Q. When you first found Blue online you thought he was located in area of Pennsylvania not far from your home in New Jersey. You later found out he actually came from a shelter in North Carolina. How did that happen and why are so many dogs from the South brought north?What’s happening in dog-rescue today is truly amazing. Volunteer rescue groups that are hundreds of miles apart are acting almost like an Underground Railroad for dogs, moving them from the high-kill shelters that are predominately in the South up to willing adopters who are primarily in the more populated Northern states.
Blue is one of the dogs who was lucky to be scooped into this rescue pipeline. A Southern rescue pulled him off of death row and coordinated with a Northern rescue to find him a home. The Northern rescue listed their own ZIP Code on Petfinder.com, and that ZIP Code was close enough to mine that when I searched for a local puppy to adopt, his photograph popped up on my screen even though he was still some 500 miles away.
Q. Are the conditions in the shelters in the South worse than other parts of the country? If so, what are the reasons?
There are certainly shelters and dogs that need help everywhere. The way the rescue advocates explained it to me, on the whole the need is greater in the South. That is why they focus their efforts in that region.
The shelter where Blue was found in North Carolina, for instance, has a 95-percent kill rate if rescue groups do not intervene. That’s just one in 20 dogs like Blue making it out alive from a taxpayer-funded facility unless a volunteer group steps in. It’s hard to deny the horror of that statistic. Many advocates who visit similar Southern shelters use the word “slaughterhouse” to describe what they see. In the shelters that kill the dogs in gas chambers, the advocates often use the word “Holocaust.” What they are seeing is truly hard to comprehend.
A number of factors are contributing to this reality. First and foremost is a failure to spay and neuter. Where spay/neuter rates are high, shelter intake numbers are almost always lower. In parts of the country where people fail to spay/neuter, including the rural Southern areas like the one where Blue is from, the shelters are simply overwhelmed by people bringing in box after box full of perfectly healthy, unwanted puppies. There is no place to put them, and there are not enough local adopters for them. So they are killed as if part of a factory line with no way to escape.
Funding is also an issue. Many of these shelters simply don’t have the space and staff to handle the number of dogs being brought in. Even the shelter directors who are trying like crazy to get these dogs adopted are at the mercy of space and staff. Sometimes they simply run out of both, and the dogs are killed as a result even if they are perfectly healthy and wonderful.
Last is attitude. When you have a shelter with a 95-percent kill rate, or a rate even remotely close to that, then something is happening in terms of an institutionalized attitude that the mass killing of these dogs is okay. That it is part of everyday business. That it is acceptable. The shelters that get their kill rates down adopt a different attitude, one that makes rescue a priority.
Q. Little Boy Blue takes a tough, honest look not only at the people who are running the shelters you visited, but also at some rescuers who are acting in a questionable way. How big has the network of rescue groups become and where are the failing and/or succeeding?
It’s impossible to put an exact number on the size of the rescue network in America, but on Petfinder.com alone, more than 13,000 rescue groups are uploading photos and bios of adoptable animals. That’s an average of 260 groups per state. To put that into context, the Red Cross has an average of 14 local chapters per state. The rescue movement in America is absolutely exploding.
All of these people have very good intentions, but since there is no official oversight, each group operates however it sees fit. Some rescues are far more professional than others, for the simple reason that they are run by people with business experience instead of people who are simply desperate to save dogs by any means.
The rescues that are succeeding are as good at marketing and fund-raising as they are at walking into shelters and getting the dogs out. The best rescues are matching adopters with the right dog for them, not just with any dog. It takes real emotional mettle and business savvy to properly run a rescue organization that is best for all of the dogs and people involved. The more of these that we highlight publicly—including those featured in “Little Boy Blue”—the more that the smaller, fledgling rescues can learn from them.