Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Helping abandoned animals: you are on your own

A friend back in Kentucky lives in a rural area and has an ongoing problem with people dumping their unwanted dogs near her house. She has the option of taking them to the shelter in the nearest city (Henderson), but has to pay a hefty fee each time she does - and she can't afford it. So she posts on Facebook, begging people to adopt the latest abandoned dog. I understand the shelter has huge expenses, and the fee is reasonable for most people - but for my friend, it's preventing her from bringing in animals at all. I have really felt for her - to be put into this position is incredibly unfair. What affordable, humane choice does she have?

Here in Oregon, I would have been happy to pay a HEFTY rehoming fee to the Bonnie Hays Animal Shelter to shelter and seek a new home for Daisy the dog, one of the eight dogs and cats left behind when my neighbor died recently. But the shelter wouldn't take her, or any of the animals - they take only abandoned animals, and they felt these animals weren't abandoned. How could this be? Because after I filed officially to say the animals were abandoned, Washington County, Oregon animals services contacted the landlord, who told them the animals were being taken care of - and they took his word. What he didn't tell them - but I did, repeatedly - was that it was me, and another neighbor, that were scrambling to take care of the animals, even having to break into the apartment to get them out when the squatter living in there chain-locked the apartment from the inside and then collapsed on the floor for more than 24 hours (I was the one that called 911 for him - he's been in the hospital for more than a week). The animals were saved - but I'll probably be arrested for burglary.

Daisy and the other animals were clearly neglected/abandoned by the landlord, but because he said to an investigator, on the phone, "Oh, no, the animals are being taken care of," no further investigation was done - no interviews with us, the people scrambling to take care of the animals, no site visit to see the condition in which they were living... .

The person helping me take care of the animals is a resident of a nearby group home for adults with mental disabilities. He's a wonderful man - but has very limited reasoning skills. The landlord had told him, "Hey, you get to take care of the animals!," and let him keep the key the deceased had given him long ago - but he never talked with the group home manager. While my neighbor is a wonderful person and very helpful regarding the animals, he's in no position whatsoever to assume complete responsibility for eight animals; one evening, after getting home late, I asked him if he'd taken the dogs out that evening. "Nope!" he said cheerily. "It was raining!" I had to explain to him yet again that the dogs MUST get out at least twice a day, and we went over together to remedy the situation. I would have been happy to tell an investigator this - but no one ever called me, despite my filing a report of animal neglect.

I was told the only way to save the dogs from that situation and into the shelter was to get a letter signed by the landlord declaring that the animals were abandoned. It was a horrible prospect: the landlord had already shown great hostility to another neighbor who had stepped forward to help with the cats, insulting her in a way I shall not repeat, and repeatedly implying that, since she wasn't representing an official shelter, he would not cooperate with her. Later, when I asked him to please stop putting massive bowls of food in the floor of the apartment for the dogs, because Daisy is 30 pounds overweight, he laughed at me and said, "There's nothing wrong with that!" When I explained that she was having trouble getting up and down the steps, and that last year, a vet had said she could die because of all the extra weight, he made a sound and a hand gesture to show he didn't care. When I told him my husband had repaired the fence in the backyard so that the dogs couldn't get out, in case he wanted to put them back there, he said, "The fence is fine! It didn't need fixing!" The fence, in fact, was falling over before my husband fixed it.

So I went to the group home manager, told him what was going on, and he was horrified that one of his residents had been put in this situation, and said he would have to stop his resident from helping because of the inappropriateness of the situation; armed with this information, and a letter declaring the animals abandoned but in no way implying that the landlord had behaved inappropriately, I went over to the landlord when he arrived on the property. It was a hostile situation, and I'm not sure how I overcame his initial refusal to sign - but I talked fast, I emphasized that the neighbor would NOT be helping anymore, and somehow, I got the letter signed.

I shudder to think what would have had happened if I hadn't gotten that letter signed.

In the three weeks since my neighbor died, myself and several other people have taken to the Internet with an aggressive campaign to get the animals adopted. Through the efforts of many people who forwarded our messages to their own networks, we have gotten ALL of the animals adopted with the exception of two: Daisy the dog, and Little Kitty. A neighbor down the street agreed to foster Little Kitty, and then, the week I had finally gotten Bonnie Hays to agree to take Daisy, that same neighbor, who has never had a dog before and has SEVERAL cats, decided to foster Daisy until we can find her a forever home - she felt Daisy would be doomed if Bonnie Hays took her, that she would be completely broken going to a shelter after all that she has been through. I wish the shelter would post information about Daisy on their web site and via social media, but they won't, since she isn't at the shelter.

I adopted Gray Max the cat, FYI. My husband doesn't like cats. Convincing him to do this was not easy. I deserve a medal for that alone.

In all seriousness: I have a job. I have work to do. I have been out of the country for 12 weeks, and I'll be going out of the country again next week, and I have SO MUCH to do. I've done all this with the animals amid all that - what if I'd still been out of the country? What if I hadn't been able to help? What if I had refused to help? I had no legal obligation whatsoever to help. But I did. How many animals out there aren't so lucky to have someone willing to make the time to care for them in similar circumstances?

I hope Bonnie Hays and Washington County animal services will consider making it very clear on their web site exactly what it takes for them to investigate the conditions of abandoned or neglected animals - I'm still stunned that, after reporting their condition, all the landlord had to do was to say was that he was taking care of them, which he was not, for the complaint not to go any further and no investigation to be undertaken. I really can't stress enough how difficult it was for me to get him to sign that letter declaring all of the animals abandoned - it was not a very safe situation to be in regarding that man and having to deal with him, but I did it for the animals. Someone else may not be so brave.

Please, by all means, continue to give financial donations to Bonnie Hays - but consider volunteering there and working to change their policies and communications to better serve abandoned and neglected animals in our county. And being a nonprofit consultant with an international reputation, I offer to DONATE 20 hours my services to Bonnie Hays, for whatever service they want, if it means it could move resources to improve their communications regarding abandoned animals.

I also want to note that I contacted every Portland, Oregon area dog rescue society listed on this page on the Bonnie Hays web site regarding Daisy earlier in 2014, when my now-deceased neighbor asked me to help rehome her. Not one of them wrote me back. Not one.

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