This is Jackson. Jackson
is was a two year old pit bull mix. His intake number at Manhattan Care & Control in New York City was A1012114. They called him a pit bull/dogue de Bordeaux mix, probably in hopes that the more interesting part of the mix would catch someone’s eye. I doubt he had any dogue de Bordeaux in him, since they tend to be large dogs and Jackson only weighed 53lbs, which is typical for a pit bull (although he was admittedly underweight). Somebody who volunteered at the shelter dressed Jackson up in a little blue bowtie so that when his picture was posted, it might make him look a little more approachable to someone who had only heard scary things about pit bulls. Jackson had something called cherry eye, a problem with the third eyelid which is fixed with a simple surgical procedure, but it probably made him look a little bit less “cute” than some of the other dogs, and possibly made people worry that there was something significantly wrong with him.
Jackson showed up in my news feed on Facebook just over a week ago. When you are involved in the rescue community, your newsfeed tends to fill up with dogs that need help. I hit the share button on some, and advocate for a very few. Something about the worried look on Jackson’s face caught my eye; I think it was because my own dog, Willow, used to have that worried look when she first arrived at our home. Jackson’s worried look made me decide to advocate for him.
Since I last wrote in my blog, I have taken on the role of foster coordinator for the rescue that I work for, which is also a New Hope Partner with the NYC shelter system. That means that we can put in requests to pull dogs and get them into foster homes. When I asked last Monday about helping Jackson, I was reminded that, as a small rescue, we currently have 2 higher cost medical cases in the rescue, along with a dog that has significant dog aggression issues who is going to a three month training program to help him. I admire our director for giving this dog aggressive dog a chance, because one of her personal dogs was very badly injured by him. She was able to look past her personal feelings and decide that this dog aggressive dog had never been given a chance, so this three month training will be that chance for him. Anyhow, I was asked to wait until they got an estimate on Wednesday for one of the two medical cases. I agreed to this. On Tuesday, however, I called our regular vet to get an estimate on what it would cost to get Jackson’s cherry eye fixed. The estimate, which was between $260-$300 (which included the surgery itself, the anaesthesia, and post-op meds), I passed along to our rescue. I was told thank you, but we still needed to wait on Wednesday’s estimate for the dog already in rescue. Again, I understood.
On Wednesday, at the end of my work day, I received a call from my father asking me to come home. My mom had been hospitalized since Monday night, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on. On Tuesday, I had asked if I should come home and my father had said no. On Wednesday, she started getting much, much worse instead of better, and I got the call to come home. So, I started the 9 hour drive to Canada, stopping overnight in lower Maine to rest, not sure what I would find when I got here. The good news is, Mom improved and yesterday she came home from the hospital. For that, I am overjoyed and grateful.
But the same day she came home is the day that Jackson died.
I had been trying as much as I could to follow up with Jackson without pushing too hard and so becoming an annoyance to my director. I waited a couple of days after Wednesday to inquire with one of our other volunteers about whether or not the estimate for the other medical case had come in. I was told they did not know for sure, but the first medical case (a dachshund) had just cost us over $1,000 (an inguinal hernia repair during spay surgery). Our adoption fee is $350. On Sunday night, I sent our director Jackson’s picture again during a facebook chat. A shot in the dark, with no words attached, but the thought was: “Here he is again…I have not forgotten about him, please do not forget about him, either, just because I am not home to advocate for him as hard as I normally would be.”
Yesterday, I found out that Jackson was on that day’s euthanization list. It’s actually called the “TBD” list, short for the “To Be Destroyed List.” What a callous, but accurate way of saying it. I shared him on my Facebook page, desperately asking people to share him and if anyone in the wider rescue community, or outside of the rescue I work with, could help him. I got 4 shares. And sympathy. And nobody could help.
I sent a group message to my rescue begging for them to help with Jackson. Ultimately, it is up to the director to pull a dog, but I got radio silence from my two co-volunteers. I felt very alone.
I sent a private message to our director, asking her if, when she saw the message, he was still alive, if we could pull him. We had an open pit friendly foster who was begging for a new dog. This NEVER happens. The behavioral testing, known as a SAFER, had been done at the shelter and Jackson was solid. Our director works full time at a job that makes it very difficult to get messages during the day. As soon as she got home, she let me know she saw the message. By that stage, Jackson’s status was listed as “Unknown,” which means that volunteers within the Facebook community known as “Urgent Part II – Death Row Dogs” were scrambling to find out if he was still alive or not. Usually, if a dog makes “the list” for the first time and is solid behaviorally, he may be given a day’s reprieve.
I checked again. Status unknown.
I checked again. Status unknown.
