The Value of an Animal’s Life

June 28, 2010 by  

“We also felt the reporting requirement in [Oreo’s Law] was unrealistic for some small rural shelters to meet.”

–Best Friends Animal Society

Would you spend one minute of your time to save an animal’s life? You would. I would. So why is it too much to ask shelters to do so? The firestorm over Best Friends’ betrayal of the animals and rescue groups in New York City is only intensifying, and like the killing of Oreo, is not likely to subside anytime soon. To put it mildly, they acted badly, and then to cover that up, they circled the wagons. I’ve already responded, as have others, to the sad and tragic dishonesty of their position paper on “Oreo’s Law.” And while there is a lot to be upset about in it, the one excuse that has crawled under my skin, the one that is eating at me, the one that is just so awful and outrageous I can’t believe they actually made the claim publicly is their belief that “the reporting requirement in the bill was unrealistic for some small rural shelters to meet.”

Oreo’s Law would have required shelters to notify rescue groups of their intent to kill an animal prior to killing–prior to taking the animal out of his or her kennel/cage, prior to walking them to the “e-room,” prior to holding them down, prior to injecting them with poison from a bottle marked “Fatal-plus,” prior to dumping their lifeless body into a landfill or throwing it into an incinerator. Put aside the issue that Best Friends is apparently now speaking for killing shelters instead of the best interests of animals, taking on for itself the role played by HSUS and the ASPCA, but is pre-killing notification really too much to ask?

Specifically, the text of Oreo’s Law required:

AT LEAST ONE BUSINESS DAY PRIOR TO THE SCHEDULED EUTHANASIA OF AN ANIMAL, THE FACILITY HAVING POSSESSION OF THE ANIMAL SHALL PROVIDE NOTICE TO THE ANIMAL RESCUE OR ADOPTION ORGANIZATION OF THE SCHEDULED EUTHANASIA BY:

(A) POSTING OF THE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER OF SUCH ANIMAL ON THE WEBSITE OF THE FACILITY HAVING POSSESSION OF THE ANIMAL BY DIRECT LINK FROM THE FACILITY’S WEBSITE HOME PAGE; AND

(B) BY CONTACTING THE ANIMAL RESCUE OR ADOPTION ORGANIZATION DIRECTLY BY ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING MEANS:

(I) E-MAIL TO THE E-MAIL ADDRESS ON FILE;

(II) PHONE TO THE PHONE NUMBER ON FILE;

(III) TEXT MESSAGE TO THE PHONE NUMBER ON FILE;

(IV) FAX TO THE FAX NUMBER ON FILE; OR

(V) ANY OTHER MEANS OF ELECTRONIC WRITTEN COMMUNICATION AS PROVIDED BY THE ANIMAL RESCUE OR ADOPTION ORGANIZATION.

In other words, the shelter would have simply had to post to a website that the animal is scheduled to be killed, and one other method such as a mass e-mail to rescue groups. Two strokes of a keyboard would have met the requirement. And in this day and age, how can they possibly justify killing an animal when posting to the internet and sending an e-mail to an opt-in list of rescue groups could save that animal’s life.

Does Best Friends really believe the cost-benefit calculus is even close? An animal’s life vs. an employee or volunteer spending one minute on a computer? But that isn’t even the calculus, because computer programs can do this automatically now. In other words, it would have required no time at all.

I ran a small, rural open-admission animal control shelter in upstate New York. I know the burdens faced by them. Granted, that agency is not so little anymore. It now has a large, new facility, and has become a model for the rest of the nation. But that is because we did right by the animals and the community clamored to support us. But back in the day, it was typical of most shelters before I got there. It was run out of a converted house, it was dilapidated, had an operating deficit in excess of $100,000 per year, and it was hostile to rescue groups and volunteers. And while I talked about how typical it was in Redemption, the truth is I did not give the reality justice. It was far worse than even I thought. Just read the essay from a volunteer about what conditions were like before I got there:  Read “I was there” by clicking here. But when I was in charge, things changed.

We actually called every rescue group we knew of in five states, each and every one individually. When we could not find a rescue group, we called the national office of the breed rescue group and asked if they had local contacts. And then we called them. We used to send e-mails to rescuers, one at a time. And, in fact, I personally drove animals to rescue groups across state lines when I could not find a volunteer to transport them. Me, the Executive Director who was always the first one to get into the shelter in the morning and the last one to go home because I believed in leading my team by example. Me, the Executive Director who was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week because I would not allow anyone to kill an animal until we exhausted every possibility. So when animals were picked up by our ACOs in the middle of the night after being hit by a car, the emergency veterinary hospital would call me to discuss the case, to determine the prognosis, to decide on a course of treatment when it was at least guarded, or to approve a true mercy killing when it was poor-to-grave and the animal was irremediably suffering.

I remember one of the times when I could not find a volunteer to transport a traumatized Vizsla mama and her neonatal pups to a rescue group in another state. I remember driving them myself on my day off, hundreds of miles away, only to turn around after the drop off and head right back. I remember the rescue group representative asking me if I volunteered for the shelter. And her shock when I told her I was the E.D.; that I could not find a volunteer to bring them so I brought them myself.

That is how every shelter should operate, and that is the job of every shelter director. But Oreo’s Law does not ask for that. It doesn’t ask anyone to drive hundreds of miles on their day off. It doesn’t ask them to be on call 24/7. It doesn’t ask them to be the first to get into work and the last to leave so that the staff asks as a running joke if the Kurunda bed you slept in was comfortable and to make sure the coffee’s hot when they get in. But is it really too much to ask for a computer program to spit out a mass e-mail automatically every day? Or, failing that, to have a volunteer or employee send out one? Is an animal’s life really not worth two strokes of a keyboard? Apparently, Best Friends seems to think so.

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