Remember what you’re fighting for.

I’m sure my readers have noticed that I am deeply focused on the fight to save MCAS from its new management. I sincerely hope that in the near future, that fight will stop being necessary. In the meanwhile, I’d like you to contemplate something for just a moment. We see war every time we turn on the news. War is ugly, and dangerous, and involves tremendous death and destruction. So why do people go to war?


If you’re the good guys, you go to war to fight for what you believe is right. Or to fight against what you believe is wrong.


To win a war, you have to be willing to sustain casualties and suffer pain while making sure the other side sustains greater losses and suffers greater pain. You win the war when the other side can no longer hold their position because their losses have become unsustainable.


Ever notice the problem with this concept? It’s usually the noncombatants who suffer the greatest losses. In human wars, it’s the civilians. In this war for the soul of MCAS, it’s the employees, the volunteers, and especially the animals who are suffering the collateral damage.


Dedicated volunteers have been blocked from fostering. Good employees have been fired. Others have quit rather than participate in the toxic environment created by the “new management.” Deliberate attacks have been made against the credibility, character, and personal histories of shelter volunteers who oppose the new regime. Friendships and working relationships have been destroyed, and the level of mutual distrust has risen to Balkan proportions.


And now the latest salvo from the enemy camp…


The enemy is upset because the rebel alliance has obtained intel about their activities and aired their dirty laundry for all of the vast Facebook universe to see.


Here’s what appears to have happened. A good volunteer offered to foster a litter of mangy puppies. New management refused, because she is one of the rebels. Then the puppies sort of…disappeared. It appears that numerous “inaccuracies” were perpetuated by the new management every time anyone asked about the whereabouts of those puppies.


And then…oops! Someone (I wish I knew who, because I’d buy them dinner) obtained the records from the shelter computer of what actually happened to those puppies. Let’s just say it wasn’t good.


The shelter management did not show any shame or embarrassment over being caught with their collective pants down. Instead, they opted for the best defense is a good offense. They punished the whole community by removing all volunteer access to the online databases. Why does this matter? Without that access, the online team cannot answer inquiries about adoptable animals. They cannot publicize animals who are in particular need of rescue or foster. It cuts off the single most effective method of networking animals to get them safely out of the shelter. Result: animals die.


The enemy (aka “new management”) is holding those animals hostage in an attempt to break the will of the rebellious volunteer community. Their actions are remarkably parallel to an enemy force threatening to sacrifice prisoners if the other side doesn’t give in to their demands. Their supporters spew propaganda about how the rebel volunteers are “just hurting the animals.” About how we’d go along with their program if we “really cared about the animals.” And then there are the reminders in online forums for volunteers about how any posts dissenting, complaining, questioning, (or in the words of one particularly aggressive member of the other team, “bitching and moaning”) will not be allowed.


Let’s call their behavior what it is.


Terrorism: Do what they want, and they might let you save some of the animals they’re holding hostage. Fight them, and animals die.

Censorship: They control what you do, what you say, and what you post online. Only post comments they like, or they’ll delete them and ban you. And animals die.

Authoritarianism: They decide who volunteers. They decide what animals are “eligible” for foster. Submit willingly, or they’ll ban you. And animals die.


My dear volunteers, if the enemy kills animals, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. The hard, ugly truth is this: We have to win this war in order to save more animals longterm than we ever could through immediate surrender and compliance.


Remember what you’re fighting for.

Rescue 101 for Shelters (aka Rescue Is Your Friend)

Well, Care Corp strikes again. This time, both of the shelters under their “management” have managed to offend good rescue groups in a variety of ways. Since clearly they don’t have a good grasp of how to treat rescue groups, I’m going to offer some suggestions on how to develop a good relationship with rescue. I’m also going to explain why it matters, because they don’t seem to get that either.


How to cultivate rescue groups:

Learn what kind of animals that group wants. Each group develops a following that is looking for a particular animal profile. Asking them to take an animal that doesn’t fit their profile is asking them to take on an animal that will be harder for them to place.


