Demanding What We Have the Right to Expect

Recent reports out of Missouri indicate that many of the dogs seized in the recent dog fighting raid are puppies. In addition, many of the dogs are pregnant and will shortly give birth. As a result, additional puppies will be born. Bowing to public pressure, the Humane Society of Missouri announced it is looking to place dogs who pass their behavior evaluation and the puppies with rescue groups. One of the requirements that they are insisting on is that the rescue groups have liability insurance to protect themselves from any possible liability, even though a waiver of liability will accomplish the same thing.

Unfortunately, many rescue groups do not have insurance. A policy can cost anywhere from $400 to two times that amount, depending on the volume of animals placed annually. In order to increase capacity for rescue, I am calling on the Humane Society of Missouri to drop the demand of liability insurance, in favor of a waiver of liability. If they refuse, I am calling on the ASPCA and HSUS to offer to pay the full premium for a one year liability policy for any rescue group willing to accept one or more of these dogs into their program. On the high end, assuming every dog went to a different rescue group and none of the groups had insurance (a highly unlikely proposition), it would only be $250,000, a small fraction of the combined $200 million they spend annually, and probably less than each will fundraise off of these dogs. Doing so would be both reasonable and proper. When people see these dogs on television and get out their checkbooks to donate, they expect the money to go to caring for and saving the lives of the dogs, not to be hoarded in their bank accounts, which occurs much too often. When HSUS puts out photographs and insists it is doing its part, as it did today, people expect that means the money they raise will go to the dogs and the dogs will be saved.

But make no mistake: that is not remotely enough. While I hope rescue groups come forward (saving the dogs is our immediate priority), once again the pressure is put on those groups who have the fewest resources to save the lives, while groups like HSUS offer crumbs, the same way they did after raising tens of millions of dollars and then leaving town, their coffers overflowing, during Hurricane Katrina. This is not acceptable now—and is not acceptable going forward.

That the dogs aren’t immediately being systematically killed as HSUS has historically promoted is certainly progress. But that, of course, is tempered when Wayne Pacelle says, as he did to a national press, that while the dogs will be evaluated for aggression, he expects them to fail and be killed anyway. And until the dogs are actually saved (it is still possible that most will not get out alive, but be killed under an HSUS promoted Sue Sternberg-type evaluation which favors death for pit bull-type dogs), that progress is very limited and, from the dogs’ perspective, still very tenuous.

As I stated in an earlier blog,

We must start demanding outcomes—outcomes that include rescuing, rehabilitating, and ultimately saving these dogs.

Any statement that elevates process (“we’ll test them”) over substance (“we’ll save them”) is weak, as it still leaves the door wide-open for killing. Since HSUS stated that “it’s pretty certain that a lot of those dogs will not pass a behavioral test,” even as they release photographs of the dogs kissing those caring for them and even though we now know that many of them are still only puppies, it is not clear how much the dogs will have benefitted. It is not progress from the dogs’ perspective if the outcome—death—is the same.


And while it is great that the Humane Society of Missouri is reaching out to rescue groups for help, saving the dogs should not be dependent on rescue groups coming forward, when the two largest and wealthiest animal protection organizations—HSUS and the ASPCA—are actively involved. It is not an issue of capacity or resources at this point. All alone, HSUS and the ASPCA have the public relations power, financial wherewithal and global reach to save these dogs and find them homes. All they lack is the will to do so—enabled by our historic failure to demand that they do. It is only 400 dogs, many of them puppies. They can do it alone. And we should expect them to. That is what they imply in their fundraising. That is what the public believes will happen when they donate. That is what we should logically expect in these situations. If saving dogs in extraordinary situations such as this is not their mission, what on earth is?

So rather than rejoice when they say they are “assisting” in the care of the dogs; and rather than remind everyone that HSUS now has a “policy of recommending that all dogs seized from such operations be professionally evaluated to determine whether they are suitable candidates for adoption,” this is the tenor of the statement we should expect from HSUS to animal lovers around the country who are anxious and concerned about the ultimate fate of these dogs:

The Humane Society of the United States wants to assure everyone concerned over the fate of these dogs that we are doing everything in our power to provide unconditional love and the best care possible for the victims of these crimes. Their welfare is our utmost concern, and every action we take on their behalf will be guided by compassion for their plight, respect for the lives, and an unwavering commitment to ensuring we find them a safe, loving environment, in which to spend the rest of their lives. We know that rescue groups often have stretched resources. We know that shelters, like the Humane Society of Missouri, also have to care for the daily influx of dogs and cats in their shelter. So as the nation’s largest, richest, and most powerful animal protection organization, we are stepping up to the plate. If any rescue groups have the capacity to help, we’ll welcome it. But rest assured: we will not allow a single one of these dogs to lose their lives. However long it takes, however much it costs, we will save all the puppies. We will save all the dogs. And if any are aggressive, we will undertake a comprehensive rehabilitation. That is our pledge to them. And that is our pledge to you.

They didn’t say this, of course. But they should. Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid. Case in point: In 1994, Richard Avanzino, then President of the San Francisco SPCA pledged to save each and every healthy homeless dog and cat “no matter how many there were, how long it took to find them a home, or which San Francisco shelter they entered.” HSUS said it was impossible. But the rest, as they say, is history: