The opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Montreal Dog Blog or its individual bloggers. However, we feel presenting all rational sides of important animal issues can further deeper discussion, education and improvement of animal welfare. Ultimately, our collective end goal remains the same: betterment of animal treatment – not only in Quebec, but around the globe.
Becoming a vet was a childhood dream and I feel very fortunate that after 17 years of practice I still love what I do. There are many rewarding aspects to this profession. However, like with everything, there are some issues and situations that are not as pleasant to deal with. The most challenging has been dealing with all the misinformation from various sources. As a vet, I see first hand the consequences of this as well as unnecessary suffering of animals due to the lack of proper care by well-intentioned, but incompetent individuals.
For my first blog, I have chosen to respond to an article that I recently read in the Montreal Gazette on October 19, 2011, by Marla Newhook. I knew I was not seeing the information through rose-colored glasses as would be the many others who had come across this story. My position may appear harsh, but I feel strongly that we have a long road ahead of us if we want to improve the standards for our beloved companions.
Here is the link of the article:
Help puppies, kittens whose owners just changed their minds
By MARLA NEWHOOK, Freelance October 19, 2011
Here is my response:
In reading the article written by Marla Newhook, I am immediately struck by the fact that in relating her story, she doesn’t even realize that she is perfectly describing everything that is wrong with most animal shelters: lack of concern for the animals’ origin, lack of basic and rapid health care, lack of facilities, lack of concern for the people fostering or adopting the animals, and at times outrageous practices that are often no better if not worse than the ones that they blame pet stores and puppy mills for.
The problems begin as soon as the shelters get hold of an animal, a cat in this case. Most refuges assume that every cat that they come in contact with is a stray. When you consider that elderly cats often look unkempt and thin because they don’t groom, and because there is a natural loss of muscle mass due to the aging process, this may already be a serious mistake and someone may often be left wondering if their beloved cat has been lost or even killed. In the present case, the cat was declawed, had a flea collar, but was still deemed a “stray”. This very same assumption also causes a lot of shelters to not even bother looking for the previous owners, and I’ve even seen some shelters that became so self-righteous that they actually “stole” pets from people whom they deemed unfit to have them. A colleague of mine was once asked by the owner of a refuge to surgically remove a microchip from a dog that she had stolen so the dog could not be traced back to its owner! This is outrageous!
The next thing is the lack of basic health care for the animals, and by extension, of concern for the people who will be fostering these animals. It should be obvious that if this so-called “stray” had quickly been examined by a veterinarian instead of being “dumped” on an unsuspecting “foster” family, her age and condition could have been determined much sooner and the proper steps instituted, potentially saving a lot of money and grief. Instead, basic precautions are rarely the norm when introducing new pets. On the contrary, in order to save money, shelters will often keep the healthy animals and give the sick ones to foster families with the provision that these families are responsible for all health-related costs while the animal is under their care. This is obscene, and it creates a situation where unnecessary and unjustified risks are being taken by bringing animals of unknown health status into households where kids, elderly people and/or other pets are present. This could be a major cause of disease transmission to both animals and humans. Certain conditions are zoonoses, meaning that people can catch them from animals, making them a public health risk. As an example, simple intestinal worms, which are common in stray animals, have been known to cause blindness in young children. Another example is ringworm, a fungal infection of the skin that is often found in stray animals. In other words, this “fostering” system, which sounds very nice at first, is only proof to the fact that most shelters are guilty of taking responsibility for more animals than they can possibly care for properly considering the resources and finances that they have at their disposal. This creates a potentially hazardous situation which can promote the spread of very serious diseases, such as FeLV and FIV, to the general “house cat” population that may not always be vaccinated against them, and of other contagious diseases to the human population.
In her article, Ms. Newhook mentions that the cat was de-wormed and given flea medication. However, this was done prior to consulting a veterinarian. This again demonstrates another problem with shelters: how volunteers often like to play doctor with the animals even though they have no formal training of any sort pertaining to animal health. In Quebec, even certified Animal Health Technicians are legally forbidden to initiate treatments without a veterinarian’s prior instructions, and most medications are not readily available “over the counter”. In order to circumvent this “problem”, shelters have resorted to buying medications of unknown origin and quality directly over the internet from unknown suppliers. Another strategy is to take one of the sick animals to many veterinarians in succession in the hope that each will make a prescription for the said animal, thus building a “reserve” of medications, usually antibiotics, that can then be used on the other animals. This is another frequent and unacceptable practice!
It’s also interesting that shelters blame strictly pet stores and puppy mills for the high number of abandoned animals. As a practicing veterinarian for more than 17 years, I have seen a multitude of shelter-adopted pets that were already with their third of fourth family by the time I saw them. Years ago, when I worked at the SPCA, I found that the return rate was very high and to this day, I don’t believe that the rate of successful placement through shelters is as high as they would have us believe.
Finally, I have an issue with so-called “adoption days” and with the posting of pictures of pets online. These adoption tactics completely mimic pet shops and disreputable breeders, and are often conducted with a lack of any proper facilities: many shelters set up cages at fairs, shopping centers, parks and parking lots, often not in the most ideal of conditions. They put themselves in full view for everyone to see how “cute” the animals are, or even worse, how pitiful they look. Does this practice not encourage “impulse adoption”? We should not be fooled! Because of their lack of resources, shelters are under just as much pressure to give out the animals, if not more, than the pet stores are. Additionally, the questionnaires that shelters have potential adopters fill out are, at best, only a “feel good” measure that gives a false sense of security. People quickly learn what the “correct” responses are, and nobody can conceivably ascertain that the answers given are truthful.
I continue to maintain that having good intentions does not justify the reckless behaviour of certain animal advocates. It is high time that we raise the bar where standards of pet health and welfare are concerned, and if shelters want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, they need to clean up their own act before they start giving lessons to others, and they need to be held just as accountable as others.