Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Behind the bars

A month ago, a friend and I went on an rather unsavory field trip to animal control in order to test the temperament of a Pomeranian after the dog coordinator for Second Chance Animal Rescue, the group for which I foster, called and told me that the dog may be too shy-fearful/aggressive to rescue.

Side note: I'm a sucker for Poms. In fact, I began fostering after my beloved Pomeranian, Mandy, fell down the stairs and died when she was 8 years old.

So my motivation to save this little dog was pretty high, and Kathy, who recently lost a dog unexpectedly herself, agreed to accompany me. The two of us entered the kennel quietly and sat on the rugs we brought while attempting the lure the currently nameless dog out of the corner. Aware that she would be euthanized if she bit either of us, we carefully approached her wearing gloves. Eventually, I was able to stroke her a bit and pick her up. Kathy even handled her paws, and at one point the little dog, whom we renamed "Ella," lifted a leg so Kathy could scratch her better. But in the facility, she was absolutely terrified.

As difficult a place as animal control is to see, it helps put things in perspective when a new dog enters my home. (To get a vague sense, check out this video, especially from 2:00 on. Note: There are few accurate depictions of animal control facilities on YouTube.) Since most of our dogs come through animal control, I find it helpul to see what their world is like once they become a stray. It goes something like this:

1. The dog's person relinquishes him/her, is hospitalized, or is arrested. . . OR a random person finds it in an unexpected place and calls animal control.

In the latter case, animal control officers come to the site and capture the loose dog, sometimes using a pole with a loop at the end. Anyhow, it's pretty traumatizing, from what I've seen--even
when animal control officers like those in this video are thoughtful in their approach.

2. The dog lives in a loud, cold kennel/run at an animal control facility for a set amount of time--unless it is reclaimed by it's person.

In my part of town, the dog stays in animal control for 5 days before it is euthanized. The facility itself is cold, loud, scary, containing rows of cement-floored runs. The has no bed or toys, and its run is cleaned using a high-powered hose. It is not walked or exercised during its stay.

3. While the dog is the facility, it can be assessed by a handful of rescue organizations, and if it is very, very lucky, it will be chosen to leave with one of those groups. That's what happened to Ella. She was sprung and fostered by Kathy, who helped her calm down after her terriying ordeal, and now Ella's in a permanent home.

4. But what about the majority that aren't claimed? Well, they wait. And wait. And when the facility is full or their time is determined to be up, someone walks up to their kennel wearing a lab coat and leather gloves, loops a leash around their necks, and takes them for a final walk, which ends behind a closed door.

I wish I could say their last moments were peaceful.

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