Learn who to call for what. Each rescue has someone (or more than one someone) authorized to make intake decisions. Let’s say you’re calling an all breed group that takes both dogs and cats. Don’t call their cat person looking to place a large dog. You need to know who to call for small dogs, large dogs, purebred dogs, mixed breed dogs, dogs with minor medical issues, dogs with major medical issues, dogs with behavioral problems, puppies, senior dogs, bonded pairs, unsocialized dogs, ad infinitum. Developing relationships with the right people for every possible scenario is vital.


Act fast. Got a dog that you know fits a particular rescue’s demographic? Call them immediately. Do NOT wait around for a week to see if a shelter foster wants the dog. Do NOT let the dog sit around the shelter to see if maybe you can get him adopted out. First, rescues love it when they can get a dog before he has spent time in the main kennels of a shelter. Why? Less exposure to diseases. No matter how clean the shelter, the constant influx of animals from unknown backgrounds means that disease exposure is inevitable. The faster the dog gets out, the less likely he is to get sick. Second, if you have an animal that a rescue will take, get him out! It frees up kennel space for another animal. And for God’s sake never let a sick or injured animal wait.


Respect your rescue contacts. Remember that rescues are run by volunteers, who use their own time and money to take care of these animals. They may have to take off work, drive long distances, line up transport volunteers and vet appointments, find foster homes, raise money for treatment, and make a host of other arrangements. So it’s never a good idea to suddenly tell them that the animal is no longer available, especially after they’ve already made those arrangements or driven to pick the animal up. Rescues don’t have to work with your shelter. There are animals in need everywhere. Rescues are helping you by moving animals out of your shelter and off your books as live releases. Help them by being courteous and responsible.


Communicate! Answer your phone. Answer your email. Answer your smoke signals. Whatever it takes. Again, rescuers are volunteers who are usually working around jobs and other responsibilities. If you want them to pull animals from your shelter, then reply to their messages promptly. Text, email, phone, send a carrier pigeon. If you wait around, that rescue with one foster placement open may find another dog to give it to, and you lose out. And while you’re communicating, be honest with them about the animal. Tell them every single thing you know (except where to find the previous owners, if any). If you know something about the animal’s health or behavior and don’t communicate it, you are putting the other animals and possibly the people in the rescue at risk.


All of this would seem to be basic common sense, but recent happenings at the two local shelters under Care Corp management suggest that perhaps common sense is not so common. I’ve heard tales of shelter employees being rude, rescue volunteers being turned away by the same shelter that approved transport arrangements, designated networking employees refusing to answer messages, breed rescues getting calls to ask them to take a dog who’s been there for days and then discovering more of the same breed when they get to the shelter, rescues being interrogated about why they will or will not take a particular animal…the list goes on and on.


It should be such a simple equation. Every animal that goes to rescue equals an open kennel space in the shelter and vet bills that get paid by the rescue instead of the shelter. Rescues also have the ability to work individually with their animals and adopters to ensure the best possible placement for the animal. If your objective as a shelter is maximum live release outcomes, then you should be bending over backwards to accommodate rescue volunteers. Rescues are a valuable, crucial link in the life saving chain. Be the shelter they want to work with.

The First Amendment for Shelter Volunteers

Recently it has come to my attention that Care Corp has taken up trying to get rid of volunteers who speak out about their concerns or criticisms. Some volunteers have been directly confronted and questioned about their posts to social media. Some have simply been “not allowed” to pull a dog in need that the previous management would have been delighted for them to take. Social media pleas go out, arrangements get made, and then poof, the animal is mysteriously not available.


And then the new foster contract suddenly appeared.


A little background…for years, fostering through MCAS has been a very informal arrangement. Most fosters simply signed a basic agreement similar to an adoption contract. Many never signed anything, because they were well known to the management. They were simply listed in the computer as the animal’s foster.


I don’t think that any volunteer objects to a reasonable foster contract spelling out the foster’s rights and obligations. In fact, it would be a good thing to have clearly delineated expectations on both sides. But there is one section in the new contract that is definitely not reasonable. (I have photographs of this contract, and I have retyped the relevant section to make it easier to read. The following is a verbatim reproduction of the text in the photograph.)


Here’s the section in question:


“Resignations and Terminations


  • If you choose to resign from the MCAS Foster Program, please notify shelter management to be removed from the Approved Foster list.


  • MCAS reserves the right to terminate or suspend any individual from participating in the Foster Program. Reasons for termination include, but are not limited to the following:

*Failure to follow MCAS Foster Program guidelines.

