...I have been completely derailed by the train wreck that is Community Animal Shelter of Pueblo (CASP). It has brought up some big philosophical and logistical animal rescue questions. I was called in to help a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t stop following, lamenting...
Hello! A few notes about my blogs. I like to ball park, if there is a figure you take issue with, hit me with the facts, I welcome corrections. Hang in there with the abbreviations and accronyms, I'm not out for a Nobel Prize here, puns definitely intended, and I know I know... I'm wordy. Alright, here we go. My first ever blog post was going to be about behavior. I am the trainer after all…and it IS the low hanging, albeit extremely plentiful fruit of which there will be much to come. I have been completely derailed by the train wreck that is Community Animal Shelter of Pueblo (CASP). It has brought up some big philosophical and logistical animal rescue questions. I was called in to help a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t stop following, lamenting, stewing and now publicly addressing what’s going on there. Here’s the short version. CASP is an open admission shelter in Pueblo and for many years was run by the same crew. Open admission simply means that you accept every animal that is left on your stoop. Period. This shelter was following run of the mill guidelines for many other open admission shelters in the country who are overridden with animals, and consequentially, some of the cats and dogs that came in, didn’t make it out. If you think I’m being cagey (hee hee) about the language, you’re right. The words 'kill' and 'euthanize' have become subjective and political. As a matter of fact, for many, they mean two different things. Some will say euthanizing is only ending life for terminally ill, everything else is killing. Others will say euthanizing, ending life and killing are synonymous. Others still (perhaps in higher volume, lower funded shelters) will say it doesn’t matter what you call it, they end lives because they have space, food and medical care to keep 40 animals alive and healthy. They adopt out an average of 1-2 a day and they take in an average of 3-4 a day. I feel the distinction is political and not the point, but if you choose to go down the rabbit hole of research/social media on this topic, it will come up.
In March of 2018, Pueblo passed a No Kill ordinance, Pueblo Animal Protection Act (PAPA). This ordinance frankly, is a mess. Aside from being poorly written, it doesn’t address where the extra resources needed to adhere to it’s requirements would come from. PAPA required the shelter to operate above a 90% save rate. In addition to this, there were many other restrictions put on the shelter’s ability to euthanize an animal. To make a long story less long, the crew that previously ran the shelter lost out, and a No Kill rescue organization took over on January 1, 2019. This organization, PAWS, tried to adhere to the many (some, totally nonsensical) rules and restrictions put in place by the ordinance. PAWS had successfully ran a tiny No Kill closed admission rescue organization and believed they could come into the Pueblo shelter and just stop euthanizing animals. This belief likely stemmed from propaganda from the No Kill community. They have long pushed the narrative that adhering to the No Kill guidelines is simple, “like flipping a light switch” according to Humane Society of Fremont county’s director, Doug Rae. The story goes that No Kill requires no added resources, leadership, transfer partnerships, volunteers, marketing, foster homes, enrichment, spay and neuter support, behavior support, medical support, MONEY…you get where I’m going with this.
With PAWS in control of the shelter, ready to "just stop killing animals", what could go wrong? First, many of the mandates in the ordinance proved problematic with a finite amount of resources and a growing amount of animals coming in. A particularly harmful set of rules stated that an animal could only be euthanized if they had medical and behavior deficits. Another that animals could not be euthanized if there were open kennels in the building, if make shift kennels could be put up in any other space in the shelter, or if the animal could be placed in a kennel with another animal. This resulted in animals all over the building, crammed in together, I saw it first hand. When you run an open admission shelter, you often times have to take in hoarding cases, court cases, strays and multiple animal surrenders in short periods of time. If you mandate that every animal, be kept alive for x amount of days until a bunch of totally unrealistic of hoops are jumped through, even if it’s in a crate in a broom closet(!) You engender a situation where you are constantly at max capacity. Then, when you get hit with a hoarding case and 17 dogs and 23 cats are on your stoop, you may think, “well…we could put them in crates in the broom closet for the next couple days…”. But alas, even the broom closet is now full. So, with the best intentions you stack more crates on top of the other crates, you triple and quadruple up unknown animals in very tight quarters. These animals, mind you, have three and a half times(!!!) regular stress hormones coursing through their brains. Now they are crammed in a tight space with an unfamiliar animal running at the same level. Your staff is now in charge of keeping many, many more animals clean and fed, you push off “non emergency” vet needs and vaccinations because you are so. far. behind on intake and standards of medicine and your budget is wearing thin. You are drowning in animals so you adopt any one out to less than vetted homes and transfer them to any rescue that will take them, never mind the red flag that they may be hoarders themselves..it’s better than another 8 months in a cage, here, right??! This is a tiny window into what I witnessed in my two days at CASP, and it only took 2 months of attempting to adhere to this ordinance for it to happen. While I was there, the vet was hauled out by the state. There were animals suffering for days without proper medical care, sick animals in with healthy ones, behavior cases struggling, staff and volunteers begging for help and direction, and the PAWS board desperate to try to fix it and make it better for the animals.
