Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Rescue Shut Down in Wisconsin

I was tipped off to this article by the Bark Blog. Basically, neighbors complained about a woman who rescued dogs in their neighborhood, and so the city shut this "rescuer" down, and now the aldermen are considering pet limits. The full story is here:

In the doghouse

City shuts rescue business, may curb ownership

Posted: June 22, 2008

Brookfield - Every dog deserves a chance to be saved from euthanasia, no matter how apparently sick or unable to be adopted, Jean Rhoten said.

She has helped rescue more than 300 dogs from as far away as Alabama, using her northeast-side Brookfield home to coordinate vet visits and find foster and adoptive homes — “forever” homes, she called them.

But her neighbors have had enough with the number and nature of the dogs running through Rhoten’s home. After their complaints, the city shut down her dog rescue operation, JR Pups ’N Stuff as an illegal business in a residential area.

Aldermen now are considering whether to limit the number of dogs or cats that residents may have.

Volunteers with JR’s Pups, who continue to rescue dogs but do not bring them to Rhoten’s house, said they hoped to persuade aldermen to create exceptions for dog rescues.

Pet limits are common. Brookfield is one of only six communities in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties — and the only city — that does not limit the number of dogs...

Most communities have a two- or three-dog limit. Some issue animal kennel, hobby or fancier permits that allow more dogs, charge higher fees and sometimes require yearly inspections.

Menomonee Falls officials recently backed away from a plan to set limits after protests from dog lovers.

Brookfield officials are concerned that their city will become a target for puppy mills, and they want to keep large kennel-like operations in commercial areas, City Clerk Kris Schmidt and inspector Tom Beinert said.

Neighbors object

Others, including an Elmbrook Humane Society official, warned that limits would not deter puppy mills, could hurt dog-fostering efforts and would be selectively enforced in cases in which neighbors are feuding.

Neighbors, however, said they were tired of Rhoten’s dogs’ barking, defecating and leaving her half-acre yard despite an electric fence. Brookfield does not allow physical fences, except where residences abut commercial areas.

Neighbors also said Rhoten’s yard in the 4600 block of N. 135th St. has been cluttered with kennels, trailers and a large white tent. About 40 neighbors signed a petition against the rescue business.

A year ago, a then-2-year-old girl who lives next door was scratched or bitten by a dog owned by Rhoten. The neighbors disagreed about the severity of the injury. A humane society animal control official told the city that a photo appeared to show a scratch, not a bite.

Rhoten said one of her terriers knocked down the toddler and started licking her near the lot line. The girl’s parents could not be reached for an interview, despite phone calls and a visit to their house.

Neighbor Val Price said it is common sense for aldermen to limit the number of dogs in homes.

“It’s ridiculous, it’s unsanitary to have nine dogs,” said Price, who said he has not owned dogs since the death of his Siberian husky.

Rhoten said she once had 17 dogs in her home, but that was rare. While arranging foster homes, she had three rescued dogs and a litter of nine puppies, in addition to the five dogs she owned, she said.

“For 48 hours, we had 17 dogs,” she said.

Rhoten said nine dogs have been in her home recently: six she owns and three belonging to a friend who has been living temporarily with her. That friend and her dogs planned to move last week.

Rhoten, who also has two rabbits, said she has stopped bringing any rescued dogs to her house since the city’s municipal judge on Feb. 27 ordered that she stop the home business she started in May 2007.

“I can’t bring a foster dog even for an overnight, if there’s an emergency,” she said. “The judge told me I couldn’t. It has limited the number of dogs we can rescue.”

‘We rely on fosters’

Karen Sparapani, community outreach director for the humane society in Brookfield, said the issue is an emotional, complex one for aldermen.

On one hand, Sparapani said, the humane society always has room for more animals, and there is no need for a shelter-like facility in a subdivision drawing the ire of neighbors. Well-intentioned animal lovers sometimes hoard animals or take in more than they can handle properly, she said.

But the humane society depends on residents who care temporarily for dogs that need to recover from ailments or change bad behavior until the society can offer them for adoption, she said.

“We rely on fosters quite a bit,” Sparapani said. “Anyone who does fostering is a hero to me.”

The Town of Brookfield’s two-dog limit has blocked some town residents from fostering dogs for the humane society because those residents already own two dogs, she said.

JR’s Pups volunteer Heidi Van Gorder of Milwaukee said many dog rescuers and foster volunteers ignore local dog limits in their passion to save animals from being killed.

Other dog laws appear to be ignored.

Brookfield issued 1,162 dog licenses this year — nowhere near the number of dogs that likely live in the city of more than 13,000 residences, the city clerk said....

I wish I was shocked by this news article. I wish I was shocked by stories of rescuers having 17 dogs, even for only 48 hours. I wish I was shocked by rescuers having electric fences and toddlers being knocked over and "licked" and maybe "scratched." I wish I felt like blaming the media for this story. The truth is, I've been involved in rescue and animal sheltering (and the internet world that goes along with them) for long enough to think that there are a lot of "backyard rescuers" just like there are "backyard breeders." The difference is clear- byr's (backyardrescuers) get involved for much more altruistic reasons than byb's (backyardbreeders) but some of the similarities are disappointing.

I have heard this justification before: that every dog "deserves a chance"- and it's true, it really really sucks to euthanise a dog because it didn't have a chance at a foster or rescue or even straight up shelter adoption. But if a rescue is at the point where neighbors are complaining, and the foster family has an animal control history, is that a chance? It seems that it is really easy to get overwhelmed- I know of rescuers who have had dogs in UHauls, dogs in outdoor kennels, dogs repossessed by animal control. Who is being served by this kind of rescue? The dogs? The adopters? The animal shelters that have to deal with not just irresponsible owners, not just byb's, but also rescuers?

Some pit bull groups came together a few years ago and created a Pit Bull Rescue Code of Ethics. Self-selecting groups choose to follow it, and choose which parts to follow. Some feel the puppy selection process is too strict, some feel the part dealing with mixes is questionable. Regardless, these groups have come together to develop a COE that they can live with, and abide by. They hold themselves to these standards because they want to be *part of the solution* and make the newspapers in positive ways, unlike JR's Pups.

As rescuing becomes the cool, trendy thing to do, I worry that we will hear more and more of these byr stories, and there will be a rescue backlash, as there is currently a byb backlash. "Why would we support a rescue when we hear x, y, and z horror story?" Well, honestly, if the average pet owner heard all the things that I do about rescues, they probably wouldn't rescue. I hope that new and established rescuers start holding themselves to the high standards that keep them a cut above neighbor complaints and bite incidents.