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This is the interview with Jessica Stout, about animal rights, on Monday Night Radio. Monday Night Radio is an online (Internet-based) talk radio show where different experts are interviewed, and people around the world can listen via the Internet, and call in to talk with the expert, and ask them questions.
The Internet Patrol’s Anne P. Mitchell, Esq., is the host of Monday Night Radio.
This Monday Night Radio show with Jessica Stout was first aired on 8/16/10. In addition to reading the interview below, you can listen to the recorded show via iTunes – where you can also subscribe to the podcast of all of the recorded shows. Here is the iTunes link: http://www.MondayNightRadio.com/ref/MNR-iTunes.
Links to the guest’s website and book, if any, are at the end of the interview.
Female 1: Blog Talk Radio.
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Male 1: You are listening to Now You Know; talk radio where you get to ask the questions. Call us now at 877-NYKRADIO.That’s 8776957234. And now here are your hosts, Anne Mitchell and Bryan McCullough.
Bryan: Well that’s us. Hey, Anne!
Anne: Hey, Bryan, how are you?
Bryan: Well I am so very excited I can’t even tell you. I’ve really been giddy all day about this show, I can’t wait.
Anne: Wow. I’m really glad to hear that. I have to ask you though, how come you always get second billing?
Bryan: Because, your name starts with an A and my name starts with a B.
Anne: Well if we go alphabetically by last names you actually would come just a scosche before me.
Bryan: Yes, but I always will defer to beauty, so you will always trump me there. So forever and ever, you will be primary billing in our relationship and I’m ok with that. I’ve come to grips.
Anne: Well thank you. I appreciate that very much. Hey we have got something new for this show. Do you want to tell everyone about our exciting new vanity phone number?
Bryan: Well it’s interesting that you say that because being that this is our first show I think that everything is new, correct? I mean we did have one fake show last week. What you did today was really exciting, yes, we have a vanity number. I’m so excited about it. The show is Now You Know, and we have a number for you to call in right now, 877-NYKRADIO 8776957234. And this show is really going to be not as interesting if we don’t have folks call in and ask people questions. That’s kind of what we are trying to do here, the intent of this show is to bring in experts from various fields, top of the line people that know a lot about whatever their field is and then give folks a chance to call in and ask them questions. I think it’s going to be a unique experience, because you are going to have access to people that you wouldn’t have otherwise. A lot of people follow technology podcasts or technology shows or medical shows but this is going to be kind of a smorgasbord of a bunch of different folks and so I’m excited about it. So, Anne, I’m really excited about who you were able to snag for tonight’s show.
Anne: Oh, I am very excited about that too. But, before we go on to our expert for this week, I just want to say one other thing about this phone number because it is really cool that this phone number has a secret identity. Actually it being the call in number for the show, so guests can call in to talk to the experts and ask them questions, that’s its secret identity. Its regular identity, the other 22 hours and six days of the week, is it’s the place that anyone can call in and tell us what you think. Call 877-NYKRADIO and let us know what’s on your mind. And, it doesn’t have to be a guest request. It can be anything if you’ve got a rant, if you’ve got something that you just are dying to say to someone or it’s going to burst out of you. Call us and tell us what you think about anything at all.
Bryan: What’s great about that is that we will of course play some of the more interesting ones on the air, but something might come up that somebody wants to talk about that will spark us to find an expert for that. So, it could be a request or it could just be a vent or a rant or whatever. We’d love to hear it, because then we can do something with it. Either play it or find an expert or just laugh about it. That number is 877-NYKRADIO.8776957234. Please call in if you are listening. Of course at this point you may not know why you would call in. So, Anne, why don’t you fill us in on what we are going to be discussing tonight.
Anne: I am so very excited to have this woman on our show. She is an amazing woman who is doing incredible things for animals. She has been working in the animal rescue field for years. She’s worked at some of the top shelters in the country. She has been in charge of the county animal control, taking care of the animals. And I think she’s got some stories she can tell us about how she even went the extra mile to help some animals to make sure that they got homes and she is just an incredible person. She is writing two books. She runs fashion shows for animals. She is just all that. Her name is Jessica Stout. Jessica, are you there?
Jessica: I am here.
Anne: Now, Jessica, one of the things that I wanted to say is that you have written an article. It’s called, “Confessions of a Euthanasia Technician”. That article on the Internet has garnered so many comments, so much attention. I’ve read the article; I have to say that it was a very hard thing to read, but so necessary to read. Really the comments that you get from that article are just astonishing. It’s a chord that you have struck. The depth of emotion, you have really tapped in to something. The people who work at animal shelters, at humane societies, who day in and day out have to put other people’s pets to sleep because those people turn them in for whatever reason. Either they had to, or you certainly have stories, I know, where perhaps it didn’t have to end that way, heartbreaking. But, those people, no one really thinks about them or what they go through. I’m wondering if you’d like to start by talking about that a little bit.
Jessica: You know that is exactly where I’d like to start. Euthanasia technicians and animal shelter workers and animal rescue workers in general are really unsung heroes. When people think of animal shelters, especially city and county run shelters that are not necessarily humane societies or ASPCAs or other non-profit organizations, they tend to get demonized. It’s unfortunate because nobody has really had the opportunity yet to put themselves in the shoes of people that do that work. I myself in my time of working in shelters have been called every name in the book, “animal killer” and more that I can’t repeat on this radio station. And the fact of the matter is, that people don’t consider, is the reason that you are there is because you love animals. It’s a very strange dichotomy, because you are there because you love animals and you want to help them and the other side of that coin is that you are having to kill them. It’s an unfortunate situation where you’re not even heard. Euthanasia technicians and animal shelter workers have the most important things to say. Their voices are the ones that should be heard because they are on the front lines everyday. Dealing with what they deal with, but unfortunately what they have to say, the impact of what they have to say and the importance of what they have to say is often lost in the fact of what they do, because to people who love animals killing an animal is such a reprehensible thing to have to do. People often just get caught up on the fact that that’s what we do, we kill animals. So unfortunately that tends to overshadow the important information that we have to get out there about the reason that we have to kill animals. There is a very serious missing that I think if we could bridge that gap it could be a huge help to furthering our cause to reducing the numbers of euthanasia, reducing the population that is expansive right now.
