July 12, 2012
Late in the day yesterday, the Fort Worth Animal Shelter announced a kill list of about 80 pets that had until 8:00pm. I saw the posts after 4:00pm – a time Facebook activity drops off as people finish the workday and prepare for dinner. Like many others, Pawsitively Texas got behind the urgency to raise awareness for the need and began networking the pets. We all felt the sense of urgency that we did not have enough time. It became the Fort Worth Animal Shelter Scramble as people sprang to action, networking relentlessly and racing across the metroplex to try and save lives.
There are some things that the Fort Worth animal shelter team does well. They have partnered with local pet stores to increase visibility for the pets awaiting adoption. Probably one of the strongest resources they utilize is the animal shelter volunteer team they allow to photograph and spend time getting to know the pets so they can post and network them using social media. The Fort Worth animal shelter does more than many other high kill shelters such as Dallas Animal Shelter and Houston’s BARC. But they could do so much more. I notice whenever interviewed, the shelter representative always comments about the “healthy and adoptable animals” but many of the animals posted on the Urgent Animals at Fort Worth Animal Care and Control Facebook page are not always unadoptable or untreatable as is inferred. And so many of the photos show such a lack of concern for the care of the pets; I can almost always spot a Fort Worth shelter pet by the photo; the pets are often held haphazardly, or crouching scared at the end of a catch pole. I have written Fort Worth Mayor, Betsy Price and the entire city council (note: Price submitted a no kill statement prior to her election as mayor; she’s also a bicyclist). I have asked them why they used the $50,000 dollars budgeted for a new HVAC system for the animal shelter for new employee showers (in case employees want to cycle to work or at lunch). The HVAC system contributes to animal shelter disease control – when the spread of illness is kept to a minimum in the animal shelter, more animals will move from stray hold to the adoption floor. So why did the city leaders elect to give the city employees the perk of showers taking the money from the shelter? I also shared with them some of the sad photos showing their staff carelessly holding the animals in need. I’ve never received a reply from the city leadership nor elected officials. Off-site adoption events in high traffic area saves lives; it’s working in Rockwall and Seagoville, as well as Austin, and Williamson County. Animal shelters can increase the live save rate if they would be willing to truly listen to volunteers and taxpayers about what IS working in other open-admission shelters that have implemented the no kill equation procedures.
The Fort Worth animal shelter official interviewed on the news stated they had sent out a press release on Monday about the shelter crowding. But Steve Eagar, Fox 4 News anchor reported they had not received the notice. In fact, he had learned about the problem when networkers began to contact him via his Facebook page. I watched both the 5:00 and 6:00pm WFAA news reports and there was no mention of the shelter need. At 5:30 pm, I emailed news anchor Gloria Campos to see if they would cover the story; there was no mention on the 6:00pm newscast, but they did a nice story on the 10pm news. Two hours past the fateful deadline; I don’t blame WFAA – I think it possible they too did not know until the last minute of the need.
Meanwhile, the news stations were still reporting updates on Hope, the precious dog severely abused in Parker County. So many people from across the metroplex, state, and nation wanted to help and/or adopt Hope. Her story touched us all so very deeply and compassion gave way to action as people offered to help. Meanwhile, so many dogs were facing an 8:00pm deadline at the Fort Worth animal shelter – and 60-100 adoptable pets die every single day at the Dallas Animal Shelter. There are thousands of Hopes in desperate need, but only one person or family can adopt the Parker County Hope … imagine if all of the other people saw the faces and stories of the other Hopes that sit on death row in shelters every day. Some come in as strays, some are surrendered by their owners. The shelter can be such a scary place for many pets and a scared shelter pet does not present well as adoptable. And the vast majority of these precious, adoptable animals die because no one ever saw their face, knew their need. Last night, we saw people spring to action and none of the animals slated to die at 8:00pm died. I give the Fort Worth shelter kudos for staying open late to process adoptions and rescues and for allowing their volunteer team to get the word out.
This is one dog that made the kill list at the Fort Worth shelter yesterday. We didn’t know name, sex, age, or breed. Only that this dog had been surrendered by his/her owner – which is more often than not, a death sentence in a crowded animal shelter – and it was for him/her. Texas law gives strays a 72 hour hold for their owners to find and reclaim them; owner surrenders have no protection. They are “property” and can be destroyed of immediately. This dog was reported as scared and depressed; can you imagine being pulled from your home and left alone at a place that has ‘fear in the air.’ Dogs and cats are often scared in an animal shelter! So this precious dog made the kill list with very little time. But we networked him/her. And the story touched everyone deeply that saw it; this dog was saved because the networking community was able to get the story told. With almost no time, we (the networking community) saved this one. A pet scared in a shelter should not be a death sentence, but it is in so many shelters. On a side note – in Texas pets are considered property. I’ve never seen the kind of emotion this dog is expressing from my car, fence, or jewelry. Pets should not be considered property.
Five Lifesaving Lessons Learned …
1. People care. In rescue, we see so much abuse and owner surrenders that the overwhelming sadness of it all obscures the fact that people do care. But as proven by the frantic social media networking and people racing against the clock to adopt or rescue an animal minutes away from the needle, we’re reminded just how much people do care about the lives of a shelter animal.
2. Awareness Saves Lives. Lives were saved last night because awareness was raised. Although word came very, very late with little time to act, the Fort Worth animal shelter did get the word out about the extensive kill list. Today, the Fox 4 News station’s Facebook page is reporting on the animals in need again at the Fort Worth shelter. This single news page has a reach of more than 60,000. Imagine if we had more support like this! WFAA also aired a follow-up story showing people waiting to adopt today.
3. Social media is a life-saver. When the news media can not help because they do not know of a need, social media can spread an urgent message of need like wildfire. The Pawsitively Texas page has a Texas focus and following, but we also have networkers from all across the US that help. While they can not help with a local emergency such as this one by adopting, rescuing, or fostering, they throw themselves into networking and making donations – which is a huge help in saving lives! Other pages have similar networkers. People quickly figure out what they can do and they get to work. The army of compassion at it’s finest! Every single open-admission, taxpayer funded shelter needs to implement a social media plan for their shelter pets. It costs nothing but time – and compassionate volunteers will give of their time generously to save the lives of animals. There are blueprints available for shelters that wish to implement a social media marketing program to increase their save rate; there is no need to spend months researching how to do this, implementation can begin immediately. And results can be seen almost immediately. All it takes is an animal shelter, or city leadership, to support the volunteer program and provide them with the access to the animals and resources necessary to manage a successful social media plan. It really is that simple. And lives will be saved!
4. Be Flexible. The Fort Worth animal shelter normally closes at 6:00pm on Wednesday evenings. They stayed open late last night to process adoptions and rescues. Animals lived because the shelter was willing to be flexible with their hours.
5. The City Saved Money: If the city had killed all of the pets on yesterday’s kill list, they would have had to spend money on needles, kill solution, and body bags (or ‘trash removal’) – with no return on their investment. A waste of taxpayer funds and the lives of shelter pets – and an emotional impact on the one that wields the needle that can not be healthy. Instead, even though they offered half price adoptions, they spent no money to kill the animals, and instead, collected adoption fees. No kill is ALWAYS the better solution. Always. And it has a positive financial impact as well.
These five life-saving methods cost nothing but time; the resources are there to save the lives of shelter pets. All taxpayer funded shelters should implement a program like this. And we should not accept “no” as an answer. Taxpayers should have a say in the way their local government manages their community and resources. We’re a better community, a better people, when we don’t simply take the easy way out and kill healthy animals.
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