Just a few short years ago, Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) was a terrible place. Volunteers were banned, rescues were banned, and animals were suffering from a lack of care and a lack of compassion. People were emailing me constantly with horror stories about John MacDowell's leadership as the interim director and about the failings of the facility. Everyone wanted me to write a blog on their personal experiences; and I did write a few.
There is no doubt that things are better now with new leadership, but has true change happened? No. True change happens when laws are changed that will protect animals no matter who is at the helm.
No matter how much you love the new director of MADACC - the fact remains that she could leave tomorrow. She could take a new job, or get fired or heaven forbid - get hit by a bus. And guess who would be in charge? John MacDowell.
Nothing has truly changed. There is still breed discrimination in Milwaukee County with neither WHS or MADACC showing any interest in taking an active role in repealing it. There still isn't a law that permits TNR in the City of Milwaukee (despite Wisconsin Humane Society making a public commitment last March to work on a new ordinance). There hasn't been a resolution passed by either Milwaukee County or the City to protect shelter animals. And now the very organizations that are supposed to be "sheltering" animals are asking permission to take ownership of lost pets three days earlier than they previously did. Will some of those animals make it into new homes quicker? Absolutely. But will some animals die quicker? Absolutely.
There are still really bad shelters in Wisconsin. We all know that. Unfortunately since we don't have a law that requires Wisconsin shelters to release their statistics to the state, we only get a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtain. Attempts by the public and advocates around the state get denied when they ask shelters receiving taxpayer money to release their statistics.
A recent Open Records Request to the Wisconsin Humane Society Racine Campus which will receive over $250,000 in municipal government money from the City of Racine in 2016 was answered with this response: "Pursuant to Chapter 19 (19.32), the statute on public records and property does not apply to the Wisconsin Humane Society."
This from an organization whose CEO made $178,413 and has $23 million in assets, with 2014 revenues of $7,392,393 (according to the 2014 990) A CEO who is on the board of Shelter Animals Count- an organization whose mission is to improve shelter transparency.
A CEO who at the Public Hearing for SB450 on Wednesday February 4th answered Senator Wanggaard's question "Do we have kill shelters in Wisconsin?" with "I don't know of any shelters in Wisconsin that "euthanize" for time or space."
I have written about "Time and Space" before. One of the common "Smoke and Mirrors" tactics used by many shelter directors in Wisconsin is the statement that their shelter does not "euthanize" for "time or space". You will see this on their Facebook page or website. This is an attempt to dupe the donor or volunteer into believing that they are a No Kill shelter.
The magic question becomes "If you don't "euthanize" (kill) for time or space what do you "euthanize" for?" The answer is usually any animal that the shelter deems "unadoptable" on that particular day.
- Dogs and cats with behavior issues including things like litterbox issues, food bowl "aggression", barrier "aggression", leash reactivity and dog "aggression"
- Cats deemed "feral"
- Cats and dogs with ringworm
- Cats with FIV or FELV
- Cats and dogs that are owner surrenders that do not have the protection of the mandatory seven day stray hold.
The chart below shows some of the save/kill rates at some Wisconsin shelters in 2013.
As you can see from the numbers above, animals are very much at risk in Wisconsin.
Good advocates speak out for strong laws that will protect ALL animals in ALL shelters in ALL parts of the state, regardless of who is in charge. Good advocates will cheerlead for other advocates who are struggling with poor directors or a lack of transparency. Good advocates will not undermine their colleagues by supporting changes that will enable poor shelters to kill quicker.
Good laws include those that require shelters to:
- not kill when they have empty cages or when a rescue is willing to take the animal
- post their statistics online and provide transparency in all of their operations
- scan all incoming animals for microchips multiple times including surrendered animals
- post photos of impounded pets online
- use the US Postal Service to notify owners of found pets
- protect owner-surrendered pets from being killed immediately without a chance for rehabilitation or adoption.
Right now we're riding on a wing and prayer, hoping every day that we will succeed, but without the framework of strong laws to ensure protection for our animals.
I'll leave you with these very wise words on true change for animals from Nathan Winograd:
"The goal was never mere promises that we would strive to do better as a society. The focus was always on changing the law to eliminate the ability to do otherwise. The suffrage movement did not seek discretionary permission from election officials to vote, an ability that could be taken away. Its goal was winning the right to vote, a right guaranteed in law. The civil rights movement did not seek the discretionary ability to sit at the front of the bus or to eat at the same lunch counters. Its goal was winning the right to do so, a right guaranteed in law. Without legal rights, one’s fate is contingent on who the election official is, who the restaurant owner is, who the mayor is and in the case of animals entering shelters, who the director is." Nathan Winograd