Occasionally, a parallel between the world at large and the animal sheltering world leaps out at me. Today it was how animal shelters have preached what amounts to abstinence-only education when it comes to finding a new pet (especially dogs).

wpid-1000621_708563222506720_737533432_n_2Be patient, go to your local upstanding animal shelter, wait until you find the right dog for you, and then go through the process of getting to know it really well before you commit. And never, ever go to a breeder, under any circumstances.  If you don’t end up with some deadly disease you’ll go blind and get hairy palms and no good dog will ever want to be your companion again.

This message has in large part been effective at getting people to choose to adopt rather than slut around with Puppy Millers. But is this message causal?  Or is it that more people simply opt to adopt for a variety of reasons, just like a majority people don’t have children out of wedlock, regardless of what type of sex ed they get?

We’ve been arguing about sex ed for decades without agreement, despite the clear research that shows that any sex education is better than none and that abstinence only provides neither a positive or negative impact in the long term. I doubt that we will get more than anecdotal proof to support my industry’s general agreement that shaming people in adopting adult mix breeds rather than buying a pure breed puppy is a credible alternative to a fully educated adopter/purchaser.

That’s because we all know some people simply want a puppy. That’s fine.  Some people want a particular breed.  That’s fine, too.  Why should we expect everyone to want to adopt a mixed breed dog?  Let’s be honest, many shelters have moved into a shameless pit bull adoption shaming mode of, “If you don’t want to adopt this pit bull you are a bad person!”  Maybe the person just wanted to adopt a Yorkie?

And if you know the person who is not responding to our abstinence only message about breeders, a person who is hot to trot and get promiscuous with their dog purchasing options, how are they supposed to know what to do? Our message has been “All breeders are bad” and “Adopt, don’t buy.”  But then we put a premium on pure bred dogs up for adoption at shelters and we all drool over The Working Dog Group Competition of the Westminster Kennel Show.  It’s like telling our teenagers not to think about sex while we channel surf the Lingerie Bowl and DVR Magic Mike.  Parents aren’t the only ones giving mixed messages.

Just like some kids are going to have sex before they are married, some people are going to want to buy a damn puppy. Shouldn’t we work harder to make sure they know how to be safe in their purchase?  How to avoid getting a dog with a disease, or one with a behavioral problem down the road, or avoid a breeder who will just take advantage of their naivety?

All things being equal, I want people to go to a shelter and wait to find that perfect pet, and remain committed to that pet forever. But all things aren’t equal.  That’s why I also want people to know how to choose the right resource other than animal shelters and make the best possible choices.

The world is changing. So many people are making better decisions about obtaining a pet than ever before and animals are benefiting more than ever before.  Certainly fewer face death as unwanted pets in shelters than any time in the last 50 years.  But we can’t take our eyes off the ball.  People still need to be educated and we need to acknowledge their desires for options we don’t think are the best for them.  We need to help them find a good match and not some dude who will proverbially grab them by their genitalia while they are dog shopping.



What Is Better Than All?

October 3rd, 2016 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

empty-kennelHumane Pennsylvania and our partner adoption organizations, Humane Society of Berks County and Humane League of Lancaster County, have recently been facing a novel problem. We are routinely emptying our shelters of adoptable pets.

Over the past decade, thanks to a combination of policy improvements, program development, quality and staff upgrades, and a very real demographic shift seen by animal shelters across huge swaths of the United States, we have made steady and consistent movement. First, we went from euthanizing animals routinely for space to never euthanizing strictly to make space for the next incoming animal.  Then we moved to not having to euthanize for minor injuries or illnesses.  Then we started saving more and more significantly injured, ill, or impaired animals.  But empty cages and kennels were unheard of.

Until now. Three times in 2016 we’ve emptied our adoption centers of all adoptable animals.  And not just on days when we’ve been light on animals. We’ve cleared out adoptions centers that were full to the brim.  Of course, there are always more animals to replace them, as we get animals in, get them vetted and sterilized, and move them to the adoption floor.

Is the next step in our progression to have fewer and fewer pets for adoption to the point where we routinely have none? For years animal shelters disingenuously parroted that our job was to put ourselves out of business.  Has spay/neuter, cruelty and relinquishment interventions, veterinary and behavioral supports, and better public awareness actually put us on the road to it?  Or at least to the point where our adoption role is eclipsed by all those other programs?empty-cattery

We started out getting hate mail because we killed healthy animals for space. Then we moved on to hate mail because we pioneered (or at the very least were extremely early adopters of) and championed life-saving free adoption promotions.  Now we get hate mail because people show up a few hours into a free adoption program day or weekend only to discover we’ve already adopted nearly everything out and there’s no “selection” for them.  That’s the kind of angry email I’ll gladly take.

