It used to be that dog pounds were the end of the line for problem dogs. If initial attempts to place them in new homes failed, it was only a matter of time before they were put down
Newtown’s latest animal welfare policy does includes provisions for euthanasia, but those provisions are so narrow and restrictive that even the most problematic dogs have a good chance to live out their natural lives, even known biters.
“We give a dog every chance,” said Animal Control Advisory Board member Adria Henderson.
The Welfare Policy For Impounded Animals, which has been in place since March 2012, months before the new Brian J. Silverlieb Animal Care and Control Center of Newtown opened, offers “a whole long list of things that have to be done for each dog before they reach the euthanasia panel,” Ms Henderson explained.
First Selectman Pat Llodra said, “My sense is that we in Newtown will use euthanasia only as a last resort. There would have to be overwhelming evidence that the animal was incorrigible or medically compromised.”
The pound has housed some notorious biters, like Taz, for example, who was placed in a home more than a year ago, even after biting an animal control staff member. Among dogs currently housed at the pound are a terrier named Winston, and Max, a Shar Pei who is not available for adoption because of his problems. Still, they are not under consideration by a panel that would assess them for euthanasia, per the 2012 policy.
Animal Control Officer Carolee Mason confirmed that the staff member bitten by Taz took time off to recover from injuries in July 2011. Ms Mason also confirmed other bite incidents that were “mostly in the hand.”
People will adopt dogs that bite, Ms Mason said. Part of responsible pet ownership includes “the need to know what you are getting into,” she said.
Ms Henderson said, “We are using the animal welfare policy as a way to evaluate dogs that have problems if there are issues, and we go through the process — is there a sanctuary where a dog can live out its life in peace if it can’t be placed?”
That might include rescue groups, sanctuaries, or foster homes. Training and medical evaluations are also part of the equation. “Some dogs could be rehabbed,” she said.
Ms Henderson said, “Max, for instance, has been at the shelter for a while and has a critical medical issue that could affect his behavior; he has a problem seeing and may be reacting to things he can’t see clearly or visualize. Will fixing eye problems change his behavior? Max will go through the steps.”
Ms Mason said, “The reason we are not adopting Max out is because we are looking into his eyes.”
If corrections to Max’s eye problems do not fix his behavior, “We will look elsewhere — a foster family, sanctuary, etc, and we would go through the whole list before reaching a panel to decide euthanasia,” Ms Henderson said. According to the 2012 policy, “A licensed veterinarian may proceed with a euthanasia procedure only after the [animal control officer] licensed veterinarian, animal behaviorist, chief of police or his/her designee, and the first selectman or his/her designee have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the case file, and agree that euthanasia is the only appropriate course of action …”
Noting that Max has “chronic eye disease, he can’t really see,” Ms Mason said he is scared. “We are learning that about him now.” She said he is “a hand biter,” adding, “He is a joy with me, but he has to learn to trust.”
Ms Henderson said that Winston — as did Taz previously — would go through training.
“Taz went through training and is now in a happy home and has been terrific.” Dogs that end up at a shelter, any shelter, may have had situations that included abuse or neglect “that may created aggressive behavior, which does not mean dog should be put down,” Ms Henderson said.
She said the new attitude to pound dogs is, “Let’s put this dog through the paces and see if a dog can be saved. We are going to go through the trouble to socialize and change.”
Thinking of the small terrier, Ms Mason said, “Winston. He just needs work, and is going through a training process. We are working with him now.”
Regarding the financing to rehabilitate, train, house, and feed dogs, Ms Mason noted the generous $2 million donation left several years ago by two late residents for the care and welfare of Newtown’s animals. She also said a trainer, Rob Mullen, the K9 Wizard, volunteers his time each Friday.
The new facility has provided a larger, cleaner environment for the dogs and also cats, Ms Mason said. “The animals are not as stressed,” she said. “The facility has helped our dogs.”
The Welfare Policy For Impounded Animals
The Welfare Policy For Impounded Animals states under the heading of Purpose: “This policy is intended to provide support for the continuation of the town’s long-standing ‘no-kill’ practice. The policy herein will serve as a guideline for all personnel when considering the well-being and fate of animals impounded at the Newtown Animal Control Facility. Town government remains committed to a no-kill philosophy and there is nothing in this policy that should be construed as advocating the euthanizing of animals impounded at our control facility.”
Euthanasia “should be avoided unless circumstances dictate euthanasia is the only reasonable course to pursue.”
The document also states: “Newtown Animal Control personnel have the responsibility to the Town of Newtown to proceed with practices that will limit the danger and threat to the human and animal populations.”
Under the heading Medically Non-Sustainable, the policy says: “In the case of a diseased or injured animal for which no restorative action is reasonably available, a licensed veterinarian will make the recommendation [to animal control staff] to euthanize. Only when those persons mutually agree on the action, may the veterinarian proceed with a euthanasia procedure.”
And under the heading Behaviorally Non-Sustainable: “The euthanizing of any animal for aggressive behavior that has led to bodily harm to humans or other animals cannot occur unless the following conditions are met and documented in the case file of the animal: Has every possible and reasonable effort been implemented to locate the owner of the animal in question? Has every possible and reasonable effort been undertaken to find an appropriate home for the animal? Is there a rescue shelter or a rescue group available to take custody of the animal? Are there arrangements that can be made to temporarily house the animal in an alternate location? Has the animal been professionally evaluated by an independent animal behaviorist to determine the suitability for a behavior modification program? If yes to the above question — has a suitable program been implemented without success? Has a licensed veterinarian tested the animal for known health disorders associated with aggressive behavior? If yes to the above question, has the animal undergone all available treatment?”