December 5th 2019
Every day animal rescue organizations around the country receive emails and phone calls about animals who, through no fault of their own, find themselves homeless. The flow of animals into our nation’s shelters happens at an overwhelming rate — millions per year. Shelters work incredibly hard to find placements for the animals they take in. According to The Humane Society of the United States, we’ve come from a history of euthanizing an estimated 12-20 million cats and dogs every year in the 1970’s, to euthanizing less than one million shelter animals in 2017. While this progress is encouraging, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.
In North Carolina, more animals are euthanized in shelters than almost any other state in the country. Only two large landmass states, Texas and California, top North Carolina’s euthanasia numbers. A national study done by Best Friends Animal Society estimates that over 1,000 animals a week die in North Carolina shelters. At Brother Wolf, we receive requests every day from individuals as well as under-resourced and overcrowded shelters hoping we can take in animals. Some of those animals are facing euthanasia simply because their time is up.
Almost five years ago, Brother Wolf embarked on a capital campaign to build a sanctuary property. The administration at that time was aware that the organization was accumulating dogs who would not be able to be placed in a home setting. One of the driving forces behind the sanctuary project was to have a place for animals to land when adoption wasn’t a viable option.
These long-stay dogs have been living in a warehouse-turned-shelter waiting for Brother Wolf’s sanctuary property to be built. Sadly, the funds raised to build that sanctuary fell far short of what was needed and were spent on the planning phases of the project with few tangible outcomes. The project unfortunately had to be abandoned so that the organization could stabilize. We now have no sanctuary built for these dogs.
As of early December, we have dogs at Brother Wolf who are not adoption candidates. Almost all of them have been living in our shelter for over a year because they have aggression issues that cannot be fixed or cured.
Our longest stay dog has lived in this shelter for five years.
These dogs do not lead lives that any of us would want for our own animals. They spend up to 22 hours a day in isolation in their kennels as almost all of them are too dangerous to interact with other dogs, and most of them can only interact with a small group of staff or volunteers with expert handling skills due to their aggression. Most are on prescription medicine multiple times a day to help them cope with the life a dog must endure when sheltered long term.
We celebrate the good moments they have thanks to the hard work put in by our staff and volunteers, but it’s simply not enough. It’s not a life any dog should live for months or years on end.
We have to face the reality that by this point, they are being warehoused.
Due to this situation, we worked with a nationally recognized animal behaviorist to develop canine behavioral adoptability guidelines. This is our commitment to do what is right, knowing that what is right is not always easy or popular. As an animal rescue organization, we have a responsibility to make safe adoption placement decisions for the people and animals we share our community with. All of the dogs we care for are evaluated as individuals. We gather information about each dog from multiple sources (staff, foster placements, previous guardians, volunteers, etc.). While we evaluate each animal on a case-by-case basis, in general, Brother Wolf will not adopt out dogs who:
- Have a damaging bite history towards children or adults.
- Do not show warning signs before they attempt to bite.
- Have severely injured or killed another dog.
- Cannot be safely handled due to aggressive behaviors.
- Show offensive aggression towards humans (actively decreasing the distance between themselves and the person they are aggressing towards).
- Stalk children in a predatory manner.
- Show uninterruptible aggression towards other dogs.
- Show poor bite inhibition (degree to which dog moderates tooth contact in the case of a bite).
[Bites that are determined to be fluke bites are not considered aggression. Fluke bites are bites by a dog that occur during uncommon circumstances that are not likely to be repeated (e.g. while in acute physical pain, while with puppies during lactation, while under sedation, etc.).]
Since October 2019, we have been searching for sanctuary placement for the dogs in our care who fall outside of what we consider to be a safe adoption placement. Though these animals have experienced wonderful moments with certain individuals, they have also greatly harmed others. There are very few dog sanctuaries in the country and since dogs live at these organizations for life, space opening up for intakes is extremely limited. Almost 20 sanctuaries already responded letting us know that they are full and constantly receiving similar requests for placement.
We are facing a complicated, heartbreaking dilemma.
We have over 150 animals dying in shelters every day in North Carolina. We want to save the ones who we can serve because that’s what we’re here to do — we’re here to save the lives of as many animals as possible. We also care deeply about our long-stay dogs, while understanding that realistically their options are limited to sanctuary placement only.
Choosing between the many and the few is a moral dilemma.
Take ten kennels at Brother Wolf, fill those ten kennels with adoptable dogs whose average length of stay is two weeks and we can save 260 lives every year. Fill those kennels with aggressive dogs who can not be safely placed and over the course of ten years you have committed 10 dogs to a life of warehousing – while also indirectly facilitating the euthansia of 2,500 adoptable dogs who now have nowhere to land.
Resource limitations mean that we too only have room for so many. Brother Wolf is currently recovering from a large financial deficit. The more resources we have available to us, the more animals we save. It’s a constant balancing act to do the most good with the resources we have, and we celebrate every life we’re able to save.
We can save more lives by bringing in more animals from under-resourced shelters — shelters where animals face euthanasia for treatable medical conditions or because the shelter is simply full.
Healthy, adoptable animals without serious behavioral challenges are needlessly dying every day in our region; we know because shelters ask us for help every day.
At Brother Wolf, we’re really good at getting adoptable animals into homes and we never euthanize for space. We have an incredible community who wants to adopt shelter animals and we receive a lot of foot traffic. In November 2019 alone, we adopted out 134 animals! Adoptable animals are quickly adopted at Brother Wolf and that’s just how we want it because a shelter is no place for an animal to stay long term — they deserve a real home where they can be members of a family.