Bryan: Let me ask you a question. What is your background, Anne might know this better than I in terms of how did you get interested in working with animals and working with animal shelters? What has driven you to this point? I’d like to understand where you are coming from historically so that I can identify with what you are going through and dealing with today.
Jessica: Absolutely. If we want to take it really back, it started when I was about seven or eight. I started performing health exams on our household cats. I remember keeping records for them. They weren’t as comprehensive as they probably should have been, but they were there none the less.
Bryan: Maybe more comprehensive than know about.
Jessica: So, I’ve had a love for animals and wanting to advocate ever since I was a child. I started volunteering for a veterinary hospital when I was fourteen years old every weekend when I was in high school. I like to say back before they had those pesky child labor laws. I was actually allowed to volunteer at that time. Of course at that time I just did check-ins, check people into the rooms and taking temperatures. It was a wonderful start in getting submerged in that. Immediately after high school I got a job with the humane society in Silicon Valley where I started off as an adoption counselor and from there I went into our health check, where we gave health exams to all of the incoming animals. At that time I also started working on my two year degree for veterinary technology. Then I became a veterinary technician. From there I went into emergency veterinary medicine and I worked for the San Francisco ASPCA. I worked in their emergency overnight intensive care unit. From there I was recruited by the U.C. Davis animal shelter program to head up the animal care program for Swano(sp) County animal control. Now I’m actually working for Born Free USA, which is a national non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of wild and exotic animals in captivity and entertainment.
Bryan: (garbled speech) So that’s really quite an in-depth history that you’ve got with animals. Let’s give that number again. So based on that experience, what might you want to talk to people about if they are thinking about calling in? What would be the subjects people ask that you would want to discuss?
Jessica: Unfortunately, I am having some problems. Can you repeat that? It’s fading out a little bit.
Bryan: I’ll try again. What would some subjects be that people that would call in to talk to you about now that you’ve given us your history and kind of what you are doing now if people are interested in calling 877-NYKRADIO? What might they ask you and what would you like to discuss?
Jessica: The whole premise of what I am doing at this current juncture at my career is what I really want to get out there is what we as shelter workers and euthanasia technicians are up to. That being said, it’s not that I want to throw in your face that this is what we do every day in terms of giving the gory little details. It’s a matter of saying that the public has really been coddled to an extent of being sheltered from what really goes on and the harsh reality behind the pet over population issue. My main goal is getting out the word of what goes on and the reality of what is faced at shelters every day so that there is a better understanding of not only how broad the issue is, but in putting in a sense a heart to the idea of what shelter workers and euthanasia technicians are. There is this feeling that we are this horrible, mean, cold animal killers and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jessica: In fact we are there because we love animals. It breaks our hearts. To be completely frank, one shelter I worked at, one euthanasia technician took his own life at the shelter. I’ve seen several shelter workers turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate what they are going through. There is something called compassion fatigue disorder which is really rampant in shelters right now. The harsh reality is that again they are the unsung heroes of the shelter world. I want to bridge that gap so that people have a better understanding of why we do what we do and how we can start to minimize that. Further, within the animal shelter world itself and euthanasia technicians getting the word out there about compassion fatigue disorder. What it is what it looks like, the symptoms of it, so that people that are suffering from it can get treatment and get help.
Bryan: That’s interesting. Like you said, I haven’t thought too much about this. Someone that loves animals, you go into this line of work and now 90-95 percent of the animals you see are probably in distress of some type.
Jessica: Exactly. One thing that is really interesting to consider is that there is a trend in people that get into advocacy. And one thing that I’ve noticed, and one thing that has been noted frequently among compassion fatigue, those who work specifically in compassion fatigue, is that those who work animal advocacy or any sort of advocacy where the advocating on behalf of a victim have generally been or have oftentimes been a victim themselves at some point. It’s not uncommon for them to get into a situation where they are now advocating for a victim without necessarily having gotten the appropriate help to manage around what happened to them whatever it may have been. So, a lot of times what we see is a very high level of burnout because they are getting into the situation where they are trying to help other let’s say victims, animal victims of abuse, cruelty, neglect. When they see the magnitude of the situation and how bad it can really be, they are in a sense being victimized all over again because they are put in a situation where they are powerless to help. That can really wreak havoc on somebody’s psyche if they don’t have a positive handle on it, if they don’t have appropriate outlets and resources to deal with it, there is an extremely high level of burnout in this field.
Anne: Jessica, let me ask you a question, because what you are talking about is animal shelter workers having to put down pets, animals that as far as I understand often there is really nothing wrong with them other than no one wanted them or their owner surrendered them. Why don’t these people just take their animals to no kill shelters where they can just live forever until they die naturally?
Jessica: Well the think with no kill shelters, and I don’t want to generalize too much because there’s no kill shelters, than there’s the sanctuaries, and then there’s animal rescues. What is very important to know is that these are all different things in general. What we look at with no kill shelters, there are a few things, one is yes, there are some no kill shelters where it is more like a sanctuary. The animal is there for as long as they need until they find a home or not, but we run into in these situations is that it can very quickly become a hoarding situation. The animals are hoarded and the animals are not being cared for appropriately in terms of their medical needs, their exercise needs, and anything else that they might need to live a comfortable and humane life. That can happen at times. The other thing to be honest that I’ve run into several times in my career is that how no kill shelters can get away with being no kill is that they don’t kill animals on their premises. Meaning that what they do is a lot of them will have contracts with a local animal control facility that is run by the county or city. This means that any animals that need to be euthanized are sent to the animal control to be euthanized so they are not actually euthanized at the no kill shelter. So the no kill shelter can still maintain their no kill status. To be completely frank when I’ve worked at a county run facility we had one of those contracts with a no kill shelter and there was a day when they actually brought us about 72 cats to be euthanized in one day.
