Before September 1st, when the ACC introduced its new Placement Process guidelines, complete with new colors and vague new behavior ratings, the animal rescue community could take comfort in one simple fact: no matter how corrupt, mismanaged and ignorant the ACC management was, even those animals that were most wronged by its staff and “behaviorists” had a chance at rescue. Dogs and cats who were particularly scared of the shelter environment, and responded negatively to staff attempts at “handling” were routinely classified as Moderate, Questionable or Severe. It was left to dedicated volunteers and rescuers to sift through the bullshit and attempt to figure out an animal’s true disposition. Indeed, the reason the ACC has been so opposed to our Urgent Facebook page is that they hated the dissemination of observations that opposed their draconian decisions.
Now, the ACC has given themselves the power to condemn any animal they choose with a No Placement (NP) rating — meaning it is then off-limits to the public from saving under any circumstances. Does anyone remember Oreo’s Law — Assemblyman Micah Kellner’s bill to force kill-shelters to release an animal to rescue if one agreed to take it? You can bid farewell to such notions, because with these new Placement Process rules, the ACC is claiming power to kill an animal regardless of how many rescue groups may have placement. Let’s say an animal is abused and requires careful rehabilitation and behavior modification. This is a process that not all rescue groups can afford to provide, but to prohibit those groups that are capable from trying is effectively equipping shelter managers with loaded handguns and releasing them into the wards.
What about the rest of the new “Behavior Designations”?
- N – NONE – No behavior rating
- B – BEGINNER – Beginner home
- A – AVERAGE – Average home
- E – EXPERIENCE – Experienced home with specific counseling
- EA – EXPNOCHILD – Experienced home, no children, with specific counseling.
- H – NH ONLY – New Hope partner placement only
- NP – Not available for placement
Surely with these six benign new letters, there must be some new degree of fairness, right? Well, the ACC left out the most crucial aspect of these new Designations: exactly which of these behavior scores will be eligible for the nightly Euth Lists? And another unanswered question: how exactly will the supremely unfair SAFER test factor into these new ratings? Will a completely friendly dog who guards his food still be considered eligible to be killed for Temper? We can’t forget Dr. Janezcko’s crowning contribution to the ACC in the summer of 2009, when she unilaterally made all Moderate dogs and cats eligible to be killed, effectively making only animals who received A’s and B’s on their tests exempt from being killed for Temper. Now that Janezcko is in the protective womb of the ASPCA with her new job, and the ACC is still without a Medical Director or Director of Operations (the two titles she shuffled between to avoid liability) who will make such decisions at the ACC?
Let’s discuss the new color-coded Initial Medical Behavior Evaluation:
- GREEN animals are those animals who were relaxed, easy to handle, and who showed no concerning behavior during the exam.
- BLUE animals are those animals who were tense and nervous but mostly still and relatively easy to handle during the exam.
- YELLOW animals are those animals who were nervous, actively resisted examination, and required the use of restraint equipment or techniques, but did not exhibit aggressive behaviors during the exam.
- ORANGE animals are those who required the use of restraint techniques and/or equipment and did exhibited aggressive behaviors during the exam.
- RED animals are those who exhibited severe aggression and required the use of significant restraint and/or sedation during the exam
Previously, contrary to all reason and fairness, the ACC used the SAME behavior classifications for animals during Initial Medical Evaluations as they did for SAFER tests. This meant that if an animal was scared during Intake, they were effectively doomed by this result, as they would be fast-tracked to a SAFER which usually confirmed that they were indeed frightened. If a vet tech, with no training in animal behavior, declared that an animal was aggressive during Intake, stickers marked CAUTION are placed on a cage, scaring away volunteers or potential adopters/rescuers for the remainder of the animal’s time. This new rainbow of nameless grades is in fact a step in the right direction toward fairness, but it is being thrown on top of a rotting foundation, where staff untrained in behavior have the power to make behavior ratings, and in which not all animals are even provided with a full behavior evaluation before ending up on the Euth List for kennel cough. Until the ACC promises a behavior evaluation for every animal before being able to kill them, Intake ratings such as these will hold an unfair weight over animals’ lives. At the moment, there are TWO employees in all of ACC certified to perform dog SAFER tests. There is not a single person certified to perform cat behavior tests. You do the math.
We will touch on one last point, which is the four new “factors” that will affect an animal’s behavior classification:
1. Intake questionnaires/information sheets
2. Observations during medical exams and treatments
3. In-shelter observations from staff and volunteers
4. SAFER assessments for dogs and consistent cage
observations for cats
1. Oh, Intake questionnaires! This is a fancy term for Owner Surrender Profiles, which the ACC notoriously neglects. Unless a new policy is enacted to force all (not just a few) front desk staff to extract useful information from owners surrendering their pets, we will still be left with useless tidbits such as “Fed Dry Food” or “Spoiled” as the only observations after their years of owning a pet. Any informed ACC volunteer will tell you that crucial information, such as THIS PIT BULL LIVED WITH TWO CATS or THIS DOG WAS SURRENDERED WITH HIS BROTHER is routinely ignored during “Intake Questionnaires”
2. Observations during Medical Exams? Raise your hand if you own otherwise adoring, gentle and obedient animal who becomes fearful or even aggressive during Medical Exams? Thought so.
3. Input from Volunteers! Does this mean that if a tireless member of the Compassion Program discovers that a dog on the Euth List for Temper is in fact loving and merely in need of a gentle touch…that the animal will be given a chance at Adoption or Placement? What about a dog who barks when the “behaviorist” approaches his cage, but volunteers actually have no problem coaxing the dog out of the cage each day with a soothing voice and a non-confrontational posture? This must be what they mean by “in-shelter observations from volunteers”, right?
4. As we asked above, exactly how much weight will the obsolete SAFER test still carry? Will emaciated dogs still be condemned to death due to Food Aggression two days after arriving at the ACC?
The bottom line we all need to remember and press our elected officials about is this: the shelter is run by an inept and ignorant management staff, who should never, under any circumstances, be given the full power of life or death over a situation they can hardly be bothered to properly assess. There is simply too much room for human error and laziness for the ACC to have the power to label an animal No Placement and not let rescue groups save lives. And if the ACC is going to cough up niceties like considering volunteers’ observations regarding behavior, then perhaps they should inform the volunteers about that. Because standard operating procedure is for ACC management to ignore any volunteer email protesting a dog or cat’s placement on the euth list for temper issues. Send enough of those emails, and you’ll find yourself in a disciplinary meeting begging for your volunteer position.
If you’re bothered by any of the unanswered questions raised in this note, please, by all means: write to: Julie Bank ([email protected]), Richard Gentles ([email protected]) and Ellen Curtis ([email protected]), and ask them. We’d love to see their responses.