Wednesday, July 27, 2005
On the Soapbox"The East Bay SPCA saves and improves the lives of cats and dogs, and connects people and pets in our community."
This is our mission statement, and you wouldn't immediately think it, but sometimes "saving", "improving" and "connecting" can contradict one another.
To "save and improve" animal lives, the majority of our population comes from municipal shelters. Unlike the SPCA, which is a private organization, public shelters are required to intake any and all unwanted pets as part of their job. This means always having enough kennel space for the next unwanted dog or cat, but kennel space is finite. When a municipal shelter finds itself full, kennel space must be made and this often means euthanizing animals. Municipal shelters don't put animals to sleep because they want to, but because they have no other choice. This is where the East Bay SPCA and other rescues come into play. When we have space in our kennels, our first stop is a municipal shelter. If we can pull dogs or cats, that also frees up space which means less euthanasia. So, our shelter's population is directly affected by the county municipal shelters' populations.
To "connect people and pets" we must have a selection of dogs and cats that appeal to the general public. The most highly desirable pets seem to be small dogs, puppies, and kittens. However, these are also the cats and dogs that are in the least danger at municipal shelters and are the least common (except for kittens during kitten season). It's all well and good to select our animals from municipal shelters, but the longer those pets sit in our kennels, the less space we have to take more dogs and cats.
So, what do you do if the dogs that need rescuing are large adolescent pit mixes and the dogs that find homes are small, fluffy and under twenty pounds?
In the words of Johnny Cash, you "walk the line". You find a balance between which animals are on euthanasia lists and which will find homes quickly. You have population restrictions that insure your kennels do not get filled with the same type of dog, but rather are a healthy collection of various breed mixes, colors and ages. You take educated risks and pull dogs with the understanding that if their temperament proves unsafe, they may never make it to the adoption floor. You create wait lists while knowing that some of the animals on them may have to be euthanized before a space becomes available.
I have heard many times from potential adopters, "I chose to come here because you don't euthanize" or "You're not one of those shelters that kills dogs are you?" What they don't understand is that no rescue or shelter in the community is truly independent from the others. We're all working with the same unwanted animals and no shelter euthanizes because it thinks killing animals is fun. Rather, municipal shelters are forced to euthanize because they must always have space available.
It is too easy to point a finger and say "that shelter is the bad guy". Television and film have long depicted the local dog catcher as a cranky man who enjoys nothing more than nabbing frightened animals and locking them away. In real life, animal control officers often want nothing more than to see the cats and dogs that come through their doors leave in a new owner's arms or at the very least with a rescue. And we rescues would like nothing more than to have empty kennels because the animals coming into local shelters are so few and far between that we're no longer necessary.
For now, we "save and improve the lives of cats and dogs and connect people and pets in our community". And we dance our careful dance to be certain we're able to do both.