“The general public, they don’t understand all the issues,” said Kim Alboum, NC director of the Humane Society of the United States, to about 40 people, most of whom were members of the general public (the rest were Person County Animal Control employees or county administrators), who gathered for a meeting Thursday evening in Roxboro, NC.
The event was billed as a “grassroots meeting on animal welfare,” by HSUS and its front group, North Carolina Voters for Animal Welfare. Many of the attendees were Person County residents who expected to discuss issues surrounding the Person County pound, a gassing facility where 67% of the pets who came in were killed during 2011. (The gas chamber will reportedly be “phased out” over the next year. If you’d like to know why it takes a year to get rid of a gas chamber, email Person County Manager Heidi York at email@example.com and ask her.)
“The reason I’m here tonight is that we have got to get our commercial dog breeder bill passed,” Ms. Alboum said. She also had much to say about farm animals and spent a lot of time telling attendees what kind of meat to eat (local, sustainable and certainly not veal), discussing tail-docking of dairy cows and opining about the life of pigs on a small-scale farm: “These animals live a good life and the worst day of their life is they day they get slaughtered,” she said.
How about the worst day in the life of a dog or cat in an NC pound? Well, Ms. Alboum didn’t have much to say about the animals in the state’s so-called “shelters,” because she was much more concerned with protecting the delicate feelings of the people who work in them. In fact, Ms. Alboum thinks the staff at your pound (you know, those people posing drugged kittens with cigarettes in their mouths for fun Facebook photos?) should be exempt from the expectations placed on other public employees, namely that they perform their paid duties conscientiously even in the face of challenges.
“We cannot treat our shelter staff badly and expect them to be their best and care for the animals. It’s not fair,” Ms. Alboum said. So, if your pound staff is callous, uncaring, negligent or even downright cruel to the animals that have been entrusted into their care by taxpayers, its because people aren’t nice to them. They have every right to take it out on the animals, says Ms. Alboum of the HSUS.
“I can’t tell you just how far it goes to just stop at the shelter with some cupcakes or cookies if you have an issue and say ‘let’s just chat,’ ” Ms. Alboum said. So if your shelter is needlessly killing healthy and treatable animals while blaming the “irresponsible public” for their failure or hiding behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes,” just take them some cupcakes! Just be sure to include several copies of “No Kill 101,” “Dollars and Sense” and the Cliff Notes version of Redemption. While you’re at it, take some to your city council members or county commissioners, too.
But back to the worst day in a shelter pet’s life. Ms. Alboum seems to think that for some it would be the day they go out the door (alive) with an “uncredentialed” rescue,1 calling that “terrifying.” Alboum is obviously of the same mindset as “catch and kill” sheltering pioneer Phyllis Wright, who famously said, “I’ve put 70,000 dogs and cats to sleep… But I tell you one thing: I don’t worry about one of those animals that were put to sleep… Being dead is not cruelty to animals.”
“It’s great whenever your euthanasia numbers are incredibly low,” Ms. Alboum said. “But we have a shelter in North Carolina where the euthanasia rates are one of the lowest in the entire state and they cannot tell you where one of these animals have gone from that shelter. Not one. There’s one group that solely pulls from that shelter and distributes them away. Thousands of animals.”2
I can tell you one place where those animals have NOT gone: into that pound’s dumpster.
What is Ms. Alboum really saying here? Some NC pounds can’t even keep track of the animals that are currently inside the shelter. Who actually expects them to know the location of all the ones who left alive? What pound has any idea where any pet goes after it is released to a rescue group? I have a foster dog pulled from my local high-kill pound through a rescue, and they really don’t care where he is unless he shows up there again. And what pound has staff who have the time or are willing to follow-up and track down animals who made it out? And why would they?
What Ms. Alboum is really doing with all her talk of “uncredentialed” rescue groups is creating a smokescreen to divert attention from the fact that HSUS really doesn’t care about the killing of shelter pets. Shelter killing is the leading cause of death for healthy pets in the United States, but HSUS and other “humane” organizations spend much effort and energy fighting against legislation that would end it. So Ms. Alboum’s job, as a representative of a group committed to defending pounds and their killing, is to direct people’s outrage away from the issue of killing and onto something else, like the rescue groups that are saving many of the animals.
Kill proponents like Ms. Alboum like to talk about all the scary bad things that COULD POSSIBLY MAYBE happen to a pet after he leaves a shelter. They cultivate the false notion that “killing is kindness” and perpetuate the fallacy that there are “fates worse than death” to try to justify the needless killing of healthy and treatable animals. Then after the animals are dead, they say, “He’s in a better place now.” Really? Did you ask him? Terrible fates could befall any of us at at any time. How many people would actually choose to be killed in order to avoid the future possibility of something bad happening to us?
