By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
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By CP Staff
This year AHS started Project Pitbull, a program that gives the contentious mixed breed a chance at adoption. Prior to the merger, some locations would automatically euthanize the dogs. Last year 49 dogs were killed for that reason. "This offers an alternative," Dixon says.
Dixon takes AHS's role as a leader seriously, pointing to its legislative efforts, its significant funding of animal welfare education, including training programs for pet owners and its work with youth, and its support for the animal welfare industry. Unlike most shelters, AHS rarely euthanizes for space, having killed only 688 cats since the merger for that reason. In 2008, they have taken in 1,050 dogs and puppies from other shelters that couldn't handle their load.
Last year, AHS helped to fund the sterilizations of at least 2,540 animals that belonged to other rescue groups that couldn't afford the procedure on their own. "It has just been a lifesaver for us," says Susan Bakken, a computer programmer who serves on the board at All Dog Rescue. "One hundred percent of our dogs are spayed and neutered. They would be anyway, but we wouldn't have been able to help so many without them."
Yet for all of AHS's good work, to many volunteers and advocates there is no place in the animal welfare world for privately run high-kill shelters. "It's almost as if dogs are considered a commodity there, just like a puppy mill," says Shannon McKenzie, director of Underdog Rescue, a local no-kill foster program.
Many believe that if AHS doesn't embrace the no-kill concept, the euthanasia numbers at the state's largest intake facility will never drop. "AHS has done a lot of good but has a long way to go," says Amber. "No-kill means ending unnecessary shelter killing. This has not happened. I think the shelter focuses on self-preservation at the expense of their mission."
Charlotte Cozzetto, president of the Animal Rights Coalition in Minneapolis, the oldest organization of its kind in the Twin Cities, says she is not surprised that AHS has yet to embrace a no-kill philosophy. Historically, AHS (or the groups that have come to be AHS) has been reactive as opposed to proactive when it comes to animal welfare, she says. AHS clung to the use of gas chambers for euthanasia after many other organizations switched to more humane approaches. Only recently could they ensure that every animal leaving their shelter was sterilized, and the list goes on and on.
"They are in the top 1 percent of all shelters nationally in terms of assets and funds," Cozzetto says. "I think they should really be setting an example for the entire humane community in this state, instead of always being the one who lags behind."