By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Worried about the dog's welfare, the woman called Animal Ark for help. After nearly an entire day of negotiations and after threatening to call the news media, Animal Ark was allowed to take custody of the dog, Fry says.
(Laurie Brickley, a spokeswoman for AHS, tells a different version of the story. Tootsie was not scheduled for euthanasia; she was put on a mandatory wait period for all strays, in case the owners come looking for their pet, she says. Tootsie's rescuer was told that the dog might be put down if the animal failed to meet health and behavior standards. However, veterinary staff never were able to fully examine the dog because she was too fearful and aggressive to be handled, Brickley says.)
When Tootsie got to Animal Ark, she was in reasonably good health and playful spirits, despite having a Taser dart left over from her capture still stuck under her skin, Fry says. Several families wanted to adopt her. "Sadly, were it not for the tenacity of her rescuers, she would not be alive today." Tootsie's new owners have renamed her Eleanor Roosevelt. They say she is for the civil rights of dogs.
In his letter, Fry publicly challenged AHS's euthanasia policies and commitment to reducing overpopulation. Their temperament test is one example, he says. While many organizations and rescues use it as a guideline for assessing an animal's behavior, most don't use it as rigidly as AHS.
"Almost everybody knows dogs that are well loved, good, or happy, who wouldn't pass the temperament test there," says Ellen Weinstock, a St. Paul lawyer who was asked to leave AHS in 2002 after spending two years volunteering at the St. Paul shelter. "I was booted out of there for asking them why they were killing this particular dog and saying, 'Boy, I just don't see it. Can you explain it to me?' "
Dixon says stringent temperament testing is crucial. "One of our firm beliefs is that we have a responsibility to the animal, but we also have an equal and as important responsibility to the community. We want to make sure that animals getting placed from our sites or via us through other sites are temperamentally sound." Besides, she adds, some animals are given a second chance. Last year, 1,204 dogs and cats entered adoption preparation or behavior training courses to increase their chances of making it to the adoption area.
Paula Zukoff, supervisor of behavior and training at AHS, says the Sternberg test is "industry standard. A dog has to be really aggressive to fail."
In 2007, 61 percent of the dogs euthanized at AHS were put down because of breed or temperament. In total, 6,028 dogs and cats were killed for that reason—44 percent of the total number euthanized.
Another 4,294—nearly 31 percent of those euthanized—were killed due to poor health. "Given that other 'open admission' shelters have achieved save rates of 90-plus percent, it is obvious AHS should have had to euthanize a little over 3,000 for those reasons," Fry wrote.
"There were dozens of dogs that were euthanized because of one flaw," says Amber, telling the story of Bosco, a dog placed in the foster care of another AHS volunteer for two weeks and then returned for adoption. When the volunteer came back to visit Bosco "she was told he wasn't going to make it to the adoption floor," Amber says. "He had nipped at someone through the bottom of his kennel. The volunteer begged and pleaded for the shelter to let her adopt him, and they said no.
"Liability is a big issue at AHS. Even though Bosco had a person willing to take him, the shelter decided that he was unadoptable. This kind of situation has happened more than I can count. Puppies have been pulled and euthanized for play-biting. Play-biting is a normal puppy thing."
Critics say that too many of the animals brought to AHS never get a real chance at survival. They say that too many animals are never even put up for adoption. On the last Tuesday in July, dozens of cats but only 12 dogs were available for families to adopt at AHS's Golden Valley location. The agency's website the following week revealed hundreds of cats but only 20 dogs available for the public to take home at all five of AHS's shelters.
"There's just no excuse to have as many empty cages as they have," Amber says. "I've heard several people come into the shelter and say, 'Where are all your dogs?' And I say, 'Go ask, because I don't know.'"
Brickley says that in the last three to four years the organization has been seeing a decrease in the number of dogs it receives, though recent numbers don't support that contention. Last year 9,844 were turned over to the facility. In the first six months of 2008, however, the agency has already taken in more than half that amount—5,131 dogs.
Mary Salter, a former supervisor for customer service at AHS, says staff members at the shelter had a script to ease people's fears of euthanasia when they dropped off their animals. It was a spiel about the large number of adoptions done at the shelter. At first the marketing tool didn't bother her, but in 2003, after working there for four years, she left. "Once you saw how many animals were put down, it kind of felt like you could be misleading them," she says. Salter now works at Animal Ark.