Sure, there are a few unscrupulous groups who call themselves rescues and some well-meaning rescuers who over-extend themselves and end up not being able to honor their commitments. That’s not a good thing. But did any of their actions result in the deaths of at least 226,199 dogs and cats in 2011? Because that’s (at least) how many pets were killed by the staff of North Carolina pounds last year. The statewide kill rate was almost 65 percent. Many of the pets who escaped being killed did so thanks to the tireless work of rescue groups.
During the question period, a member of a breed rescue group said he’s tried to rescue dogs from many shelters who tell him “we don’t deal with rescues.” Ms. Alboum said that’s the rescue groups’ fault because they aren’t nice enough to shelter staff. “I am not going to argue you on that point. Many of our shelters have been burned. Breed-specific rescue groups will go to our shelters and treat them like they’re useless and have no knowledge about animals. And so a lot of our shelters have said, you know what, I’m not working with any of you.”
And Kim Alboum of the HSUS thinks sacrificing the lives of shelter pets to protect the delicate egos of pound staff is just fine. An organization that takes millions of your dollars every year ostensibly to protect animals is far more concerned with protecting the feelings of the people who choose to kill them (and in some cases, abuse them horrendously first.)
Ms Alboum also defended shelters who don’t allow volunteers. “One thing I have seen is that animal advocates want shelters to have a volunteer program.” Yes, indeed, because at some shelters (Granville County pops immediately to mind), volunteer efforts are the only way anyone ever sees photos of the adoptable pets in the pound or strays who may have someone looking for them. If it weren’t for at volunteers at some NC pounds, many would be tied for last place with Montgomery County, which adopted out just 12 of the 1,199 pets who came in during 2011 and had a 99 percent kill rate.
“A lot of shelters are reluctant to have [a volunteer program],” Ms. Alboum said. “There are many reasons why. Sometimes county attorneys don’t want volunteers there, sometimes the shelter director has too much on their plate and they can’t manage volunteers.” Sometimes the pound director just wants to be left alone to kill animals in peace. Ms. Alboum thinks that’s fine, and told her audience that people should volunteer in ways that involve staying away from the pound, like applying for grants or helping to “credential” rescues.
“There are so many things out there that they need that don’t involve handling the animals.” Ms. Alboum said, completely missing the point about why people want to volunteer at pounds (A CLUE: it’s because people care about the animals and would like to give them some actual attention and affection and hopefully help get them the exposure they need to get out alive). She says stay out and hands off. Unless you’re bringing the pound workers cupcakes, of course.
And so, having pretty much delivered a smackdown on anyone who thinks shelters should be saving more animals and has ideas about how that can be be done, Ms. Alboum said, with a straight face, “We all want the same thing.”
“Really. Everybody wants the same thing,” Ms. Alboum said. “The No Kill movement, the, you know, adoptable only movement,3 our shelters, our animal advocates. We all want to euthanize less animals and get animals out the front door.”
Then why do you keep standing in the way?
1 I don’t really know what this means. Ms. Alboum kept talking about “uncredentialed” rescues and an HSUS “credentialing packet” that’s available for shelters to use to make sure rescues are legitimate. She didn’t say what it entailed except that it requires tax-exempt status and reference checks. Back
2 Ms. Alboum did not name the pound, but I’ll go out on a limb and guess she means Bladen County, which had a dog kill rate of just under 11 percent in 2011. Their cat kill rate, however, is almost 64 percent, bringing their overall kill rate to 33 percent. That’s really not exemplary, but the bar is set so low in NC it makes Bladen possibly the sixth lowest kill rate in the state (hard to say because our reporting system is haphazard and unenforced).
If she’s talking about Bladen, then the group Ms. Alboum is eager to paint as possibly shady and “uncredentialed” is a 501(c)3 organization called “A Shelter Friend,” which would probably pass any “credentialing” program that required non-profit status and references from veterinarians and such. A Shelter Friend is the only way most of the pets make it out of the Bladen County pound alive. ASF provides temporary foster care, quarantining and veterinary care for animals before transferring them to other rescue groups. In 2010 they partnered with Elizabethtown Veterinary Hospital, the Bladen County Department of Social Services and Columbus Humane Society to start a low-income spay-neuter project, the first in their area. (My issue with ASF is that while posting non-stop urgent pleas to rescuers on Facebook, they don’t push for reforms at the pound itself–like adoption of the No Kill Equation–which would reduce the constant urgency that burns out rescuers.) Back
3 I have no idea what she is talking about. Back