*Failure to submit adoption application and fees to MCAS within 7 days following the adoption of a foster animal.

*Abuse or neglect of animals.

*Misconduct with or abuse of staff, volunteers, or citizens including the use of social media to berate or abuse.

*Falsification of MCAS records, including the Foster Application.



Most of this sounds pretty reasonable. But there is a huge, glaring problem right in the middle.


“Misconduct with or abuse of staff, volunteers, or citizens including the use of social media to berate or abuse.”


Folks, this is a First Amendment Issue. Here’s what the First Amendment says. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (


Now, I’m no lawyer. But the good news is that a host of judges and lawyers have explored this issue for us. This is a county shelter. That means that it is a government entity, even under a private management contract. And a law commonly called Section 1983 protects citizens from retaliation by government entities AND by private management companies in response to complaints, questions and criticisms. Court cases specific to animal shelters have determined that banning or limiting the access rights of volunteers in response to criticism is a violation of First Amendment rights and a violation of Section 1983. (See for details.)


As recently as January 2015, a Maryland court ruled in favor of volunteers who were subjeted to retaliation for criticizing a shelter. (


And while I’m generally not a fan of Nathan Winograd’s politics, he’s an excellent source of information on animal welfare laws. Check out his letter to another jurisdiction that tried to add something similar to their volunteer agreement. (


So dear friends, volunteers, fosters, have you complained about the management or animal care practices or rules or conditions OR ANYTHING ELSE at MCAS (or any other shelter), and then suddenly found yourself unwelcome? Have you stated your support for those who oppose Care Corp, and then suddenly found it impossible or unreasonably difficult to pull, transport, take pictures, walk dogs? Have your rights as a volunteer been affected in any way as a result of the exercise of your First Amendment rights?


Whether your unwelcomeness is expressed directly (verbally or in writing) or by the shelter making it impossible for you to continue by randomly making animals unavailable, arbitrarily changing rules, making rules that don’t apply to everyone, or any other such hostile behavior, you do have recourse. Call your County Commissioners. If necessary, retain counsel. Document everything.


Seems to me that Care Corp still thinks the unwanted volunteers will get tired or bored and wander off. I know they won’t. These rejected volunteers are dedicated. Passionate. And determined. And they know their First Amendment Rights.


My fellow volunteers, whatever your affiliation, those rights are there for a reason. Use them. I know I will.

Small Town Politics (Dear Commissioners)

Over the last several weeks, I’ve written quite a bit about the changes at MCAS. I am not pleased with many of these changes, particularly since my research shows that there have been any number of ethically questionable decisions made in this process.


*The deal to sell Care Corp was approved by the county commissioners after rewriting the contract to remove several clauses that protected the shelter and its residents. (Most notably, they removed the clause prohibiting the sale of Care Corp.)


*The new management promised that the shelter director’s job was safe. A few weeks later, they fired her for “not fitting in.” When challenged, the new head of Care Corp claimed that he was simply reorganizing the staff and eliminating her position.


*The new management has actually had the audacity to take certain volunteers to task for their comments on social media. Volunteers who have questions are told to “email the shelter,” but their emails go unanswered. The message is clear. Volunteers don’t matter, especially if they express any criticism or disapproval of Care Corp’s actions.


*Then there are the questionable decisions about animal care and placement. Just one example: several dogs were recently sent to a rescue group that had been banned from pulling dogs. That rescue is banned by shelters in its own geographic area, as well as by most shelters in the Houston area. But the “new” MCAS sent 5 small dogs off with a banned large dog rescue.


Here’s where small town politics come into play:


In this county, the animal shelter falls under the purview of the county commissioners. They are the ones who agreed to alter the contract in order to permit the sale of Care Corp without putting the county contract up for public bid. These same commissioners hold regular public meetings, and residents of this county who have concerns about an issue can have three minutes per person to address the commissioners during those meetings.


Several of our volunteers attended this week’s Commissioners’ Court. One volunteer signed up to address the commissioners. She had a prepared statement that neatly outlined her concerns, well within her allotted three minutes. Sadly, during those three little minutes, certain commissioners interrupted her repeatedly, told her they had more important business to conduct, and basically were rude and dismissive.


