Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why would a pet rescue "import" dogs or cats?

A pet-loving friend recently observed that it seems strange how often rescues bring dogs and cats from West Virginia or Ohio or even Haiti or beyond, when the PG pound kill rate is so awful.  It is something that I used to be upset by too, but after years working with some of the rescues myself and learning more about the PG pound, I see the logic and yes, even the caring and compassion, in doing this.

There are hundreds of terrific animals impounded on any given day in any given US pound.  There's nothing "second-rate" about a "second-hand" dog or cat.  More often than not, particularly in PG, a pet is in the pound facility more because an owner had to move or felt they could not afford care for a pet, rather than because of any innate problem with that pet.  (PG does no analysis work on why animals enter their impound facility.  My assertion here is based on speaking daily with dozens of pet owners over a decade in the County, as well as on national data on pet relinquishment).  Rescues are not choosing to be "choosy" because they think PG pound animals are inherently bad or unadoptable.

Rescues are privately-run.  Except in unusual cases, in Maryland, rescues don't get funding from the State, from the County, or from municipalities.  Their revenues probably consist primarily of contributions from founders and board members, donations from their volunteers and the public, and modest adoption fees .  Some, but not all, rescues, may compete and win corporate or foundation grants for particular projects or programs, rarely, some might receive general operating support funding through grants.  Although most of what rescues do today in Maryland, is accomplished by volunteer labor, you shouldn't think that means they can do everything for free!  Caring for animals -- the work that most rescues do -- involves cleaning and grooming the animals.  It also involves veterinary care, good nourishing food, housing, exercise and socialization.  It involves marketing and finding ways to show the pets off to potential adopters too.  Volunteers gladly do a lot of the day-to-day work involved, but you can't pay for food or veterinary care (or for that matter, for housing!) with volunteer hours.

No matter how sincerely rescues believe that they would like to save each and every animal they learn about, the reality for rescues is that they have to be able to pay their own bills, or eventually, even with the kindest of creditors, they cease to operate.

For many years, PG has charged rescues fees to provide pre-adoption preparation of pound dogs and cats.  This would include testing for common diseases, vaccinations or "boosters," and sometimes, spaying or neutering.  Like all things PG pound, this may not always have held true for all rescues, or for every animal that any rescue may have taken out (i.e., "pulled" in rescue parlance).  Like all things PG pound, nothing is documented consistently in writing.  I have been told that lately the charges are not being levied.  However, IF this change has been made, rest assured, it has been made in such a way that at ANY moment, for ANY specific case, it can be denied and those charges can be required again.  This is not a "rescue-friendly" way to operate.  It makes rescues nervous, and it should make them resentful.

Although many in rescue hoped, in 2009, and even today, years later, that opening a brand-new, sparkling clean, easy-maintenance facility would halt the scourge, the PG pound has long been reputed as a dirty and diseased pound.  In fact, there has been no respite at all in common illnesses in the PG pound, old facility or new.  Several kennel care contractors tried hard to address factors they felt contribute to the crud, but I am told they were rebuffed by the County at every turn.  Dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, rabbits, any animal impounded by PG, must be expected to be sick when a rescue pulls it.  This does NOT mean that PG pets are more disease-prone than other pets!  It DOES mean that the PG pound is inadequately maintained and poorly sanitized, and that infection control protocols are missing or not well-communicated.  So Fluffy or Spot will, at the least, have Kennel Cough or an Upper Respiratory Infection or irritated eye or hot spots, if they have been in the PG pound for more than  a very few hours.  These are not illnesses that would cause much worry in a pet in your home.  They are most definitely NOT reasons for killing pound pets (although they are used as excuses on a regular basis for that).  But they are things that need treatment.

Curiously (some say), the PG pound has not been able to secure reliable on-site veterinary services.  So treatment of pets in the pound has been unreliable.  Rescues, like adopting families, find that they pull a dog or cat and wind up with significant costs in simply treating the pound-acquired illness.  But the rescue can't pass the veterinary costs along to adopters.  Also, over time, rescues have begun to get a "bad reputation" if they are too often asking fosters to take on sick animals.  Adopters AND other rescues begin to avoid a rescue that "always has sick dogs and cats."  Word-of-mouth and reputation are key assets for a rescue.  I have been told by more than one rescue person, that they CANNOT take PG pound dogs or cats, mainly because it could ruin their ability to save animals.

When you contrast this situation with the many choices a rescue has, it's not so odd that many "import" animals.  Work with PG and work with a Virginia or West Virginia pound, and you come away with a sense of how grateful and welcoming OTHER pounds are toward rescue programs.  It is a leadership issue.  PG has always had tremendous (if very, very small) staff in adoptions and rescue coordination.  (PG has around 14 animal control officers, while it has perhaps 3 or 4 adoptions and rescue coordinators -- which clearly tells you what the County's priority is).  But PG's employees invariably have had to "check" to get permission to complete a rescue placement.  More often than not, that "check" results in a rejection.  But pounds elsewhere are THRILLED to have HELP with finding homes for animals.  Pounds elsewhere often have paid for veterinary and other expenses for animals pulled.  They might even recognize those rescue efforts publicly, or help market the rescues' foster animals.  PG, by contrast, enforces the law in such a way that even FOSTERING is a criminal act.  It doesn't have to be that way, but that's how it actually is.

Rescues can enhance their reputation by importing.  They can reduce the stress on their volunteers by importing.  They can save resources, including financial resources, by importing.  In fact, it is hard to think why many rescues WOULD risk so much for the PG pound, even while they acknowledge they would like to save all of the PG pound inmates.  PG pound management seems to behave as if rescues have no choice.  Sadly for the animals in that pound, rescues -- as the public -- DO have choices, and they make them.

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