Humane Pennsylvania is about to enter into our next round of long-term strategic planning. It is surreal that one of the things we need to plan for is how to we do better than adopting them all.

We have our staff, volunteers, and, of course, everyone who adopts, to thank for this new and welcome problem. But we couldn’t do this without some significant donors and supports.  These are the people and businesses who generously underwrite our adoption promotion weekends so that we don’t lose critical adoption revenue while we are clearing out our adoption centers.  If you know any of these generous people or patronize their businesses, please share your appreciation with them for helping to make what was once a pipedream become- someday- commonplace.

Recent Adoption Promotion Weekend Supporters – Thank you!

Dr. Chris Cooke & Meredith Jorgenson

Top Flite Realty

Auman Funeral Home

Pamela Neville

Berks Plastic Surgery

Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad

Edi Young & David Lounsbury

Muller Rare Coins & Fine Jewelry

Alan & Melissa Jo Schlechter


Would you or your business like to join this life-saving list? Please contact Brian Pinto, Chief Advancement Officer, at bpinto@humanepa.org!


You’ve probably been in a parking lot where you saw a dog in a hot car that needed help. Until now, police or humane officers would often turn away from helping these animals because the law was not clear on what they were allowed to do. One phone call from you could change this. Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering new legislation to protect pets: HB 1516 will allow law enforcement to enter an unattended vehicle to rescue a dog or cat, without liability for any damages caused in doing so.

Even better, an amendment to HB 1516 will ban live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. You may know that Pennsylvania is one of the only states where pigeon shoots are openly held and Berks County is one of the only counties to “host” these shoots. Humane Pennsylvania has long fought against these gambling-motivated contest shoots, which have nothing to do with real sport hunting. This amendment would finally make the law clear and explicitly outlaw these shoots.

One phone call to your State Representative in Harrisburg today can help save dogs from suffering and stop a blood sport in our Commonwealth. Please make a brief, polite phone call to your State Representative to urge support for HB 1516. You can say, “I’m a constituent concerned about animals, and I’m urging you to support HB 1516 with the pigeon shoot ban amendment.” Click here to find your State Representative.   Please also share this post on your social media pages and urge your friends to join you.


I kind of know what Daisy meant in The Great Gatsby.  After months of construction and years of planning, the new Humane Veterinary Hospitals Reading opened for business.  We got so busy with all of the new capabilities and resources it offered the animals of our shelter and our community that the event itself essentially pass us by.


Wowee! Pretty sharp, eh?

I went right from the last post, with pictures of concrete and wall studs, to working on the next round of priorities.  A little like waiting for the longest day of the year then realizing you missed it!

The opening of this hospital deserves proper recognition, and I’m going to give it to you.  Our new hospital is part of a 9,000 square foot DOUBLING of our animal services space in Reading, PA.  It expanded our vet services space and capacity by 150%, taking us from two exam rooms to five.  It provides individual radiology and dental suites, with a state-of-the-art digital X-ray unit which is higher resolution and quality and safer for pets and staff, and brand new dental treatment equipment.  Plus, we doubled the space for surgery and treatment.  It also has a gorgeous, comfy, and spacious reception and waiting area, with plenty of room for people and pets (and to spread out people and rambunctious pets).


Ooooo….Ahhhhh…BIG exams rooms- and look at those windows!


A little less “sexy” for the public, but it has secure records space, a secure pharmacy and supplies area, and our three full time vets and their support staff actually have a dedicated administrative office- you’d appreciate that as much as they do if you ever say the 24 inch desk they all had to share in the old hospital.

Why does this matter?  First, we were literally prevented from providing the care we knew we could and in the quantity we were capable of in our old hospital simply because it was too small and lacked some of our new equipment.  We were maxed out.  By increasing and improving upon our space we have increased our capacity and efficiency without having to add addition staff (yet).  In fact, even with the learning curve of a new hospital (where are those sutures over here again?) and intentionally light starter schedule, we had one of our most productive months in our hospital’s history in our very first month.  More productive means more animals helped!


And tell me that’s not one photogenic staff we’ve got (even the ones who aren’t in this shot)!

Second, let’s be honest, our old building was not what we wanted it to be and what the public always wanted it to be.  Let’s be really honest, it was a little skeevy.  Our goal is not merely to provide great care.  We want to give everyone who uses our services- from the adopters, to those on limited incomes, to just the general public who want to put their healthcare dollars in the place which will help even more animals- to have a great, pleasant, top notch experience.  Now they do.

I used to be able to say we had the best staff in Berks County working at our hospital.  I couldn’t say we had the best hospital facility.  That’s all changed now.  We have, hands down, the best staff, the best programs and mission, and the best damn hospital facility in the County (in my humble opinion).  And since we are in the process of getting our accreditation from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the quality of our care won’t ever be up for debate.

