Best Friends Blog
 

Animal control enforcement abuse costs lives

Progressive, lifesaving shelter policies are important A recent CNN Money article titled “Dogs killed over unpaid fines” is a scary commentary on how some local animal control agencies hold pets for what amounts to a ransom over leash law violations and other minor offenses, with the animals often ending up dead. In some cases, the animals are left alone but the owners are put in jail, such as the case of an 82-year-old Maryland widow who spent two days in jail because a neighbor complained to animal control that her Chihuahuas had gotten loose three times.

Activists and attorneys claim that local enforcement agencies target low-income pet owners, just as the recent exposés of police tactics in Ferguson, Missouri, pointed to practices that trap poor people in cascading traffic ticket fines that wind up costing thousands of dollars and often result in jail time.

Regardless of intent, it is a certainty that low-income families can’t afford to pay stiff fines, and can wind up with themselves and their pets entangled in a series of time- and money-consuming Catch-22s. Such individuals are usually without the resources to hire an attorney and their financial and legal vulnerability is usually easy to deduce from the neighborhood in which they live.

The incidents portrayed in this and in a follow-up article serve well as exhibits A to Z in the case against enforcement-based animal control, which tends to be driven more by revenue generation goals than by humane or genuine public safety concerns. By contrast, no-kill sheltering policies prioritize shelter staff positions that focus on saving lives (via improved animal care, good customer service, free spay/neuter services, innovative adoption promotions, etc.) over beefed-up enforcement.

The narrative of these articles also serves as a cautionary tale for those who advocate for mandatory spay/neuter laws despite opposition from every national animal welfare organization, including Best Friends. Mandatory spay/neuter laws and ordinances are usually enacted with the good intention of reducing the aggregate population of pets in a community, but they have historically failed at that goal for a variety of reasons, including the numerous exemptions allowed for pure-breed dogs in such laws, the difficulty of enforcement and the lack of universally accessible low-cost or free spay/neuter services.

More to the point of this blog, enacting mandatory spay/neuter laws without providing easy access to low-cost or free services puts low-income pet owners in the enforcement crosshairs. Those who can’t afford the going rate for sterilization at a vet office (if there even is one anywhere near their home) certainly can’t afford the fines that mandatory spay/neuter laws impose. Their options are to either lay low or surrender their pet to a local shelter.

In communities that have such ordinances, it is not uncommon for those who operate shelter surrender intervention programs to encounter poor folks turning in their pets — not because they don’t want them, but because they have no access to spay/neuter services, affordable or not, in their communities and can’t afford to pay the associated fines.

Animal control enforcement efforts are popular with local city and county councils, because they are revenue generators. In municipalities that contract their animal control duties out to a private agency, those contracts are often numbers-based, with the contracting agency being paid according to the number of animals entering the shelter, giving them an even greater incentive to levy enforcement fines that lead to owner surrenders. Because success is measured by profitability rather than by lives saved, such an approach to animal control does not prioritize lifesaving. Quite the contrary, in fact. It prioritizes high intake numbers and the minimal required shelter stay, with fatal consequences.

If the agencies cited in the CNN Money articles put as much energy and resources into shelter adoptions as they do into enforcement protocols that include unnecessarily impounding pets into already crowded shelters and dragging ill-prepared people into court, they could be well on their way to no-kill.

Lifesaving can and should be the first priority of every animal sheltering operation. The power to ensure that saving lives is the top priority lies with the voting public. Let your city council know that progressive, lifesaving shelter policies are important to you, and that it’s one of the boxes you check when deciding whom to vote for.

Together, we can Save Them All.

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Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Susan Levi

    I was looking closer at the Network Partner program. We are a new 501c3 organization that provides free vet care for the poor. However, the application looks tailored to shelters and rescues who must track intakes and adoptions or for spay/neuter programs. Our goal is to help pets stay in the home by providing them care they would not otherwise get, preventing either neglect or surrendering to shelters. ACAP refers and requires pets be spay/neutered through another low cost or free program. Could you please let me know if we would be eligible? thanks

    • jondunn

      Hi Susan,

      Good question, and a question that I’m afraid to say I cannot answer. But if you shoot those guys a quick email, they can definitely tell you. Good luck with your program – it sounds much needed! Email: nmhpnetwork@bestfriends.org

      • Susan Levi

        thank you! I’ll contact them.

