“Unadoptable dogs” may be receiving new policies for their handling at the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society later this month.
Clallam County Animal Control recently revealed its findings in a voluntary investigation at the shelter for these dogs that have been sectioned off from the general public. In the past, up to seven kennels were made available for dogs with a violent record of either attacking humans and/or other animals but aren’t deemed dangerous enough to be euthanized by the group’s veterinarian.
Tracey Kellas, animal control deputy for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, conducted the investigation at the suggestion of shelter executive director Mary Beth Wegener.
No wrong-doing was found, but some supporters still question the level of care for the dogs.
Former volunteer Bob Bish, who runs a Facebook page for the “Forgotten Dogs,” questions how much time the dogs spend in isolation, how much of an effort the shelter makes to seek refuge for the dogs out of the area and how much quality time the dogs have with others.
Kellas said since these dogs are brought in by the public and not her or another municipality, then the shelter is not required to euthanize or transfer them to another shelter or sanctuary.
“(The report) is about forming policy,” she said.
“(The dogs) are well fed, exercised and bedded and cleaner than most kennel dogs. They have blankets and nothing illegal going on there.”
In Kellas’ recommendations, she said one of Bish’s recommendations to hire a full-time person to care for the unadoptable dogs is an option but the dogs would need alternative housing because too much time in one place could lead to neurotic behavior in the dogs. She does agree with the shelter’s practice of keeping the dogs out of the public’s eye for their own safety and welfare but not for extended periods of time, too.
Kellas also suggested the shelter decide to euthanize all dogs that bite animals as soon as possible or create a set amount of time to hold the animal and/or minimum number of contacts to other agencies for transfer before making a decision to euthanize.
She also suggested sending each allegedly violent animal to a behaviorist for evaluation.
Through her investigation, Kellas said she sought feedback from other shelters on their policies, but those that replied were ambiguous and it appeared little effort was made to place similar dogs elsewhere.
“Other shelters don’t go to great lengths to save dogs like this,” Kellas said.
“It’s easy for no-kill shelters because they don’t have to take everything but for open admission shelters, they are liable for what the dog does afterward. Ultimately, it’s a hard decision.”
Wegener said she’s working with the shelter’s board president Kandice Pierce for a proposed policy on animals with a bite history for the end of February.
“Right now it’s on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
“Every animal has a period of time where it is shell-shocked. We want to give it time to acclimate and give time to staff to evaluate them. We need to leave the door open a bit.”
However, if Kellas brings in a dog that’s deemed dangerous for biting another animal or human and/or killing another animal, then the shelter is required to euthanize the dog.
If a resident brings in an alleged violent dog, then the shelter can determine if it should be euthanized or not.
As for Kellas’ recommendations, Wegener said some of them aren’t financially realistic.
“All of our dogs are exercised each day sometimes two to three times a day,” Wegener said.
“I believe strongly all of our dogs are given a lot of attention.”
Hiring a behaviorist is too costly as well, she said.
The shelter sent two dogs to a canine behavior academy, including Bailey, the lone-remaining unadoptable dog at the shelter, who were rejected for adoption. The other was later adopted elsewhere.
Wegener hopes to take future unadoptable dogs to local trainers for evaluations and to train staff more on assessment.
“(Being an open admission shelter) we’re not able to say no,” she said. “It does set you up for a lot more work. Open admissions that have the hardest time are with huge intake of 10,000 dogs.”
Bish, who used to walk the unadoptable dogs, said this is where the Port Angeles shelter could be different due to its capacity and region.
“When they compare themselves to the big city kennels, they have the luxury to be better than that,” he said.
As mentioned, the shelter houses only one allegedly dangerous unadoptable dog, Bailey, a 2-year-old yellow lab who has a bite history and is deemed “fear aggressive.” She’s been in the shelter for almost two years.
A few weeks ago, 13-year-old Peaches the pitbull, another unadoptable dog who was “very, very dog aggressive,” Wegener said, was euthanized after more than three years in the shelter.
“Her health started to decline the past several months,” Wegener said. “She just wasn’t acting herself and not feeling good. (Dr. Suzy Zustiak, shelter veterinarian) made the decision. It’s hard for staff. They get bonded.”
Since starting his online page for the unadoptable dogs, Bish still questions the shelter — including its reported numbers of euthanized and transferred dogs, the amount of time it’s taken to place dogs and if the dogs are truly being transferred or euthanized.
“Dogs with bite histories are not easy to place,” Zustiak said. “It’s hard to find one, let alone multiple places.”
Bish, who was a volunteer at the shelter for 10 years, was suspended from the facility while his earlier requests for the dogs and shelter were investigated.
Wegener said his suspension will remain in place due to continued conflicts with staff, however Bish said he expects to be fully reinstated for his efforts as a volunteer.
Wegener and Zustiak both attribute Bish with bringing more awareness to the unadoptable dogs.
“It’s true, thanks to Bob a lot of dogs did go faster,” Zustiak said.
“We did increase our efforts and with Winter, (a German shepherd formerly at the facility for killing goats and chickens) animal control redacted her being unadoptable and she got placement because of Bob.”
Wegener said Bish was the first during her tenure to request names and locations of where the unadoptable dogs were being transferred but due to privacy policies for donors and adoptees she won’t divulge specifics.
She did say three dogs were released to a trusted private citizen, to a farm in Tenino and the Department of Corrections for training to investigate drug trafficking.
Bish said, “It’s been worth it for the dogs.”
Recent totals from 2014 show the shelter housed 1,612 animals with 26 of those being dogs who were euthanized — 18 of those were for behavioral reasons and eight for health reasons. In total, the shelter euthanized 102 animals, including 75 cats and one rat for similar reasons as the dogs.
Last year, the shelter held 506 dogs compared to 562 in 2013 with 25 euthanized.
On the flip side, the shelter reports it adopted 724 animals or 45 percent of its population and transferred 450 or 28 percent.
Zustiak said with 28 regular dog kennels and with seven previously sectioned off for the unadoptable dogs, it didn’t influence her decision-making for those dogs’ lives due to space.
“We’ve never turned any dogs away or euthanized dogs because of the unadoptable dogs,” she said. “Our policy says we can’t euthanize healthy or adoptable animals.”
She said the reason they keep the unadoptable dogs is to save them.
“I wish they didn’t have stay in kennels but it’s the only thing we have,” she said.
She and Wegener look forward to moving to the new shelter on Old Olympic Highway later this year, which expands kennel space to 45 with indoor/outdoor runs.
“It’ll be a better setup hopefully to reduce stress on the dogs,” Wegener said.
For more information on the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society, 2105 West Highway 101, Port Angeles, call 457-8206 or visit ophumanesociety.org.