Why does accreditation matter?  Because only between 12% and 15% of America’s 35,000 or so veterinary practices are accredited using the 900 point set of AAHA standards.  Among non-profit hospitals, and Humane Pennsylvania and Humane Society of Berks County have been nationally recognized pioneers in non-profit community veterinary services, that number is even shockingly smaller: only 19 AAHA accredited non-profit hospitals in the entire US and only one in Pennsylvania!  Guess who operates that one?  We do!  Our Humane Veterinary Hospitals Lancaster facility is already AAHA accredited and Reading will be the 20th in the entire nation!

Having our new hospital open and accredited, with it’s high standards and mission to serve the entire community is like having the veterinary equivalent of Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania right here in Reading.  It’s that big a deal.  People shouldn’t have to give up or kill pets just because they don’t have access to vet care.  By showing that it can be done in our community we are also leading the way in helping other communities around the country to do the same.

This is cutting edge animal welfare and it is helping to make what was formerly considered impossible- ending needless euthanasia in our shelters- a reality in our lifetimes.

I invite you to help us in our fight to bring about this reality.  If you are looking for a vet, give us a try.  We are just like the best vets and hospitals around- because we are the best vets and hospitals around!  The only difference is the dollar you spend at our hospitals in Reading and Lancaster are reinvested in local animals.  Our hospitals provide nearly a million dollars in care value each year to animals in our two adoption shelters, our adopted pets through our health care follow up programs, and to those in financial need.  Use your vet health care dollars to make a difference in your community (and we even have New Client discounts and referral benefit programs to make it even more enticing!)

We still have a few odds and ends to finish- such as waiting for our awesome signs so we can put away our sad little banner- but it’s here, it’s open, and it’s waiting for you and your pet.  Don’t let this pass you by.

Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

*4-5-16:  We’re open!  We’ve been so busy getting open I haven’t had a chance to update with the latest news.  Pix and details up soon, I promise!  KM

After unforeseen delays and a major change of design and plans, construction is approaching completion on Berks County’s newest- and best- animal hospital! Humane Veterinary Hospitals Berks (HVH Berks) is just weeks away from opening and it’s already looking amazing.

When we announced at last year’s Art for Arf’s Sake that we’d be opening a new hospital we asked for our supporters help, and we’ve been getting it. We’ve already received three of the largest donations in our history in support of the project, which will go a long way (we can’t wait to share that news soon). But with a $1.2 million dollar commitment to the future of animal welfare and the people and animals of Reading and Berks County, we still have a long way to go and we’ll be reaching out for support to as many people, businesses, and organizations as we can.

We hope everyone will chip in because this isn’t merely a new vet hospital.  It is going to be nationally accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, the gold standard for hospitals.  Out of 36,000 practices, only about 4,500 are accredited.  Out of all of those, fewer than twenty in the nation are non-profit, charitable hospitals, and there is only one in Pennsylvania- that’s Humane Veterinary Hospitals Lancaster, our other animal hospital! We can’t leave Berks behind, can we?

Accreditation means the best care, practices, and policies, based on a 900 point standards list. HVH Berks will be the only accredited hospital in the city.  This means access to high quality vet care in what is a “veterinary desert” for many people who can’t easily reach good practices out of the city.  The improved services and quality means our own sheltered animals, as well as public animals, get even better care, including new state of the art digital radiology and more.

It also means we can provide even more sliding scale and reduced cost care for those in financial need and we can serve even more people like you and me who not only want great vet care for our pets, but we want to spend our vet health care dollars someplace where the revenue goes right back to helping animals in the community. Our Humane Veterinary Hospitals aren’t just great; they are open to the public.  You will spend your money on veterinary care one way or another.  Why not make sure your choice of doctors also makes a difference for strays or other at risk pets, too?

With a huge off-street parking lot, easy access from Route 12, 222, and 422, and the ability to take a walk across the street to say, “Hi!”, to the adoptable pets, we know you’ll love the new HVH Berks! We are looking forward to sharing it with you.  In fact, if you’d like a tour, we will be scheduling regular tours once we open and we’d be happy to arrange a personal one for you right now (subject to construction activity).

If you’d like to arrange a tour or learn how you can help support the hospital’s work with a gift, please contact Humane Pennsylvania Marketing Director, Lorraine Storms, at lstorms@humanepa.org.


crucibleTwenty five years ago when I started in animal welfare I would never think of Pennsylvania as a particularly innovative place. Most people looked to New York or Boston or the West Coast.  But one thing that came along with the disruptive influences of the “no kill” model, technology, research, and social media, was a reimagining of what shelters could do.  Not just shelters in the broad sense but shelters as individuals.

