From Lukewarm to Tepid

In what appears to me to be an effort to deflect blame and change the subject, HSUS has released a statement regarding the slaughter of more than 170 cats and dogs at the Tangipahoa Animal Shelter in Louisiana.  Once again I am confounded by the lack of accountability within the animal welfare field for poor leadership and decision making as the statement does not at any point condemn or even take a mild stance against the killing. 

In a sleight of hand the statement reads:

The death of 170 animals at any shelter in one day is unusual, but the problem of pet homelessness is rampant throughout the nation and it is a challenge that shelters in virtually every community face.  Like many animal community care facilities in the Gulf Coast states, the Tangipahoa shelter is under funded, understaffed, and operating under the difficult burden of overwhelming animal intake numbers.

Time out…

Unusual?  How about horrific or even the milder … ’senseless’?

These particular animals did not die because of pet homelessness.  They did not die because of overwhelming intake numbers.  They did not die because of a lack of funding.  They died because of administrative incompetence. 

Compare the HSUS’ statement with that of the Humane Society of Louisiana’s (not related to the HSUS) regarding the same shelter:

This innocuous looking shelter is actually a hotbed of problems, corruption, and controversy. Often the policies at the shelter are counterproductive and change on a moment’s whim. We have received reports that the shelter is now charging a surrender fee, that they will no longer adopt to breed-rescue groups, and that citizens have to physically come to the shelter to report animal abuse! The Interim Director, Mr. Donald Doty, has no prior experience with shelter management nor he has taken any courses on shelter operations, and he is implementing policies that often run counter to industry standards.

I will point out that this is not the first time that an animal shelter administrator somewhere in the country decided to do a “housecleaning” and empty the place via killing.  This just may be one of the first times that someone ‘in the know’ has finally had the courage to speak up against it.  Having worked at a shelter where life and death decisions were (prior to my working there) made based on such important criteria as which row you were housed in (all dogs in “B” and “C” rows get killed today) I can tell you there are definitely some management problems in this industry.

Despite a documented history of incompetence in Tangipahoa and other shelters, why won’t the HSUS take a stand to protect animals?  Why do we vote along side HSUS to prevent the slaughter of horses and not the slaughter of our constant companions?

Sad and confused … once again.

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One Response to “From Lukewarm to Tepid”

  1. The unnecessary slaughter of 170 animals, including those who were not sick, at Tangipahoa Parish Animal Shelter in the Hurricane Katrina-impacted Louisiana area this past week underscores the need for reform in what is clearly a broken U.S. system of sheltering based on neglect and overkill. It also underscores the need to challenge the large national animal “protection” groups like the Humane Society of the United States which legitimize and provide political cover for the killing and do precious little to change the status quo.

    As I indicated in an earlier blog, the Tangipahoa Parish Animal Shelter slaughterhouse is an HSUS partner. It is one of 57 facilities that received money from the Humane Society of the United States in the aftermath of investigations of HSUS “Hurricane Katrina” fundraising where they pocketed millions of dollars which were specifically earmarked for Katrina-victim relief. As part of the less-than-one-million dollar follow-up initiative (they raised tens of millions for Hurricane Katrina which were not spent before they left the devastated area), Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of HSUS, promised “a new dawn for animal care” at places like the Tangipahoa Parish Animal Shelter slaughterhouse. That dawn clearly didn’t rise for the 170 dead animals.

    The problem is, Pacelle’s pretty words notwithstanding, that “new dawn” had no chance of rising. The grant for facilities like Tangipahoa was little more than a freebie for incompetent and uncaring shelter leaders, with only some of it earmarked for animal care (without the strings which would have given leadership pause before ordering mass killing). Beside minor “facility renovation and program work,” the purpose was two fold:

    1. To conduct social marketing research in Louisiana and Mississippi areas with high shelter deaths in order to identify why people in these areas didn’t spay/neuter their pets (and what to do about it).

    2. To collect basic statistics from 57 shelters in the region, many of them among the most affected by Hurricane Katrina.

    One of the agencies receiving funding to collect their statistics was the Tangipahoa Parish Animal Shelter slaughterhouse.

    When you have to pay the pound to keep basic statistics, you are in trouble as a movement. Without basic data, these agencies are in no position to know if they are doing a good job, meeting goals, doing all they can to save lives. And therein lies the rub, if they haven’t been doing it before, they are already lost. If they weren’t willing to provide the data willingly, they are telling you they don’t care.

    But the most frightening aspect is the social marketing research into spay/neuter. Do we really need to fund another study about why poor people don’t spay/neuter? Poor people do not spay/neuter because it is not affordable, and it is not easily available to them; and both of these conditions exist because their local pound is (and by definition, pound leadership) abysmal and uncaring and ineffective.