I checked again. Status unknown.
I checked again. Gone.
With those four letters, my gut dropped to my knees; my throat closed up. I stared. GONE.
I let my director know. She said she was sorry and she had been inquiring about him for me.
I let the folks who had shared Jackson know. I got two sad faces, one “OMG,” and one rant about the inhumane treatment of animals in this world.
I disconnected my facebook account.
There are five ratings that a dog can get during behavioral testing at the shelter: Beginner, Average, Experience, Experience No Child, and New Hope Only. The testing goes through a “look” (head cupped loosely in assessor’s hands while looking at the dog), sensitivity (dog is petted), paw squeeze, tag/play response, food, toy, rawhide testing, and interaction with a strange dog test. The best a dog can get is a 1, the worst is a 5. Almost no dog gets a beginner (which would require all ones). Jackson got Average, which is as good as it gets pretty much. He got 1’s on everything except the look (a 2 for pulling his head gently out of the assessor’s hands, and a 2 for food, because he was hungry so it took a bit of pressure to lift his head from the bowl, but he showed no aggression).
So this gentle dog, who had hurt nobody, who had no aggression in him, who could have gone to any home, was leashed up yesterday afternoon and taken to the kill room.
Recently we had to put down our foster dog H due to serious human aggression issues. She bit, and she bit to hurt, after 18 months of working with her. It wasn’t her fault. She was damaged during the first 9 months of her life by people who kept her locked in a cage and hurt her. Putting her down was the most difficult thing I have done in my life, and I have done some hard things. But despite her aggression, she knew love. And when she died, it was in our back yard. She was given a shot to make her sleepy (and treats to help with that little ouch). My husband laid down next to her and petted her and told her how loved she was, and looked her in the eyes and was calm as she became sleepy from the drugs. When the second shot was given, it was quick, and she was gone. And still it was awful. And I hated it, even though I knew it was the right thing to do after so much work, after so many bites, after her confusion and withdrawal after each bite happened.
Jackson died in a room where thousands of dogs have died before. He didn’t get to listen to the sound of the wind in the trees. He wasn’t stroked and petted by someone who knew and loved him. Maybe they give them a sedative there, but I doubt it. When you only have so much time and so many to kill, and a sedative can take 15-20 minutes to work, I imagine it is skipped so things are done as quickly as possible. Did the person who put him down talk to him gently, and give him love in his final moments? Or did they just have a job to do and he left this world confused and scared, with that worried look on his face?
I am angry. And bitter. And heartbroken. The medical issue dog that we were waiting on a quote for was pulled from the same shelter, and has the same issue: double cherry eye; but she is a highly adoptable English Bulldog mix. So no inquiries were made into the cost of how much it would take to repair her cherry eye and get her spayed. We got her, and the rescue folks were thrilled to get her. She was met off transport with squeals and a photo shoot and shown off on our Facebook page. She has a ton of people waiting in line to adopt her.
And because she was pulled, I had to wait. Wait to see how much she would cost us, so that we could see if we could afford the less adoptable dog, from the same shelter, with the same condition (although less costly, because he had single cherry eye). If we had pulled him when I first asked, before he got sick with kennel cough, he would have come to us neutered, and vaccinated and microchipped, so that wouldn’t have cost us a dime, either. We would likely have just about broken even on him when it came to cost, and cost seemed to be the deciding factor with Jackson and our rescue. I understand. I really do. We are a small rescue and a few big medical bills could break us.
But I was asked to wait. For a quote that I don’t know ever came. For a dog that wouldn’t have cost us a third of this glorious cherry eyed English bulldog mix.
And I didn’t push hard enough.
And when I did, it was too late.
There are lots of places I could put my anger. Many people involved with rescuing dogs from the New York City Shelter system place it with the people who put down the dogs. They call them murderers. They call for vengeance upon them. They call them sick, twisted bastards who get pleasure in killing living things. They hope they rot in hell.
Maybe there are a few sick, twisted bastards there. I hope they were not the ones that put down Jackson yesterday.
Instead, here’s where my anger goes:
It goes to the people that don’t spay and neuter their dogs. It goes to the people that want the experience of having a litter, or want their dog to be a stud, or who want to make a few bucks by breeding, or who just don’t care and let their dogs roam and do what dogs do.
It goes to every single person that hears someone talk about wanting a puppy from a backyard breeder, or who wants their dog to have the experience of having a litter, and keeps their mouth shut.
It goes to every person involved in rescue who doesn’t splatter the world with info about low cost spay and neuter clinics.
It goes to the fear machine that surrounds pit bulls and makes them into demon dogs that should be wiped off the face of the earth.