The benchmark for measuring whether a shelter is No-Kill is a live outcome rate of at least 90% of the animals entering the shelter. We understand this term is confusing. While live outcome rates are one important measure, we must look at the full picture in order to save more lives. A shelter that takes in 100 animals per year and rehomes all of them, euthanizing none, has a 100% live outcome rate and has impacted 100 animals. A shelter who takes in 10,000 animals per year and rehomes 8,500 of them, euthanizing 1,500, has an 85% live outcome rate and has impacted 8,500 animals. Both the number of animals impacted and live outcome rates are important to understand.
In addition, we must consider what the community of animals the shelter is assisting looks like. A shelter who takes in a greater number of elderly, injured, or neonatal animals may have a lower live outcome rate based on the fragility of the population they are serving. For example, at Brother Wolf we care for a large number of very young kittens each year and these animals sadly have a higher mortality rate.
Brother Wolf has rescued 1,282 dogs this year so far and has had 9 behavioral euthanasias; less than one percent (0.7%). Our total annual intake number to date is 2,034 and rising (cats and dogs combined) with a live release rate of 95%.
At Brother Wolf, we make decisions based on what is best for the animals in our care and for the safety of our community, not percentages. Percentages only tell part of the story. The No-Kill movement started because healthy, adoptable animals were being euthanized.
At its best, the No-Kill movement inspires a nation’s shelter system to save those who can be saved. At its worst, it pressures shelters to warehouse or adopt out animals who are not safe to be placed into communities, and confuses the public into thinking that the way to create change is to attack responsible shelters who are making humane choices.
To us, No-Kill means that we do our absolute best to ensure a live outcome. We use resources such as medical care, foster placement, training support and creative adoption marketing to best serve the animals who come into our care. We consider the animal’s quality of life, community safety, and whether it’s realistic to manage aggressive or difficult behaviors or health conditions in a home without risk to people or other animals. Every day we implement a variety of strategies to help animals get out of the shelter who are having trouble finding a home.
However, we are warehousing aggressive animals at Brother Wolf when we know this isn’t the solution for lifesaving. We inherited this way of operating but we will not continue it. We are simply not doing our best for animal rescue as a whole by warehousing aggressive animals and we’re not going to do it anymore.
Adopting out animals who have a history of aggression is not responsible.
It’s also not responsible to have highly aggressive animals interact with shelter staff and volunteers. In the end this does more harm than good as victims suffer, animals are returned, and a narrative develops about the undesirability of shelter animals as a whole. Brother Wolf has adopted out aggressive dogs in the past and by doing so has created some serious consequences for children, adults, and animals.
Ask any certified applied animal behaviorist, aggression can’t be fixed, only managed, and when that management fails, that family, or their neighbor, or their visitor’s child, or other animals in the house are seriously injured or killed. With these levels of aggression, it’s not a question of if something bad will happen, it’s simply a matter of when.
And so here we are. We have funding that can only support a certain number of animals. Some of the dogs in our kennels are not adoption candidates and are being warehoused. Hundreds of animals are dying within an hour radius of us every week, mostly for senseless reasons. Here at Brother Wolf we have a medical team, a foster network, training and enrichment support, eager adopters, and a responsibility to use the resources we have to save the greatest number of lives.
For those who are too aggressive to be adopted, we will continue to search for reputable sanctuary placement into the new year because these are our dogs. If we do not find sanctuary placement, we will say a heartbreaking goodbye to these dogs. This is the life of an animal rescuer. Where there is life there is loss. Where there is so much joy, there are also times of deep sadness.
By the end of 2019, Brother Wolf will have adopted out almost 2,000 animals, placed over 900 animals into loving foster homes, transported 1,000 animals to adoptive homes in the northeast, and provided affordable spay/neuter surgeries to over 5,000 animals. We do this work 24/7, 365 days a year for our community and the animals who need us. Because of Brother Wolf, thousands of animals lives were saved this year. Without Brother Wolf, more animals would have been euthanized in a state whose shelters are already overflowing. In many cases, we are their last chance.
Brother Wolf was the last chance for Fievel who we rescued two hours before he was scheduled to be euthanized due to a severe injury to his leg. We were the last chance for Katie May, a sweet senior, who we rescued from euthanasia due to another shelter’s lack of housing for her. We were the last chance for Schroder, a puppy who faced euthanasia due to a treatable skin condition that his shelter did not have the resources to cure. Brother Wolf was the last chance for Gil who was at high risk of euthanasia due to an incurable, but common, feline virus. We could make a list of hundreds of stories like these from just the past six months.
Brother Wolf is here to save lives. We have a responsibility to use our resources to save the greatest number of lives possible in order to make the biggest impact for animals. We want to see more animals experiencing joy, love, safety and family in their adoptive homes. We want to see more people finding the perfect shelter pet for their family. We want to see more lives made whole from these incredible human-animal bonds.
We want to save even more animals like Fievel, Katie May, Schroder and Gil, and with support from generous animal lovers in our community and beyond, we will. If you care about animals, work alongside us to save them, because only by working together can we save more.
Leah Craig Fieser
Brother Wolf Animal Rescue
A follow up piece that appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times as an opinion editorial in January 2020 can be read here.