Tuesday, September 20, 2016
What's Behind the Click and Bait Web Advertisements of Aggressive Shelter Dogs Available for Adoption Today?
Many Shelters Candy-Coat Dogs with Aggressive Behaviors in their Zeal to Increase 'Live Release Rate.' We Examine 34 Case Files.
Dogs from the 34 case files we examined from Sonoma County Animal Services.
Animal behaviorist and author Alexandra Semyonova provides analysis and a special report: Behavior Testing Shelter Dogs -- A Summary of Where We Are Now
Examining Cases Up Close
DogsBite.org - Back in April, we were contacted about the "live release rate" trumping public safety at a California shelter. This is an epidemic across the country. In some cases, it borders on criminal. Dogs with serious aggression are being adopted to the public, sent to fosters, transferred to rescues and transported across county and state lines. They are being recycled back into communities instead of being euthanized due to the holy grail of boasting a high "save rate."
To examine the issue up close, we filed a public records request in July for 34 dogs, including all behavioral and medical notes, at Sonoma County Animal Services. We were alerted to these particular 34 files to examine -- this is not a "random sampling" of cases -- in order to review questionable and problematic cases. Also to review the over arching issue of live release rate being prioritized over public safety, and in many cases, being prioritized over animal welfare too.
You will read about dogs with serious aggression euthanized only after being adopted or fostered and returned. You will read about dogs with multiple aggression memos that management adopted out anyway.In the case of Sonoma County, the files show that some shelter workers operate under a "climate of fear," the fear of personally interacting with some of these aggressive dogs, as well as, sending them back into the community. Staffers witness the aggression and document the behavior (in behavioral memos) and at least in the 34 files we reviewed, many of these memos by employees are simply ignored by upper management. The live release rate pressure literally trumps all.
Albuquerque Set the Stage
As was so eloquently stated by Jim Ludwick, an employee who helped spur the investigation into Albuquerque Animal Services adopting out dangerous dogs last year: "It is not a success, and it is not responsible, if we show sympathy for the dogs we see at our animal shelters, but have no concern for creatures we do not actually meet: the pets and children, out of sight, out of mind, who may pay the price if we unleash the dogs we should euthanize for public safety reasons."
As we were reviewing the 34 case files, Contra Costa Animal Services -- a county adjacent to Sonoma County -- was placed on the hot seat for adopting out a dog that attacked its new owner within hours. The adopters said the shelter told them the dog had "aggressive tendencies" but the issue was downplayed. Dr. Richard Bachman, the Veterinary Medical Director for Contra Costa Animal Services, said the same dog tried to bite a trainer in the face, yet it remained "adoptable."
A trend [Bachman] sees everywhere as shelters are judged by their live release rate. "So anything that leaves alive makes it look better statistically." Bachman said he believes the public is being placed at risk.What we found in the Sonoma case files is not nearly as egregious as the practices at the Albuquerque shelter or the recent investigation into the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. We believe there is a single reason for this too. Some employees are resisting. They are documenting this aggression and questioning upper management. They share the "Ludwick perspective" of having concern for those who may pay the price when failing to euthanize for public safety reasons.
Animal behaviorist Alexandra Semyonova examined the 34 files from Sonoma County Animal Services, chose the worst case scenarios and provides a summary analysis.
We narrowed the cases down to 13 for this post, using only the worst-case scenarios. However, even that task was difficult, choosing the worst cases from the 34 files. So we developed a set of parameters for behaviorist Semyonova. Choose the worst-case scenarios when shelter upper management had knowledge of the aggression problem -- through emails, behavior memos and/or staff meetings -- but allowed the aggression continue, and even to escalate, instead of euthanasia.
Along with the summaries by Semyonova, we are providing the full case histories so that you can examine first hand the "evaluations," behavioral memos and vet records. You will see the intake, release and outcome histories as well. Some readers may find the case files cryptic (abbreviation heavy), but they are golden in supplying the truth behind the Click and Bait web advertisements of many seriously problematic dogs peddled by county shelters to the public as a "ray of sunshine."
Our Call-to-Action follows this section where we spell out how the public can request the uncensored behavioral and medical files of a dog before it is adopted. We recommend bringing a dog trainer with you as well.
Overview of Files by Semyonova
What the files reveal is consistent refusal on the part of the contracting behavior consultant, Megan Alexander (MA), a dog trainer who calls herself a behavior consultant, and of management to acknowledge obvious signs that a dog is a danger to the public and/or pets the public keeps. Only when undeniable liability issues -- not safety issues! -- become clear do they decide that a dog has to be euthanized. In some cases, they pass liability on to a rescue rather than euthanizing an obviously dangerous dog.