It goes to the New York Housing authority, and all the private landlords who have blanket policies saying “no pit bulls,” so when folks end up in a desperate situation with no options, they dump their dogs in the shelter, not realizing they have just given their pit bull a death sentence.
It goes to the insurance industry, who makes it so hard for responsible and caring dog people to own a pit bull. I can’t tell you how many people have wanted to foster or adopt a pit bull from our rescue only to find out that they would have to lose their current home insurance to be able to do so. That’s a big process to go through for a dog, especially when you can just get a lab with no hassle.
It goes to the people who get a dog for kicks, because it’s cute, as a puppy, and then it gets big and what was cute as a puppy isn’t cute in a 60lb dog, and so they dump it in the shelter.
It goes to the people that think that dogs can be perfect without work, and then are surprised when a dog guards the food bowl or knocks over their 10 year old and makes them cry.
It goes to the people that let their children crawl on, ride, poke, pull, and twist their dogs’ fur and then the dog is the monster when it growls or bites their child.
It goes to the people that have a baby and then just don’t have time.
And of course, it goes to any person who intentionally has hurt a dog in any way, for any reason. But that is a whole post in and of itself.
If you ever, EVER want to show someone why we need to change the culture surrounding pit bulls, send them here: Urgent Part II – Death Row Dogs – Gone But Not Forgotten 38. [Side Note: This is “Gone But Not Forgotten” 38. There are 37 other albums full to the brim of “gone” dogs]. As of this posting, the photo album “Gone But Not Forgotten 38” lists the dogs killed in the New York City Shelter System from 08/23/2014 to 09/08/2014. That’s 16 days. In sixteen days they have euthanized 65 dogs. Of those 65 dogs, FIFTY-FIVE were pit bulls. There were also 2 senior cane corsos, one senior Rottweiler, one senior lab, one boxer, one lab/chow chow mix, one German Shepherd, one senior toy poodle (euthanized for severe medical issues), and 2 Lhasa apsos (one put down due to severe aggression, the other due to a mammary mass that was ulcerated). But let’s just look at that number again. Out of 65 dogs killed in the past 16 days, FIFTY-FIVE WERE PIT BULLS.
Now let’s look at how they ended up in the NYC shelter system in the first place:
– 36 of these “gone” dogs came in a strays. While some are legitimately strays, most are dropped off by owners calling them strays because of shame, embarrassment, or worries about legal prosecution due to the condition the animals are arriving in.
– 2 of these “gone” dogs were so sick they were put down on intake.
– 12 of these “gone” dogs are owner surrenders because people were moving to housing that didn’t allow dogs (many would be New York Housing Authority), or their private landlords told them they could no longer keep these dogs.
– The rest were owner surrenders due to personal problems (5), home size (1), owner died (1), owner sick (1), owner has no time (1), aggression toward other pets in home (2, neither dog showed aggression during dog testing), dog bites people (2 – 1 did indeed bite people, the other showed no aggression during behavioral testing), and owner arrest (2).
Jackson was one of the two dogs whose owner was arrested. I will not judge his owner, because I don’t know what their story is or how they ended in jail, and the dog they had to leave behind was a very nice dog. Our own dog, Moto, was from the same shelter and ended up there because his owner was arrested; although we had to work on socializing him with other dogs, he was one of the only dogs that we have worked with who did not show signs of having been beaten, hit, or kicked.
Now, I don’t want to push aside the fact that many of these dogs that were put down were unadoptable. I know this is a contentious word to those involved in rescue, and I used to be one of you. But after having lived and worked for 18 months with a dog who resource guarded, and also had dissociative biting episodes, after having worked with 2 different trainers who specialized in aggression issues and sending her for an extended stay at a facility that prides itself on working with aggressive dogs, and following all their recommendations, and still having to live daily with the fact that that day might be the day my husband or I got bitten, I would never ask anyone else to do so and I have concluded that some dogs are so broken that we cannot safely fix them. So, of the 65 dogs that died in 16 days, 19 bit or warned they would bite during assessment (most just bit). By the time these dogs entered the shelter, it was too late for them.
Most of the rest of the dogs that were killed were labeled “experienced,” which I think scares off most people. It makes them sound like problem dogs, but really, they aren’t. These are dogs that are either hyper and need an active family and work on manners (like our dog Gilligan when he first came to us) or who are stiff, nervous, or plain terrified (like our dog Willow was when she first came to us). With both Willow and Gilligan, we has ZERO “experience” with these kinds of dogs. So we got trainers to help us and put in the time, just like anyone else with zero experience could. Today, neither Willow nor Gilligan are perfect, but both are good, solid dogs. Willow is an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen and a registered therapy dog, and Gilligan is working on getting ready for his CGC testing. My point is, “experience” rated dogs can be awesome dogs and you don’t need to be experienced to help them; you just need a trainer to help you help them be their best.
