On February 14, 2013, the Humane Society of Memphis put Shelby Angel to sleep. I found out by walking into the building for my weekly volunteer night, only to be told she had been put to sleep earlier that day.
I knew there was trouble brewing. Shelby Angel was admitted to the Humane Society to help assist her with toy obsession. She was a great dog, but needed training in one last area to truly make her adoptable. She would take toys in her mouth and run around and around till she was exhausted. She would pick fights with other dogs if they had the toy. She was so focused on toys that she would not listen to her handlers. Often times, handlers could not get the toys out of her mouth. She would release them, but not to everyone.
Toy guarding (a type of resource guarding) is not an uncommon training problem. Fortunately, the Humane Society had a trainer that was willing to work with her. We wanted her safe around families and other dogs when toys were introduced.
Until they didn't have a trainer, which happened shortly after Shelbs arrived. And until the admitting director left and was replaced by a new director. After these changes, Shelby never received training. She was crated, fed, and given outside time. But that behavior of toy guarding? Never addressed. Training time? Never happened.
Week after week I would volunteer my time with the Humane Society. I would take Shelby Angel walking on a leash to keep her leash skills up. I NEVER had a problem with her on a leash. She didn't pull, she didn't bark or growl at other dogs (EVER) and she didn't lunge. I continued to work with her on sit and stay. Believe it or not, I could put a treat a few feet away from her and she perform a sit/stay until I gave her permission to get the treat. Oh, and kisses? Yes, she gave those on command too. Surely there was a home for her!
But the toy guarding? That was beyond my skill and my 1x weekly visit time to address in a lasting way.
This pattern continued for years. Shelby Angel wasn't adopted. She was the same dog...same big heart with lots of love and snuggles...same behaviors with toys. Nothing changed. No one intervened. Many animals went to functions, adoption days, and special events. Not Shelby Angel. Management never took her. I couldn't understand why. She didn't bark or growl at people or dogs. She did great in public! She wasn't marked as a favorite, and never left the facility.
Despite the lack of good stimulation and kennel stress, Shelby still did not lunge at the crate bars, bark at other dogs, or start acting aggressively. Every week I would show up and should would climb all over me with love and excitement. It was as if she knew Friday was her day. I prayed week after week that someone would see her value and adopt her. The kennel workers loved her. The volunteers loved her. Where was her home?
Then it was reported she bit a new volunteer that did not know she shouldn't pull toys out of dogs' mouths when they are resource guarding. I do not know the extent of the injury. Scratch? Stitches? I never got the full story. I do know that it is scary to be bitten, and the Humane Society was correct to take it seriously.
But the story gets cloudy from here. Different sources told me different things. She was given a behavior test and passed, but they didn't like her body posture? They looked at her history and felt that she wasn't adoptable due to her toy aggression/bite history? Supposedly a walker came forward and volunteered to pay for all training for her with a private trainer to work on toys? Another volunteer offered to foster her? I will never know the true and honest story.
She was put to sleep without notification. Volunteers were not informed. People that loved her were not informed. She was not given a chance. There was no chance for intervention. There was no chance for sponsorship for training or fostering or anything. How about contacting a sanctuary to find her a home as the Humane Society has done in the past with other dogs? NOPE. Nothing. The Humane Society did not reach out to anyone.
And what about the training she was supposed to receive? Isn't the Humane Society about finding dogs homes? Helping them be adoptable? That is the kicker...they hired a trainer to start on Monday....after putting Shelby Angel down the previous Friday. They did not even wait to give her a long-promised chance of help. They wouldn't even wait 3 days for the trainer to arrive.
So, what has become of the Humane Society of Memphis? The number of euthanasias has escalated. The commitment to helping a dog find a home in the Anakin's Buddies spirit "for however long it takes" has been thrown by the wayside. The relationship between the office staff and volunteers has all but deteriorated. Bully breeds are becoming less welcome, and cute and quickly adopted puppies are brought in by the dozens. Abused and neglected animals are having a harder time getting placements, while healthy puppies make their way in trouble free. (Azumi is a prime example of a dog I had to push with all of my might to get the Humane Society to help that clearly fit the abused and neglected mission. Fortunately for her, she found a home withing 3 days and had a happy ending.).
Euthanasia is becoming a more accepted method for dealing with "problems." The Humane Society has never claimed to be euthanasia- free, but never have the numbers been so high since as they have recently. Please read this blog if you are interested in learning more about the incidence of euthanasia the Humane Society of Memphis.
I have not been back to volunteer since the day I found out Shelby Angel was put to sleep. I have needed some time to look into my heart and decide if the Humane Society of Memphis is the place for me. Many volunteers have left over the past 1-2 years. It is difficult to pour your love and soul into caring for animals, when you do not feel respected by the managing employees....or when you watch the dogs you care for lose their chance at life.
Thank you for reading and for all of your support. I feel that there was another option for Shelby Angel. If the Humane Society did not want to use resources to help her with toys, other sanctuaries or training options should have been explored. The amazing team of volunteers that show up week after week after year should have been given an opportunity to help. I do think that safety should be the number one priority for everyone, and I am not debating the facilities concern for safety. I am just challenging the actions- was there another way to achieve safety? Was there another intervention?
I am going to end this post with a few of my favorite and fun pictures of Shelby Angel. Thank you for following her story, please continue to be kind to animals, and please help save an animal and be their voice whenever the opportunity presents itself to you. Thank you.