You too can (and SHOULD) fight the status quo

cheetahI was wading through the hundreds of surrender requests we get each week. Almost none of them were dogs with no issues. Most of them had some sort of major aggression issue, or behavior issue, or were court ordered dangerous dogs, or had severe separation anxiety. Sigh. It is emotionally exhausting some days to read through them and I want to ask them all “why didn’t you address this behavior when it first started”? Why do so many people let it get to THIS point before looking to abandon the dog, when a little ounce of prevention could have been worth a hundred pounds of me taking their dog?

The no issue dogs are no brainers, we can take them in, even senior ones, but so many of our requests are nothing like that and each day I have to turn most of these people away. We are a sanctuary, yes, but we also adopt out about 2000 dogs between our two shelters each year. A percentage of them are, of course, going to come back over the years for various issues.  So we will always have a source for these dogs that need a place to go and we always commit to our own dogs for life – that they will ALWAYS have space here and a safe place to go.

I also wonder how many behavior issue, and aggressive dogs people believe that we can house without going under? We don’t warehouse these dogs. All of them have to get out every day and be walked and exercised and have training sessions to help them overcome their issues. We don’t receive any government or state funding. How can we afford the trainers, the staff and the expenses (food, veterinary, utilities, housing) for so many dogs with issues? The answer is that we can not. We can’t afford to house only behavior dogs, we have to have a lot of very adoptable dogs to cycle through here as well because financially we can’t survive otherwise. So once all our “behavior issue runs” are taken up, we have no more slots unless we adopt one or one passes on. People never seem to really understand. We get nasty emails “YOU CALL YOURSELF A SANCTUARY and I ask for help and you won’t help!” Sigh. People think we can take in every behavior issue dog and every aggressive dog and every dog that needs to live alone. I wish we could. And if every person that wanted us to TAKE a dog actually DONATED to us, then we’d actually be able to take many more, but ah, I digress.

But still, we feel for all of these animals that are often victims of ignorance, misunderstanding, boredom, lack of training, lack of stimulation or lack of love. It isn’t their fault.  We want to help the dogs.

So we do try to help, even if it isn’t taking the dog in here.
We offer free training sessions and advice from Misa, Marcos, or Juan our dog trainers.  Even Pat Whitacre from Best Friends helps us on his own time by handling some calls for us to try to help. Or we try to give them other things they can do to help, or places they can try, or ways they can work around the behavior. We try to always respond to every request, even though it is very time consuming and very discouraging sometimes.  Because I never sleep well at night wondering what happened to them.  If we didn’t take them, what has happened to them? I guess most times I don’t want to know. But I can’t help but think about it, worry about it and lay awake wondering what else we could do.

Recently I came in contact with a woman named Maura. She emailed me this (I changed all the names to XXXX to protect the stupid and ignorant):

The subject was: IN NEED OF HELP
XXXX from XXXX Shelter gave me your contact info, I need some advice. I volunteer at the XXXX Animal League in XXXX. We have a young female pit named Jules who came in as a stray, running down the street with a choke chain and a chain leash. She was very scared when she first got to the shelter. 

The President of XXXX, said that the dog lifted her lip and did not back away from the front of the kennel – she felt as if she was possibly aggressive. When I came in to walk the dogs on day 3, she was very cautious. I sat in her outside kennel, fed her treats and in five minutes had her out. She has been incredibly awesome with me and every person I have introduced her to. She does not seem to like dogs. 

The problem is that the President of the Shelter has had her assessed and the assessors do not recommend adoption for her. Their experience was totally different than my experience and I totally disagree with their assessment of her, but I have no say in this situation. As it stands since she cannot/will not be adopted out from us and area rescues will not take her since the assessors said she should not be adopted, she is out of options and is slated to be euthanized. 

Our President said I could reach out to sanctuaries as a last resort. Today Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah called regarding Jules. I talked to them and later our President talked to them as well. They have a Community based Program that they use. XXXX said that they were sending out an email blast to see if they could find a foster home for her. 

The problem is that XXXX emailed me that she has not changed her mind about Jules. She said that they will not pursue this but that I could pursue it. Best Friends Sanctuary is going to send a list of foster homes which hopefully we can place Jules into for further assessment. XXXX will not let our shelter be involved in this. We have a glimmer of hope, but XXXX is backing out on being Jules sponsor. 

Do you have any advice for me on this at all or anyone who would sponsor her? I feel like I am blind and now I am not attached with anything and I am trying to save Jules. Any info would be appreciated. Thanks you for your time. This is a video of her in the yard.
I am desperate at this point. Maura

I wrote back to her:

Hi Maura,
First let me thank you for being the voice for this dog.
They have no voice.
They are executed every day by people like the shelter director you speak of, many without ever being given a chance.

As you can imagine we get many requests to take dogs in and at this time we are completely full for behavior issues and can not take in another dog.
That said if you find a reputable rescue to take her, Pets Alive will donate $250 to the rescue that will house and care for her – as long as they are a responsible no-kill organization.

I would also suggest you contact Animal Farm Foundation and ask them for help. Not necessarily to take the dog, we are all so inundated with such requests, but they specialize in pit bulls and may have additional advice for you.