    So rather than do pointless research into why people don’t spay/neuter, why didn’t HSUS just earmark the money directly for free spay/neuter in these regions? And why didn’t HSUS add millions more from Hurricane Katrina fundraising to hold shelter leadership accountable, to modernize the shelter system and to provide meaningful programs that save lives?

    Perhaps the program allows Pacelle to promise a “new dawn” for animals and raise money for that “new dawn,” but doesn’t require his organization or the shelters to actually do anything substantive to increase lifesaving. Once again Pacelle gives us platitudes, clichés, rhetoric, pretty words, but no solutions. The HSUS post-Katrina “new dawn” campaign appears to give the appearance of doing something about the killing—while doing nothing to address the real cause of it: the uncaring of those running the facilities. The marketing study is asking all the wrong questions and the answers don’t really matter because as long as the pounds care so little about animals that they equate their decision to massacre an entire shelter full of them with a flippant “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” as the Parish president did in responses to concerns expressed by animal advocates, there is no hope for the animals in that community.

    It is NOT the people in the community that are failing the animals and it is not the people in this community that don’t care about the animals; they have already expressed their outrage at the killing. It is the pound’s fault. What makes the matter more egregious is that the HSUS program and publicity come off as a vote of confidence and provides these facilities political cover. This, combined with failure to publicly condemn the recent slaughter of an entire shelter full of animals, shows that HSUS is not true to their mission or the animals’ best interest.

    Pacelle asks for money to fund a study to find out why the public is “bad” by failing to spay/neuter—but when confronted with overwhelming evidence of how bad those running the pounds are, when confronted with a blatant and wholly unnecessary slaughter of animals, there is only deafening silence. HSUS did issue a statement but it does little more than provide Parish leadership political cover for the widespread killing. Ignoring the question of why virtually all animals were killed when only some of them were sick, it blames the mass killing of 170 animals on “pet overpopulation” and says the “problem of pet homelessness is rampant throughout the nation and it is a challenge that shelters in virtually every community face.”

    The most criticism it can muster–which stretches reality to the breaking point in order to label it as “criticism”–is its use of the impotent word “unusual” to describe the unnecessary slaughter of almost every single animal in the facility; but HSUS then immediately follows it up by blaming under-funding and under-staffing as if these were the culprits in the decision to kill all the animals, or as if the Parish president has no role in funding and staffing. In fact, former staff members decried a pattern by local leadership of deliberately cutting corners on staffing when it came to animal care and cleaning.

    The mass slaughter is not “unusual,” Mr. Pacelle. It is abhorrent, abysmal, intolerable and outrageous.

    It should go without saying that all major groups, especially those whose money is in the coffers of the Tangipahoa Parish Animal Shelter slaughterhouse should issue a statement condemning the pound and its leadership, removing the vote of confidence the earlier funding represented; and acknowledge that they gave money to this pound on promises of a more progressive orientation, but now realize there is little hope of improved lifesaving as long as current leadership remains. That would be the ethical and righteous course of action. They must join the growing voices of outraged activists and rescue groups who condemn the heartless, calculated slaughter. Instead, they offer political legitimacy (“pet overpopulation”) and political cover (“the problem is rampant throughout the nation”).

    At the end of the day, without large national groups backing the voices of the activists and rescue groups who did issue statements of condemnation, is it any surprise that the Parish president casually dismissed criticism by accusing animal lovers of “Monday morning quarterbacking”? The very notion, however, is absurd.

    The phrase—to “Monday morning quarterback”—is meant to convey the idea that hindsight is 20/20—that it is easy to say what should have been done when the outcome of one particular avenue becomes evident but was not obvious before it played out. When you deliberately kill every animal in a shelter, you know the end result is only one thing—that every animal in that shelter will end up dead (including the cats who were not affected by the illness apparently seen in some of the dogs).

    In choosing this course of action which had only one certain outcome, local leadership unequivocally demonstrated how little regard they have for animal life and how unfit they are to lead a shelter that is supposed to be their safety net. Rather than follow the latest, most innovative forms of handling, cleaning and sanitizing to control disease, rather than utilize available rescue groups to save most of the animals, rather than treat those with illnesses who were savable, they chose to kill every animal in the shelter. Nothing could have been a more appalling course of action. There is no need for hindsight. Mass killing has no place in modern sheltering. The action was medieval. And if the Parish president is going to claim ignorance of this, he has no business overseeing a shelter that has the power of life and death over animals.

    The animals are being failed.

    In Tangipahoa Parish.

    And in the halls of HSUS.

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