For several years, there has been a “no-kill” animal shelter movement that, in principle, is exemplary but that in truth is unrealistic and impractical.
What if terminally ill or injured animals with no chance of recovery are found and taken to a no-kill shelter? Would they be turned away?
What if some of the healthy animals brought in by people who found them as strays or who can no longer keep them prove to be unadoptable because they are not appealing to would-be adopters, or they have behavioral problems, which often develop in animal shelters?
Such animals often remain caged or crated for months and even years. Is such a life worth living, especially when there is no attempt to develop facilities to keep such animals in enriched environments with their own kind?
In the absence of such group housing for dogs and cats, as I have seen across Europe while consulting on shelter care with Pro Animale, the no-kill movement could be a formula for more animal suffering.
Although people feel good about not having to engage in euthanasia, they instead incarcerate animals in solitary confinement for life, or they take in only the most adoptable animals and send others elsewhere.
Worse, some no-kill shelters have engaged in “dumping” cats rather than euthanizing them because of the numbers coming in and a lack of space. It’s called trap, neuter, release (TNR), and it’s considered humane, although it often puts wildlife at risk.
In an e-mail to me, Vermont veterinarian Peggy Larson wrote: “I am very much against the ‘no kill’ movement. For many reasons. Unsuitable and dangerous animals are being released to the public. Animals in these ‘no kill’ shelters pile up and live horrible lives in tiny cages for long periods of time. Some of these places turn into hoarding situations. Unwanted cats and dogs are being shipped to Vermont from the south, not that we need any more dogs and cats here. They come in without health certificates and carry diseases like hookworms and heartworm that are not problems here.”
In contrast, “quick-kill” animal shelters — some still using outmoded and inhumane methods of euthanasia — often have to kill many animals every week because of a lack of funding to expand their quarantine and holding facilities, employ and train staff members and do public outreach to increase adoption rates and donations. This is a tremendous emotional burden on the people involved.
Many of these shelters employ behavioral assessments and temperament tests to determine animals’ adoptability, rather than developing the skills of behavioral rehabilitation (from post-traumatic stress disorder and human abuse and neglect) and resocialization. After being quarantined, many fearful cats and dogs that would fail these tests and be killed (or caged for life in the no-kill setting) soon come around when they are housed in groups and see their fellow animals interacting with humans without fear.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Can you give me your thoughts about rawhide products for dogs? Are they dangerous?
I have heard that a dog can choke on them or that they can be bad for dogs’ stomachs. I also heard that some manufacturers use chemicals in these products.
R.P., Fairfax County
DF: Dogs do like to chew things, which is generally good for the gums and teeth. Cooked bones are harder than raw, and dogs can crack their teeth on them, especially cooked beef bones but also on raw ones.
Give your dog raw beef shank bones for a 10-minute chew twice daily. Avoid all other bones unless they are ground up as a mineral supplement. They can splinter and cause internal damage.
Buy only beef rawhide chew strips processed in the United States. Those with knots can lead to choking. Many imported hides are bleached and loaded with potentially harmful chemicals, including arsenic and pesticides (from cattle dips). They can also be contaminated with bacteria.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I adopted my beagle, Ben, from a research lab three years ago. He had been there for four years, doing something with dental research. He has six missing teeth.
He is a very sweet, gentle boy, but he has very high anxiety levels. It took him about nine months to settle in and begin feeling comfortable and at home. He had never been outside, and he appeared to be on sensory overload when I would try to housebreak him. He is about 7 now and is settling in quite well. He is finally starting to play with toys, chew on chew sticks and act like a pet.
He is very sensitive to noise, which causes him a lot of anxiety. If I set down a coffee cup, he will run upstairs. He hates the noises of cooking. He paces and continually runs upstairs and down again hundreds of times while I am preparing a meal.
We love him dearly, but his pacing and running is nerve-wracking. My 89-year-old mother (who has cancer) is afraid he is going to make her fall as he races past us when he gets so nervous. I am 64 and have had two knees and one hip replaced. I am also afraid he might cause a fall for me.
When we first got him, we tried Prozac, Xanax and Clomicalm. He wasn’t on any of them for too long because they seemed to make him more nervous and they took away his appetite. I didn’t like the thought of drugging him anyway.
We find that when I cook or do things that I know will make him anxious, crating him is the best thing — he snuggles right in and goes to sleep, or at least is more relaxed.
I tried a behavioral therapist early on and have followed her suggestions, such as letting him approach the things that make him nervous and smell them; not paying any attention to him when I drop something; or using a fun, high-pitched voice and saying, “It’s okay, Ben.” Nothing seems to work.
C.K., Livonia, Mich.
DF: Good for you for taking in a dog that was experimented upon and kept in a wholly unnatural, deprived laboratory, probably not even taken for daily walks or given any time outdoors with other dogs.
Your dog has what I would call complex post-traumatic stress disorder, coupled with confinement syndrome, which I first saw as a consultant and sought ways to correct decades ago when I was called in to look at a colony of caged beagles in a long-term government radiation exposure study.
You have tried all the anxiolytic psychotropic medications I would recommend. You should explore dietary supplements, giving one-third the recommended daily dose twice daily of 5-HTP to try to elevate the dog’s brain serotonin, along with plenty of lightly cooked ground turkey or a tryptophan supplement. A small amount of melatonin might also help. It has often helped dogs with fear of thunder.
The amino acid L-theanine (from green tea) can also be calming. So put some green tea in his drinking water or try PetzLife’s product @-Eaze. A few drops of essential oil of lavender on a bandana around his neck might prove very calming, along with some background music to buffer sudden noises.
He has found his crate a safe place, so keep it open so he can go into it whenever he needs to. Put chew toys and treats inside, especially before you expect to be making sudden noises, as in the kitchen. Being able to go in and out of his crate when he wishes will help calm him as he develops a sense of control over his environment.
Michael W. Fox is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.