Anne: So what you are saying is that when I take my pet to a no kill shelter because I want to make sure that my pet doesn’t get euthanized just because it’s one too many cats or dog, and I hasten to add I would not ever take one of my animals to a shelter because I believe when you adopt an animal it’s for life but if I were someone who felt they had no other option, what you are saying is that I would be believing that my animal was going to get to live out it’s life naturally I would be relying on that. Once I left, and walked out the door they might be taking my cat or dog and shipping it off somewhere else to be euthanized.
Jessica: What is important to understand is that once you leave that animal at that shelter it is legally theirs and they can do whatever they want with it. So yes that can absolutely happen. Does it happen every time? Is every no kill shelter like that? Absolutely not. But the thing to remember is this; there are literally tens of millions of animals euthanized in the United States every year. To think that it is possible that there are enough no kill shelters to manage all of these animals the duration of their life makes absolutely no sense. That’s just not possible. I would love it if the numbers were that possible. Anybody who works in animal sheltering and rescue would love it if that were possible, but it’s just not possible. So, that leaves two option, either they’re hoarding a lot of animals and perhaps it’s not the most ideal situation for the animals or they’re having to find other options. That being said, I’ve come across a lot of sanctuaries and no kill facilities that do a wonderful job. But then, the trade-off there is that they don’t accept any animal. They accept the animals that are considered adoptable, because they know they have a good chance of being able to move them out. If you look at your city and county shelters, they have to accept anything that comes through their doors, whether it’s dogs, cats, ferals, wildlife, livestock, you name it, they accept it. But, no kill facilities and sanctuaries can be choosy and that’s a luxury that works really well for them. But, if you just look at the shear numbers, pure logic tells you unfortunately a completely no kill nation is just not feasible at this time.
Bryan: Alright, we are talking with Jessica Stout who is an animal rights advocate. She has been working in the animal rights advocacy arena for most of her life. If you want to call and ask her a question, the number is 877-NYKRADIO. That’s 8776957234. I’m thinking, Jessica, somebody that might be interested in calling in might be somebody that adopted an animal and maybe hasn’t thought through the whole process. And is, “Well gosh in five or ten years, when this animal is really old what do I need to do?” Hopefully they are like Anne who says, “I’m adopting it for life. I’ll keep it until the animal dies.” But do you see people on a daily or a weekly basis that maybe just don’t know how to care for their animal anymore or they’re moving or what are the different examples of reasons people might need to find one of these shelters and take their animals to?
Jessica: Absolutely one of the number one reasons that dogs are returned to shelters is for behavior reasons. Almost every time it is because that dog did not go through basic obedience training. We cannot impress enough that when a dog leaves a shelter once you’ve adopted an animal, even if you buy it from a breeder, training is key. Yes, the puppy is cute when he’s eight weeks old when he’s ten pounds, but when he’s a 70 pound dog that’s untrained and very strong, he can quickly become a lot of room in your house. So, one of the number one reasons that we get is because the animal is untrained and it’s usually turned in for behavior problems. This is unfortunate because to be quite honest at that point the owner has failed their dog, because there is no reason. You don’t buy a new car without doing a lot of research on picking the right car. Just as much if not more research should go into bringing a new life into your house. Secondly we get a lot of people that turn in their animals because they are moving. Unfortunately we see a lot of displaced animals. When you are in the throes of say something like during the summer time when it’s something we call kitten season, and we are getting kittens by the box load through the door, your five year old cat that you are abandoning because you’re moving is not going to have a good chance of getting adopted. Because, quite honestly a cute kitten next to an adult cat, it’s pretty hard to compete.
Anne: That’s so sad.
Jessica: It’s unfortunate, it really is. It’s one of those things where a lot of the times shelters really have to shelter the owners from what occurs and what’s so in terms of the chances of adoptability. Like I said, I am at the point where it just seems that that dialogue needs to be opened. The fact is that a lot of owner surrenders…One thing to keep in mind is that in a lot of states whereas there is a stray hold period that if an animal is a stray they have to be held for so long before they can be evaluated to either be put up for adoption or put down or sent to rescue. If an animal is an owner surrender, that owner is there to turn over ownership to the shelter, so that any decisions that are made on behalf of the animal are made straight away.
Anne: So let me ask you a question, Jessica. You said that the shelters are trying to shelter the owner from the reality, but why? Because don’t you think that if the owner really knew the truth that they would be perhaps less likely to surrender?
Jessica: You would think that. The thing is that oftentimes they are already defensive when they get there, because they feel guilty that they are giving up their animal. But, sometimes it’s shelter policy depending on the shelter. If it’s a shelter that relies on donations, it may be hard to strike that balance between making sure that people are very clear where things stand and making sure that you aren’t losing on a potential donation. Let me clarify to say that it is not because the shelter is looking to make a profit, they actually lose money on each animal. So it’s vital. Donations are very vital. Oftentimes if it is a city or county run shelter those directives on what you can and can’t say may be coming from a higher authority that’s not even in animal control. If you are a part of general services, they don’t really understand the actual runnings of a shelter, and then you are up against a lot of red tape in terms of policies that go on within the shelter.