We could suddenly focus on individual approaches and models. We were no longer in the cookie cutter, “we are THE shelter in this county and we must do things exactly like this because we always have” mold.  We could do what we wanted.  And we did.  In the past ten years especially, Pennsylvania shelters have become diverse and unique, both from one another and from others around the country.

Some, like Berks Humane and Lancaster Humane League, along with Pennsylvania SPCA and Delaware County SPCA, got out of the dog catching business altogether. Others, like Chester County SPCA built on and developed the animal control model away from being a mere dog catcher, while expanding their service areas.  Even among those who dropped animal control, the divergence expanded.  Lancaster Humane League move to a “no kill/restricted access model” more in line with the traditional “no kill models”  Berks Humane’s expanded veterinary offerings to drive an aggressive relinquishment prevention model while remaining an open door/open access shelter.

Pennsylvania SPCA moved into expanded statewide cruelty law enforcement. Delaware County SPCA brought the more expansive and aggressive no kill models of the North East US to Pennsylvania.  Bucks County went to a dual facility model.  Berks and Lancaster undertook a merger, uncommon among animal welfare organizations.  And all this is in just our five contiguous counties!

I’m obviously most excited about the veterinary model we have pioneered and aggressively promoted as a logical and effective means of helping more animals, if not being the future of animal welfare. This is much to the dismay of some veterinarians who fear the competition and in some places both here and across the country have actively tried to block non-profit animal hospitals.  Like the whale oil industry and the human healthcare market, which were long ago respectively replaced by petroleum or overtaken by non-profits and charities, these fears are too little and too late for a transition which is inevitable.

With two hospitals, one nationally accredited by American Animal Hospital Association, the gold standard among vets, and one soon to be when our new hospital opens in March, we remain at the cutting edge of this evolution. But we aren’t alone.  In the past few years we went from the only fully public practice in Pennsylvania to one of many- in Delaware, Chester, Bucks, Crawford, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and probably beyond.  We are still the only AAHA accredited hospital in PA and one of only 18 nationwide, but others are gaining, following our model and pressing us to keep on our toes.

That’s progress and innovation. We demonstrate and inspire, then we look to see how others are improving on our model and we take those lessons to improve ourselves.  As I look around the Commonwealth, I’m actually surprised and proud of what I see.  It may have been a long time in coming, but progressive and innovative animal welfare in Pennsylvania is finally arriving.

Would you adopt to this man?

Would you adopt to this man?

Once again I let my mouth take the lead over the objections of my head.  Or maybe I just let what was in my head pour out through my mouth.  Either way, I have a tendency of saying something I know is correct, but I probably shouldn’t say it.  It’s why I’d make a terrible politician.  Or maybe not, the way this Presidential campaign is going.

Anyway, a reporter asks if we put people through the wringer to adopt like some places do and used an example of calling every landlord for every renter.  I said yes, we screen heavily but it is more conversational and delving, less checkboxes, and we tend to assume people are honest.  We ask if people rent.  Then we ask if they are allowed to have a pet.  Then we ask what they’d do if they weren’t allowed to have a pet (since, duh, people move).

We don’t rely strictly on the check box because that only works once.  People wise up.  It would be like the Mossad having a form at the Tel Aviv Airport that asks, “Am I a terrorist? Y/N.”  Maybe that first idiot checks yes, but after that the other ISIS guys are like, “Oh, that’s good, you almost had me.  NO, I am totally not a terrorist.”  What’s the follow up to that response?  Prove it?

No, that wasn’t the dumb thing I said.  I only thought that.

Then I said that doing things like landlord checks placed barriers in front of adoptions that might not be helpful.  What if it’s the evening, or weekend?  What if a perfectly qualified adopter who wasn’t smart enough to just check the “own home” box gets sent away because you can’t reach the landlord.  It’s easy to say that it’s better safe than sorry, but it’s not always the safest route.  The most dangerous place in America statistically for a pet is in a shelter.  Any shelter which euthanizes for space, ever, and stands tall on policies which decrease the chance of an animal going home is doing that animal a disservice.  Plus, these sorts of rules also disproportionately impact poor people, and that’s wrong.

I did say that, but that wasn’t the dumb thing, it was just stating the obvious.

Then I followed up with this (or close enough):  “And let’s be honest, if it’s after hours and the adopter is white and looks pretty well off, they won’t face the same level of screening as someone how looks poor or isn’t white.”  If you are following along, that’s the dumb thing.

But if those of us who work in sheltering are being honest, we know that those who aren’t white often face a special level of scrutiny and, yes, discrimination, when it comes to adopting.  Routinely, black men who want to adopt a pit bull are suspected of nefarious motives when the young, white female is not.  Routinely, Hispanics are viewed with suspicion because of their “known cultural insensitivity”, because, you know, cock fighting.  And I kid you not; the odds of an Asian adopting a cat without someone only half-jokingly wondering aloud in a back room about whether they will eat it are pretty slim in a lot shelters.  That’s not a bad joke, that’s racism at work, disguising itself as a bad joke.