  • alm

    Your system will not allow me to delete my comments. Since you have already deleted some of my comments, please delete them all.

    • Melissa_BestFriends

      Hi alm,

      I apologize for the confusion, but no one has deleted any of our comments (nor have we edited them, we don’t have that capability). If you’d like us to delete all of your comments, we’re happy to do so, but nothing has already been removed.

      Sincerely,
      Melissa Miller
      Social Media Community Manager

      • alm

        Clearly – your system and my system reveal different information.

    • jondunn

      alm, just to echo Melissa, no one has deleted anything from the Best Friends side.

      I’m sorry that we didn’t respond quickly enough earlier. I had meetings all afternoon, and then had to run some errands as I’m heading out of town in the morning for the weekend.

      Again, I am sorry that you feel like you have been slighted here. I am always happy to have a conversation with anyone, about anything 🙂 If you stick around, I’m here…well, I will be on Monday A.M!

      Jon Dunn
      Senior Manager of Policy
      Best Friends Animal Society

  • alm

    Please delete my comments from this blog. I see that my respectful inquiries for information have been deleted and my fully respectful post has been edited. And my efforts to delete my comments have failed to do so. So I’m respectfully requesting that you delete all of my comments from your page. Thank you.

  • Susan Levi

    We have a new 501c3 program, Animal Care Assistance Program (ACAP) in rural Louisa County, Virginia, that provides free vet care and other pet needs for the poor. This is primarily for mentally ill people who live on a disability income (social workers and case managers screen participants for need). The need is huge – much greater than the mentally ill population, but at this point, our resources are limited. We do require participants’ animals be spayed and neutered for them to receive the free vet care and flea/tick meds, etc. We refer them to a low cost spay neuter program in Louisa County (Spay Neuter All pets – SNAP) that will spay neuter for free if they can’t pay anything. They don’t turn people away. Most people will get their animals fixed once they know this resource is available. Usually, it’s a matter of education and providing resources. ACAP does fundraising and grant writing but the money goes out faster than it comes in. This is a very poor county and people will have animals that they love but just can’t provide for them. Either the animals continue to suffer or they are surrendered to over-croweded shelters (more often the former). If you can provide any other resources for grant writing, that would be appreciated. We are relatively new, but so far, we have received two grants from Banfield Charitable Trust. It does seem the grants are very competitive and if there are any suggestion on how to access more resources, please share.

  • alm

    Should one who cannot afford to have his/her animal fixed, simply be allowed to continue breeding more animals that he/she cannot afford to care for or which wind up in a shelter?

  • alm

    If an individual is unable to meet the costs of owning an animal in accordance with the law regarding containment, licensing, food, shelter, veterinary care, … should they be allowed to continue owning an animal? If so, WHO should carry the costs of providing for the animal’s proper care? (Or do you feel we we should simply disregard the responsible care and needs of that animal?)

    • Melissa_BestFriends

      Hi alm,

      What we’re aiming to educate about in this blog post is that enacting mandatory spay/neuter laws without providing easy access to low-cost or free services puts low-income pet owners in a terrible situation. Those who can’t afford the going rate for sterilization at a vet office (if there even is one anywhere near their home) certainly can’t afford the fines that mandatory spay/neuter laws impose, and that’s our concern with enacting these types of ordinances. The questions you’ve asked aren’t for us to decide – ultimately it’s up to local animal control to ensure that pets are properly being cared for and not neglected.

      Thank you for all that you do to help homeless pets.

      Sincerely,
      Melissa Miller
      Social Media Community Manager

      • alm

        Thanks for your reply Melissa. My objective is not to be controversial. But I’m discouraged that these questions are not fit for honest discussion. I think I’m hearing that you are concerned about the enforcement of laws when it comes to low-income pet owners. Somehow, these questions simply ask us to look at the alternative and consider the options and results of our choices.