Bryan: Let me ask you this. I am not an animal guy. We don’t have pets. I had a dog growing up, but I married a woman who doesn’t like stray hair. I think she married me because I was already bald when we met. She just doesn’t like mess. Chock that up for what you will, she’s a horrible person, whatever. But, the point is I don’t have a lot of exposure with this. So I have a question, I don’t think you want to say, and I don’t think you are saying this, that everybody that brings an animal to a shelter is a bad person or that it’s the wrong thing to do. It is true that in times the person has failed the animal and they didn’t give proper training things like that, but here’s an example. You tell me if this would fit in as maybe a correct reason to bring an animal to you. My in-laws have a dog, and they’ve had this dog gosh probably 18 years and it’s diabetic. So, it has hundreds of dollars a month of medical expenses. My in-laws fortunately are able to provide that, but I can easily see where somebody would not be able to afford that. And, in that case what is that person to do with that animal? Just let them die, take them into the vet to be put down, or what would be the reasonable course of action be in that situation?
Jessica: If an animal has an illness and it’s a chronic illness that is going to be ongoing, costly medical care, turning it into the shelter is not going to get it that medical care. It is more than likely going to be euthanized unless it’s a situation where depending on the treatment and how old the animal is and what breed it is, it could perhaps be sent to rescue. Rescue groups that rescue certain breeds, there’s breed rescue groups, rescue groups that rescue senior dogs or black dogs, or there’s a rescue out there for a lot of different types of dogs. So there is a chance that perhaps it’s something where they can be sent to rescue. Some shelters may have, if they have a good budget and they are a non-profit entity they may have the budget to be able to treat the animal until it gets adopted out and in special circumstances adopt it out to a family that is willing to take on its medical care. If I were to see an 18 year old animal that is an unregulated diabetic, likely no, it’s going to be put to sleep. So then the question is, is it more fair to put that animal to sleep at the shelter with strangers, or is it more fair to take it to the vet where it can be in a less stressful environment without a ton of dogs barking around it and with people that they know to say goodbye to them.
Anne: You are listening to Jessica Stout on Now You Know Radio. You can call us at 877-NYKRADIO. But you can also tweet us at @nowyouknowradio. So, if you have a question for Jessica Stout, she has written “Confessions of a Euthanasia Technician.” She is working on two books now. She works in the animal rescue and rights field. If you have a question for her call in or send us a tweet.
Bryan: Ok, I have a question for you, Anne.
Anne: Not you! For me? Ok.
Bryan: Yeah, I have a question for you because as technologically advanced as I am in many areas, Twitter still escapes me for a number of reasons. I know how to send my own tweets with my own tweets with my own account but when you tell me to tweet @nowyouknowradio, tell me how that works. I wouldn’t know how to do that even though I do know how to send my own tweets.
Anne: Well that is all you do. You put in the beginning of your tweet you put the @nowyouknowradio and then a space and your message and it will come directly to us.
Bryan: That’s all you do.
Anne: That’s all you do.
Bryan: Ok. I was trying to make it more complex. Alright now, sidebar over, continue.
Anne: You are always trying to make things more complicated, Bryan.
Bryan: I guess so. Let’s see what this button does.
Anne: Bryan, I see that we have a caller with a question.
Bryan: Yes, and I was waiting for you to start talking Jessica again so that I could safely and quietly jump into the call screening room and talk to whoever this person is. Well thanks for calling out my inadequacies.
Anne: I am going to ask Jessica a question. In fact I am going to ask her two questions. It’s a two part question, Jessica. I’m wondering…I know that you have had many experiences that are really very sad and have made you, rightly so, pretty unhappy, and you’ve also had some experience with some really nice happy endings where they might not have had you not interceded. I’m wondering if you could please tell us first a story, something that you really think people ought to know that happened that shouldn’t have happened that was a travesty of justice. But, quickly follow that with a story that has a nice happy ending so that we don’t bum too many people out for too long.
Jessica: Yes. To answer your first question, one of the situations that stands out in my mind is a situation where we were extremely full on dogs and we had a gentleman bring in ten-eight week old pit-bull puppies that his female dog had given birth to. He brought them in to be euthanized, and the reason that he wanted them to be euthanized is because he was going on vacation. He did not want to pay for a pet sitter. The law is that if an owner brings in their animal and signs them to be euthanized we legally have to euthanize them. The fact of the matter is that even if we wanted to break the law and go against that they were ten-eight week old pit-bull puppies. Generally I am very cautious about adopting them out, not because I think they are a bad breed or anything like that, but the location that I was in, the city that we serviced; we got some pretty unsavory characters in there wanting to adopt pit-bulls for some pretty unsavory reasons. So, as it was I tend to be very cautious about adopting pit-bull or pit-bull type dogs out. When possible I wanted to send them to rescue. Certainly those rescues are always full, and it would be really hard for them to place ten puppies. But back to the original point that we were actually required to put them down.
Anne: That’s heartbreaking!
Jessica: It was extremely heartbreaking. It was ten new lives that could have been prevented had they spayed the dog or didn’t let her breed. But, they did and it was one of those situations as a euthanasia technician that you get a little bitter and say, “You know what I am tired of cleaning up after your mess. This is your doing and now you get to go on vacation scot-free while I kill ten puppies and cry in my car for an hour.”
Bryan: You know, Jessica, that’s a really interesting perspective. Stuff like that has never even crossed my mind. We’ve got a caller, Rob, who called in 877-NYKRADIO, 8776957234, call in if you want to talk, that’s got a very interesting question, I think that fits in very well to that story. So, Rob, if you are with us the floor is yours. Jessica is here to talk to you.
Caller #1: Hi, Jessica.
Jessica: How are you?
Caller #1: I am very good too, but that’s not my main question for the show.
Jessica: (laughing) Ok. That was easy!
Caller #1: Well I just wanted to ease you into it, but here’s my question. What are your thoughts about certifying people for pet ownership? What might be the pros and cons of that?
Jessica: I’m going to ask you first what you mean by certifying people.
Caller #1: So, when I got my cat, I made a commitment for life, either my life or their life.