People have biases and when groups are homogeneous, they often have the same bias.  Most shelters, certainly at the policy making upper management level, are run by white folks, and disproportionately white women.  The less different management and staff are from one another at a shelter, the more different everyone else will be to them.  We avoid inviting this gap and sometimes the gap of understanding that comes with it by having as diverse a staff as possible.  At Humane PA we actively pursue gender and racial diversity in our hiring.  We try to hire people with different backgrounds, we try to hire Spanish speakers.  In part because it allows our clients to see someone who looks like them across the counter.  In larger part it’s to make sure we have someone on our side of the counter who doesn’t carry the baggage of bias in the same way as I might or you might, and vice versa.

I will simply state that when a young black man who is not dressed like Steve Urkle tries to adopt a pit bull there is a fair chance he will be on the receiving end of some substantial adoption screening rule, fair or not, reasonable or not, in many animal shelters.  We owe it to our clients and our animals to make sure our policies are reasoned and reasonable and not the possible equivalent of the poll taxes or civics tests employed in the Jim Crow South to keep minorities from voting.  Jim Crow adoption policies are alive and well in animal shelters throughout the nation and Pennsylvania today.

Applying a good and fair rule to someone who doesn’t look like us is fine.  But some rules invite unequal application.  We must be vigilant against that inequality and we must be honest about what the goal really is and if the outcomes can be proven with data.  For example, we could not demonstrate that we had an increased adoption return rate from renters over anyone else, and it didn’t change when we went from doing landlord checks to simply talking to our adopters.  We did see an increase in adoptions- again, without an increase in returns rates.

If we are being honest, we have to acknowledge that it was a rule which didn’t do what it was supposed to do.  But we are rarely honest about things as sensitive as race.  That’s why I told the reporter, after thinking better of it, that he should feel free to leave out that part about race.  It’s true, but it just stirs up trouble.

But some trouble is worth stirring up.  Some good people are prevented from adopting because of bad policies and screening “tools” which disproportionately and negatively impact the poor and minorities, without a demonstrated purpose or positive outcome.  Sometimes, animals die in shelters as a result.  We can flippantly claim “better safe than sorry”, but if we can’t prove it, we are liars, even if only to ourselves.

Thinking race doesn’t play a factor in animal welfare in the country, certainly isn’t being honest.


P1070462I was recently interviewed about the remnants of Pennsylvania’s puppy mill industry.  In 2008, Governor Rendell signed into law the Puppy Mill bills and their meager regulatory improvements and mandates for commercial dog breeders.  But meager proved to be enough for the majority of puppy millers, who were barely scraping by on the profits drained from the miserable lives of their breeding stock, profits which were only possible if they allowed them to live in squalor.

Giving them the most basic “lifestyle improvements”- such as heat and enough ventilation they didn’t suffer ammonia burns to their eyes- put many, perhaps even most, commercial kennels out of business and removed Pennsylvania from the top tier of dog torturing puppy mill states.  It wasn’t all, but we’ll take what we can get.

The article was about the possible resurgence of the back yard breeder in an effort to fill the vacuum of puppies left by the exit of so many commercial kennels from the market.  I say possible resurgence because it’s hard to tell if this is actually happening.  Small and backyard breeders, only subject to licensing if they have 26 or more dogs in a year, are about as well regulated as a Colorado militia in a movie theater.  Which is to say they are not.  But the issue of the lack of dogs people actually want- specific breeds and puppies- is the topic of past and future posts.

The reporter wrapped up by asking me why I thought Pennsylvania had such a clinging- dogged?- attachment to its dog breeding industry.  I think it’s because Pennsylvania still worships at the altar of Agriculture.

Ask any State Rep or Senator what the biggest industry in Pennsylvania is and they will probably instinctively answer “Agriculture!”  They’d be wrong, but this is the most repeated semi-truth in Harrisburg.  OK, maybe it’s second/third to “The budget impasse is his/their fault!” right now.  But it’s high on the list.

In reality, only by the most convoluted of measures is agriculture number one.  By employment, the top sectors are administration and sales, with agriculture in as 22 out of 22.  By GDP, agriculture is 19 out 19, with manufacturing number one.  By other measures, government and non-profits- such as Humane Pennsylvania- are by far the leading “industries” in Pennsylvania.  Only by trying to utilize the old “from farm to fork” impact model, where you count everything that is touched by agricultural products along the way, including the fork you eat the salad with, do you get anything close to agriculture dominating.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love food.  And farms and farmers.  My family has agriculture in its veins going way back.  Although, to be fair, odds are so does everyone who has been in America more than a few generations.  But I also love dogs and they pay the price for Pennsylvania’s blind obsession with the idea of agriculture without recognizing the reality of its impact on our companion animals.

