“Kill” vs. “No Kill” Shelters: an Ecosystem

My wife and I have owned lots of dogs over the years, and they’ve all been rescues, either from the pound or some rescue group. We have pretty strong feelings about adopting a dog that needs a home as opposed to going to breeders or such.

This week, there was a Facebook post from Maui Pitbull Rescue (MPR):

https://www.facebook.com/pages/MPR-Maui-Pitbull-Rescue/145160815524156

In their feed, on March 23, 8:46pm, was this statement along with some photos of the dog:

“Alert!!!!! This pit mix is # 55 at MHS. He is to be euthanized. He was found two weeks ago and now no one has claimed him. Can anyone help. We don’t have room at MPR at this time. He loves other dogs too.”

“MHS” is Maui Humane Society. What are they doing?

“Kill” Shelters

As it turns out, it’s a pretty interesting story. MHS is what’s called in some circles a “kill shelter”, in that they euthanize some animals. So, why do they do that? Well, some facts: MHS is partially funded by Maui County. As such, they operate under some fundamental requirements:

  • They are required to accept all animals that arrive at their door. This includes:
    • mongoose
    • goats
    • chickens
    • wild ducks
    • turtles
    • bunnies
    • mice
    • rats
  • They are required to euthanize animals

Where do all those animals come from? Some are dumped dogs; people get tired of caring for a pet, drive them out to some remote location, kick them out of the car and drive away. Or people are going on vacation and, rather than arrange for someone to take care of their pet, they dump them. Or a dispute with a landlord means someone can no longer keep their pet. Or someone ends up in jail. Or someone gives a child a bunny for Easter, which thrills them only for a short time. There are hundreds of reasons why people dump pets. But the common factor is they’re throwing away an animal that has depended on them for care, that has probably bonded with some or all of the household, that cannot understand why, all of a sudden, they are on their own.

A lot of these animals end up at Maui Humane Society. From their Fiscal 2013-2014 Annual Report

  • An average of 23 pets arrived daily
  • 3,000 pets were spayed or neutered
  • The number of feral cats received decreased 64% year over year
  • The number of strays is decreasing year over year

The breakdown:

  • Animals Received:
    • Cats & Kittens: 4,923
    • Dogs & Puppies: 2,308
    • Other Animals: 1,399
    • Total: 8,630
  • Animals Adopted:
    • Cats & Kittens: 769
    • Dogs & Puppies: 723
    • Other Animals: 241
    • Total: 1,733
  • Animals Reunited:
    • Cats & Kittens: 263
    • Dogs & Puppies: 531
    • Other Animals: 8
    • Total: 802
  • Animals Transferred:
    • Cats & Kittens: 1
    • Dogs & Puppies: 242
    • Other Animals: 16
    • Total: 259

What’s not in the Annual Report is some additional math:

  • Total Received: 8,630
  • Total Processed: 2,794
  • Not Accounted For: 5,836 (68%)

And here’s the breakdown of the unaccounted:

  • Cats & Kittens: 3,890
  • Dogs & Puppies: 812
  • Other Animals: 1,134

One has to assume that a significant portion of the unaccounted-for animals are euthanized. Why? Lots of reasons, but the main ones include:

  • Lots and lots of feral cats
  • Terribly injured/sick animals
  •  Malnourished animals; animals with mange
  • Behavior problems / not placeable

“No Kill” Shelters

“No Kill” shelters have no facilities for, or interest in, euthanasia. On Maui, there are a couple of them:

Maui Pitbull Rescue (MPR). Their website states:

“Maui Pitbull Rescue (MPR) is the only no-kill pitbull rescue shelter in the state of Hawaii.”

Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation (HARF). On their website:

“We are a group of experienced animal welfare people in Hawaii that are buying land and building a NO KILL shelter.” [emphasis theirs]

How do they operate without euthanasia? Well, as it turns out, they don’t, actually. These so-called “no kill” shelters are highly selective about what animals they take in. In some cases, they even survey the animals at MHS and take those animals they feel are the most adoptable. There are two holes in that logic, however:

  • The animals they refuse to take on have to go somewhere, namely MHS
  • If they find they can’t get an animal adopted, they take that animal to MHS — even if they “rescued” that animal from MHS in the first place

Holding the Bag

Where does that leave Maui Humane Society? Holding the bag, essentially. They are, as defined by their mission, the dumping ground for unwanted animals — but that includes animals rejected by no kill shelters, too.