I wish I were surprised. I’m not. In small town politics, the good old boys don’t like to be questioned. Certainly not by a bunch of “crazy dog people.” And definitely not when those crazy dog people know more about the issue than they do.


Here’s the deal. Montgomery County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. Like most rapidly developing areas, our infrastructure is struggling to keep up with our growth. The county is trying to meet the ever rising demand for roads, law enforcement, emergency services, and a host of other infrastructure components. The animal shelter is a part of that infrastructure. When the shelter was built years ago, no one ever anticipated that MCAS would eventually see annual intake numbers in excess of 23,000 souls. But it does. And those giant intake numbers mean a tremendous demand on limited resources: space, money, personnel, time, building overhead, and animal care.


My personal opinion, after 18 years in this county: I think the commissioners were delighted to hand over the giant headache that is the animal shelter to a management company. It’s so much easier to simply pay the management company and let them deal with the day to day paperwork, personnel issues, contact with the public, and animal care. I think they have pocketed their thirty pieces of silver, and now they’re hoping that the crazy dog people will wear ourselves out and go away.


I think that the commissioners listened to people with personal agendas who reassured them that it was a great deal for the county, and that everyone would be thrilled because the “new guy” is a veterinarian. I do not think that the commissioners did their homework. As the facts come out, and the commissioners begin to see the ramifications of their decision, I hope they will begin to see the enormity of their error. I hope they’ll take steps to make it right.


Dear commissioners, the animals have no voice, but we do. And as long as they need us, we will not be silent.

How Do You Spot A Bad Rescue?

When you spend time in the animal welfare world, eventually you will come across a bad rescue group. Some are easier to identify than others. Some hide it well, until it all comes crumbling down. Some begin with good intentions, but get in over their heads. Some are downright evil, in it to exploit the animals for profit.


For the uninitiated, the basic obligations of a rescue group include:

*Getting the animal spayed or neutered.

*Getting the animal vetted. This includes vaccinations, microchip, and treating any medical conditions.

*Evaluating the animal’s personality, behavior, and physical condition to determine his needs.

*Providing a safe, appropriate environment for the animal while he is in the care of the rescue.

*Screening adopters to find a safe, appropriate home for the animal.

*Follow up care. This includes helping the adopter resolve any issues, if possible, and taking the animal back into rescue if at any time the adopter becomes unable to keep him.


So how do you know if you’re looking at a not so good rescue? Some signs are obvious, especially if you follow their social media presence.


Bad rescue red flags:

*They constantly complain that they can’t afford to feed the animals in their care.

*They make threats to have animals euthanized due to lack of funds or space.

*They ignore reasonable requests for information about the animals in their care.

*They have a lot of unaltered animals.

*They have a really high number of animals per person, which means that the animals cannot be cared for adequately.

*The animals in their care seem to have a lot of “accidents” (dog fights, escapes, injuries.)

*Their application doesn’t ask for references, especially for a vet reference.

*The animals at their adoption events or kennels seem neglected or excessively dirty.

*They claim to need volunteers but make it impossible for people to help.

*They avoid questions from other animal welfare people about their practices, or give different answers to different people.

*They regularly pull animals from far away shelters but not local ones. (This often means they were banned from their local shelters.)

*Their returned animals “mysteriously” end up at the shelter, and they do not reclaim them.


As an example of a GOOD rescue group that does it right, let me tell you about Sofia. Smart Rescue pulled her from a local shelter in July 2014. She was horribly malnourished, had a terrible case of entropion, and a golf ball sized growth on her face. She was going to take some work, and since she is a bullmastiff, everything was going to be expensive. While in foster care, she had surgery to remove the large benign growth on her face, and her eyelids were surgically lifted to repair the entropion. She was also spayed and chipped, and she required veterinary care for some other minor ailments. She weighed 80 pounds the day I picked her up at the shelter. The day she went to her adoptive home, she weighed 135.


Happy ending, right? Not so fast. Sofia will be returning to Smart this weekend, because one of the previous dogs in the home is picking on her incessantly. The adopters decided that it was in the best interests of both dogs to return Sofia, and Smart is taking her back. Smart will go back to the drawing board to find Sofia just the right home. And she’ll get her happy ending. Because that’s what a good rescue does.