How Relevant We Are is Key

“The great progress that we have made… to reduce the shelter death toll has mostly come from reducing shelter intake rates.” – Peter Marsh, author of Getting to Zero

Snoop looks like a vanilla border collie with a swooping curl of a tail over her rump like a Spitz. When I enter the large education room in the SPCA Albrecht Center, she approaches to give me a cursory sniff before returning to her people and matters at hand. Ann Kinney, head of Phideaux University at the SPCA is doing a consult with Snoop and her parents, who had brought Snoop to P.U. because she lunges at other dogs on leash walks. Snoop, a Molly’s Militia save, was clearly devoted to her humans, looking and returning to her “mister” again and again.

The subject in progress was why the pinch collar is contrary to current behavior management theory with dogs.

I was there because my husband and I were into 4 digits with the vet bills for damage, done by a recent adoption, to other dogs in our large canine family. After the 4 days our beagle-cross had to spend in the clinic with tubes in her wounds, our vet had referred us to Melissa Hartley at Sindar Kennels. Melissa is another canine behavior consultant. Thanks to Melissa’s clear concrete guidance, our family is intact and will remain so. There is no doubt that had we surrendered Dolly-Mama to a shelter, she would have died there, another statistic. Dolly’s trigger is arousal; who doesn’t get aroused in a pound?

Typically when people hear the term “No-Kill” they think of a safe-haven shelter for animals that would otherwise be victims of the alternative: open-admission, high-kill shelters run by public animal control departments like we have here in the cities of North Augusta and Aiken, and the Aiken County Shelter. This is a misconception. Actually, a “no-kill” shelter that does not have the programs in place to move its inhabitants quickly and effectively into good permanent homes will be just another inhumane alternative for homeless pets, and a costly one at that.

“No-Kill” is a widely tested nation-wide movement that may come under other names, like “Getting to Zero,” or “Empty Cages.” It begins with a premise: rounding up cats and dogs and then killing them for lack of space or interest is like treating malaria with quinine instead of eradicating mosquitoes. To support a no-kill agenda means that priority-one is to keep animals out of shelters in the first place by tackling the “unwanted” part of the equation.

Accessible low-cost spay/neuter, and publicly supported trap-neuter-return (TNR) for free-roaming cats, are the foundation to all no-kill efforts. Through the SNYP program (Spay/Neuter Your Pet) in partnership with the SPCA, PAWS (Palmetto Animal Welfare Services), the new No-Kill animal advocacy organization in town, does the outreach for clients and funds toward eliminating companion animal overpopulation.

Following aggressive spay/neuter programs, No-Kill initiatives take on more unique characteristics depending on the communities involved, but all no-kill efforts will tackle pet retention next. It is not enough to have people want to have a pet dog or cat; they have to have the resources and skills to keep them safe at home. For poor households, this may mean help with food or enclosures, vaccines and heartworm prevention. For others it may mean referrals to pet-friendly housing, or affordable boarding or pet-care alternatives. But after preventing unwanted and unnecessary litters, help with basic behavior management is the single most important pet-retention tool.

There are a number of reasons that dogs are surrendered to a shelter by their owners. Far and away the most common one is behavior: messing, chewing, barking, digging, aggression, to name just a few, and all of which are highly remediable, especially with the help of a behavior consultant.

“Most traditional behavior shaping approaches use escaping pressure or avoiding punishment,” Ann Kinney explains to Snoop’s folks. “It does work, but it is not necessary, and the attitude of the dog is different.” She hunches to demonstrate how a dog cowers when it fears punishment.

Ann disabuses her clients of the notion that dogs are in any way like wolves, just as Melissa Hartley had done with us over Dolly’s aggression. It is not about who gets to dominate; it is about how relevant we are and how much our dogs will accept our influence whenever we need to assert it. Both professionals can provide a spot-on diagnostic assessment of the issue and customized, user-friendly ways to develop relationship enhancing alternatives. “You are training all the time,” Ann says.

“We are more like counselors or psychologists than trainers,” Melissa says of her profession. Although the two women have distinct styles, I cannot say enough good things about them as a resource.

In addition to her work with families who have already adopted a dog, Ann Kinney works with the residents and volunteers at the SPCA. The result is that the dogs’ mental health is supported and enhanced in this temporary environment; hence, they are more adoptable and more likely to adjust to their new home. A P.U. graduate is virtually guaranteed to be a great companion. Can you say the same about your half of the relationship?

If you are reading this column, you are likely an animal lover. If you are, there are so many ways you can help Aiken County join the no-Kill movement. If you can’t give money, give time. If you can’t give time, please give money. Spay/Neuter requests are averaging 20 a day! Volunteers are needed. Foster homes are needed. If not now, when? If not you, who?

• PAWS: info@paws4nokill.org or: (803) 634-0564
• Phideaux University at the SPCA Albrecht Center:
info@letlovelive.org or (803) 648-6863
• Sindar Kennel: Melissa@sindarkennel.com or (803) 467-7548
• Aiken County Animal Shelter: (803) 642-1537 option 1

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