And then there are the “average” dogs like Jackson. Of all the 65 dogs that died in the last 16 days at the NYC shelter system, 12 earned that wonderful rating. And every. Single. One. Was a pit bull. The lab didn’t get it. The shepherd didn’t get it. The Lhasa apso didn’t get it. But 12 pit bulls were rated average dogs, which means they had no issues and could go to a home without experienced owners.
Since I did my research last night, Urgent Part II’s Facebook page (which is not affiliated with the NYC shelter system but advocates for the dogs there and tracks each dog that enters the system) added 5 more dogs that were killed yesterday. Thirteen dogs were put down yesterday in NYC; all but 1 was a pit. Of those 13 dogs, 7 were rated average. Seven dogs that have no business being dead. Gone. Because of overcrowding, overbreeding, mistreatment, and breed discriminatory practices.
At some point, I will write a post about what we can do to fight these needless deaths. But this post is to grieve. And to remember. Not just Jackson, but the other 7 average rated dogs that died yesterday.
So, here are all seven “average” dogs who died yesterday, September 8th, 2014:
HAZEL. 4 years old. Stray.
A volunteer who met her said: “Hazel appeared so out of place when she arrived at the care center. A perfectly groomed, healthy looking gal who seemed to come right from her family home but nevertheless..a stray. She was anxious, showed wary eyes, cried a lot and came often for comfort onto my lap while we were in a pen together. Hazel now feels better after a few days spent with us. She comes when called, slightly wiggling her body and wagging her tail. She settles very close to me as I sit on the ground and even lays across my lap for bonding time. Hazel is quite a pretty girl dressed in a lovely light brindle coat, completed with white socks and gloves. She does not want my treats and prefers caresses and sweet words. She has very long nails and might have been kept indoors but it seems that she is used to people and welcomes other volunteers or staff coming to say hello. Hazel pulls only very slightly on the leash and eliminates as soon as we leave the building for a walk around the block. Hazel is a manicured four year old lady we have at the Manhattan Care Center. She seems very much like a family dog who shows shyness with us but will most certainly bloom in loving hands. Come and meet her soon. She might be the one, your new forever best friend.”
KIM. 1 year old. Stray.
Kim never had a chance for a volunteer to meet with and write about her, but her behavioral evaluation states: “Kim pulls on the leash and was sociable toward the handler during the assessment – soft body. She was excited during some of the handling items, but had soft body language. She engages in play, loose body, wags tail, mouth is open. Kim showed minimal interest in food, toys and rawhides and was relaxed when approaching the helper dog, but was not playful. Look: 2. Dog pulls out of Assessor’s hands each time without settling during three repetitions. Sensitivity: 1. Dog leans into the Assessor, eyes soft, soft and loose body, open mouth. Tag: 1. Dog assumes play position and joins the game. Squeeze 1 & 2: 2. Dog quickly pulls back. Food: 1. Minimal interest in food, dog may smell or lick, then turn away. Toy: 1. Minimal interest in toy, dog may smell or lick, then turns away. Rawhide: 1. Minimal interest in rawhide, dog may smell or lick, then turns away. Dog-dog: 2. Dog approaches helper dog with tail at spine level, body not stiff, ears relaxed.”
JAQUES. 3 years old. Stray.
A volunteer who met him wrote: “Stunningly compact in his glossy black coat and white knee socks, Jacques is a pint size delight! Friendly, affectionate, easy to be with, he’s playful in a low key gentle way. Likely housetrained he took care of his business as soon as we were out the door, and then off leash in a backyard pen found a tennis ball and was happy to settle down for a good chomp. He doesn’t tear it, he simply chews on it When offered a treat he drops the ball, eats the treat, and then grabs the ball again, back on the bench for more chomping. And, repeat. And, repeat! When I called his name, or sat next to him on the bench his tail started to wag, so happy for the contact and companionship. He poses for photos like a super model, his adorable ears at attention framing his handsome face. His eyes are lively and affectionate and meet mine easily. Jacques aced his behavior assessment indicating he’ll be a good fit in just about any home. Certainly his compact size will be happy to curl up in any area of your home including your lap! Give him a toy or ball to chomp on and he’s a happy doggie! Jacques playfully loving manner will warm your heart and he’s hoping that you’re on your way to meet him. Be sure to ask for Jacques when you visit.”
NEO. 1 year old. Stray.
