The Dogs of Magnolia, Arkansas

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.

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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.

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My Black Merle Aussie Sheprador

I’ve always considered Galen a mutt, or in more politically correct terms, a mixed breed. I thought of Gryffin the same way. When people would inquire about his pedigree – and they often did because he was fabulously handsome – I would answer, “Pure mutt.”

But now I realize I wasn’t giving my dogs their due.

I should have answered with their “razas unicas” – their unique breed names. Thus, Gryffin was my beloved Golden Flag-tailed Chowtriever.

Gryffin

Gryffin

Galen is my quirky Black Merle Aussie Sheprador.

Galen

Galen

If you’ve never heard of such breeds, I’m not surprised. As I said, these breeds are unique.

Perhaps, I should explain.

A video by an animal rescue organization out of Costa Rica, highlighting its efforts to increase adoptions, is burning up the Internet. The organization – Territorio de Zaguates or Territory of the Street Dogs – runs a sanctuary for the country’s abandoned dogs. These are canines – there are upwards of 500 of them at the sanctuary at any given time – that if adopted, would make great companions. The problem – and the impetus for the campaign – was that the dogs weren’t being adopted, primarily because many Costa Ricans have a stigma against mutts. Such dogs are perceived as less valuable than purebreds and, according to a blogger who visited the sanctuary, are “widely referred to as rats.”

The innovative campaign, which includes social media, community outreach, a national art exhibit, and TV appearances, seeks to undue this stigma by highlighting the “razas unicas” of the country’s canines. “They only exist in our country,” a dog expert crowed on one of Costa Rica’s most popular programs. “They are wonderful specimens… they are unique breeds.”

The message, as simple and creative as it is, is being heard. Attitudes are shifting. Adoptions are up. And as the campaign continues, dog lovers everywhere can only hope these trends continue and, they might, perhaps, even heed the message themselves. After all, who wouldn’t want to own a Shaggy Shepherd Dachspaniel, an Eye-patched Australian Dalmapointer, or a Schnaufox Melenudo?

As for me, I’m very happy with my Black Merle Aussie Sheprador, because it’s not just her breed that’s unique — she has one heck of a unique personality, too.

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I’ve got lots of links to share. Click here to see the video and here to see Territorio de Zaguates’ facebook page.

Go to Buzzfeed to see photos of some of Costa Rica’s canines, along with their unique breeds. My eleven-year-old daughter and I laughed together, as nothing puts a smile on your face like close-ups of smiling mutts mugging for the camera.

Go to Travel Mother to read the story of one blogger’s hike with Costa Rica’s street dogs. “The herd of five hundred dogs pouring out of their enclosure is a spectacular site. The pack flows like a rapid river as they turn down the trail entrance and out to the open hills. We volunteers then follow them for a couple hours of exercise, fresh air, and doggy-human socialization.” (Added to my bucket list: Hiking with the street dogs of Costa Rica.)