There’s also a stigma that gets attached to MHS because they euthanize animals. That stigma is exacerbated when the no kill shelters make a huge deal about their not euthanizing animals, and especially when they send out alerts about an animal that is about to be put down at MHS. Now, that animal mentioned in an alert may just get adopted, but there are other possible outcomes:

  • MHS is negatively portrayed by the groups for whom they’re actually doing the dirty work
  • MHS is further discredited by people that don’t understand the shelter ecosystem
  • The animal may get adopted in a well-intended knee-jerk reaction to the alert, but then that adoption doesn’t work out, and the animal finds itself back at MHS

It really is an ecosystem, as the flow of pets from sources to people to shelters to people, or to euthanasia, resembles a closed system: strays and abused animals have to go somewhere.

Some Other Perspectives

A lot of people have done a lot of thinking, and writing about this. People who work within that ecosystem and really know what they’re talking about.

From SPCA, Los Angeles

“spcaLA does not euthanize for space or for time. We do not euthanize what we determine are adoptable animals.

“We will euthanize when an animal requires medical treatment that goes beyond our ability to humanely provide, or has a condition that puts other shelter animals or workers at risk.

“We will also choose euthanasia when an animal has negative behaviors, such as unmanageable aggression towards other dogs, or aggression towards people that goes beyond our ability to correct, especially if that behavior presents a safety concern to a potential adopter or to the community.

“We do not feel it is responsible to place a dangerous animal in the community. We also do not feel it is responsible to imply that we would.

“There are few organizations with the money and facilities to keep an animal that is ill or unsafe around people. In fact, keeping such animals while thousands of healthy, adoptable animals are euthanized because there is no place to keep them could be considered an unconscionable decision.

“While “no kill” is a popular phrase in today’s animal welfare environment, we do not find its use responsible. We discourage the use of the phrase “no kill.” It hides the problem. We instead want to be very clear to our community what our choices are and how our decisions are made.”

AHeinz57 Pet Rescue & Transport

“Bridging the Gap Between No Kill vs Traditional

“It’s not fair that our rescue gets to boast that we do not euthanize animals when we have to turn animals away because we don’t have room. The animals we don’t have room for end up at the traditional shelters because they do NOT turn animals away.”

Rescue with Your Eyes Open

So, next time you’re feeling sad or angry about animals getting put down, or better, thinking about finding an animal to rescue you, keep in mind the whole story. And if you do adopt a pet, take that adoption seriously, understanding that you’re now, literally, responsible for that animal’s life.

Dear Mayor Arakawa – One lane bridge on the Haleakala Highway

[Posted to AskTheMayor@mauicounty.gov]

Dear Mr. Arakawa,

The Haleakalā highway winds past Pukalani High School and, before starting up the mountain, passes through a one-lane bridge. There are yield signs for approaching traffic in both directions, but I’ve seen several near-head-on-collisions as someone sails onto the bridge without paying any attention to the yield sign, frequently without slowing down at all. This highway sees a lot of traffic between tourists and those of us who live up the mountain; sooner or later there’s going to be a major wreck on that bridge, which may lead to injuries and will most likely close that road for some amount of time.

Are there any plans to make this part of the road more safe? Perhaps add flashing yellow lights to the yield signs, or better yet widen the bridge to provide for two-way traffic?

Respectfully,

David Phillips
Kula

Dear Mayor Arakawa – Bike Tours on Haleakala

[Posted to AskTheMayor@mauicounty.gov]

Dear Mr. Arakawa,

I’ve managed to find very little documentation of any policy addressing the vendors that run bike tours down Haleakala. There was some mention of requiring a 10-minute spacing between groups, and I found one article that indicated Maui Police had declined to enforce any policies concerning these tours.

The vendors running the bike tours have taken advantage of the lack of regulation, and in doing so they are becoming somewhat of a nuisance on the highway:

  • I’ve encountered, more than a few times, up to five groups forming a near-continuous hazard all the way down the mountain. People become frustrated and pass the bikes, and the vans, at dangerous points in the road. I’ve witnessed this many times.
  • I’ve followed company vans driving down the center line, nearly causing head-on accidents with oncoming traffic.
  • I’ve followed company vans pulling trailers without working tails lights or brake lights.
  • I’ve had to avoid bicyclists riding against traffic in the wrong lane, or weaving all over the road while the company staff ignores them.
  • I’ve come around a corner to find a dozen people, off their bikes, standing in the middle of the highway watching a rainbow as the vendor sits in his van and looks on.

