermore, one does not need to go far outside the major metropolitan area to find scores of animal shelters near the Twin Cities that are still killing large numbers of healthy and treatable pets.
Given that, a logical person would have to wonder why AHS would drive a semi truck nearly 1,100 miles to "save" animals, while they are ignoring animals right in their own backyard. As puzzling as that may seem, when we look at the other communities involved in this transport, the questions become more challenging.
In Milwaukee, home of the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS), things are worse. Year-to-date, for example, the LRR for Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) has been only 72% ,and thousands of animals have been destroyed there. On its own web site MADACC explains some of this killing by saying:
"Organizations that call themselves “no-kill” often have waiting lists for animal intake, and many times will not take in animals that have any medical or behavioral challenges, leaving organizations like MADACC as the only alternative for those owners and animal[s] in need."
The only reasonable interpretation of that statement is that MADACC feels they have to kill animals, because other organizations in their community are too full of animals and won't save the ones they are taking in. But, it gets worse, because according to records from the Wisconsin Humane Society, they themselves had a LRR of only 83% in 2016. In other words, a nonprofit agency that is not animal control is not only not saving savable animals locally, they are almost certainly killing savable animals they are taking in. Given that Live Release Rates (LRR) for open-admission animal control centers have been proven to easily reach 95% and higher, the only rational explanation for WHS' low LRR is that they are killing animals they could save, while ignoring other animals in their community that could be saved, while driving nearly 1,000 miles to Birmingham, Alabama to take in more... Questions, questions, questions...
The LRR in Chicago is worse... only 72% at the municipal shelter. Nearly 30%, or one in three, does not make it out alive. Considering all of that, a rational person would need to ask whether a dramatic, "feel good" kind of story, like this "rescue" of these 130 plus dogs resulted in any increased life-saving. Based on the data from these communities, the answer seems to be that it did not. The 130+ dogs that were shipped to these communities (where there was not an adoption guarantee) were either killed, or they displaced other local animals that could have been saved but were not, because these agencies were importing animals from Alabama. That would mean no net increase in life-saving.
Are They Humane Or Legal?
Various states in the USA have addressed the humane question in different ways, most specifically, many states have laws that regulate the humane shipment of dogs and cats. For example: Minnesota Statute 346.39 addresses the care of dogs and cats. Subdivision 3 specifies the requirements to be met when shipping dogs and cats that are in cages or crates. This law requires regular exercise for animals being transported in this manner. Specifically, the law includes the following language:
"Exercise for 20 to 30 minutes and water must be provided at least once every eight hours. Food must be provided at least once every 24 hours or more often, if necessary, to maintain the health and condition of the animals."
No rational person could argue that confining animals to small cages, without exercise, for periods longer than eight hours would be inhumane. Yet, given the number of dogs on this transport, it seems impossible that they could have complied with this exercise requirement. If they drove straight through without stopping from Birmingham to Minneapolis and conditions were ideal, it would have been a 16-hour trip, not counting loading and unloading time. If they stopped for sleep, or to eat or get gas, or to exercise animals, or to clean cages, the trip would have gotten significantly longer.
How many people would it take to exercise 130 dogs? We estimate that they could have possibly complied with the exercise requirement with a team of about a dozen people, assuming that each could exercise two dogs at a time and they were very efficient loading and unloading. Doing so would have significantly extended the length of the trip and would have necessitated multiple exercise stops, though the question about where along the route the dogs could have been exercised seems impossible to answer. In all probability, we assume they did what most transporters do: ignore the law.
Minnesota Statute 346.39 is only one of the laws that applies and it applies to all dogs and cats that are shipped through the state. And, it applies to all dogs and cats throughout the duration of the trip. If they drive into Minnesota at all, this exercise rule applies even while they are driving in a state that does not have such a law.
Complying with these sorts of exercise requirements is very difficult when shipping large numbers of animals at once. As a result, most transporting organizations simply ignore the law and make things worse by withholding food and water before and during the trip, in order to reduce urination and defecation in the cages/kennels. Naturally, when they do that, it increases the cruelty inflicted. It is not entirely effective, which is why people present when these kinds of shipments arrive often report finding animals that are covered in their own urine and feces.
Large-scale transports of dogs and cats are almost always marketed as tremendous life-saving events. But, the truth about them is often very different. We have followed some transports in which the majority of the animals shipped ended up being abandoned at high-kill shelters when they were not immediately adopted at large-scale adoption events. Rather than being an animal's life-line, too often they are cruel and stressful and result in little or no increased life-saving. They can also inhibit a shelter from doing the things it needs to do in order to save their pets locally. In this specific case, GBHS could get busy implementing the No Kill Equation, rather than simply shipping their problem elsewhere.
Update from November 11:
Since this story was originally published, The Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago posted the following comment on our Facebook page. It reads:
"The Anti-Cruelty Society is committed to providing an open door to any animal in need.
The live release rate mentioned in this article includes owner-requested euthanasia. The Anti-Cruelty Society is one of the few shelters to provide this compassionate end of life service for the public and because of this, our live release rate goes down. This is not reflective of just shelter animals but must be included for reporting purposes.
We are proud of the work we do and together we want to help provide the best outcome for the animals."
We feel we should point out the Chicago statistics we referenced were for the current Live Release Rate (LRR) for Chicago Animal Control. We think that was made clear when we wrote, "The LRR in Chicago is worse... only 72% at the municipal shelter."
We did not include a LRR for The Anti-Cruelty Society, because we could not find a report more recent than 2015. However, in that year ACS had a LRR of only 59.4%. In other words, 40% of the animals taken in there did not make it out alive.
Furthermore, we would like to point out that it is not true that ACS is "one of the few" shelters that provide owner-requested euthanasia services (ORE). In fact, the Chicago Animal Control statistics we referenced in the original story included 711 ORE.
To put this information into perspective: In 2015 40% of the animals that went to ACS did not make it out alive. The very next year, they joined the Animal Transport Alliance to ship more animals into Chicago and we cannot find any outcome statistics for them since.
We have asked ACS for an explanation. We have also asked if they could explain how or even if they are complying with the required laws relating to food, water and exercise during transport of 130+ dogs. To date, we have gotten no reply.
Update from November 12:
Since our last update, we have learned that GBHS (the shipping agency in this story) has become embroiled in yet another controversy, this time, about a dog they seized from a veterinary clinic where they dog had recently undergone surgery, and where she was getting state-of-the-art care. Stay tuned.