Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Thoughts On "Oreo"

or, Another Open Letter to Nathan Winograd.

There has been a lot of recent hubbub about a pit bull that was thrown from a roof in New York about 6 months ago. This was pretty much the epitome of a cruelty case by commission: someone literally took his dog and threw it off a roof. Every day animals are subjected to all kinds of cruelty- from the worst, like dog fighting, to things like what happened to Oreo, to more subtle, but still bad, things like being tied up and left in the yard and undersocialized with poor shelter from the element, or left with matted hair and some kind of untreated ailment. If they weren't, I would be out of a job (and I wouldn't mind being out of my kind of job.)

Very few of these acts of cruelty make the New York Times. This story originally made the Times when the dog owner was first charged. I'm not sure why the story was news, but it was. Maybe it was news because pit bulls are always news (usually when they attack someone or something, or a dog looks like a pit bull when it does anything wrong), and recently they're semi-positive news due to some of Michael Vick dogs making it. Maybe it was news because many people saw this dog fall. Maybe the ASPCA made a big deal of the rescue of the dog. But speaking from someone who deals with human beings' shitty acts every day, let me tell you, this stuff doesn't normally make the news. And that's probably a good thing, because usually it doesn't have a happy ending.

This is something I struggle with a lot, and recently had an interesting discussion with a coworker about, in the euthanasia room, of all places. Each of us were going to put down one of our dogs- dogs we cared about. My dog was a cruelty case, one that will never make the news, and that no one would know about if I weren't blogging about it here. I went to post a picture, but it's on my work camera. I got a call about a dog in a kennel, in an abandoned house. I went out, and the house was empty. It didn't look abandoned to me, but it was messy, and maybe the people had just moved out. I don't know and will never know, because they never came in for their dog. The dog was indeed living in a kennel, if you can call it that. It was more like a cage, a 6x4 cage. The dog was a very large German Shepherd mix, maybe with husky or Akita. A VERY large dog, 80 or 90 lbs. The cage had a top on it and was closed up with a weird combination of wire and bungee cords. There was a build up of feces in it and the water was a bucket of green water. I was just looking at this situation, trying to figure out how I was going to get the cage open, and then, how to get the dog out, when the dog picked up one of the toys (toys?!) in the cage and started throwing them at me. Turns out, this extra large dog was actually quite happy to see me. So I took pictures, opened the cage, and walked the dog out. He was a NICE dog. He waited out his cruelty impound wait, 10 days in California, and was evaluated a week later. He didn't pass his evaluation. I had a friend who works with rescue come look at him, and he was really borderline. He was older than I originally thought, probably 3 years old, and he was very "doggy"- a term I learned from Diane Jessup- sort of intact male, interested in intact male things, and just not very social. He could be social for a minute, and tolerated handling, but didn't really have a place in an urban home. He was a backyard (well, a cage) dog, and couldn't compete with the adoptable dogs the shelter was bursting at the seams with. So his euthanasia day came, and I put him down.

I put a lot of dogs that I seize down. I keep a picture in the office of a puppy I seized that was about 6 months old and looked two months old. A pit bull puppy, so riddled with demodex that she had a secondary skin infection all over her body. There was not a spot on her body that was not infected and oozing and scabby. Every lymph node on her body was swollen- her ankles and jugular were swollen like they had tumors. Her hip bones jutted out. I put her and her sister down the day they came in, as they were suffering. What does it mean to put down dogs I seize for cruelty? It is not easy for me: I have *rescued* these dogs from some of the shittiest situations, some of cruelty by commission and some of omission, and then I kill them. Yes, Mr Winograd, I kill them. I euthanize them humanely, but at the end, they are dead. They aren't suffering anymore, but they're not living, either.

But no one is scrambling to place them, like they were scrambling to place Oreo. No one is following me around and writing up these dogs' stories. Thank Dawg. If everyone saw what I saw every day, they would be numb to it. They wouldn't care about every dog, or any dog. On the other hand, the three dogs I just described weren't aggressive. Why was everyone trying to save Oreo, a dog that a respectable organization, the ASPCA (read: not PETA or HSUS) deemed unadoptable? If Oreo was aggressive, why the clamour to save her? No one created a stir to save my shepherd and he was not aggressive, he just wasn't particularly awesome, either, and at most municipal shelters, only the awesome go up for adoption. No one clamoured to save my mangy pit bulls, either, and they certainly weren't aggressive. They were just very very sick, and needed so much medical treatment that it could have taken years to work them back to health. No local or national group took up their cause, and certainly not Nathan Winograd or the list of groups he gives.

Winograd is thrilled that a law is being authored to stop the "executions" of more Oreos. He says that this law is like the Hayden Law, which is in place in California. Interestingly, though, the Hayden Law only requires that STRAY dogs and cats (and rabbits and pigs) be made available to 501c3 rescue groups. (See SB 1785) And again, the Hayden bill only works if it's, well, working. My dogs were all SEIZED, not stray, and 501c3s are swamped. Would the Sanctuary that everyone was pleading for Oreo to be sent to have stepped up for my dogs if they weren't in the media? Honestly, my Shepherd would have been fine in a kennel at a sanctuary with daily play time. But for the pit pups and many other I seize, it would be another step in the wrong direction: they need an instant family, that would spend lots and lots of time and money. And what rescue group or family has room for all of that? Very few.

