I want to believe that everyone would choose to save a dog’s life if he or she could. I want to believe that my state is working in unison to improve our life-saving outcomes for homeless companion animals. But sometimes, those positive thoughts are contradicted by the facts and it is tragic for the animal involved and demoralizing for the rest of us in animal welfare.
In Virginia, our statewide live release rate (inclusive of both government shelters and private humane organizations) in 2015 was 79%, and the live release rate for just private organizations statewide was 93%. These are statistics to be proud of but not to be satisfied with. We should be particularly not satisfied with the conduct of some bureaucrats who are in positions of decision making and use those positions to take animals’ lives when it was not necessary that they do so.
This truth was brought home to me recently with respect to a dog in the government shelter that serves Carroll County, Virginia and the City of Galax, Virginia. As sometimes happens with a particular dog, the plight of this one got the attention of animal advocates around our state. The cute, young dog — pictured below — whose name was never disclosed to us seemed to have a single blemish on his record. He killed a chicken and, for that reason, he was impounded in the Carroll County/Galax facility. We don’t know whether he killed one or more than one chicken because the people overseeing that facility would not communicate with any of us.
While none of us is comfortable with a dog killing a chicken or any other animal for that matter, anyone who has worked in animal welfare for long knows that this behavior is not uncommon for dogs and can happen easily if the dog is in a rural location and his guardians do not put in place measures to prevent the dog from free roaming. Such an occurrence does not in any way suggest that the dog will be aggressive toward people or toward other dogs and the dog in question had no such record that we are aware of.
It does mean that such a dog must be adopted out with care to a home where he will not come into contact with small animals and to guardians who will be very careful about preventing him from having opportunities to kill or injure another animal. At the Richmond SPCA, we know that trustworthy adopters of that sort come along frequently and, with good counseling prior to adoption, may be relied upon to provide a loving home and responsible care for a long and full lifetime.
Under Virginia Law, a dog who kills a chicken can be killed. However, the dog may also legally be rehomed to a state non-adjacent to Virginia. Significantly, on July 1, 2016, Virginia law changed under House Bill 1231 (passed by the 2016 Virginia General Assembly) to allow “the district court to order that any dog that has been found to have injured or killed only poultry be microchipped and either confined securely or transferred to another owner whom the court deems appropriate.” That the law just changed to allow a dog who has killed poultry to be rehomed within the state is a very significant reflection of the changed intention of our legislature and the evolving compassion of the state’s electorate. This progressive thinking does not seem to have reached the senior administrations of Carroll County and Galax however.
The Richmond SPCA, Homeward Trails and the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies all offered to pay to board the dog from when we discovered this situation in early June, until July 1, 2016 at which time he could be transferred to any one of our groups. We all offered to take him into our care and safely rehome him outside of Carroll County or Galax. These offers, which we made directly to the City Manager of Galax and the County Administrator of Carroll County, fell on deaf ears. We received no response other than one terse emailed statement that the dog would not be transferred with no explanation given of any reasoning. The dog was killed that same day on the decision of those same two individuals. No, I will not use the word “euthanized” because the dog was young, healthy and the killing was needless and in no way merciful for the dog.
Why would they do this? The news article that appeared later in the local Galax Gazette quoted Nikki Cannon, the Carroll County administrator, as saying that the outcome was “not ideal” but that it was consistent with their policy. The Galax official, Keith Barker, put all of the blame on the Carroll County official. The local bureaucrats also said a lot of vague stuff about how they were going to work to develop a new policy for the future. That sadly will do nothing for this poor dog whose death never should have happened and it is heartless to simply describe needless loss of life as “not ideal.”
Many animal control agencies and their staffs have become great allies in the effort to save animal lives. Many of them are run by people who are deeply dedicated to saving and protecting animals. But when government animal control agencies are controlled by bureaucrats making these sorts of irresponsible decisions, it tars them all. This is why many people continue to believe that government “pounds” should be feared. And, when people who oppose the no kill philosophy whine that they are not understood, this is the sort of situation that they need to look at honestly for some answers. When government agencies make this sort of heartless decision when they had a life-saving alternative (or actually more than one in this case), it erodes public confidence that they care about the welfare of animals. It is not just “not ideal.” It is deeply unethical and tragic.
I feel so very sorry for that nameless, adorable dog in the picture whom I have never met. So sorry that he died needlessly for a transgression that should never have resulted in a death sentence when there were people who wanted to save his life and could have done so responsibly. Why does this continue to happen? Why are there some people who prefer to make this choice? Because I can only conclude that they do prefer it.
Robin Starr is Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond SPCA.