The Department of Agriculture in PA exists to promote and grow the business of agriculture.  They pay lip service to food and consumer safety, but that is not their primary function.  The economic growth of the Ag sector and the protection of farmers from pesky rules which might hold them back economically, like animal protection laws, is their primary function.  Most people are stunned to learn that dogs are viewed as agricultural production animals in Pennsylvania.  The Office of Dog Law Enforcement is under the Department of Agriculture. As are Dog Wardens, kennel licensing, and the control of Human Society Police Officers (HSPO’s).  Dog Wardens oversee kennel inspections for licensed kennels but are prohibited by law from enforcing the cruelty code.

Take a moment to think about that.  Puppy mills are inspected by the same agency which is supposed to promote the very industry it is supervising.  Imagine if restaurant safety inspections were done by a political entity or economic development agency which was supposed to have as many restaurants as possible open and whose success was determined by how many restaurants were open.  Could you count on that inspector to give a failing grade to a dirty restaurant?  Of course not.  That’s why we solve that conflict by having public health and safety agencies determine if restaurants are up to code, not economic agencies.

But in Pennsylvania dog are considered farm animals and the Department of Agriculture exists to grow farms, not protect animals.  If you want to know why we have a reputation for leading as a puppy mill state, it’s because we place the supposed primacy of agriculture and farming above the wellbeing of our companion animals and we leave the enforcement in the hands of those who have a mission conflict- the Department of Agriculture- or those without the resources to fully enforce existing laws but are the only ones stuck doing the job- the charitable animal shelters.

We can have it both ways, though.  By removing the responsibility of inspection of commercial kennels from the Department of Agriculture and placing the job under a health and safety department or under state law enforcement, we can have our cake and eat it, too.  The Department of Ag can support farmers and promote farming, like they should.  And when that promotion results in puppy farmers abusing animals in the name of “standard agricultural practice” the Heath Department or the State Police can prosecute and shut them down, like they should.

Agriculture is important in Pennsylvania but it’s not the only or the most important thing.  It certainly shouldn’t be granted some nearly religious place in our government and be provided indulgences that come at the expense our companion animals.


Because non-profit veterinary services are often under attack, generally from a power base of veterinarians with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, I’ve spent a great deal of time talking about why charities have the right to practice non-profit medicine and why vets who attack us are wrong. Sometimes this defensive response leads to spending more time on what we are against than what we are for and why.

enzo examHumane Pennsylvania, and growing numbers within the animal welfare community, are for the delivery non-profit veterinary services, and for reasons that have a direct bearing on our central mission of helping animals and their people.  Assuming everyone on any side of this issue will concede that veterinary care is generally a good and desirable thing for pets, exactly why should non-profits take the lead in delivering these services?

We are proximate to the need. We know that many people simply don’t have access to veterinary care, high quality or otherwise.  For a variety of reasons, animal shelters are often located in areas of high need, often very population dense urban centers or population sparse rural areas.  These are also areas which are least likely to offer veterinary hospitals because the traditional economics of for-profit veterinary hospitals don’t lend themselves to enticing private practices to open in these areas.

In the same way that there are food deserts in cities and the local Dollar General may be all that passes for a “grocery store” in the rural communities, there are veterinary deserts. Many people in these areas cannot afford market rate comprehensive veterinary care and benefit from free, reduced, or subsidized care.  Many can afford market rates; they simply don’t have as ready access to services as those in the suburbs graced seemingly with a vet on every corner.  Combining an animal shelter’s proximity to the need and the available market with an ability to provide needed care can ensure these services reach a population which is underserved (more on “Veterinary Deserts” in an upcoming blog).

Veterinary care keeps animals out of shelters. Although I am not aware of a study which has looked specifically at the correlation between quality and quantity of vet care and the likelihood of a pet being relinquished (if you know of one, please share), a couple of the better pet relinquishment studies out there do address this issue tangentially and it does appear that more animals lacking a history of comprehensive vet care enter shelters than those receiving it (authoring that study is on our 2106 “to do” list).  That might seem like a no brainer.  No or less vet care logically equals potentially poorer health, diminished behavioral interventions, and greater complications arising from injury and accidents.

As is the case with most health care, pre-emptive care is the easiest and cheapest, and in the case of pets, it prevents avoidable points of no return that lead to pet relinquishment. The cat which sees a vet and benefits from nutritional counseling might not eat poor quality food, which leads to urinary health issues, which leads to peeing on the owner’s couch and bed, which leads to a surrender of the cat to a shelter.  The early dental assessment of a dog might prevent the tooth decay which might lead to discomfort and crankiness, which could lead to an avoidable bite, which leads to that dog being surrendered to a shelter.  It may be hard to prove which of these surrenders are prevented by veterinary interventions, but seeing the steady flow of surrenders for preventable causes make it certain that regular, high quality vet care could be preventing animals from entering shelters.