It seems to me some common-sense regulation, and enforcement, would be appropriate here. We’re going to see more tourists rather than fewer. More people will be living upcountry. It’s only a matter of time before we have a major incident with injuries. This shouldn’t be too complicated:

  • Vans and trailers must have current vehicle inspections and be in proper working order.
  • Vans and trailers must be clearly marked with company information on the sides and on the rear, including telephone numbers for reporting complaints.
  • Lead riders must wear clothing and helmets that clearly identify them as the company’s guide.
  • All riders must ride between the leading guide and the following van. No stragglers or racers.
  • A maximum of 5 riders per guide. If the group is larger, more guides must be riding spaced throughout the middle of the group.
  • Tours must allow 15 minutes between departures from the top of the route. 10 minutes is not sufficient, as the groups stack up lower on the mountain. Maui Police should occasionally audit this behavior.
  • There should be a central hotline for reporting incidents, or perhaps a website where people can provide photos of the vendor being reported. Maui Police should review both of these.
  • There should be real penalties for violating regulations – fines, suspension or revocation of tour operator’s license.

I don’t think any of these suggestions would be unreasonable to responsible tour vendors, and it would certainly make things safer for the people on bikes, and less frustrating for those of us who drive that highway every day.

Of course, an alternative solution would be to restrict all such tours to a single company to control the usage, similar to what they did on the Big Island in Kealakekua Bay. This would put other tour companies out of business, but would also provide a more consistent, safer experience for those who take those tours. If the current abuse continues, and traffic increases, I could see us getting to that point.

Respectfully,

David Phillips
Kula

Island Bound 5: Relocated!

[continued from Island Bound 4: I Love it When a Plan Comes Together]

It’s now the end of May. I arrived here in Kula two months ago, to address some repairs and additions to the house, get an electrician in, get a plumber in. My car arrived a day early, and our shipping pod arrived a week early – so that both arrived on the same day, which was a circus. Getting my car registered was an all-day exercise, but I learned a lot that helped Sarah get the same done for her car in half the time (although DMV at first refused to believe that a VW Golf could be a diesel). Our dog Beast didn’t make the trip, as we had to put him down a few weeks before his quarantine period was up. We miss him.

The major and minor construction projects are pretty much finished, and it’s time to get down to living the island dream. I plan to keep posting as I learn things about this beautiful place. I must say that both Sarah and I feel blessed in that pretty much everyone we’ve interacted with here on the island has positively exuded aloha.

Now it’s time for us to find some ocean to jump into…

Beast

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve been following our preparations for relocation to Maui. Part of that adventure included getting Beast, our Alaskan Malamute, to the island as well. Sadly, those plans have now changed.

Beast had been having some throat issues for a while, and we thought we had it pretty much taken care of. Last week, the coughing became suddenly worse, and he started refusing food. Sarah took him in to the vet, and the X-ray revealed a huge tumor in his throat, distorting his trachea, and putting him at risk of asphyxiation, a horrible way to go. Sarah was with him in Newport with family while I was in Kula setting up the house. I turned off the saw, realized I had a text from Sarah, and called her. Her first words were “he’s gone, baby, I’m so sorry.” Sarah had been trying to reach me, and I either couldn’t hear the phone or wasn’t getting reception, so she had to make the hard call by herself, a hellish task. We can only be thankful that the choice was clear.

Change is hard for dogs, and the last month or so had been especially challenging for our boy, with strange people viewing the house, packing, things disappearing into boxes. We set his travel crate up in the living room with us and he really took to it, preferring to stay in there quite a bit, denning. Then out of the house and into a hotel for a week. Sarah was working, so Beast and I were on our own, together constantly, going for walks, exploring the pet store, finding the hotel room, learning about elevators. He was game, curious, playful and, a bit unusual for him, snuggly.

On the 30th, I gave him a hug and a belly rub, and departed for the airport for Maui. I didn’t know it was the last time I’d see the dog I’d adopted seven years before.

Since my departure, Sarah had him roaming the beaches in Oregon, playing with his new dog friend Odie on the ranch in Newport, and seemingly rediscovering some of the puppyhood he’d never had. His last weeks were filled with adventure, and he embraced it.

When I first brought Beast home with Belle, he was the troubled one, lacking any sort of confidence, glued to Belle’s side. Touching him anywhere back of his shoulder blades caused him to cower and cry in fear. Three years later, I could grab his tail and he’d understand it was play – but that was a long, gentle process to get him to realize he had a place in our home that was his. We watched him blossom, learning it was all right to play, to ask for attention, to demand dinner. When we lost Belle, he became our only child, the sole center of our dog-world. He moved out of her shadow and started expressing himself more than ever before. He watched more television than any dog I’ve ever known.

Beast was a gentle giant, curious but insecure, loving but only just beginning, really, to understand how to ask for love, fascinated by little children. I like to think he’s running with Belle now, free and happy. Our pack is smaller, and we miss him terribly.