A volunteer who met her tells us: “All wiggly in her kennel at the prospect of going out, Neo’s face lights up into a big smile as I leash her. Likely housetrained she goes potty as soon as we’re out the door and then shows off good leash manners as we walk to the park. She pulls slightly from time to time, but is responsive and easily manageable. She’s a little butterball, well wearing a deep, deep brown coat that is clean and well groomed. With a happy, sweet energy Neo wants to meet everyone she sees; to her a stranger is just someone who isn’t a friend yet, and she’s going to change that! She feels the same way about other dogs, wagging her tail in easy friendship hoping for a play date. She loves treats and will sit for them when asked, and nibbles them down gently. Off leash in the backyard, she lays down at my feet while I take some notes, then hops up on the bench for some hugs. A good game of fetch is next and she’ll bring it back for another throw. I can take the ball right out of her mouth and she looks up expectantly waiting for the next throw. Neo is a little munchkin – an absolute delight who’s ready to find a new home in which love, snuggles, treats and nice walks are on the daily agenda.”
REINA. 9 months old. Owner surrender, personal problems.
A volunteer wrote about her that: “She is a VERY NICE DOG!!! Reina went from a very shy damsel to a very popular girl as soon as she settled in the adoption quarters. I see her now often in the street, sometimes walked by two people at the same time…. Her owners who relinquished her because of “personal problems” disclose that she is “too friendly” …walks well, does not bark or destroy things and loves cats, birds and small critters with whom she lived. She would be house trained and lived with children. All together, a dream girl, a wonderful family dog who is still just a puppy at 9 months of age. Reina is unusual looking with her very long body wrapped in a well groomed caramel and latte coat. Her muzzle is also quite spun out with a silly underbite. Reina was quite scared upon arrival but she fell back quickly on her feet. She is great on the leash, heeling and sitting on command. She does not chase birds and respects other dogs, even the little ones. She welcomes people coming to say hello. She poses nicely for the photo session. She is a wonderful cuddler, spreading herself lavishly on my lap for caresses. And I forgot to say, she gives paw and appears to be house trained. Reina is a lovely puppy, a girly girl with good manners and a tender heart. I know (well her behavioral evaluation at the care center is top notch) that she will make an amazing forever best friend and family dog. Just come and meet her and fall in love…Reina is at the Manhattan Care Center.”
DIAMON. 3 years old. Stray.
A volunteer who met her shared that: “They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend but poor Diamon is currently missing a BFF of her own and she’d love to consider you for this prestigious position! Qualified candidates should be fluent in the language of love, eager to expand their horizons with long, comfortably-paced walks through the park and keen to spend time with a well-behaved, soft and affectionate dog who demands very little from her human companions beyond a soft hand and a tasty treat or two. Diamon herself seems to be already house trained, she knows how to sit on command, likes to be near her people but isn’t one of those micro-managing clingy types and is certainly no slouch in the looks department either! She aced her behavior assessment with great scores across the board but doggie socializing isn’t her strong suit and Diamon quickly becomes very upset when other dogs show any kind of ‘attitude’. Her ideal family would be one with only the most relaxed, docile and preferably small canine siblings with slow introductions being a must-have. Do you meet BFF requirements and have a big heart, a happy home and a lifetime of love to offer? Then Diamon would love to hear from you – please apply care of AC&C today and tomorrow you could be embarking on the adventure of a lifetime!”
JACKSON. 2 years old. Owner surrender, owner arrested.
A volunteer wrote of this beautiful boy: “It was love at first sight with Jackson…..this gentle boy in his cocoa color coat, wagging his tail softly when I unlatched his door. His expression is soft, his demeanor is easy, and although he is in a situation he doesn’t understand is doing what he can to adjust. Joining us when his person ran into some difficulties, Jackson is quiet in his kennel, but thrilled to make new friends. He peed for so long when we went outside I was waiting for him to topple over with exhaustion! His coat is clean and groomed, and the only thing marring his perfection is a cherry eye which can and should be fixed. It’s a common surgery. Jackson donned a bow tie for his photo shoot and looks incredibly dapper. Sitting when asked, he takes treats gently, and every time he saw my hand near my bag he sat again! Smart boy! As other dogs approached our pen he greeted them with an easy wave of his tail. Gently in my lap for some hugs and kisses, Jackson stole my heart. He raises his head like a cat for an under the head scratch, wagging his tail gently with the pleasure of it all. He’s an awesome dog waiting for his new home and some lucky person will gain a best friend for life.”
These are yesterday’s “average” dogs who are now gone. Tonight, more will be added to the list. And tomorrow, still more.
What can you do to break the cycle, now, today, in your life?
Comments are encouraged and appreciated.
– Pit Bull Foster Momma