Caller #1: To me it seems sort of foreign to me that people would adopt a pet and at a later date say, “Oh I’m moving now. I don’t want to put them in the shelter so I’ll just let them loose on the street. Or, like the example you just gave, a person has all these pets, doesn’t want to pay to get a sitter, and so decides to euthanize them. So, what I am suggesting here, what are your thoughts on the notion of saying that in order for a person to be a pet owner they have to achieve some kind of certification as a pet owner, like a license. They can’t have a pet without this. The process of being certified would be to minimize these problems that we are seeing with pet ownership.
Jessica: Gotcha. You know, I think that is a really interesting concept. Where we might run into some issues is a few places. One is resources. Most shelters, I almost want to venture to say all, but I’ll say most shelters are chronically understaffed, especially if they are run by a city or county, because one thing to understand that animal control for any city or county is a black hole financially. As such they tend to get very minimal in terms of the funding that they are allotted every year in the budget, and therefore the way that they staff their shelter is on a minimal budget. So, one of the things you’re going to have to look at is what are the resources that are going to be involved in doing some kind of pet certification. Even with volunteers, unfortunately there are always those amazing volunteers that are there faithfully to do their shift and we love them for it. A lot of times we run into volunteers that are maybe there for a month or two, come when they can, realize it’s a huge commitment and then they kind of fade away into the background. So sometimes it can be a volunteer management issue, where we say, “Ok if we want to something like a pet certification program, what resources to we have available to us without volunteers? How would the resources expand if we got volunteers? But then what might we run into if we didn’t have viable volunteers that were willing to stick and give the commitment?” The other side of that would be then if we were to certify someone as a pet owner, what would be the penalty if they went against that? In a lot of states, California included, while there are some laws for egregious acts against animals in terms of abuse or torture, things like that, animals are seen as property. So they are not seen as living beings that can feel physical pain and can be stressed or sad or depressed or anything like that. That’s why a lot times you see a situation where there was a dog fight or someone hit somebody else’s dog with a car and killed them, the most penalties that the victim is awarded is the cost of the animal. There is never any pain or suffering awarded, or rarely if it’s in a state where they are considered material possessions. You get a very basic, you paid $60 for the adoption fee for this animal, this is what you get. And of course any vet bills that need to be reimbursed. So then the question would be how we would enforce that to say that you went against your agreement to be this licensed guardian so now you have to do XYZ. There’s really not going to be a lot of enforcement on that side of it. So there are those two things that could run into it. So, I think the concept is a wonderful concept. It’s just one that needs to be flushed out to see what does that look like. The other side of that is, if it seems too daunting, would that scare off adopters? As it is most shelters have an adoption questionnaire that needs to be filled out. Sometimes people coming in are like, “Wow I understand but jeeze this is a lot to go through, it’s like I’m adopting a child.” That’s really there in place to see how serious you are about adopting an animal. Are you willing to go through this to understand the life and the responsibility you are taking on? But if it gets to the point that people are saying, “Ok gosh, this is a lot of hoops that I am jumping through to adopt an animal.” We might actually see adoptions decline a little bit.
Anne: Jessica, can you tell us now one of the uplifting stories you have?
Jessica: Sure! I will actually tell one of my favorite stories about a bulldog who I call Chance. I’ll give the very condensed version because the longer more detailed version is on my website confessionsfromtheanimalshelter.com. It’s about a bulldog that came into one of the shelters for which I work. He came in with five other dogs. The dogs had gotten out of the neighbor’s yard and this had been strike three. A couple of the dogs had attacked and killed chickens. They weren’t sure which dogs did it. Because these dogs had gotten out before, they were all deemed dangerous and all condemned to be put to sleep. There was one particular dog in the bunch who I called Chance. He was an American bulldog. He was just the most polite, sweetest dog that I had ever met in my life. He quickly became a staff favorite. We just couldn’t believe that he was this mean, old, horrible, chicken killer. On a whim we took him into the barnyard area where we had some chickens and very cautiously tested him with those chickens, and he really could not have cared less about those chickens. We felt very confident at that point that he didn’t have a strong prey drive that would cause him to chase chickens and kill them. At the same time there was a bomb detection that came through. They were looking for dogs that would test well for bomb detection, which wasn’t uncommon; they came through from time to time. They zeroed in on him fairly quickly, and he tested well. But, unfortunately he was condemned to die by the judge. What we did, I’ll let you in on a little secret that does happen in shelters from time to time, is we put him in what we call the doggy protection program. By all accounts he was euthanized as we stated he was, but in reality he was quietly slipped into the bomb squad where he is now a bomb detection dog.
Bryan: Well that’s fantastic. That would seem…As some may know I am a video media producer by day and to me that just sounds like an incredible documentary story of watching…I’m sure if you go with a camera crew into a shelter, I’m sure you’re going to get nine out of ten heartbreaking stories, but maybe you’ll get that one incredible story like you just shared, that really just makes your heart sing. I guess you couldn’t share it then cause then cause then his cover would be blown.
Jessica: Exactly. I have to say though that it’s those stories that keep us going. It really is. It’s one of those things that, every shelter worker has done it. We’ve all done that one little thing where it’s just an altruistic move. Ok, I understand that this is the law but this isn’t right. Quite frankly, when you are working in a situation where you are advocating on behalf of those that can’t speak for themselves, you tend to buck the system of what is right and wrong in society’s eyes or the court’s eyes or legal code’s eyes. That’s ok because we are not the actual animal control officers so we didn’t take a vow. (laughs)
Anne: Jessica, we just had a question come in through our Twitter feed. The question is do you feel that the penalties that people who abuse their animals receive are strong enough?
