Giving credit where credit is due OR How HSUS totally surprised me

Giving credit where credit is due OR How HSUS totally surprised me

This is something I originally wrote in the fall of 2007 for my old blog and I’m including it in a group of posts on discounted adoption fees:

Anyone who has followed my blog, or knows me personally, is well aware of my frustration or disappointment with many of the Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) policy statements and public comments regarding animal sheltering issues.  

For those who are not directly involved in the sheltering world, HSUS publishes a trade magazine “Animal Sheltering”, operates a shelter focused website and hosts the largest national trade conference for the animal sheltering industry.  For many years I have read the magazine, attended the conferences and I still find their website helpful such as recently when I was looking for a vendor for new kennel doors. 

Unfortunately, I have many times been disappointed with what I read, heard or saw from HSUS or from speakers at the HSUS conference.  I have been so disappointed with the magazine in the past couple of years that I thought about not renewing it for my shelter and instead receive only my copy at home.  So boy was I surprised with the most recent issue (Sept-Oct 07).

To give you a brief background on my surprise, in 2006 I worked for a large, urban animal control shelter that has been diligently working to achieve No Kill.  Facing what felt like insurmountable odds, we were continually forced to think out of the box in order to save lives.  At one point in my life I had heard about a shelter that dropped adoption fees for a weekend to only $1 and adopted out every cat in the facility.  I brought up the idea for our shelter and we decided to give it a try.  The adoption “sale” was an amazing success and at several points throughout the five days of the promotion we did pretty much run out of cats. 

The not so pretty side of this success came from, surprisingly, within the animal welfare community itself.  While the public was ecstatic about being able to save a life at such a low cost, a very few vocal people within the field claimed that we were devaluing the cats and adopting them out for snake food or pit bull bait.  They made these statements despite the fact that we kept our regular adoption screening policies in place and - particularly on that weekend - people were waiting up to five hours to meet with an adoption counsellor.  The detractors also claimed we had a 50% return rate (the return rate for the event was dramatically lower than our average return rate). 

One of the vocal critics stated on a public message board that she was going to contact her “friend” who worked for HSUS and see of they could do an article about this terrible idea, reducing adoption fees for animals. 

Well I waited.  Based on what I read regularly I thought that at some point I would see a mediocre article, arguing both the merits and the drawbacks of a program without taking any specific stand on the issue.  Either that or I would read an article discrediting discounted adoptions entirely except for maybe a few unique circumstances. 

Here is where I am surprised by the HSUS. 

I opened up the recent issue to read an article that, while cautious at times, was an all out endorsement of shelters who use reduced or zero adoption fees as an incentive to adopt!  I have to tell you, I was so surprised that I actually jumped up and started pacing around the house as I was reading the article.  Featured in the article was someone who I have a tremendous respect for, Karel Minor of the Humane Society of Berks County.  You might remember I mentioned Karel Minor’s Free to a Great Home program in a previous post.  I was Karel’s program that I directly ripped off - I mean borrowed, for the shelter where I am working now. 


In addition to that surprise was the first section of a three part article (three different authors, first part was the best) discussing shelter adoption policies.  The article “Small Kids? No Dogs Allowed” is summed up in the first paragraph: “When this former shelter worker was told no large dogs were appropriate for her young family, she found out how it feels to walk away discouraged and empty-handed - and later learned more than she ever wanted to know about the public’s tendencies to lie their way through the process.” (Her friends encouraged her to lie on adoption applications.  Everyone does it, they claimed.)

The author wraps up her article commenting that she knows quite a few dogs who love their leash walks and dog park time while their adoption applications would have indicated they lived in fenced in backyards (once a major requirement for adoption at many shelters).  I had questioned that policy immediately when I started working in the field as I had never had a fenced in yard yet I had a Siberian Husky and a German Shepherd Dog who had more leash walks, car rides, dog park visits and days spent at work than all of the fenced in yard dogs that I knew.  Now that I have a fence, a yard and a dog door, I can definitely say the current crew of dogs doesn’t get as much “out on the town” time. 

All I’ve gotta say is… very interesting. 

Will HSUS ever embrace not killing animals as the most humane solution for shelters?  Will HSUS ever recognize that No Kill sheltering does not need to equal warehousing animals but rather progressive, lifesaving policies and community involvement?

Never say never.

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