Articles Corruption

The Death of Austin

The New York City pound killed Austin, an emaciated and blind dog, who bit someone’s hand that he could not see approaching. No effort was made to rehabilitate him.

Imagine what a dog pound is like for a scared dog.

Imagine being caught on the street (often with a “catch-pole” or “control pole,” a hard-wired noose that is supposed to go around your upper torso, but is almost always misused to grab by the neck), being lifted by the neck unto a truck, locked up, and driven around in darkness while other dogs are picked up. Then imagine being taken to a facility that is loud, dirty, smells, is filled with strangers, and being put in a cage (often, again, with the same catch-pole around your neck).

Now imagine that scenario happening to you while being emaciated and blind.

That is some variant of what Austin, pictured here, likely experienced when he was picked up as a stray and brought to the New York City pound. Not surprisingly, Austin, according to shelter reformer Andrew Weprin, put his mouth on a volunteer. Weprin calls it a “nip”; the pound says it was a “bite.” Regardless, “An experienced rescuer… desperately tried to adopt Austin, but the[ pound] deemed the emaciated blind dog to be a ‘threat to public safety’ and killed him anyway.”

As I reported last week, a study found that scared dogs are being killed as “aggressive” and shouldn’t be. Why? Animal “shelters” are very stressful places for dogs: “Even in well-managed and funded facilities, dogs are likely to encounter an array of stressors including noise, unpredictability, loss of control: disruption of routines:” and unfamiliar people and surroundings.

For dogs picked up on the street, the stress includes the added trauma “of capture and transportation to the shelter”; whereas for dogs released by their families, there is also the impact of “the sudden absence of a human attachment figure.”

Since these dogs “are unable to escape from the source of their fear,” they respond in the only way biology allows: barking, displaying, guarding, and when cornered, defending. This is especially true if one is blind, does not know where they are, who they are with, and cannot see that a person has suddenly approached them.

The study also found that just a small amount of enrichment — being spoken to softly, given treats, petted, and played with — can result in dogs passing those tests. After just five days of being treated kindly, “nearly all” fearful dogs passed their temperament evaluations, including dogs initially deemed “potentially quite dangerous.”

But dogs like Austin — and Maverick  — don’t find that kindness at the NYC pound; which is hardly surprising (but no less abhorrent for it). According to Weprin, “we’re talking about a high-kill pound that has killed perfectly healthy puppies for mouthing their leashes: or jumping-up to play with their leashes, like normal puppies are supposed to do:”

Without a law that removes the discretion for officials at the pound to avoid doing what is in the best interest of animals, what chance does a dog like Austin have?

As communities across the nation have rejected the cruel “catch and kill” approach to animal sheltering still practiced in New York, it is time for New Yorkers to rise up and demand that the taxpayer-funded pound that serves the city’s neediest and most vulnerable animals on their behalf reflect, rather than continue to thwart, the humane values of citizens.

It is time to pass the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA).


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