Most people think that when you work for an animal shelter, you work with animals who’ll usually be killed. If you live in San Francisco, then you probably know that we’re a no-kill shelter, largely through the efforts of generous donors and an aggressive spay and neuter program.
Neither presumption is entirely accurate. The operative word in the no-kill clause is “adoptable”; i.e. No adoptable animal is euthanized in San Francisco. That’s an interesting word, isn’t it? The truth is that some animals are euthanized in SF; many for medical reasons, many for behavior issues. The definition of “adoptable” changes; most recently it has been influenced by the local dog mauling case.
Now that the owners have been convicted of murder and manslaughter, many owners of dogs with an incident or history of aggression are now calling us, saying their landlords want the dog out. And guess what? We can’t take them anymore. In the year since the mauling, we’ve had to overhaul our entire department’s mission away from rehabilitation of problem dogs towards prevention. Because if we adopt out a dog that we know has bitten someone, we could be held liable if that dog bites again. Blame the lawyers. End result being, more dead dogs.
Sometimes we take in a dog with an unknown history, and in the course of its stay, it shows aggression. Which doesn’t bode well for the dog. My department is responsible for the decision regarding the dog’s future. Usually this is after staff and countless volunteers have interacted, bonded, trained, walked, and played with the dog, the majority of the time without incident. When the decision is made to euthanize, all of the staff and volunteers have to be informed, and since 99% of them have had nothing but wonderful interactions with the dogs, some fallout and burnout occurs.
What’s my point? Sometimes, like today, I sit at the meeting table with the women (yeah, I’m the only guy) who must determine whether an animal lives or dies, and I feel love and compassion and empathy for my co-workers. They must weigh the value of this dog’s life against the safety of the unknown public, and they must do this often. They must consider if they can defend their actions on a witness stand. And when a dog dies, they must come back to work the next day and resume their duties, and defend their actions to co-workers and volunteers. And they must welcome and care for the abandoned and the abused, the animals thrown in backyards and garages and fight pits, and they must accept that their efforts sometimes fail, and they must decide that the most humane act is death. And they must do this for very little money.
Sometimes I get cranky. People who need purebreds irritate me, and people who put them in shows really give me the creeps. Imagine if we applied the same dog show standards and ratings to humans. Didn’t we, like, go through that in WWII? People who don’t get their animals fixed piss me off, and people who fight dogs… well, it’s not worth discussing. People who accuse us of recklessly killing animals because they believe all animals should live, regardless of where that animal is going to live, need to fuck off. People who neglect or abuse their dogs and then want us to care for them, need to fuck off. People who put lunging pit bulls in their music videos as an accessory to their machismo, need to fuck off.
I met this boy at the gym last week through a friend of mine. I didn’t think much of it, but apparently he thought I was, like, hot as shit. He asked my friend what I did, and when he heard that I worked at an animal shelter, he said Well that’ll have to change, ’cause I’m not into animals. Guess what he needs to do?
But you? Don’t fuck off. Just love the mutts. They rule.
(Confidential to One Half of the Studly Couple: I don’t mean your dog. And thanks for rolling with the punches tonight. Next time we’ll see a movie not based on a video game. And you’re as adorable as ever. heh heh.)