On June 21st, the ASPCA’s law enforcement arm raided a building in the Bronx. The superintendent of the building was arrested and charged with multiple crimes related to dogfighting – 76 charges in all.
The dogs were paraded in front of cameras by ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement agents – especially the puppies – and the news was all over New York City, with the heroic ASPCA getting credit for rescuing the animals as they trumpeted their success on their website and Facebook. A total of 50 dogs were eventually removed from the building and taken by the ASPCA to a temporary holding shelter just for them as the legal proceedings began.
This past week the ASPCA quietly issued a press release stating that the dogs had been released, mostly to private rescue groups. 33 of them were placed. If we read between the lines of the press release, we find that the ASPCA most likely executed 17 of them – 1/3 of the dogs they “saved”. The animals placed with rescues seem to be largely puppies and young dogs.
The press release contains this old saw, typically trotted out whenever a “humane” organization kills the victims of a criminal:
The unfortunate reality in many dog fighting operations is the propensity for a certain number of the dogs involved to exhibit extreme aggression, and therefore to be very dangerous. Sadly, this proved true in this case. While we have been able to place the majority of dogs, some of the dogs were euthanized. These particular dogs were tragic victims of the brutalities of dog fighting—bred over generations to exhibit aggression, trained to fight with lethal intent, subjected to a life of inhumane treatment, and as a result, showcased highly aggressive behavior. After extensive evaluations, the decisions to euthanize were based on recommendations of multiple behavior professionals who weighed in objectively and independently, with the best interest of each individual animal in mind.
Prior to the Vick dogs, I might have actually believed this statement. But the Vick dogs taught us a lot, and I might suggest that the ASPCA rewrite their statement to be a little more like this.
The unfortunate reality is that the rehabilitation of some animals require an investment of time and money that we, the ASPCA, do not feel will be financially beneficial to us. We may be “Their Voice”, but we still have a bottom line to look out for and the cost of attempting to rehabilitate a dog might leave us a little short for the direct-mail piece we’re planning to blanket the retirement communities of Florida with.
The news reports stated that many of the dogs had likely never left their basement prison. They would need socialization and many were likely frightened to be in such a different environment. How long were they given to adjust? About a month and a half, spent in a makeshift shelter environment – likely a fairly noisy and chaotic place. Not enough. Not enough to decompress, not enough to evaluate, not enough to explore the possibilities for all 50 dogs. With the 22 Vick dogs sent to Best Friends – those judged to need the most rehabilitation – they started with months of 24 hour care and decompression in a warm, supportive, loving environment. For dogs that lack basic social skills, that can sometimes be what it takes – something that goes for many dogs that have been victims of extreme abuse, even puppy mill breeding dogs. Many of the Best Friends Vick dogs have gone on to adoption to the public, but even those that have not have human friends – and some even have dog friends – and live in a supportive sanctuary environment.And what of sanctuary, anyway? The ASPCA press release stated that they relied on the opinions of “experts”, likely their own staff – none of whom have any ASPCA experience with long-term rehabilitation of fighting dogs, since the ASPCA doesn’t do any. Did they reach out to people that do? Did they bring in folks who DO have significant experience rehabilitating fighting dogs, like the Best Friends staff? And finally, before judging the dogs unfit for life among people, did they consider the possibility of sanctuary and inquire with sanctuaries qualified to take in these animals?
Based on the history of the ASPCA, I’m going to go with… no. This is the organization that killed Oreo when qualified sanctuaries were literally begging to take her in, and an organization that is well known in the New York City rescue community to be relentlessly focused on the bottom line. Animals in their care who they judge to be “marketable” – that is, those requiring the least effort on their part to adopt out – get to remain in their care. Animals that they judge to be less marketable tend to find their way back to the city pound, the NYCACC, who does the dirty work of killing them.
So I’ve said it before and I’m gonna say it again: when you raise tons of money, when you hold yourself up as an example, an expert, and a role model, I expect you to act the part. The ASPCA will only advocate for bust victims who they think they can take directly from the care center once their legal hold is up to the adoptions floor. Frequently not even their own adoptions floor.
How much more could they accomplish for the welfare of animals if, instead of taking victims out of the frying pan and into the fire, they worked to rehabilitate them – to develop the expertise they claim to have and to advance the knowledge, processes and procedures of animal welfare overall instead of going for the quick turnover and the fast PR hit, collateral damage be damned?
This is Lucas. Lucas is Michael Vick’s grand champion, a dog who was once considered by the courts the most violent of a group of dogs one animal welfare leader – another “expert” – called “ticking time bombs” and “some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country”. Lucas is one of only two Vick dogs court ordered to live out his life in sanctuary care. This picture is one I shot of him in a hotel on his first overnight, where he slept happily in the bed beside me until it was time for breakfast and belly rubs. The worst I can say about Lucas is this: he snores.
Lucas is alive today because of an exploration of what was possible. There is no reason the ASPCA cannot perform the same process of exploration and perhaps in doing so advance our understanding of what it takes to save these dogs – or, barring that, to at least give them a chance to live by exploring sanctuary placement.
They simply choose not to.