Monday, November 30, 2009

The Real Problem -- (Reply)

(Picture left: He's a happy boy now, but when rescued in August of 2008, Chance was on shelter Euth list for "Severely aggressive behavior.")

In a message dated 11/29/2009 4:01:05 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, Anonymous writes:
Wonderful insight into the world of dog rescuing and chow chows. I'd like to know what are the procedures and reasoning behind these temperament tests. Are there natural biases being applied by any given volunteer who happens to perform the test or is it the process in general?
Reply: You ask very good and complicated-to-answer questions.

Personally, I believe the main reason for the tests is protection from possible lawsuits resulting from a adopted dog potentially biting someone.

Of course whether a rescuer or a shelter doing animal adoptions, we all have to worry about any negative repercussions resulting from an adoption we do.

None of us want to learn that an animal we placed in a home has caused harm or injury to someone even if not specifically concerned over lawsuits.

But, the reality is there is NO 100% way of predicting or determining how any given animal may act in every perceivable situation. We are, after all dealing with animals, not computers or robots that we can "program" and "predict."

Add to that, the difficulty of trying to "evaluate" a dog's true temperament or possible behavior in a home when the dog is being held in the unnatural setting of a crowded and noisy municipal pound.

The sheer stress, disorientation, fear and possible depression most animals suffer when abandoned to a pound situation is enough to seriously alter their natural behaviors and reactions.

Actual aggressive dogs might feel intimidated in a shelter situation and behave in a deceptively passive or even docile manner. Such dogs will often "score" well on the SAFER tests.

On the other hand, formerly pampered dogs (particularly small ones) often panic in a shelter and act out in defensive or even aggressive manner. (Chance, my Pomeranian is a good example of this, although the shelter never officially SAFER tested him. He was too "aggressive" and resistant to any handling at all. Chance attempted to bite everyone in the shelter.)

Then, there are protective dogs like Chows, Rottweilers or German Shepherds (known for loyalty to owners) who are naturally wary of strangers. These breeds will often flunk the "tag," "pinch" or resource guarding parts of the SAFER tests. (For some reason, many Cocker Spaniels also fail food and resource guarding parts of the test.)

I have many problems with the SAFER tests as a matter of POLICY, one of which is its abysmal failure to differentiate among dog breeds.

There can be no reliable "one size fits all" Behavior Test for dogs. Breeds were created with different purposes and attributes in mind. To expect a German Shepherd or Rottie to behave or react like a Shih-Tzu is, (to my mind) pure lunacy.

So how DO shelters or rescues try to determine potentially aggressive dogs from those who are simply anxious or wigged out in a shelter environment?

That is not easy -- especially when the dog has been turned in as a "stray" and there is no history or "Owner Profile" on the animal.

I believe that instead of devoting so much time and resource to so-called SAFER tests, shelters need to PRIORTIZE getting as much history and BACKGROUND on the dogs as possible:

Where did the dog come from? What were the conditions in which the animal lived? If owned, was the dog owned by one individual or a family? Did the dog live with other animals? Etc., etc.....

If the dog arrives at the shelter as a severe cruelty or neglect case, (such as "Oreo" the formerly abused ASPCA dog euthanized after 5 months of medical treatment in the shelter) then special allowances need to be made for that. Usually, these dogs cannot be adopted directly to the public, but rather need to go to special trainers or rehabilitation centers if they are to be saved.

One cannot expect a formerly traumatized and/or tortured, starved dog to score like Lassie on a SAFER test. -- Again, pure lunacy.

Another way to get an idea of a dog's true temperament is information and input from shelter dog walkers and experienced, knowledgeable volunteers or shelter dog handlers.

Those who spend actual TIME with the dogs and walk or feed them usually have a much better handle on the dogs' true natures, then an individual paid to do a ten-minute temperament "evaluation" on the animals under high stress and unnatural circumstances. Gilbert's case was a good example of this. The shelter volunteer was able to better gage the dog's normal behavior than the so-called "SAFER test" wrongly determined.


We are killing millions of animals a year due to lack of human responsibility, failures to spay and neuter and pet overpopulation. Most of all, we are killing due to a lack of loving and responsible homes to send the animals to. Too many people BUY animals from back yard breeders and pet stores. Too many people fail to neuter animals. And too many people abandon pets to shelters or streets.

But, instead of the putting the responsibility (or blame) where it truly belongs (with the PUBLIC and the politicians), we put it on the animals by claiming that they "fail" their SAFER "temperament" tests. There is "something wrong" with them.

In short, as conducted now, I believe the SAFER tests should be eliminated from all shelters as they, at best are unreliable and given to great errors and at worst, simply used as (usually false) justification to kill shelter dogs.

I understand shelters have to "euthanize" for all the reasons emphasized above.

But, lets me HONEST about the real reasons we are killing the animals, instead of dressing it up in "blame the victims and pacify the public" gift wrap (i.e. "The animals are old, sick or vicious.")

That is what is truly inexcusable and unconscionable as it insures we will NEVER address or solve the real problem -- human irresponsibility. -- PCA



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audrey fisher said...

hi, my friend sandy sent me a link to your blog. she and i used to work together at a shelter in manhattan.

i agree with a lot of what you are saying in this post. however, i hope you will reconsider some of the statements you made, statements that i also used to accept as obvious truths - that shelters HAVE to euthanize, that the problem is the PUBLIC, that there aren't enough HOMES.

i was ready to leave the field entirely, but then i read nathan winograd's book, "redemption: the myth of pet overpopulation and the no-kill revolution in america."


I recommend you check it out! Or at least see his blog - -

i added you as a friend on facebook so please write back if you want! - audrey fisher