The behavior evaluation looks very summary. There is a reckless interpretation of results, ignoring signs of danger, much too quick to say okay with dogs, cats and kids. Refusal to adjust evaluation in light of staff observations, which give a much better idea of how a dog will be in daily home goings-ons. Refusal to heed information from fosters and adopters, including bite incidents. Refusal to acknowledge what over-arousal, impulsiveness, inability to self-dampen means (RE increased risk). Insistence on considering only how a dog behaves when with MA. Worse yet, it's obvious that MA insists on repeating her "behavior test" until she gets the positive results she wants.
It can in itself be legitimate to repeat a behavior test after a period of training and human interaction in a shelter. However, the repeat test must not be done by the trainer who has been working with the dog, nor with shelter staff the dog is familiar with. The point of the test is to see how the training has influenced the dog's reaction to someone it doesn't know and who is not a dog training professional. The re-test must show whether generalization of training has adequately taken place, not just whether the dog will now behave well with its trainers. It is furthermore unrealistic to expect trainers and staff who have become involved with a dog to objectively interpret results of a re-test. Any re-evaluation must be done by someone who is not involved in any way and who has neither an emotional nor an ego stake in getting positive results.
Another problem with the evaluation is refusal to consider both breed/type-specific traits and size of dog when interpreting behavior and assessing risk. - A. Semyonova
In Their Zeal to Adopt Out the Otherwise Unadoptables, Many Shelters Candy-Coat Dogs with Aggressive Behaviors
Amos is advertised as "all around perfect," but is a serial cat hunter and killer. Herschel wants you to "share lots of time" with him, giving him more time to bite you! Rainbow is a "ray of sunshine," but was returned by four separate owners. Jolene "absolutely loves people!" which is why the dog required four AC officers to catch and restrain her. "Rebel without a home" has been renamed so many times, not even we can keep up, passed off to a rescue to be renamed and rehomed again.
Nicholas is advertised as a "lovebug" and was poised to tear off a little girl's face while her mother filled out the adoption paperwork!Marshmallow is allegedly "sugar-based," but fixes his stare on young children. Initially advertised as kid-friendly. Annie is advertised as a "friendly girl" that "body-crashes" when playing and scares even the vet! Lu Lu is "comical and curious" and life is just "one big party for her." That life came to an end after serious fence-fighting. Arnie is one "very special boy" who requires Solliquin to overcome chronic over-arousal. He became a "featured" adoptable dog in August for the shelter.
Advertised as fine with a "dog-savvy" cat? That tester cat was recently "retired" because it was attacked by a dog being temperament tested.1Sissy is advertised as "gentle and sweet!" yet scares the bejesus out of some staffers. "Despite numerous memos to management regarding Sissy's aggressive behavior she remains available for adoption," writes staffer. Sparky is advertised as "caring and lovable" on April 17, even though four days earlier she had attacked two people, causing one of them to file a hazard report. Rufus had three different advertisements. By the third "rebranding," all signs of aggression were erased.
Summary of the Numbers
Of the 34 case files, 25 (74%) of the dogs came in as strays (ownerless). Of the stray dogs, 20 (80%) were pit bulls. 8 cases came in as owner surrenders -- 75% were pit bulls. There was one confiscation, a pit bull. Of the total 34 cases reviewed, 27 (79%) were pit bulls or pit bull-mixes. A total of 9 dogs were euthanized: 7 pit bulls, 1 American bulldog and 1 German shepherd-chow mix. In 3 of those cases, the dog was either adopted or fostered prior to being euthanized.
Part I: Worst Cases Euthanized Only After Foster or Adoption (3)
Part II: Worst Cases Nevertheless Adopted or Transferred (5)
Part III: Additional Worst Case Scenarios (5)
Call-To-Action: Request the Uncensored Behavioral and Medical Files Prior to Adopting a Dog from Any Shelter
In the case of Sonoma County, there is no policy requiring the disclosure to the adopter of previous concerns. However, any potential adopter can ask. Regardless of what policy is in place, you have the right to request all behavior memos, medical memos and bite records for a dog prior to adoption. We strongly encourage the public to do so. What runs rampant in the Sonoma files is the "diminishing" of previous aggression and bites; bites often turn into "just mouthiness."
If for some reason the shelter hesitates at your request, or worse, refuses it, do not walk out of the facility, RUN. There is nothing more telling than deliberately withholding a dog's behavior and medical history from a potential adopter. Use the summaries written by Semyonova to help you understand shelter terminology like "bouncy." Download one of the actual case files so that you can review first hand. Always heed the "length of time" at the shelter and number of returns too.
