This is just one example of many, why U.S. shelter systems suck: on Thursday last week I called the East Valley Animal Shelter in Van Nuys to receive more information about one specific dog. I saw a Mastiff, a massive, super sweet-looking dog on the shelter’s website who reminded me of my own dog Samson. Every week I promote a different dog on our Facebook fan page and was looking for a new doggie, when I saw this Mastiff named BOBO.
Owners had surrendered him after 9 years of companionship. I cross-posted his picture on Facebook, tweeted and asked friends for help the same day. After I walked my dogs I called the shelter with my ID number and the dog’s name ready and talked to a woman on the phone after waiting 20 minutes on the line. She was nice but had no clue; she greeted me with a very low and slow “hey”… and I didn’t understand the rest. I gave her the ID number and the dog’s name, and at first she couldn’t find him in the database, then we had this type of not-helpful conversation:
She: He is not at the shelter anymore.
Me (excited): Oh, really? What happened to him, did he get adopted? I’m talking about the big Mastiff with the black mask, he was brown and 154 lbs.
[I described the dog a little more]
She: Oh, hmmmm, yeah that dog…he is AGGRESSIVE.
Me: ‘Aggressive’? Like…dog aggressive, fear aggressive or human aggressive… what do you mean by ‘aggressive’? Is he shy or really aggressive, does he have a history?
She: Ahhhh, I don’t know, but he is human aggressive.
Me: So, is he still available? I want to drop by and take pictures of him. Is he still at your facility? Can you please check for me?
She: Hold on a second…Yes, he is here!
[I'm confused] Me: OK great. I will be there in an hour.
I packed my stuff and was really excited to meet BOBO, a 154-lb. Mastiff. I arrived at the shelter with a friend of mine and walked through the whole shelter, taking pictures of the dogs and sharing doggie treats with them, patting them, looking into some shy, timid and anxious eyes. I stopped and took a deep breath every time and walked through all cages to see who is behind the bars. Calling them and trying to reach their necks with my fingers. As usual the shelter was full of Pit Bull Mixes and little Chihuahuas, each one cuter and cuter. It took me a while to walk through all cages. I couldn’t find the Mastiff and I walked again and again through every single kennel. Finally, I decided to ask a volunteer to take some dogs out and to help me take pictures of the dogs. We took pictures of 3 different dogs and I asked her if she knew anything about the Mastiff – and she said that he wasn’t there anymore, but she doesn’t know what happened to him.
After I spent an hour-and-a-half taking pictures, I walked to the front desk to find the special dog I was looking for. I was afraid to ask, because I feared to hear that they had to put him down or something. I hoped and wished he was still alive. I walked up to the font desk and asked one of the staff members in his uniform and he said he can’t help me without an ID number. I’d forgotten to write it down, so I started looking up the number on my phone, but had really bad reception inside the building. I described him, I mean, this dog is huge and how can’t you know anything about him? He is very eye-catching and you don’t take a Mastiff like him in every day. He was taken in on May 25 and nobody knew anything. My friend asked again, and the guy in the blue uniform was helping others in the meantime. A woman reminded me: “We need the ID number”. It took forever to load the pages. Then the man with the black shoulder long hair said: Ok let me see in the back. After 5 minutes he came out with an ID card and said: Is this the dog you are looking for? ME: “Yes, that’s him”. He: “Oh, he just got adopted yesterday! I was looking at him and didn’t really buy it, and he showed me the kennel card with a red mark: ‘ADOPTED’. I took a deep breath and wanted to hug the man (I didn’t do it of course). BOBO made it, what a relief.
I’m asking: Why do you have a back area where other dogs (not open to the public) are kept and just waiting for their death? Why do you hand out wrong information and rob a dog of the chance to get adopted? Why do you know so little about the dogs in your shelter and why do you not care? How can you not know anything about a 154 lb. dog? Why did I receive 3 different versions until I got the information I was trying to get? What kind of service is this, for an institution described as ‘Animal Services’?
Everyone who is involved in animal welfare, runs a non-profit rescue, pulls dogs out for a rescue, fosters dogs or just visits shelters like me as a caring individual, knows what I’m talking about. Why is nobody out in the kennel area? No excuses, please. In the 1 1/2 hours I saw at least 3 people who were really interested in dogs. It’s like going to a car dealer and walking around for an hour looking at cars, reading the detail cards and waiting for the sales guys. Do you think the car dealer would sell a car that way? In this case, these are not cars, these are living creatures waiting for a 2nd chance, a new home to rescue them from a kill shelter.
A young couple was looking for a dog and going through the kennels over and over again, an overexcited woman who fell in love with one of the puppies and talking loudly to her mom begged her to let her bring the little puppy home, another family walked around looking for little dogs. I had the desire to help these people and ask them what they were looking for and show them some dogs myself. They were looking for someone, trying to find a person who could assist them.
Everything was happening outside in the kennel area, while the complete staff was inside. Incompetent and bored staff members, annoyed by the questions of clients, potential adopters and people who just cared about these imprisoned animals and wanted to know more. Every time, I just wanted to kick someone for his/her false information, ignorance or incompetence.
It was 3:30 pm on a not busy Thursday afternoon and I couldn’t find any staff member to ask questions, they were all hanging out at the lobby and answering phone calls and pretending being super stressed and busy. All 5 of them;). Shelter Volunteer Sarah was great, she showed me 3 dogs and we hung out with them to give them some time and love outside the cages. She helped me a lot that day… and she was the only person I could find. The shelter volunteers, however, were sweating and working hard. One of them told me last time that he always picks up hamburgers for the dogs who get killed that day. They are not allowed to handle every dog, just the ones with the specific signs on the kennel cards.
I left the fancy prison in the Valley, many dogs trapped in cages, 70% Pit Bull Mixes. My camera in hand, loaded with pictures and videos. My thoughts were with all the sweet dogs and cats left behind. My heart was heavy and my eyes full of tears; I was happy that BOBO the mastiff made it out, and thank you to the family who adopted him!
The dogs shown in this post are some of the dogs up for adoption at the East Valley Shelter in Van Nuys, California. Please also read Thomas Cole’s article about no-kill’s limitations and Josh Liddy’s article confusion is a consistent trait of la county.