Even for those which are brought to shelters, the ability to offer services to clients at the time of relinquishment makes a difference. Most people would prefer to fix the problem with their pet than give the pet up, perhaps to be killed in a shelter.  Often, the mere ability to get a frustrated pet owner to pause for a minute, an hour, or a day, before handing over a pet to a shelter can allow for a rethinking of the decision and that pet staying in the home.  A bad day doesn’t need to end up being the end of the relationship.  Of the many types of transactional friction which can be employed to allow for that “pause to think it over”, offering a positive, beneficial option, such as a veterinary intervention when appropriate, is one of the best possible for the relationship between pet and caretaker and the public perception of our organization.

Veterinary care keeps adopted pets from being returned to shelters. A significant percentage of animals adopted from shelters are returned within one year, for a variety of reasons.  In some cases, it may be as minor an issue as a feline upper respiratory infection (URI).  This stress related illness can almost be counted on occurring in some percentage of adopted cats, regardless of the quality of the shelter, and treating it is relatively simple.  However, as we all know, simple treatment doesn’t always equate to inexpensive treatment.  It is not uncommon for a basic kitty cold to lead to a retail vet care bill of a couple hundred dollars or more, sometimes much more.

Not every adopter will be able or willing to sink hundreds of dollars into a new pet, especially when many modern for-profit practice models are based on income derived from extensive and expensive diagnostic testing and high markup treatment. Faced with a large bill, adopters may return the cat to the shelter and now the shelter, which already invested hundreds of dollars in care, vaccinations, sterilization, and the adoption process, must face spending more money to get the cat adopted again.  Most shelters face the reality and cost of euthanizing and disposing of a cat which the public may view with suspicion as an “adoption return”.

Providing veterinary services allows a shelter to provide direct treatment for the illness, either free or at reduced rates, in order to cure the animal and to ensure it remains in its new household. Providing this care for free, at cost, or for a reduced fee is certainly cheaper than going through the adoption process all over again, and is certainly a better and usually cheaper alternative to killing it.  In the case of more extensive conditions, veterinary care can have an even greater impact on driving successful adoptions.

Some illnesses, such as diabetes, were almost certain death sentences for shelter pets in the past, assuming the disease was even diagnosed. However, diabetic pets are routinely adopted at Humane Pennsylvania shelters now because we can offer long term, reduced or free coverage for costs associated with treatment of the disease.  Many people are willing to take on the work of monitoring their pets and providing in-home treatment, but it can be very expensive.  If we can provide blood sugar testing, insulin, and supplies for free or at cost for the life of the cat, we can get it adopted at little or no cost.  This approach helps more and more “problem” adoptions succeed.

Veterinary service delivery fits our mission statements like a glove. All charitable animal shelters have a mission statement and they range from very sweeping, like our current one, too very specific, like the our previous one.  Many vets will point to these mission statements and say they make it clear that our missions are not to provide veterinary care, because many don’t explicitly state it.  But a mission statement is a declaration of what we do, not how we do it.  Veterinary services are one crucial means by which everything we have ever done or ever will do, can be achieved.

Our old mission statement was very explicit and included, “education and outreach in the community, medical services for needy animals, humane investigation, safe shelter for homeless animals and strong adoption programs to ensure that every companion animal lives in a safe, loving and secure home,”  and is typical of many shelter mission statements.  How do public veterinary services fit into this old statement?  Let’s review.

  • Among the most effective education and outreach to the community we have ever provided is done by our veterinary staff. It is the highest level of Humane Education. Check.
  • Medical services for needy animals? Well, our sheltered animals certainly need it, and since we have established the myriad of ways vets keep animals out of shelters, whether you are rich or poor, we view every animal as needing access to high quality vet care. Check.
  • Safe shelter for homeless pets? That definitely involves access to medical security in our shelters and that is best and most efficiently delivered by our dedicated veterinary hospitals. Check.
  • Strong adoption programs? Once again, I have covered how pre-adoption vet care gets animals adopted and post adoption vet care keeps them from returning. Check.
  • Ensure every companion animal lives in a safe, loving and secure home? Everyone would- or should- agree that being healthy and having access to treatment when a pet is not is a foundation of a safe and secure home. We can’t make someone love a pet, but we can make it a lot easier by keeping that pet happy, well behaved, and healthy. Check.

Veterinary services, both within our shelters, to at risk populations, and to the general public at large, even those who can afford market rates, is central and integral to the work we do on behalf of animals. They save lives and relationships, they enhance the standard of living in our communities, and they improve public safety.  Delivery of veterinary care is not the singular domain of private practice, for profit, or corporate veterinarians.

