Looking after the ‘forgotten dogs’

Peninsula’s humane society seeks mediation help from animal control



In the kennels of the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society in a curtained off area sit seven spaces for the “unadoptable” dogs of Clallam County.

These dogs have a violent record of either attacking humans and/or other animals, humane society officials said, but aren’t deemed dangerous enough to euthanize.

Shelter staff say finding a home for these dogs is possible but tough since the dogs have histories of biting and legally must go to rescues or qualified individuals outside of Clallam County.

Until they are transferred, the dogs remain isolated from each other and other animals at the facility just west of Port Angeles.

Enter Sequim resident Bob Bish, a volunteer at the shelter for 10 years, who has started a campaign for these same dogs he’s branded the “Forgotten Dogs.” He said these unadoptable dogs spend 90 percent of their lives in isolation. His solution: to see the humane society hire a full-time position to walk and/or let the dogs outside in a pen for four hours a day until they find homes.

Bish’s Facebook page detailing pictures and videos of the dogs and correspondence between himself and shelter staff has garnered more than 160 supporters.

“I think the public will stand up for these dogs,” Bish said. “The thing just blew up real quick. People’s passion for animals just came to the forefront.”

Mary Beth Wegener, executive director of the shelter, said the dogs are segregated from the public and other dogs for their own safety and the public’s safety.

She said Bish’s request isn’t realistic, but that all of the dogs in the shelter receive the same treatment outside of their spaces.

“They aren’t forgotten,” Wegener said. “We spend a lot of time trying to place them. I’d call them top-of-the-mind dogs.”

As of last week, the shelter hosts five unadoptable dogs such as Tonka, a 5-year-old German shepherd, who staffers say is “an extreme kennel guarder” after he bit a person who came into his fenced yard.

One recent unadoptable dog, Winter, who has been at the shelter since June 7, 2013, after killing goats, chickens and attacking a donkey, was transferred to a German shepherd rescue facility earlier this month.

The five remaining unadoptable dogs have been in the shelter from Nov. 4, 2011 (Peaches) to July 8, 2014 (Polar).

Wegener said they don’t have anything to hide with the dogs.

“We encourage people to come look at them and see they’re OK,” Wegener said. “We’re doing what we can to get them placed.”

Recently the shelter sent Tonka, who has been at the shelter since Jan. 6, 2014, and Bailey, a 2-year-old yellow lab who bites unpredictably, to the Academy of Canine Behavior in Bothell where they were reviewed and not accepted into their adoption program because of their bite histories. However, Wegener said, different rescues are interested in taking Tonka.

Bish’s concerns

After years of working with the unadoptable dogs, Bish said he has taken responsibility for two dogs with bite histories.

However, Wegener said they’ve suspended him from volunteering at the shelter until they can address his concerns.

In numerous posts, Bish said he questions why the humane society keeps the unadoptable dogs, claiming that doing so allows the organization to receive grants and maintain a “no-kill” status.

Bish also questions its rates of euthanasia and that veterinarian and shelter manager Suzy Zustiak told him it’s less than 10 percent.

“There’s not an independent group that checks out their numbers,” Bish said. “There’s no way to disprove it.”

In data Wegener provided, numbers show the shelter’s annual euthanasia rates range from about 1.5 to 5 percent in the past five years.

Zustiak, who determines if an animal at the humane society is to be euthanized, said being classified a no-kill shelter means they don’t euthanize any healthy or adoptable animals, and that they don’t.

“In larger area shelters, they give healthy animals three or four days,” Zustiak said. “Luckily we’re never to that point. We partner with other agencies like the Kitsap Humane Society, NOAH (Northwest Organization for Animal Help) and the Camano Animal Shelter Association.”

Wegener said, “We typically say our euthanasia rate is less than 10 percent but a lot of people think if I take a dog there (to the shelter) it only has a few days. Our job is to find the right place for these animals. We want to get the dogs out alive.”

While there is a large gap between dogs taken in and adopted, Wegener said that’s because other shelters and rescues see the dogs online and ask for them to be transferred for adoption.

She said they work with all types of rescues including those focused on small and older dogs.

Where it can go

An animal at the shelter can be euthanized for several reasons, Zustiak said, such as having an untreatable illness, after being hit by a vehicle, portraying extreme aggression, acting feral and/or for biting and not picked up by their owners.

Dogs declared dangerous must be euthanized immediately, she said.

Since 2010, the humane society has sheltered at least seven dangerous dogs.

Wegener said they give each dog time to adjust with food, walks and rest before making any judgments.

“No one who works at a shelter wants to put animals down,” Wegener said.

Zustiak said they try to save the unadoptable dogs because their histories aren’t as bad as others they’ve received.

Wegener said she disagrees with Bish that these dogs are inside 90 percent of their lives, but that staff and volunteers take them outside via leash or put them in a pen three to four hours a day.

“That has been all the dogs’ routines,” she said.

Wegener said the dogs are well fed, have veterinarian care and blankets like the other dogs, too.

“I don’t have any concerns with how dogs are treated here,” she said. “We go above and beyond.”

Seeking mediation

Tracy Kellas, animal control officer for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, said nothing criminal is happening at the shelter.

She was asked by Wegener to mediate between the shelter and Bish, which is leading to Kellas to review the shelter’s policies and practices for animals and humans.

“No animals are being mistreated,” Kellas said. “They are fed, cleaned and walked, which happens whether or not Mr. Bish is there or not. They are healthy and it’s not yet to be seen that their kennels are not clean. They appear to be in a good weight, too.”

Of the current unadoptable dogs, Kellas said she did not take any of them into the shelter. She adds that the practice of keeping the dogs out of the public’s eyes is for their safety.

“If you put them out there, sometimes people will they think they are the ‘Dog Whisperer’ and try and touch them,” Kellas said. “Some humane society (facilities) have double gates. If someone were to put their hand in and be bit, the humane society could be liable and that could be the end of the animal.”

Working against the shelter’s abilities to serve animals, Kellas said, is that it is antiquated and poorly designed.

“There’s no getting around that until they move,” she said.

Wegener said volunteers break ground this week at the shelter’s new 9.5-acre parcel at 1743 Old Olympic Highway between Sequim and Port Angeles, with hope to begin construction on the eight-month project in October.

The number of dog kennels will increase from 31 to 45 with room to expand, Wegener said.

With the new space, she anticipates space for the unadoptable dogs will be calmer.

“If staff walks back there, they have their own area with indoor/outdoor kennels, so it’ll be easier to keep everyone safe,” Wegener said.

Olympic Peninsula Humane Society’s dog intake, adoption, euthanasia numbers     2010-2014

Year     # Dogs intake    adopted    # euthanized

2010 675 359 21

2011 632 274 19

2012 616 252 9

2013 562 221 25

2014* 359 113 18

* So far this year


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