Jessica: No, not at all, and I’ll give you a good example. One of my first foster dogs, Pele, a little pit-bull, she was called into 911 actually by the neighbors of her owner because she had been chained in the back yard and the chain had been wrapped around her neck and she was choking. By the time animal control got there she was in shock and they had also found that her owners had poured a very caustic acid on her back, and they had cut her face with a knife several times. By the time she got to the vet hospital she was almost dead. They were able to work on her very quickly and they did save her life. Then what happened is poor, little Pele was stuck in the shelter as an evidence hold. Unfortunately with a lot of evidence holds, depending on where you are, they have to stay there in the shelter. So after Pele had been through this extremely traumatic event she had to try to heal in a very noisy, very crowded shelter. She was an evidence hold that couldn’t be sent to rescue right away or into foster care while her owners were awaiting their court date, which kept being pushed back. In the end she was in the shelter for about six months before we finally went to the judge and said, “Look this is unfair she needs to go into a foster care.” So she came home with me. I fostered her. She received constructive surgery on her back to repair the burns that were left by the acid. When her owners got to court their punishment was a $500 fine and that was it. So, no I don’t unfortunately think that for the most part people are fined enough or given enough punishment for cruelty to animals. One is because a lot of times we see that cruelty to animals can lead to much bigger things. Most serial killers, or psychopaths or sociopaths that are diagnosed as being violent, oftentimes they started with animals. So I don’t think it’s something that we take seriously enough. The other thing is that beyond saying that in order to be in legal compliance with keeping your animal you have to give them food, water and shelter and that’s about it. To go beyond that and assess criminal damages for pain and suffering would then take them from having to be labeled as property to being labeled as beings, and there is a lot of push back on that from a lot of the organizations such as the agricultural side of things, they have cows and other livestock that they actively slaughter. So if we were to say that dogs and cats are living, feeling beings that if there is an act of cruelty and they are slaughtered so if somebody should be criminalized for that it’s a slippery slope in their mind to say that if it’s not ok to slaughter cats and dogs then why is it ok to slaughter cows and pigs. Unfortunately special interest groups have a lot of money to fight initiatives that are brought up to consider domestic animals as beings that can feel pain and emotional, physical, mental pain, that would allow us to then enforce stricter rules.
Bryan: That brings up an interesting question that I have, Jessica, are you a vegetarian or vegan or on that side of the aisle?
Jessica: I am.
Bryan: Well let me ask my question so you can see where I am coming from. Is it possible for someone to be an animal lover, a pet lover, but also understand that we kill cows and we kill pigs for food and that kind of a thing? Or to you is that a difficult line to walk?
Jessica: You know, here’s the thing, what I’ve realized is it’s really just a matter of the realm and the reality that each person lives in. I am not going to say…You know me being a vegetarian is a personal choice. I am definitely not one of those people that if I go out to dinner with you and you order a burger, I’m going to shoot you daggers across the table all night. Because, again, it’s a personal choice. Do I advocate for it? Sure. Do I preach about it? No, I don’t. That’s not my thing. That’s not what I do. I’m not going to sit there and say that somebody that I know who eats meat that has a cat doesn’t love their cat, because that’s ridiculous. What I will say is perhaps they haven’t made that connection to consider that farm animals have the capacity to care for their owners and have affectionate thoughts and behaviors just like cats and dogs do. Which we know they do, if you know much about live stock. But I’m certainly not going to (inaudible) people who eat animals but also love another type of animal because we are not in their heads and we don’t know how they consider that and think about it.
Bryan: Well it’s an interesting scenario because you’ve got…and I don’t want to say anything specific so that I don’t particularly offend or get incorrect…but there’s certain cultures in the world that for example eat dog. We Americans, we hear that and it completely revolts us. What, how could you possibly consider doing that, but then we are eating other animals. Just for complete clarity, I am not a vegetarian. I would be the one ordering the burger across the table from you, but I also love dogs and I love cats. I guess I haven’t made the connection yet. I don’t know what my mental capacity is for not quite bridging that gap whatever it is. But, it’s interesting. Is it cultural? Is that why we don’t think twice about killing a cow or a pig, but to think of somebody eating a dog is tantamount to an egregious crime. I don’t know where that comes from, if that is just a cultural thing or how that comes about.
Jessica: Well I think it is absolutely a cultural thing. To give you another comparison to drive that home for you is that a lot of people have cats and dogs that they love very much but they see nothing wrong with wearing fur. But, those same people would be horrified to know that a lot of the fur trim that is on their clothes is actually cat and dog that is imported from China, where they have cat and dog fur farms.
Anne: Are you serious?
Jessica: I am dead serious. In fact I just found out today that in Canada it is perfectly legal to use dog and cat fur as fur trims for garments and other fashion accessories. So, yeah, for us we can say that is the most horrid, wretched thing I’ve ever heard in my life. But, that is because we as a culture hold cats and dogs as companion animals. Whereas in China, where they have the cat and dog fur farms, they are seeing it as just their livelihood.
Anne: Jessica, this is a really good segue to a question I wanted to ask you, and then also we have another question from a listener. But because you are right now where you are in your conversation I wanted to ask you about one of the things I was reading about was that you first of all run something called FAB shows, which as I understand it you host, or create or put on fashion shows around the country that are to benefit local animal rescue organizations, local to wherever you are putting on the show. Is that right?
Jessica: That is correct.
Anne: And then related to that and this brings it back to what we were just talking about, I read that you have a new line of accessories that are coming out with feathers that are gathered…feathers that have fallen out through the natural course of molting from birds that are at sanctuaries and then the things that you sell made out of those feathers, some part of that goes back to help fund the sanctuaries. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Jessica: Yes, actually, the line that I am coming out with is called (inaudible) feathers. Right now I am working with the Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary, and what occurred to me with myself actually is that I am an admitted, I hoard clothes, accessories, jewelry, you name it, and I love it. That’s how FAB was actually born, was I brought my two loves together, fashion and animals. What I realized is that as much as I love feathers in my jewelry and accessories, it occurred to me that I never really thought about where it was coming from which goes back to what Bryan was saying. If you work in the one section of domestic animal issues, it may not actually occur to you to even think about the other issues. But what I found out is that indeed most of these feathers do come from slaughter houses and other not so savory situations. At the same time I also know a lot of wonderful wild bird sanctuaries. One of my colleagues Monica E(?) at Born Free USA is actually very active in our exotic bird campaign. She founded National Bird Day. She has been a wealth of information for me to learn about the issues with captive exotic birds. She directed me towards Matt Smith, who is the executive director for the Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary. So what I am working with him is he is actually sending me the feathers of their residents and they’re feathers that have naturally molted off of the bird, meaning they have just naturally fallen off. They are collecting and sending them to me. From there, what I am doing is I am making them into humane jewelry and other accessories. A portion of the proceeds goes back to the Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary. As well as with each piece comes a little informational piece that talks about the Parrot Sanctuary, their work, the kind of bird it came from and the plight that is faced by that particular bird.