We’ve established our economic right to deliver these services. We’ve established how our model mirrors the human health care market, which is dominated by non-profit services.  We’ve established that it makes financial sense for our organizations, our animals and our supporters.  We’ve established that we can do it as well or better than any competition by offering great service from great vets in accredited hospitals.  But these are all the numbers and rules of what we do.

More importantly, we believe we have an obligation under our mission statements to provide veterinary care to the community. This care is a right of all pets, access to this care is right of all pet owners, and the our delivery of this care by non-profits is a right- at least in Pennsylvania and most states- provided we comply with State and Federal law and the standards of our profession, just like any other vet practice.  Unlike other vet practices, however, for animal welfare organizations these services are also explicitly and implicitly our mission.  We should and will embrace that mission because lives depend on it.

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So, today a lady comes into the shelter and wants to adopt a cat. She seemed like an OK person, I mean, she wasn’t “from the city”, if you know what I mean.  She filled out the forms and said all the right things so I decided she could go back to adopt a cat.  When I asked her which one she wanted, she said, “The black one.”

witch and catI was like, whoa, hold on there. We don’t adopt out black cats this close to Halloween.  You know, people do crazy things out there.  After all, this is 1985.  She was all, “Do I look like a Satanist?” and I was all, lady, I don’t know you from Adam and why are you so interested in a black cat?  She gets in my face with this whole, “I just want to save a cat, you kill them all anyway don’t you?”

Let me tell you, I let her have it. I told her that we save cats.  We save them from the streets and from wackos like her that want to sacrifice them, like someone I know told me they saw on 20/20 once with those kids in a basement, or something.  I said that we don’t kill cats, we euthanize cats (I didn’t mention that last month we “euthanized” 85% of the cats we “saved” from people like her) and that those cats were better dead than hit by cars or tortured and how does she know anyway, did she ever have to spend the day killing a hundred cats and crying like I do and the people who work here do?

Then, you wouldn’t believe it, the bitch has the nerve to cuss me out and walk out the door!  It gets better.  The guy who was there the whole time this was going on muttering and shuffling about how long all this took- it only took an hour to do the pre-screening- and whining about the staff smoking like he was the Queen of England and asks if he could look at a dog.  Can you believe that?  We were closing in half an hour! He starts saying that since he wants to adopt the dog, maybe we could stay open a little longer.  Stay open!?  Would he ask Sears to stay open? So then he asks if we can hold him till tomorrow and I’m, like, no way, it’s first come, first served.  So then he flips me off and slams out the door.

That’s OK, there was something wrong with that guy. I’m not sure what he was, Puerto Rican, Arab, or what, but he wasn’t strictly white.  I’d have had to run a records check on him to make sure he owned his house like he claimed and tomorrow is Saturday anyway so the Courthouse would be closed.

Speaking of weirdos, did you hear that there is a man managing the shelter next county over and he’s black?  I don’t know what that board is thinking.  I hear he sells pit bulls out the back to dog fighters, but keep that between you and me.

I don’t know what’s wrong with all these people. They make us take all these animals from them and then won’t do the simplest things we ask of them to adopt pets out, like bring in a copy of their mortgage and rental agreement and let us call the landlord just to make sure it’s the real lease paperwork , come to the office during our convenient hours between 11:00 AM and 3:45 PM weekdays, not adopt around Christmas, bring in vet records for every pet they ever owned, and bring the entire family in- I don’t care your oldest is 20 and at Harvard except on holidays, if she’s in the house, she has to meet the dog, and don’t go throwing around that you’re rich to impress me, just because I never went to college doesn’t make me less educated than you!  That’s not too much to ask to save these lives so they don’t have to be killed- I mean, euthanized.

What was I talking about? Oh, right…No, we don’t adopt black cats at Halloween!

Replies the Year 2015 to the Year 1985: OK, OK, I understand…just settle down…there you go.  Do you want a Fresca and for me to put on the Rockford Files?

[Whispered aside to the Year 2014]: Don’t even bother, it’ll just wind 1985 up for no good reason.  The last time I told 1985 that we had been adopting out black cats at Halloween and pets as Christmas presents for years, even to blacks, Hispanics, renters, and college students, and that euthanasia and shelter relinquishment were plummeting to an all-time low, and that shelters across the country were routinely saving 85% of animals instead killing 85% of them, 1985 started coughing so hard I thought it was going to have a heart attack.  Better leave 1985 be.

Replies the Year 2015 to the Year 1985: You comfy, 1985?  Good.  I’ll just be over here saving animals based on facts, not stereotypes and anecdotes.  What?  Nothing, I didn’t say anything.  Just drink your soda and tell me what shenanigans Rockfish gets himself into this time…

*All years appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real years, past or present, is purely coincidental.