When Adopting From a Shelter
- Do your research
- Go in with questions
- Bring a trainer with you to the shelter to evaluate for signs of aggression3
- Request all behavior records for the dog
- Request all medical records for the dog
- Request all "outcomes" for the dog (if the dog was returned to shelter)
It is critically important to understand that "disclosure" is not the same as "full disclosure." In order to gain full disclosure, you need to see the complete case file. While the intentions of many adoption facilitators are good, and their work certainly is difficult, the holy grail of "live release rate" and charged emotions often defeats sensibilities. Your family or pet could end up paying the cost. Requesting these records will be much easier than "returning" a shelter dog due to aggression.
One of the excruciating parts in reviewing the 34 files is when owners, adopters or fosters felt guilty returning or relinquishing the dog to the shelter. Some felt guilty enough to restate their surrendering statement, when elbowed to, in order to diminish or eliminate the aggressive acts (he just "wasn't the right fit," stated one). This belittling often leaves the next adopter with a heartache, or worse, a mauled or killed family or neighborhood pet or a serious dog bite injury to a person.
Animal behaviorist and author Alexandra Semyonova provides analysis and a special report: Behavior Testing Shelter Dogs -- A Summary of Where We Are Now
2016: Fairfax County Animal Shelter - Virginia
2016: Contra Costa County Animal Shelter - California
2016: Austin Animal Shelter (no kill) - Texas
2015: Albuquerque Animal Shelter - New Mexico
2014: Stamford Animal Shelter - Connecticut
09/20/16: Nonprofit Examines What's Behind the 'Fabled' Click and Bait Web Advertisements...
04/29/16: 2016 Dog Bite Fatality: Pit Bull Rehomed by Humane Society Kills Newborn Baby
11/18/15: 2015 Dog Bite Fatality: Newly Adopted Rottweiler Kills Owner in Madison County
08/06/15: 2015 Dog Bite Fatality: Recently Adopted Out Pit Bull Kills 6-Year Old Boy...
2Sonoma County fulfilled our FOIA request on August 3, 2016.
3Preferably a trainer who is not a fan of any breed in particular. The idea is to eliminate bias.
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| 9/20/2016 1:01 PM |
I imagine this type of stuff goes on at almost every shelter in the country these days. But wow! Eye opening. I'll stick to adopting greyhounds off the track, I know what I'm getting, plus the greyhound people are great at matching you with a low prey-drive grey if that is what you desire. As we have cats and children, and neighbors with small dogs, that is what we desire. It will be interesting to see when the tipping point occurs, when shelters are held accountable for adopting out known dangerous pits. That day is coming.
| 9/20/2016 5:48 PM |
People who in any way support this need to go to jail, period. This IS unlawful. "Civil liability will result from adopting out a dog that is known to be dangerous, is known to have dangerous propensities, or is misrepresented as being safe when the transferor has no reasonable basis to make that representation. A dog known to be dangerous or vicious must be put down or cured of its potentially injurious tendency." https://dogbitelaw.com/adoption-organization-liability-for-dog-bites/the-legal-duties-of-a-transferor
| 9/20/2016 8:25 PM |
Very, very horrible. Why can't all of these dogs be tracked even across county and state lines? Full disclosure attached to chip. What's hard about that? One of these dogs pictured above, looks like the dog that attacked my mother. The time line would fit. Hum... how would we ever know? How could we find out if we really wanted to know? I doubt there's a way. But what if? This is why all records should be attached to their chip number.
| 9/21/2016 11:20 AM |
Michelle, we would likely never know. The number of hands these dogs can pass through, shelter to foster to foster to rescue to transporter to rescue to foster then winds up 3 or many more states away at another open admission shelter. When a dog crosses over state lines, very seldom does its history (previous bites) travel with it. The transporting of unwanted dogs (many with behavioral problems) across the country is unregulated. Some states are starting to crack down due to rabies and infectious diseases being spread. This example is interesting in Massachusetts, "Cannot and will not accept aggressive animals or pets with bite histories" and "No pit bulls please we have plenty of our own." But by the third or fourth rescue or adopter (or three states later), who would know? A chip does have owner information, but like Amos Moses above, which previously lived in Nevada, was fully missing for 5-years before winding up at the Sonoma County shelter. Who knows how many hands the dog passed through during that time (and how many other cats it killed?)