Anne: So if people wanted to see this, and I have to say that is really, really cool. But, if people wanted to see these feather accessories or find out more about your fashion shows to benefit animals, where would they go?
Jessica: I am still in the creation process of the jewelry and the accessories. I am still in the production phase. What I would say is go to fabshows.org\blog and that is where I am going to continue to give updates and announcements about that. As well as you can actually go to the sanctuary website itself which is madmacaws.net and you can learn more about what they do and why we are helping them and what a wonderful sanctuary they are. If anything that I have said has piqued your interest in saying oh I didn’t was a place to buy captive exotic birds, I would highly encourage you to go to nationalbirdday.com and check out what they have to say and read a little about the illegal bird trade and exactly what does go on with the beautiful birds that we tend to see in pet shops.
Anne: That original site, that’s fabshows.org, right?
Jessica: Right. Fab, like you are so fab, darling!
Anne: (laughs) We have a quick question now from Bree and her question is how do you feel about the explosion of the rescue animal tv-type shows like Pit Boss and I know there have been some others as well. I know at one point there was going to be My Monkey Baby or something like that which thankfully I think ended up not happening. She is wondering about how you feel about those shows and whether you feel they could cause sort of a flurry of adoptions but for the wrong reasons, a negative reason for adopting. Her example was 101 Dalmatians, when that came out causing so many people to run out and adopt Dalmatians or people adopting bunnies at Easter but not cause they are thinking about a bunny is a multi-year long commitment. But, oh it’s so cute and fluffy. So, how do you feel about shows that sort of glorify perhaps the wrong aspect of being involved with animals like that?
Jessica: Well, I think it is important that we go back to what I originally said in that you put a lot of time and effort into researching what kind of car you’re going to get, so please do the same thing with animals when you are taking on a life. Especially, yes we saw them, when 101 Dalmatians came out the shelters got overrun with Dalmatians because what happened is that children saw this movie and said I want and parents said ok. In reality Dalmatians are not necessarily the best breed to get for kids. Dalmatians are wonderful dogs and they can be wonderful dogs. But the other thing to remember is that Dalmatians have a very high energy level and they need to be exercised. What we were finding is that a lot of people were getting these dogs to be “family dogs”. The dogs didn’t necessarily fit their lifestyle and then they ended up at the shelter. We saw the same thing that we are handling right now with Beverly Hills Chihuahua; we are now consequently overrun with Chihuahuas. So, yeah, unfortunately breeds become fads and it’s the animals that suffer in the end when people get the idea of getting a dog like it was some kind of handbag that they just saw in the latest issue of Vogue.
Anne: So, would you suggest, with 101 Dalmatians, the mom and the dad Dalmatian and the puppies, I mean they were wonderful with the kids. In Beverly Hills Chihuahua the Chihuahua talked, so I can definitely see where people might have been disappointed when their Chihuahua didn’t talk. I wonder if you would go so far as suggesting that Hollywood is actually is a bit irresponsible in terms of how they portray animals which then leads to these problems with the adoptions of the animals with wrong expectations.
Jessica: Absolutely. If you look at…Unfortunately the name is failing me, but there is a very popular recent Will Ferrell movie that involved basketball and there was a bear in that movie. The bear of course was trained and it seemed like a cool idea. Would you leave that movie saying, “I’m going to bring home a bear.” That bear after the movie ended up attacking and killing its trainer. Even the animals that we see on screen are not necessarily what we think they are and the other thing you have to consider is what methods are used to keep them in line to do what they do to perform.
Anne: Jess, we have…I’m sorry, Jess. Go ahead, Bryan, but we…
Bryan: Well you know I’m going to jump in, but this is not even a major point, but my right wing conservatism is rearing its ugly head. I just hate blaming stuff like Hollywood when if the easy answer is the people are stupid than that is where the blame needs to be put. I don’t really care from my perspective if a movie comes out that does show Dalmatians as great family animals, good with the kids, cute Chihuahuas that talk. It just comes back to what Jessica said, the people need to do the research on what they are going to do, they are the ones being stupid and making the mistake of bringing an animal into their life that doesn’t necessarily fit. I don’t want to take the responsibility away from them as kind of the point where this problem is created. Based on that, let me ask you this, if somebody does do research, they decide they want an animal, they bring it into their house, and if it is not working out, is it from your perspective then, well you agreed to adopt this animal so it is for life. You are going to keep it until one of you dies. Or are there situations where you’ve seen or that would be legitimate where this animal just isn’t fitting with our lifestyle we need to find somewhere where it does fit better. What are those kinds of situations and do those exist?
Jessica: (laughs) Absolutely I’ve seen situations where I’ve said, “Wow this is not a good situation.” Generally what we want to do is keep the best interests of the animal in mind and then keep the best interests of the family in mind. What I’ve asked people to do is say ok; I understand it’s not a fit. We don’t have a lot of room at the shelter to be quite honest if we put your animal back up for adoption that takes away from another animal. Would you be willing to foster this dog while we look for another home for it? Generally we can move it if we can find a rescue or we can find another home. If the family is committed to say, “Look it’s not working out for us, but we are committed to doing what we can to ensure that our responsibility to this animal continues to the point of making sure that it is safe and we do find a good fit for it then certainly I don’t fault them for that.
