They are malnourished. They have mange. Veterinarians who have examined them say they are in “deplorable physical and mental condition.” They are the dogs of the Magnolia, Arkansas city pound. Fifty-nine have been rescued. They are being vetted, rehabilitated, fostered. They will be adopted into loving families.
But what of all the other dogs finding their way into the shelter? What will their futures hold?
Here are the facts: Structurally, the city-run shelter in Magnolia consists of a metal roof over a concrete floor – there are no walls. The dogs live in chain link pens exposed to the elements. In a statement to the local newspaper, Magnolia’s mayor said the “pound” is meant to be a holding facility for strays, not a rescue shelter. The city, he said, appropriates no money for animal care. “If a dog comes in sick, there is a good chance that dog will infect the rest of the dogs in the pound. The pound doesn’t have the funding or manpower to prevent this.”
A single animal control officer runs the facility – the mayor calls him “a one man show.” He is charged with collecting strays, responding to citizens’ calls, cleaning the pens, and feeding the dogs. Should no one claim a dog within five days – the mayor says most pet owners don’t – the city is authorized to euthanize it. Only recently, this wasn’t happening. People familiar with the shelter say the officer was trying to save lives, to give the dogs every chance at adoption. So a facility built to hold fifteen-to-twenty dogs held nearly sixty. But the officer couldn’t – or didn’t – care for the dogs, and their health and their living situation deteriorated. (The cynic in me wonders if there might also have been external pressure from the city not to euthanize, as the procedure, done by a local vet, is paid for out of the city’s coffers.)
A volunteer with H&P Animal Alliance learned of the dogs’ squalid living conditions and fading health and went public, posting a video on YouTube. Then she persuaded the city to let the group rescue the fifty-nine dogs, and she found an organization larger than hers – Big Fluffy Dog Rescue of Nashville, Tennessee – to take them in, rehabilitate them, and adopt them out.
What now for the Magnolia shelter? The mayor says this “mistake” will not happen again: Dogs not claimed by their owners, adopted, or pulled by a rescue during the holding period will be euthanized. “We receive such a large volume of animals due to negligent owners that I’m concerned that we will not be able to keep the appropriate numbers at the pound without euthanizing some animals,” the mayor’s statement said.
In Magnolia – in communities throughout the country with overcrowded shelters – the answer to shelter overpopulation should not be euthanasia. What’s more, the answer will not be found inside the shelter. It must come from pet owners who no longer forego fixing their pets and from communities that make spay/neuter surgery accessible and affordable. Barring this, shelter euthanasia will continue to be the leading cause of canine death in the United States. That, like the situation in Magnolia, is as tragic as it is infuriating.
U.S. shelters are a hodge podge of public, private, and public-private entities that operate under the auspices of the municipalities, counties, and states in which they are located. In many states oversight is insufficient and ineffective. In others, like Arkansas, there is no oversight, as there are no regulations regarding even minimal standards of care. It is with this knowledge that Big Fluffy Dog Rescue is asking people to sign a petition requesting the federal government hold shelters to the same minimal standards that the USDA holds commercial breeders in order to prevent cruelty and abuse. Says Jean Harrison of Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, “If the states will not act, the federal government must.” The petition can be found at change.org.
One more thing: According to Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, vetting the Magnolia dogs will cost the rescue upwards of $50,000 because the dogs are in such poor condition. Click on the links if you would like to learn more about the Magnolia dogs and Big Fluffy Dog Rescue or if you would like to make a donation.