As to another person, testing whether or not to leave a comment, all comments are moderated. Just asking the question, "Can I comment?" Is not leaving a comment. Please leave an actual comment and we will be happy to post it.
| 9/21/2016 7:35 PM |
Your Quiet Neighbor nailed it. Sugarcoating a dog's issue's/failing to mention them at all is nothing other than lying and misleading to the buyers. But honestly, all the cover up expressions they use are pretty obvious. "I shouldn't live with kitties." Potential cat killer essentially. "I should be the only dog in the home." Most likely attacks other dogs regardless of if they live in your home or not. "I do best with older children". Probably stalks and chases children like prey.
And this is just me, but I don't think dogs that are "no other dogs, no cats, and ESPECIALLY no kids" dogs should be allowed in public period, because there is just no way to avoid these things these days unless you literally live in the middle of no where. I'll never even understand who'd want a dog with that description anyway. Even if you don't have kids, cats, or other dogs, why even take that chance that someone else's could be hurt by your dog.
| 9/22/2016 8:17 AM |
Another tip: "doesn't get along with" in reference to dogs, should be read as "attacks/kills."
"Returned to shelter because he didn't get along with the owner's cat...he needs a cat-free home, please." = "Returned to shelter because he killed the owner's cat, and will most likely kill yours."
"She doesn't get along with other dogs...she needs to be the only dog in your home." = "She has attacks other dogs, and will continue this behavior."
"He doesn't get along with other male dogs, but may get along with some females." = "So far, he has attacked only male dogs. We haven't personally seen him try to kill a female yet."
| 9/22/2016 9:00 AM |
No Kill is not only a fraud, but it is animal and people abuse. Everyone should be working to destroy No Kill if it has infested their local shelters.
No Kill was taken over by the breeders so they could pretend there was no overpopulation problem and pretend that they were not overbreeding. A game to cover up the crimes of the for-profit animal trade.
After pit bull advocacy did nothing but expand the numbers of breeders and dog fighters, No Kill now gets into the game to further the abuse and cruelty. And pretend that nothing is wrong.
Until the overbreeding problem is solved, and the lack of breeder regulation and accountability resolved, No Kill is impossible and is causing harm to all. A TOTAL FRAUD
| 9/23/2016 5:58 AM |
Wow. All those cases above, I swear the dogs' posted profile sound exactly like ones I read in my state of PA. Also like they keep regurgitating them all over the country. That or some self proclaimed put expert has written a guide on how to write a softened description on how the market these dogs.
| 9/23/2016 10:00 AM |
It is very true. Someone sent a few in from Maricopa County last night.
"I will do best in a home with adults only simply due to my over-zealous play style."
"My family decided to surrender me for reasons I will never I understand."
"He is good with kids, but can be a little mouthy if he gets excited"
The other disturbing part of examining the files is not knowing how many of the adopters quickly or eventually rehomed the dogs through different parties, never contacting the shelter due to guilt (or sense of failure). Very few people are equipped to handle problem dogs, in this case all of them powerful breeds. It is not safe nor is it compassionate to continue to shuffle these dogs from temporary home-to-home back to a new shelter and more, each time setting the dog up for failure.
| 9/23/2016 7:22 PM |
The shelter where we got our cat charges $500 if you return an adopted animal for any reason and you have to sign a contract agreeing to that. As above, they likely take them to another shelter when it doesn't work out.
| 9/24/2016 5:33 AM |
It's time for a website like the Mail Talk Manual. It would be a reference library for the deceptive rhetoric used by shelters and rescues.
Here's my contribution: Homeless pets. Which is a pity-pot way of saying "pit bulls."
| 9/24/2016 9:13 AM |
People re-homing dogs on craigslist have taken the cue from shelters and rescues. I see a lot of "dog selective" and "dog reactive" descriptions. I even see it with other breeds not just pit bulls. I don't understand why so many dogs are dog aggressive now.
We just had a shooting outside of a coffee shop in Portland because of two pits that attacked a Burmese Mt dog. The owner of the Burmese shot and killed one of the pits to save his dog. People are leaving flowers on the sidewalk for the poor wiggle butt! It was on the local news last night and all they did was talk to a lawyer about whether or not the shooter would get into trouble. No questions about why the aggressive dogs were out around other animals and not controlled by their owner. They didn't even mention whether or not the beasts were on leashes. Anyway, these are the types who buy or adopt dog aggressive dogs.
The Humane Society of SW Washington (which serves the area of Vancouver just North of Portland) advertises a group of dogs with a special adoption price of $50 because they have to go to a home with no other animals. One is described as being able to escape a kennel with a lid and 6 foot privacy fence. They advise the adopter must only take the dog out on leash. As if someone is really going to take them out on a leash every single time they need to go to the bathroom. And who knows if that dog can be held with a leash anyway.