I hate that this is the truth. I hate that I "save" dogs and then "kill" them. It is one of the crappiest parts of my job. But I'm also distraught that an aggressive pit bull is the impetus for a bill that would make any dog available to rescue. Rescue is awesome. It's necessary. Cruelty is terrible, and the animals are not the ones that should pay. The idiotic, foolish, ignorant, and sometimes badly intentioned people should suffer. In the meantime, Oreo is the wrong posterdog, and I wish we could unite without pointing fingers at the ASPCA (armchair sheltering again) and rather work together to fight cruelty and to partner in rescuing.


Rinalia said...

Oreo is a symbol of what is broken in our system. How it should be fixed is up in the air. Certainly there are far worse shelters with far worse death rates and little, if any, infrastructure (or money) to promote/expand creative adoption programs.

The A made a lot of money off of Oreo. They gave her a measly six months to recover from significant physical and psychological trauma. The put in a lot of money and effort to physically rehabilitate her.

I am not questioning the A's assessment of the Oreo six-months after being thrown from a building. I am questioning the logic in denying a willing organization the chance to pursue further rehabilitation or provide permanent sanctuary if the dog is observably content. Certainly if the A visited Pets Alive and found the conditions wanting, I could perhaps understand their concern. But they rebuked/ignored an invitation to do so. And so they killed a dog who had a place to go - that is, they killed an adoptable animal...something most shelters try and avoid.

I live in California. I've volunteered in a hi-kill shelter. Hayden's law works. It dramatically increased the chance a dog or cat had once they entered the shelter system. It is not a law in the traditional sense as there are no real penalties for choosing not to adhere to its tenants, except lack of state refunds. It works and, to be honest, I'd love to see it emulated in other states.

I don't write this in any accusatory manner. I've been in the kill rooms, worked with aco's, gone on cruelty calls, so I know there isn't a magical cure. There's a shift in thinking and the actions to follow that shift.

And unfortunately, if you don't have a great pr person or fundraiser or connections, you aren't going to make the news. But reaching out to your local news editor or animal friendly tv personality can make a difference and improve exposure. It's on a smaller scale, of course, but anything can go viral. :)

Anonymous said...

I was saddened to read Oreo's story. I was sadder to read that he had been euthanized. I feel very strongly that unsafe animals need to be euthanized, but I am sad that this dog, who suffered such abuse never got the chance to learn what "the good life" is all about.

I do not work for the ASPCA, and I never got to meet oreo, but these are highly trained professionals, and I respect their decision. It is never easy caring for a dog for a long period of time only to find out that the dog you love doesn't have the same feelings for you. Many of these people are in this business to save animals, not to kill them. And all this back biting doesn't help. Rather then spending the time pointing fingers at what the ASPCA did "wrong" or what they "didn't do" we really need to focus on WHY this abuse took place and what can be done do prevent it from happening in the future.

themacinator said...

rinalia- thanks for your post. i agree, the hayden bill helps. i'm just not sure that there's a direct connection between oreo and the hayden bill. like i said, shelters are required/mandated to relinquish "stray" not "seized" animals- so the aspca would still not have had to bow to pressure to release oreo. that being said, i love the hayden bill, and am glad it's there, especially for the longer due-outs it generates.

i don't want a high-powered PR person. i don't want to be in the news. my pipe dream, though, is to have people realize that oreo is ONE DOG out of thousands and thousands, and hundreds that shelters deal with nation wide each day. and not all of them are aggressive. if good comes out of oreo's shitty situation, that's awesome. if all that comes is finger pointing and tears shed for oreo, that, to me, is another case of winograd stirring the pot, rather than moving forward.

anony- totally agree with you. i wish more of the media and blogosphere focus was on this, and less on finger pointing. i am a little worried that my post came off as finger pointing, which is not what i meant. i'm all about moving forward, in as united of a manner as possible.

Running With Dogs said...

Working in rescue I like that I am often able to take in the harder cases that municipal shelters don't have the resources for. Many of the questionable dogs that come through over-crowded shelters often thrive in quieter home environments. And while we can help many of the dogs, it is virtually impossible to help every dog. There are not enough open foster homes for all of these dogs that need training/socialization. And even if there were more homes, I don't think that any of us would appreciate an "unpredictably aggressive" dog living next door to us. One of the things that NW fails to mention in many of his letters is the issue of public safety. These municipal shelters are not only here to protect and serve the animals, they are also there to help protect public safety. And while it is sad that a dog that was horribly abused was euthanized, it would be even more tragic if this unpredictably aggressive dog were placed into a setting where a person and/or other pet was tragically hurt.

Also, Oreo IS one dog. But the PR that one dog brings often helps tens of dogs that don't get the national media attention. I do wish that this one dog had a better outcome, but his story will bring in enough donations to not only cover his medical bills, but will also cover the medical bills of other mangy puppies - and hopefully some spays and neuters too.

Chi-Town Bound said...

I am always humbled when reading your posts. You write in such a way that allows the reader to enter into your world and realize that it surely is a problem.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, thought-provoking post.

We're a volunteer foster home and, like RWD, we sometimes take in dogs that aren't - at least initially - suitable for most households.

Many of these dogs blossom just from being taken out of the highly stressful shelter environment. Others, like the little black dog who's with us now - require a lot of time, effort and money to rehabilitate.

I adore him and Charlie is going to be a great little dog for someone - but sometimes I wonder if putting so much time and money (he needs thousands of dollars of orthopedic surgery) into one dog makes sense...

Big picture - I could probably rehabilitate 3 or more other dogs in the time it will take me to prepare Charlie for his forever home.

Reality - Charlie is of a breed particularly close to my heart, his story broke my heart and chance put him in my home. Right or wrong, now that he's here, I'll keep him until he's adopted.