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Welcome to Shelter Life at the East Bay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

We began as the Oakland SPCA in 1874. Today, the East Bay SPCA includes two animal shelters and three clinics in our community.

This is our day.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

I'll miss you more than you know.


Today was a tough day. We euthanized five dogs today. Two from Tri Valley and three from Oakland. That is a huge number considering we usually only euthanize a couple dogs a month.

Four of them came from other shelters. They were selected because they passed the initial temperament test we perform at the city or county shelter. Then, after they are settled in, we re-test them using a more extensive and comprehensive test. Three of these dogs showed problems during that second test and one showed problems only after being made available for adoption. The problems ranged from unmanageable possession aggression (where dogs are possessive over their food or other items, and it can't be safely controlled) to being aggressive during handling, to randomly
aggressiving biting at kids, to stranger aggression

The fifth dog was an adoption return. The dog was being managed in the home despite some possession issues for a couple years, but then started to guard space and people, aggressing to the point of scaring the owners. They worked with our trainers for a while, but ultimately decided, and we agreed, the dog was unsafe to have with a family.

They were all hard, but well-thought decisions, each was made only after each dog had been given time to work on the issues (to see if we could modify the behavior). We were saddened by them all and wished desperately that the resolution could have been more happy.

We were especially saddened with one dog in particular. This dog was Big Beulah (BB as I call her.) I took this dog in from Oakland Animal Services (and actually blogged about her many months ago) as my first self-selected pit bull, after being trained by BADRAP in pit bull temperament and evaluations. She was wonderful. Wiggly, friendly, a real people pleaser. We had a volunteer agree to foster her for a couple weeks to learn more about her temperament before putting her up for adoption. BB did great. She had no issues and was a real delight. She was put up for adoption with a special adoption process (including a home check, an application, and a foster period). But she had no takers.

Not sure if it was her big body or cropped ears or the funny way she stared at passers by. We knew she was wonderful, but our clients weren't buying it.

After about 60 days in the kennel, she started acting strangely. She didn't like being handled and would whip around with her mouth to show her discontent. Not good. She also started doing a weird barking thing, becoming agitated at seemingly nothing. Something would set her off and she would start barking in a non-friendly way at nothing and no one. Also not good.

We thought that perhaps she was just sick of being in the kennels. Many dogs can go kennel crazy after long stays. ,So we asked the original foster parent if she could take her home again to see if it was "environmental" or "temperamental." She agreed and started sending regular emails reporting on BB. BB was doing some growling and "woofing" at certain strangers on walks. There didn't seem to be any pattern or predictability to it.

It was at this point that we really started to question the breed we thought she was.

Pit bulls should never growl or bark at strangers and they should love to be handled. So, either she wasn't a pit bull or she was an unstable one. We talked to the Pit Bull people and they agreed she was at best a mix but probably some other kind of Mastiff. Then we talked to the Mastiff people (Mastiff rescue) and they asked for pictures of her. Based on the description of behavior, they thought she might be a Cane Corso. But after looking at her pictures, they thought she was a Presa mix.

That was the worse news we could hear. We knew we couldn't responsibly place a Presa mix and there were no responsible rescue groups to take her. We had to give her foster parent the bad news...she was not adoptable. Her foster parent, who knew all along that there was a chance she would not be put up for adoption, took the bad news fairly well. Because we knew what a responsible dog owner this foster parent was, we did give her the option of adopting her. But we also cautioned her against this. She would have lifelong behavior management issues as well insurance issues (due to the breed). And the worse part was that the behavior is expected to get worse when the dog hits about 3 years old. We couldn't predict what would happen, but there was a chance it would be very bad. She wanted to help her, but she also wanted to do the right thing.

We had many conversations about the pros and cons of adopting her as well as why we couldn't put her up for the general public. She came to peace with the decision not to adopt and we scheduled a time to bring her back to the shelter.

I picked her and BB up, brought them to the shelter where she got a good off-leash run. They she was spoiled with some peanut butter and belly rubs from two dedicated staff. She got her favorite blanky from her foster home and was happy as a clam. The foster parent and I left, both of us with tears in our eyes, while ND and the staff humanely euthanized her. It was quiet ride home as we both sat next to each other thinking of the dog we both loved so much. We got to her house, I asked if she would be OK and offered to talk anytime and then said my goodbye. I cried some more on my way home as I am sure she did in her apartment. I then called the shelter to make sure everything went well and was assured it did.

I know we did the right thing, but I do feel responsible for putting this amazing foster parent through this experience since I selected the dog. She gave BB an incredible life during the last few months. A life she probably never had before stuck in someone's back yard being bred for money. But had I never taken her in, the foster parent would never had fallen in love with her and wouldn't have had to ensure such deep sadness. I've met few people with the integrity, dedication and resolve to be as responsible as she has. It is an honor to know her and I aspire to be as strong as she.

Good-bye, Big Beulah. I'll miss you more than you know.

BB was a staff favorite. There have been many tears shed around here yesterday and today in her honor. Saturday was a tough day for some of the staff here, but it brings a touch of solace to know that the dogs that do go up for adoption are safe and manageable for the families they are placed with.

BB, we'll see you on the other side.

 

Sorry to hear about that. She was around for a while. I miss that big pumpkin headed orange dog in Pibble Hall too. I guess we can't win all of them :(

 

It's saddening that you had to euthanize 5 dogs, but I'm glad this shelter has the resources to take time to try to solve the dogs' problems. Although it is very sad, you can feel that if these dogs were put up for adoption and adopted, they might put people in danger causing the public to fear dogs from shelters.

 

I hope the foster parent continues to give needy animals a safe port. That's such a valued resource! And it's no small thing to give a lonely animal last days of happiness. Blessings and a calm heart on her and you.

 

It's really great that your shelter has a foster program. Some shelters don't have the resources to organize one. And foster parents give a thing that's so important but often hard for a shelter to give: time. Time for underage kittens/puppies to grow up, time for a sick animal to heal, and one on one time for undersocialized animals.

 

Well, I don't generally have an opinion that will "jive" with the above. I think the euthanization of animals is ridiculous, given that these "aggression" problems that you note in your post usually result from years of neglect and/or abuse on the part of humans. Essentially, the dogs, put into bad situations and bad homes, learned to survive as any of us would, and then ended up being judged "unfit" to be adopted.

I understand the problems and decision making that goes into euthanization. I have worked for many, many animal shelters, a few of which where my job was literally to "socialize" with abused animals. I am at least happy to say that I have never worked for any shelter that had a euthanization policy.

However, I can gage by your post that you do feel a great deal for these animals, regardless of their problems. I sympathize with your loss, certainly--I only wish that people, as irresponsible owners of pets, didn't have to be the cause of their demise this way.

 

Thanks for your comments. I'm curious, though...if you think animals shouldn't be euthanized, what do you think we should do with aggressive animals?

 

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