In less than three months, PACFA and the Department of Agriculture has stepped in and basically, shut the whole thing down. In the last couple of weeks, organizations from all over the state have come to Pueblo and picked up animals. This situation has engendered a heated debate. There has been a letter signed by leading animal shelters in the state condemning the PAPA ordinance, along with the No Kill agenda and it’s effects. The No Kill backers have vehemently denied wrongdoing along with finger pointing and ruthless blaming of the PAWS board and leadership. They have cited the city of Austin as a model where a similar ordinance is working. With very little research, I found evidence that Austin shelters are struggling with overpopulation, staff and volunteers are going to the media with their concerns about the welfare of the animals. The No Kill community also touts Humane Society of Fremont county as a shining example of how easy it is to adhere to these guidelines. Line by line, HSFC has failed to meet the “No Kill standards” laid out in the No Kill declaration, and is warehousing and adopting out dangerous animals. I know this because I’ve been part of a team of volunteers and staff vehemently working to implement these standards with absolutely no support from the HSFC board or director, financial or otherwise. In fact, even talking about the work we have been doing at the shelter is frowned upon, as it may bring to attention the PR white wash that has been taking place since director Doug Rae took over the shelter over four years ago. The animals in HSFC are suffering, more on that later.
Let me be clear, I do not intend to advocate for, or blame any of the people involved in this. I believe that with few exceptions, most of us in animal welfare truly care about what’s best for the animals. I do however, intend to bring to light the dangerous and divisive rhetoric that has made well meaning people believe that there is an easy, effortless solution to the companion animal overpopulation issue. I do not agree with the premise that those who are involved in a shelter that has a less than 90% euthanasia rate are gleefully killing animals. I also take issue with the blueprint that encourages shelters to euthanize animals who’ve come through their doors that require added resources, while they truck in highly adoptable/profitable animals from out of state. I can see why the No Kill agenda is seductive when it appears that the alternative is only keeping alive the best of the best, unicorn animals. However, I have seen no evidence that those operating shelters around 80-90% disagree with the No Kill community that it would be preferable to never have to end a healthy, happy animal’s life. In fact, those people in the trenches doing the euthanizing know more than any of us how depressing it is that we live in a world that can’t provide homes for these animals. They also know how depressing and difficult it is to watch an animal deteriorate and go crazy in a kennel for months and for some, years on end. What I would like to see, is some hard mathematical data showing what it would actually take to achieve the goals of an ordinance like PAPA with the numbers of the community where it’s being proposed. Then, when a mandate such as this is presented to the community, it can be right along side the raise in taxes that it would take to achieve it. There is a stat (that I am paraphrasing because I cannot find it, please post if you can!) from a couple of years ago. I think it will help people to think a little bit deeper about why most open admission shelters are not running at a 98% save rate. It’s something like, if we stopped breeding cats and dogs today, every household in the U.S. would have to have 17 dogs and 42 cats for there to be no more homeless pets. If we just “stopped euthanizing animals”, we would have to come up with the resources to provide around 3 million more dogs and cats a year healthy, happy living conditions in the shelter system. We need more resources going to this cause!!! Give this some thought and please weigh in, especially if you work or volunteer at an open admission shelter. As always, a huge thank you to ALL of those working to reduce the homeless pet population.