Volunteers and animal advocates in Granville County have long begged animal control chief Cathy Hartley to increase the number of dogs she releases for adoption from the Granville pound. There are typically only a handful of dogs labeled “adoptable” at any given time regardless of how many are currently in there or what type of dogs there are. (There seem to more cats available on a regular basis).
At my visit to the volunteer orientation there in July, I asked some of the volunteers what the criteria are for determining adoptability, and no one knew; they all said it was at Ms. Hartley’s discretion. Thursday evening at the quarterly meeting of the county’s animal control advisory board, I discovered the answer to my question: the Granville pound’s standards for classifying dogs as adoptable or unadoptable depend on what’s easiest and most convenient.
The topic arose when one of the board members said “It seems like there aren’t many dogs out there for adoptions on Saturdays” (which is the busiest day for adoptions at the pound because its the only time most working families with kids can actually get there during open hours).
“If we’re running out of space and it gets down to it, you could still euthanize a green [adoptable]1 dog,” the board member said. “That would give the public more dogs to pick from when they’re out there instead of having three to pick from, maybe have nine to pick from.”
“It’s been very difficult to do that [kill adoptables] recently without a lot of criticism,” Ms. Hartley said.
So to put it bluntly, adoptable dogs are scarce at the Granville pound because they take up space and can’t be killed without the volunteers and other animal advocates (rightfully) getting upset.
This also explains why volunteers are not allowed any contact with “yellow” card dogs at the pound (those whose holds have expired but who have not been cleared for adoption): If people were allowed to walk and pet them, they’d likely not want them to be killed, either (and it would also probably demonstrate the falsehood of their “unadoptable” classification).
Another board member, who said it was very frustrating to convince people to go look for a dog to adopt at the pound only to have them report back that “the place was completely empty,” questioned the need for pre-emptive killing. “Lets say we have 23 dogs and nothing else comes in, there’s no reason to go from 20 to 5 unless you actually have more coming in,” she said
“Well, we have more coming in pretty regularly,” Ms. Hartley said. “We empty it out three days a week at minimum. And then they fill back in.”
Granville County gas chamber, Oxford NC by carolinaonmymind, on Flickr
Just to be clear, when Ms. Hartley says “empty it out,” she means killing everything possible (probably in the pound’s gas chamber.). One of the kill-pound defenders’ favorite cliches is “nobody wants to kill pets,” but the practices at the Granville pound seem to contradict that. The fact that little effort is put toward the things proven to increase adoptions (adoption hours friendly to working people and families with kids, greater visibility in the community, marketing, offsite adoptions, special events, adoption incentives, foster care program, a fun and friendly shelter environment, and a good public image, among other things), indicates that Ms. Hartley seems to prefer “emptying out” her pound via the dumpster. She is choosing to kill pets by not doing the kinds of things necessary to get them out of her pound alive, things that have been proven successful at saving more than 90 percent of the pets that come in to open-admission shelters in more than 54 communities across the country.
Opening up kennel space in a pound by killing is less work for someone like Ms. Hartley than doing it via adoption or rescue (and less paperwork, too). Killing pets simply makes her job easier. Because she can’t kill the pets still on mandatory hold and volunteers (rightfully) get upset when she kills the animals lucky enough to be called “adoptable,” Ms. Hartley has a big incentive NOT to change many dogs’ status from “yellow” to “green” because it keeps her job as easy on herself as possible.
I wonder how the taxpayers of Granville County would feel about their taxes paying the salary of a sheriff or a fire marshal who approached their job the same way?
Conversely, how would the taxpayers of Granville County feel about having a shelter director dedicated to actually protecting the lives of the animals that come into her shelter? If the experiences of communities around the country that have gone No Kill are any indication, local residents love it and often turn out in support of their shelter in numbers greater than ever. In fact, because No Kill boosts adoptions, attracts and retains more volunteers, improves staff morale and generates more funding, among other things, a commitment to saving lives instead of killing would probably end up making Cathy Hartley’s job much easier in the long run.
