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December 10, 2004

A local animal shelter and its relevance to social problems ...

I put this text together to have something to read from for the final in my 'modern social problems' night class, though it wasn't required. I didn't actually read the paper -- I didn't even need to go into this much detail -- I just can't leave shit alone. Since it's already written, might as well post it here!

Necessary disclaimer -- nothing expressed in the following text is in any way endorsed or vetted (no pun intended) by SICSA or any of its employees or board members. It's solely my opinion, and while I have an affiliation with the shelter as a volunteer and donor, I have no decision-making or public relations position with the shelter itself or any of its operations.

Anyway, here's the text I put together, from which I read, though I didn't read verbatim (footnotes have been inserted as links):

Archaeological evidence indicates that humans and dogs have lived together in some social arrangement since as long as 12,000 years ago, before humans began to gather in civilizations as we recognize them today. It is not known what the precise relationship may have been, judging from the archaeological evidence, but it’s clear that men and dogs began the long process of partnership as early as this.

The earliest concrete evidence of a domesticated feline dates about 7,000 years BCE, judging from a grave found in Cyprus, where a complete cat skeleton was found in a human grave in a stone age village excavation, apparently posed similarly to the human next to whom it was buried, and intact (indicating the cat wasn’t killed to be eaten, in which case the bones would have been scattered and probably burned from cooking).

In general, the domestication of both cats and dogs probably occurred because the animals were more effective than humans at reducing vermin – especially after humans began to gather in larger groups and agricultural civilizations formed in Mesopotamia. Both cats and dogs have enjoyed waxing and waning positions within human civilizations over the centuries, especially the cat – which appears to have been revered by some, eaten by others, and even killed off because it was believed to be evil in the Middle Ages, which some have theorized may have aggravated the spread of the Bubonic plague (due to a boom in the population of mice and rats, who circulated near enough to humans to spread the fleas and mites that carried the disease).

It’s fairly safe to say that cats and dogs both enjoy, relatively, the highest esteem in today’s Western cultures – especially in North America and Europe – that they’ve ever enjoyed. Most pets spend some, if not all, their time sharing the same shelter as the humans they live with. Complete and healthy diets are available on the shelves at the grocery store, along with toys and sanitary products that make it simpler to share one’s life with an animal whose genetics probably would encourage it to do most of its daily business outdoors. A look at the pet department at any grocery store would indicate most dogs and cats are given the same basic dietary and hygienic consideration as humans give themselves – brushes, nail clippers, shampoos, medications, specialized foods for weight control, entertainments – all of which indicates that in some ways, humans see animals as deserving of these treatments.

However, many companion animals still are euthanized at shelters. No firm numbers exist because of the variety of types of animal shelters and the fact that shelters are not required by law to report a raw number of animals euthanized in a given year. The American Humane Association estimates, based on surveys completed by 1,000 animal shelters in 1997, that 64% of the total number of animals entering animal shelters are euthanized. Approximately 15% of dogs and 2% of cats who end up in shelters are returned to their owners; 56% of dogs and 71% of cats are euthanized.

The National Council on Pet Population Studies reports the five most common reasons for owner release of dogs to shelters are: 1) moving; 2) landlord issues; 3) cost of pet maintenance; 4) no time for pet; and 5) inadequate facilities. The top five reasons for cats to be released to shelters are: 1) too many in house; 2) allergies; 3) moving; 4) cost of pet maintenance; and 5) landlord issues.

This only accounts for owner releases, not pets who simply are dumped on the street or ‘out in the country,’ with the rationalization that they can ‘fend for themselves.’ Abandoned animals present a health risk to themselves and other domestic animals, and a drain on community spirit. Often, these animals have not had basic immunizations, and therefore are susceptible to many diseases which can cause epidemics in the stray population and can cross over to the domestic population. The most dangerous disease for which most strays often aren’t immunized is rabies – common in wild animals such as opossums, bats, raccoons and groundhogs – which can be passed on to unvaccinated domestic animals and humans.

Legally, of course, pet owners in Ohio are required to immunize their pets against rabies; proof of rabies immunization is required on demand, and must be available in order to license a dog. However, it would be difficult to say the least to police the entire pet population in North America to ensure each owned pet had received the immunization.

In 1974, a group of private citizens in Kettering began a project to pull some of the animals off the streets, return them to good health, evaluate their condition and behavior and, if possible, match them with appropriate households. The Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals initially consisted of several people’s private homes, and various locations, until 1976 when SICSA purchased a house at 2600 Wilmington Pike, and SICSA began to be a permanent shelter at that address.

From the beginning, SICSA’s goal was not simply to take in any and all animals – public shelters in the area already were serving that purpose. As is the case with most similar limited-acceptance shelters, SICSA has a legal limit of animals it can house, and most of the effort is directed at making good matches between pets and homes, and educating people about coexisting with animals – the demands and responsibilities, of which people often aren’t aware when they first take in a pet. The source of animals at SICSA is, generally, the local community – owners will come with pets and release them to the organization; people will dump duct-taped cardboard boxes in the parking lot full of kittens or puppies; on occasion, the local shelters will offer particularly appealing animals who have reached their time limits. SICSA also sponsors a program called ‘Safe Pets’ that takes in animals on a temporary basis for those who are relocating, who have suffered a loss of housing, or who are on assignments with their jobs or the military; in general, these animals are reclaimed by their original owners, but not always. Additionally, SICSA has taken in adoptable dogs and cats from illegal breeder operations (i.e., puppy/kitten 'mills') and ‘collectors’ who have run afoul of their neighbors.