Bryan: Well now that’s interesting, so fostering, like I said I have not in my adult life had an animal, had a pet like a dog or a cat. We’ve had a slew of fish, but those typically we keep those until they are no longer with us. But fostering an animal that is something that exists. It’s a program?
Jessica: Oh it’s a huge program! God we need foster homes like you wouldn’t believe. If we can get an animal out of the shelter and into a foster, that is going to be an ideal situation, because it is so much less stress on the animal. It frees up space at the shelter for other animals to go up for adoption and you truly get an idea as an adopter what that animal is like in a home environment which is going to set them up for the best success for matching them with a family. If anybody takes anything away from tonight, it’s that if you have the capacity and the ability to foster a cat or a dog, please contact your local shelter or rescue group and sign up because it is such a selfless wonderful thing to do. There are great programs out there that will assist you. They usually cover all the food and medical expenses and everything. They just need a place for that animal to sleep at night. Bryan, poodles shed very little.
Anne: (laughs) (garbled) This actually leads into, it’s about time to wrap up. We are just so glad that you came and we hope that you will come back. But, I had a last question that I wanted to ask you. You just sort of led right into it, you’re just wonderful. The people out there listening who are like, “Wow I really want to do more for animals. I really want to get involved in animal rescue,” and really may not know where to start or really have any idea of what that means, what would you say to them?
Jessica: Foster if you can foster. If you can’t foster consider giving some of your time each week to the shelter to volunteer. They need people to walk the dogs and socialize with the cats to keep them happy and comfortable while they are there. Another thing, if you are really handy with computer, Twitter, Facebook, managing websites, usually they can always help and they need help in getting their animals that are available for adoption uploaded onto sites like petfinder.com or other similar sites that help them maximize their adoptions. So if you have any web experience that can always go to good use. The good old fashioned, throwing some catnip in and making little sock toys. There are so many things that you can do to help an animal even if you are allergic that would make all of the difference. What I would suggest you do is go onto the website of your local shelter and see what their needs are right now. A lot of times they have a wish list on there of things that they need like blankets and food. You can organize a food or a blanket drive. It can directly impact the quality of life for an animal. It means so much. So, there’s a couple of ways to help out and get involved.
Anne: That really can make a difference, even some of those smaller steps. I think people feel, they heard you say the thousands and thousands of animals that are euthanized every week or year. Or the ten puppies that came in that you had to put down because the owner didn’t want them and wanted to go on vacation. It just seems like such an insurmountable problem that I could see that people might feel like how can my little effort make any difference at all. But, you’re saying it really can make a real difference.
Jessica: I hate to be cheesy and go back to the starfish story of the person throwing the starfish back into water after they had washed up. The person said all of these starfish that are washed up how are you making a difference to all of them. The other person picked up the starfish and threw it in the water and said, “I made a difference to that one.” That’s so true. If you make a difference in the life of one shelter dog, even if that dog ends up getting euthanized, they were going to get euthanized and that’s unfortunate, ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away, but giving them a fluffy blanket, or a treat, or a toy to play with up until that point makes all of the difference in the world.
Bryan: I’ve got to imagine that anyone that does that is better off for having done it.
Bryan: So, they’re going to be enriched in their life. I’m just thinking of what a wonderful program to maybe introduce to churches and the elderly. They could take care of a cat or take care of dog for a few weeks or a few months, whatever it takes. This is great. My eyes are opened because I really had no idea of the fostering environment. So that is a pretty exciting thing for me to hear about.
Jessica: Yeah, it is wonderful. And there are some wonderful organizations out there like Seniors Saving Seniors. It’s senior citizens that are out there saving senior animals. What a program!
Bryan: That is great.
Anne: That is cool. So, Bryan, next week I look forward to hearing about the new foster fish that you are going to have.
Bryan: Yeah, we might.
Jessica: If I could just mention two more things really quickly. For anybody out there that is in the sheltering environment, I think it is really vital that you educate yourself on compassion fatigue syndrome which affects a numerous amount of shelter workers and rescue workers, and I wanted to direct you to compassionfatigue.org. Patricia Smith, the founder, she is a certified specialist in compassion fatigue. She has been doing this for over 20 years. She has several workbooks out and education books that are just amazing. There’s actually an interview with her on my website confessionsfromtheanimalshelter.com. Again, she is compassionfatigue.org and I believe that link is going to be posted. The other thing is for those of you that want to learn more about what life is like in the shelter, there is an amazing book by Tammy L. Harbolt(sp), and it is called Bridging the Bond: The Cultural Construction of the Shelter Pet. Tammy has rescued animals and is a shelter volunteer. She actually does very frank interviews with shelter workers and shelter volunteers, and does some really interesting investigations on the impact of the cultural construction of shelters. It offers wonderful insight. There is also going to be a link on that. So, I highly recommend checking out both of those amazing ladies, because they are just pioneers in this field. They are definitely something to add to your library if you are looking for some good reading.
Bryan: We’ll try to put all of these links up on our show notes and on our site blogtalkradio.com/nowyouknow
Jessica: Wonderful, thank you.
Anne: One more thing, would you please, what was your main site again?
Jessica: My site is confessionsfromtheanimalshelter.com.
Anne: Jessica, thank you so much for joining us.
Jessica: Thank you for having me.
Anne: This has been really eye opening. I hope you’ll come back.
Jessica: Thank you, I would love to come back. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you for the last hour.
Bryan: So, we are going to be set for next week, eleven p.m. eastern, eight p.m. pacific.
Anne: You got it.
Bryan: Ok. See you next week.
Anne: I’ll see you and your fish then, Bryan.
Bryan: Ok. Talk to you later.
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