Another issue that came up at Thursday’s meeting was vaccination on intake, and it appears shelter policy is being dictated by misinformation, namely that they aren’t allowed to vaccinate incoming strays. Board members were discussing the duties of a new vet tech who has been hired at the pound when one board member (a veterinarian), said, “Please, please, please let them be vaccinated on intake and not two weeks later. When you guys are rolling your truck in, she [the vet tech] should be standing there with vaccines all ready.”
Another member said “But we don’t know who’s staying and who’s not at that point.” (Translation: we don’t know who’s going to be allowed to live and who’s going to end up in the dumpster.)
“But isn’t it better to vaccinate everybody, before they even step foot in there?” the vet (very correctly) said.
“We never have. It’s not protocol,” answered the other.
“We never could, practically, moneywise … it just doesn’t make sense,” Ms. Hartley said.
The money argument doesn’t hold water. Necesary vaccines for dogs and cats can cost as low as $2.10 each (if purchased from a vendor who provides shelter pricing discounts). Considering that adoptions are revenue-producing, vaccines save lives and killing animals costs money (a 2009 American Humane Association study estimated lethal injection killing costs at around $2.29 per animal and gas chamber killing costs at around $4.66 per animal), it actually makes much more cost sense to vaccinate every animal at intake … and to push adoptions as a priority over killing. And if money is an issue, there are many volunteers at the pound who would help solicit donations of vaccines or the money to buy them if it means more animals getting out of that pound alive.
But Ms. Hartley had more misinformation behind her failure to vaccinate: “If they’re strays, then they are not legally our animal,” she said, giving as an example: what if we give a vaccine “and one reacts and has a problem and then the owner shows up and we’re in trouble again.”
That is a false premise and a red herring to the real discussion of sound vaccination practice. Legally, it’s unlikely a shelter would be held liable unless the animal was wrongfully seized by animal control or the shelter had refused to relinquish it when the owner tried to reclaim. What’s more, the possibility of an adverse reaction to a vaccine is miniscule, and far, far less of an issue than an unvaccinated pet picking up a potentially fatal disease like parvovirus, canine distemper, panleukopenia or calicivirus in a shelter.
Furthermore, there is no law in North Carolina that prohibits shelters from vaccinating any dog on intake, and many shelters across the state do it. So unless there is a Granville County ordinance prohibiting it (I could not find their ordinances online to check), there’s no legal barrier to immediate vaccination of strays. In fact, the advocate group for the Bladen County pound (2011 dog kill rate: 10.61 percent, cat kill rate: 63.71; compare to Granville’s dog kill rate of 70.75 percent and cat kill rate of 85.87 percent), proclaims their sound vaccination policy on their Petfinder page: “In an effort toward disease prevention, Bladen County Animal Control now gives Core Vaccinations to all pets on intake.” Vance County, which had a 35 percent kill rate last year (less than half that of next door neighbor Granville County) also vaccinates all pets on intake at its pound.
(UPDATE: Thanks to a wonderful reader who sent me a link, I have read the Granville County animal control ordinances, and there is no prohibition on vaccination of strays. An AC officer is, however, allowed to “use his discretion to waive the minimum holding time and to destroy the animal immediately or at such time as deemed appropriate” in the case of “animals that are badly wounded or diseased or afflicted with a highly contagious disease such as distemper or parvo.” A change in the county ordinance to allow vaccination would probably be enough to mitigate any potential for legal problems.)
In reality, it just doesn’t make sense not to vaccinate all pets on intake, unless one is looking for MORE excuses to kill animals. (Pounds like Robeson, Duplin and Ashe have found distemper and parvo outbreaks to be quite handy in that respect.)
The good news from Thursday’s meeting is that, as mentioned, the pound has hired a new vet tech, as well as an additional shelter attendant. The board is also trying to streamline its policies and procedures for rescue groups to pull from the pound, and implementing a low-cost spay/neuter voucher program that will take advantage of the NCDA&CS reimbursement program.
1The Granville pound uses a colored card system to mark the status of the pets. Yellow means the animal is past the hold period but not available for adoption. (The animal may or may not be available to rescue groups, at Ms. Hartley’s discretion). Volunteers are not allowed to walk, pet or interact with “yellow” pets. Pets with green cards are available for adoption. Volunteers may walk, pet and interact with those pets, and the “green” dogs are allowed to spend time occasionally in one of the outdoor pens. Back