Madera County Animal Shelter — use the truth to effect change |

The article about the seven puppies killed at Madera County Animal Shelter in California ignited a mini-fire storm about shelterpractices. Admittedly, open access shelters have a tough job. They get in more animals than they can adopt out or send to rescues. Most find that if they do not kill dogs and cats, they will be overrun with animals. Too many dogs or cats in kennels is unsafe and unhealthy.

But since the Madera County Animal Shelter killed seven puppies on one day — the same day that a rescue called about pulling them — the arguments have been flying fast and furious on Facebook. They began as comments on the actual article, “Six-week-old puppies killed on day they had rescue,” and then spread to the Facebook page Lost and Found Pets in Madera County.

Many of the commenters have negative things to say about the shelter while others, presumably volunteers or shelter workers, insist that the shelter does wonderful things for the homeless and lost animals of Madera County. Probably, both are true. Madera is a county shelter. It must take in all owner-abandoned animals and lost or stray animals. That’s a lot of animals in a rural county where almost 1/4 of the population lives below the poverty level.

The good? Madera, through a private foundation, offers free spaying and neutering for dogs and cats. This is the first and best way to stop the overpopulation of animals that end up in millions of dogs and cats being killed each year. When this author called to sponsor a dog (pay for the spay), she was told that the director, Kirsten Gross, was in “the Bay area” picking up some sick cats from PetSmart where they are housed looking for adoption. Most PetSmart stores have a cat room where adoptable cats can find homes and be adopted. That’s something good.

But the Facebook post on the page for lost animals in Madera states: “URGENT!! If you have lost a pitbull, please also check the “employee only” area at the Madera shelter. They will keep pits back there and not tell you. Please check again if you have lost your pitbull!!”

Another Madera dog owner whose dog was lost is warning those with lost dogs that Madera is not very helpful when trying to find a lost dog. And once her lost dog was located (she saw her), she says: “… she was 16 and hard of hearing and instead of going in to get her up they sprayed her with the water hose. Thanks, not only was she old, mostly blind and hard of hearing, now she’s soaking wet and scared as hell. So if you feel the need to, ask to see the staff-only area, the bathroom or the closet — please ask. If you’re missing your pet, search every nook and cranny. They couldn’t be bothered to even help me much.”

And when a shelter worker questioned if she really saw the dog being hosed, and stated that some people twist the truth, she responded:

YES I physically saw them hose down my dog. Yes, she was in there with a few other small dogs. Did I forget to mention that she was a Shih tzu Pomeranian? I simply stated what had happened to MY dog. Not that it’s any of your business, but my family does volunteer at shelters, so yes I’m aware of issues that can come up when removing a dog from one area to another. Again, I don’t need to twist the truth. I stated what I saw happen to MY dog. Never did I say that I saw it happen to any other dogs except of course the ones that were in the kennel with mine.”

A shelter worker wrote in response to that post: “The animal shelter does allow people to check in the employees only area with an employee or will have an employee check for you!” However, letting a shelter worker “check for you” is NOT a good way to ensure that your lost dog or cat is there. Only owners know exactly what their pet looks like. A general description is not good enough and could lead to a pit bull being killed after the hold time is up instead of being reunited with family. Please make sure to check yourself!

Perhaps one poster put it best when she wrote: “I’ve had a really bad experience with the Madera shelter AND I’ve had a GREAT experience there!”

And another wrote about the workers at Madera: “They do the best they can to help find the owners, calling rescue groups, foster homes for animals, and finding them new homes. One of the employees is fostering 7 dogs (that is dogs alone, lost count of how many cats). They bring them back to health, up to date on weight and shots, and some are just too young so they take them home until they are the right adoption age.”

But the truth is that any shelter should be open and honest and transparent about their practices. No shelter director should fear or shy away from an article about five six-week-old puppies being killed if that is the truth. When volunteers are threatened if they talk at all about the killing, that’s wrong. The truth? Madera probably kills many animals each and every week. Is it necessary? Yes, because of the huge numbers of animals coming in without owners, and the lack of people adopting from the shelter.

Should the director of Madera be willing to meet with those who would like to see changes? Yes. Should those on the County Board of Supervisors be taking a closer look at the complaints about Madera? Yes. The animals have no one to fight for them. Other shelters, like the Hillsborough County Animal Shelter in Tampa, Florida, also get in huge numbers of animals. Many are killed. BUT the shelter and the volunteers work as a team — all of them fighting for each and every animal to get a home. The volunteers are sent nightly reports about which animals were killed, which are still there, and new ones. They get pictures to post quickly so the animals can be networked on a timely basis. They are all honest about the animals who are killed when their kennel is needed for a new dog. In Madera, they want to hide the killing. In Madera, the pictures of the puppies were posted and they were dead within 24 hours of that time. That’s just not a process that is going to help the most animals find a home.

And no volunteer should be afraid to say the truth. A federal court case stated that volunteers at a county shelter do have the right to speak out about what they see and hear. U.S. District Judge James Bredar ruled that the plaintiffs, the shelter volunteers, properly alleged a violation of “the right to exercise constitutionally protected free speech, free of a state actor’s retaliatory adverse act.” The Madera County Shelter director needs to be very careful about threatening a volunteer with retaliation or retribution. And if those who speak out find that the animals they want to rescue are “mysteriously” not available, that will also be a problem. One of the founding principles of our country is the right to free speech. By speaking out for the oppressed, or in this case, the animals, changes might be made to help them.

Madera County Animal Shelter: Are you killing many dogs and cats (of course you are, you are a county shelter with too many animals lost and abandoned)? Share that information. It’s good for the public to see pictures of the killed animals. It’s good for emotions to be charged. That’s how change happens. People get fed up with the killing (and not the killers, so long as they see Herculean efforts being made to save the animals). Then, perhaps, people will fight to have more spaying and neutering. They will talk to their neighbors and their workers. Change will happen. Make it transparent.

Ms. Gross, the director of Madera, said today by phone that there is no retribution for any volunteer speaking the truth. She also said that staff time has been taken up with negative phone calls as a result of negative articles. She also said she has never retaliated against a volunteer by not allowing that volunteer to foster dogs. She stated that Madera’s kill rate is lower than that of surrounding Central California counties.

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