        • jondunn

          Hi alm,

          Here’s the thing. Lower income people WILL own animals. Unless you want to get in the business of only allowing the rich to own pets, these people will continue to own pets and they love them just the same as you or I.

          So, we can either bury our heads in the sand about that fact, or we can, as a movement, be much more proactive and support these people in their pet ownership. We can ensure they have free and easy access to fix their pets, as well as support them with training, supplies (including food when they need it) and overall support about how they can be the best pet owner they can be. And all the studies show that the vast majority of people want to have their animals fixed, they either don’t know how, or don’t have access to services.

          I suggest you check out the work of a couple of organizations. Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles does AMAZING work for the underserved. http://downtowndogrescue.org/

          Also Kim Wolf runs an organization called Ruff Riders that works with underserved folks in New York City http://beyondbreed.com/ruff-riders/ Check out her website. She’s got a really interesting map that shows the location of veterinary services in Brooklyn against where the low income live in that borough.

          Thanks,

          Jon Dunn
          Senior Manager of Policy
          Best Friends Animal Society

          • alm

            I agree whole-heartedly with the good efforts of those who work to make pet care affordable! That’s not my point. But pet ownership is coming to be seen as a right, not a privilege. If this is to be so, then we must honestly address the question of who will be required to fund the costs of effective, humane animal care. Will this be the taxpayer, or the benefactor. What if there is not enough money to care for all the animals that people want to keep. Should we just keep spinning our wheels and keep absorbing the tragedies that occur in the wake.

          • jondunn

            I would have to disagree with your assertion that pet ownership being a right is a “new” issue. As long as we’ve had domestic animals, people of all kinds have kept them as pets.

            However, I think the efforts to reach these people in their own communities is a relatively new thing.

            In terms of who is paying for it, the goal of Best Friends, HSUS, Downtown Dogs, Ruff Riders and every other humane organization that offers services to the low-income population is to ensure that these folks get what they need for their pets so their animals don’t get turned into the shelter (which not only means more animals killed, but is a burden on the taxpayer). That means the owners can continue caring for their pets and the system isn’t strained and pets don’t needlessly die. Win-win.

            I of course don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t see the humane movement running out of resources anytime soon.

          • alm

            Wonderful news! I’ll be contacting you soon for assistance with the animals of central Virginia’s rural communities.

          • alm

            Jon – would you kindly provide me with contact information for the programs offering funds for low-income pet owners? Are these openly available to any 501c3 org? (or more widely?) Are there limits or constraints to these? I glad to hear there is no danger of running out of funds any time soon! We can make very good use of that.

          • alm

            I see that your organization has deleted both of my fully polite and respectful requests for the information that you speak of above. This act was fully uncalled for and disrespectful and has certainly blighted my formerly good opinion of your organization. I suppose it’s easy to boast of what you offer but not so willing to share real information about it. Very disappointing.

  • Rose Ogden

    Just out of curiosity, what do you consider to be low income? If low income includes the ability to buy cigarettes, have internet on their cell phone and afford to go to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for their morning cup of specialty coffee, than I think offering low cost programs to these people is not the answer. What happened to good old fashioned budgeting? Or how about bartering through a work credit program where the person must volunteer to earn credits towards a discount on the cost of the spay/neuter? I am all for low cost or reduced cost altering but funding can only go so far.

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  • Emily Sieger

    Every city where this has been studied, the numbers show that MSN is a major reason people give up their dogs to shelters

  • Melissa

    Just to be clear…are you saying that animal control officers are a problem? Do you not see the value in what they do?

    • MelissaLMiller

      Hi Melissa,

      Certainly we see value in the work that animal control officers do – what we’re talking about in this blog are laws and enforcement of those laws. More specifically, we feel that enacting mandatory spay/neuter laws without providing easy access to low-cost or free services puts low-income pet owners and their animals most at-risk. That’s why we recommend reaching out to city council members to help change those policies, not punish animal control officers.

      I hope that this helps to clarify. Thanks for all that you do to help homeless pets.

      Sincerely,
      Melissa Miller
      Social Media Community Manager

  • Sure It Is

    Ten thumbs up!!