I know that you are not going to want to hear this but the best way to save that dogs life is to go to the media. You may be unliked by the shelter after this but ask yourself if it is worth that dogs life. The answer is yes. Go to the media – call your local cable news and your local newspaper. WITHOUT emotion or drama, explain the situation. Offer to send them pictures of you with the dog. Tell them the story. If they cover it – you will get a lot of attention and a likely potential adopter. It will also give the shelter pause – and make them not be so quick to kill the dog if people are “watching”.

So please get the media involved, talk to Animal Farm Foundation ( about additional ideas, and keep fighting for this dog.

It is unfair for a dog to be tested when they are in a strange place, frightened and alone.
So please continue to defend this dog and to fight to save his life.

Please keep me posted and if there is any other way you think we can help, I would be happy to help.
We can also have you speak to our own canine behaviorist if it would help you.

She wrote back:

Kerry, Thank you so so much for your email. It has been a long few weeks and I have felt alone trying to do this. There has not been much response in Jules favor, but I might have a lifeline. A humane society in NH is coming to assess her this week. If they believe she is the dog that I see, then maybe just maybe they will take her and she will have a chance. They do have foster homes which would be the best scenario. I will let you know how that goes. Thank you for the $250 donation offer as well – I am sure if she ends up going to this society, then that will be very helpful. Again I will let you know. At this point, all I am asking is for you to keep your fingers crossed that this works. The options are slim, so I am hoping beyond hope that this works out for her. And honestly for me, because I love her so. Thanks again Kerry. I wil be in touch. Best, Maura

At this point, Maura has contacted various organizations. Everyone has said no. Who would blame her for giving up, sighing, saying she had done her best, and crying softly as Jules was euthanized. But she didn’t. The story continues. Maura didn’t give up. She continued to fight for Jules and to contact everyone she could, and speak to everyone who would listen. A few days later I got this email from her:

julesintruckI wanted to update you on Jules. Today I drove her to NH where she is being transferred to the Salem Animal Rescue League in Salem, New Hampshire. Through friends, we were lucky to have SARL notice Jules. Their Kennel Manager and Dog Assessor Eric Vose came down on Wednesday to meet and assess Jules. Jules was wonderful. SARL’s Director decided the next day after talking with Eric that they would love to take responsibility for Jules. They have a lot of experience with strong breeds and think that with some training and hopefully a foster, that Jules will shine. I, of course, agree and I am beyond happy to know that she will have that chance that I so wanted her to have. So instead of taking her to a vet to have a needle placed in her leg, I am taking her to NH for a new lease on life. For all the times we cannot win these victories…we won this one. Thank you for your advice and your help Kerry.

If Pets Alive can donate the $250 for Jules to SARL, I know they would appreciate it. Let me know what if there is something I need to do to help with that. Thank you again for your supportive email – it came on a bad day and it really helped.

Here is a pic of Jules before she left looking back over her shoulder at me – and then in the truck on the way to NH.

I’m so impressed with Maura.  No-Kill animal shelters shouldn’t be the only ones fighting to save the lives of animals.  YOU can do it too.  You SHOULD do it. You CAN do it. PLEASE do it.  Don’t accept the status quo.  Don’t accept it when someone tells you that “this animal must die because there are no other options”. Of course there are other options.  Of course there are things you can do.  That we can all do.  We don’t have to accept the death of any animal.  Be that animal’s voice.  You may be the only thing in the world standing between him and death.  You may be the only person in the world speaking for him or her.  Don’t give up.  Fight. Don’t give up. Fight. Fight for that dog or cat.  Let them know that their lives have worth.  That they won’t just be a statistic. That you will be the one to take up their cause.

We can not do it alone and we can not do it without you.  Together we can have a tremendous impact on the killing.  Together we can stop it completely.  BELIEVE IT.  Believe.  If someone like Maura, with no authority, no experience in this, and no contacts could reach out and safe Jules’ life, then why can’t we all?  BELIEVE.

I did contact SARL too.  First to verify that they were a reputable organization before I made my donation to them.  Second to thank them for taking Jules. The director there, Lisa, could not have been nicer. She answered all my questions politely and promptly.  She even gave me a great update on Jules.  How well she was doing, how she was a little nervous in the beginning and now doing so wonderfully.   She said: “Jules is awesome.  She was a little afraid here the first couple of days, but she seems to be settling in.  We LOVE her.  Hope to find her a good home soon.”

I got back to Maura to tell her that we had touched base and made the donation.  I asked her why she went through so much to save ONE dog.  This is what she said:

myjulesI fought for her because she deserved a chance. The dog I saw was not what others saw, but I knew I was right about her. The people that spend time with the animals know them better than anyone – people forget that. I knew I had to live with my actions and so I had to try every avenue to save her. I know I cannot save them all – but it is not about them all, it is about the one in front of you right now that has stolen your heart.

Thank you Maura.  And although Jules could not verbally tell you that, I know that Jules sings your name in her heart every single day.  As long as she lives, she will have you to thank for seeing her worth, for not giving up, for taking a chance, for loving her.

My hat is off to you.  You have my deepest respect.

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