SICSA sponsors three programs intended to improve the human-animal bond in the community, and reduce the number of animals surrendered to shelters:

Community Education and Outreach

SICSA’s community education programs strive to place animals appropriately with households that are less likely to find the relationship unsatisfactory – and, therefore, unlikely to return the pet. For example, a young couple with a small child living in a small apartment would likely find some difficulty with a large dog; elderly people tend not to deal well with puppies or kittens because they can get underfoot. SICSA encourages good matches because logically, if a household takes in an animal with characteristics inappropriate for its general operation, the animal is likely to wind up on the street or back in the shelter system.

In addition to the adoption process, SICSA also does community outreach to schools and community groups, discussing the importance of things like regular health and immunization visits to veterinarians for pets, spaying and neutering, and other animal-related issues.

There are SICSA employees available who can help counsel those who are having behavior or socialization problems with a pet, if they are committed to keeping the pet in the house. Such issues as barking, house soiling and destructive behaviors such as chewing and scratching can be addressed, with the proper procedures. In many cases, if these behaviors can be ameliorated or the problems resolved, the pet can stay in its original home, with its original owner, and not wind up at a shelter or on the street.

SICSA employees often also coordinate with breed rescues and refer people with purebred dogs or cats who cannot keep them for whatever reason, so that if an animal must have a new home, it can have a new home with an owner who knows the characteristics and traits of the breed. People often buy or adopt breed animals that have taxing requirements for space or exercise, simply because they are popular; this results in many well-bred, registered animals being surrendered to animal shelters because people did not consider all the requirements. By connecting these people with a breed-specific rescue, it helps the animal to make its transition to a new home that will be permanent.

Training for dogs adopted from SICSA is available for free or at a discount after adoption. The training generally includes basic obedience commands, and establishes the human’s dominance in the relation between pet and owner (a sometimes difficult or impossible transaction if one knows nothing about training a dog).

SICSA also maintains a local lost and found directory, spays and neuters each animal and inserts a tracking microchip before adoption. While it’s not an advertised service, SICSA also will check for a microchip on a found animal to determine whether it’s lost and if the owner can be tracked through the microchip registry.

Low-Cost/Subsidized Spay and Neuter

A subsidized program is available through the shelter to spay and neuter animals owned by the general public. A veterinarian affiliated with SICSA performs the procedures; in the Low-Cost Program, for those with household incomes below $14,000 per year, one animal per calendar year will be neutered at no cost. Spaying or neutering of animals beyond one per year is provided at the same discounted rate as the general rate for the Middle-Income Program – which is designed for individuals with incomes up to $30,000, or families with incomes not exceeding $35,000. Any Ohio resident can take advantage of these programs, but appointment preference is given to Montgomery and Greene County residents.

The fees for the Middle-Income Program (and for additional neuters for those who qualify for the Low-Income Program) are $35 for a male cat, $50 for a female; $50-$60 for a male dog and $70-$85 for a female dog (dog rates are based on weight).

As SICSA performs no other treatment for animals outside the program, animals must be current on their rabies vaccines and dogs must be registered with the county of residence.

Pet Facilitated Therapy

Numerous studies have shown that interaction with animals provides positive physical and psychological results with humans. A recent study goes even farther – a University of Missouri at Columbia study has found that positive interaction with animals encourages serotonin production. The serotonin production and uptake mechanism in humans has been implicated in many cases of clinical depression. The use of pets for therapeutic treatment has a long history, though studies of actual, measurable benefits have only appeared in recent decades.

Pet Facilitated Therapy (PFT) is used in many ways today – prisons, mental health treatment centers, nursing homes, residential treatment facilities and other patient care programs all use PFT in varying ways.

A study by the University of Maryland in 1979, indicating that pet owners enjoyed a lower rate of heart disease and a better survival rate when heart disease was encountered encouraged SICSA to begin a PFT program that year. SICSA’s original intention was to improve human and animal bonds, so a pet therapy program was a natural fit as a community outreach effort.

Trained pet therapists who participate in SICSA’s PFT program – and SICSA volunteers who use PFT animals selected at the shelter – visit nursing homes and other residential treatment facilities in the greater Dayton area regularly. In general, the animals selected at SICSA are puppies and kittens who have come to the shelter very young. These animals generally have been handled and socialized extensively by humans before their habits are fixed, and do not object to being held and stroked by strangers. An added bonus for the animals involved in the PFT program is that they are well-socialized by the time they outgrow the program, and are adopted quickly from SICSA.

SICSA also will schedule PFT sessions in-house, where residents of facilities come in and help care for the animals at the shelter. For residents who participate, this fosters an improved sense of responsibility, better motor skills and opportunities to socialize with others outside their residential programs.

This program benefits practically everybody involved – the animals receive important socialization skills, and are more easily integrated into a new household when they become too large for the PFT program; patients who interact with the animals receive emotional and physical benefits; those who adopt the animals receive a pet who has been handled regularly and who will tend to respond with less annoyance to additional handling.

Posted by Melinda at December 10, 2004 09:42 PM


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