Monday, January 21, 2013

Horrors of a Salem pet rescue, and what it means for the future

Liam the pug in his bed
Little dogs depend on us to make the right choices.
Last week, in what's being called the largest pet rescue in Oregon's history, police raided a shelter in the Salem area and removed 149 dogs from absolutely horrible conditions. The news articles about this issue (all of which are no longer available online) are absolutely heartbreaking, suggesting that many of these dogs were housed in very small cages with no access to food, clean bedding or water. Some cages were so small that the dogs couldn't stand up at all. It's not clear how long the abuse had been moving forward, but at least one article suggests that the rescued dogs no longer have any interest in food, which seems to suggest that they'd been neglected for an incredibly long period of time.

There's a lot of soul-searching going on in my neighborhood, as you might imagine, as police officers and legitimate animal rescue agencies attempt to determine how an organization could operate like this for any period of time at all, and how so many dogs could be housed in conditions like this with no oversight at all. I would hope that the laws will change as a result of this case, and that law enforcement will have more broad leeway to step in when abuse is suspected. We need to shut these things down sooner. But in the interim, there are some lessons the average citizen can take away from this story.

Firstly, once again, this rescue came about because ordinary people spoke up and kept on talking until they were heard. People who adopted sick dogs contacted their police officers. People who saw sick dogs at adoption agencies contacted the Humane Society. People who worked next door to the warehouse where these dogs were housed spoke up. Each time someone said something, law enforcement agents had another reason to do something. We all need to speak up, loud and clear, when we see something wrong. If everyone had kept quiet, who knows how long this abuse would have been overlooked and ignored?

And sadly, we all need to think hard before we give our dogs to rescue organizations. As the economic crisis continues and people look for more ways to cut expenses, rescues are filled to capacity. If all of the reputable shelters are full to capacity, that creates space for the unscrupulous to step in. I know no one wants to give up a pet, and I also know that there are options that can help. If you can't afford your dog, can your friends house the dog for a short period of time? Can you live somewhere that's less expensive? Can you qualify for a program to help you feed your pet (see this link)?

If these steps don't work, make a commitment to thoroughly check out your rescue. Go and visit the place where your dog will be housed, and ask for references and the names of others who have adopted from this organization. Offer to take the pet back if a suitable home can't be found. Check back in frequently, to ensure that your dog is safe and sound. This level of supervision is no less than your dog deserves, and it might help to ensure that poor rescues don't get new dogs to abuse.

Finally, try to adopt from a rescue if you can, and make a commitment to spay/neuter your animal before even one litter is born. When dogs can be treated like garbage, it's clear that there are too many of them available in the world today. Take in a dog that no one else wants, and perhaps we can reduce the number of dogs in shelters and ensure that all of the creatures that are here are warm, fed and wanted.

This story is sad, but let's hope it's the last one we hear about. We all need to work hard to make sure that this doesn't happen in the future.