By Dara Ashby
The dogs are on the loose in St. Louis, and now at least two men have been badly mutilated. One of them, aged 92, is said to have fought for his life. The other, 62, was killed. There is also a report of a third victim.
St. Louis County Animal Control has announced that it is so crowded that it will no longer pick up strays. The city’s animal control facility is experiencing the same problem. St. Louis City and County Animal Controls now follow a no-kill policy. Not so long ago, that was not the case. These facilities would euthanize animals when they needed to make more room for incoming dogs and cats. Now, because of their new no-kill policies, many “lifers” end up being caged for months and sometimes years, going cage-crazed.
Unfortunately, this new system of non-elimination does not work. And that poses a serious threat to public safety. Dogs attack people in the streets and there is no one to call.
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As I enter my 30th year in animal rescue, I realized that I had learned too much. Too much about dogs being chained up in the scorching sun, tied to a car in all the elements, or tucked away in an outdoor enclosure. There is no real help for these animals.
I learned that the laws to protect animals in Missouri are weak.
I learned that dog fights still happen, less than a mile from my family’s house. Even with videos proving the dogs are trained to fight, there is nothing animal control can do because there is no space for authorities to house the seized dogs.
I learned that backyard breeders were producing puppies in our town – mostly pit bulls – selling them for a few dollars, only for those puppies to end up having more puppies, or chained up in someone’s backyard. one, or thrown into the streets. Many of these dogs now run free.
I get calls almost daily from people asking for help with a stray dog or a pet that needs to be rehomed because a relative has died. But city and county animal controls are complete and can no longer take these dogs, even though they are dangerous. If a person finds a stray dog, the best response is to feed and release the dog, and hope it finds its way home. This is something I have never seen in 30 years of rescue. Every animal control, shelter, and animal rescue facility is packed.
When you combine a no-slaughter policy with the glut of backyard breeding, you have a catastrophic disaster like this: dogs roaming the streets. Authorities turn a blind eye to known illegal backyard farming. Laws are not enforced because there is no place for dogs to go. The public is afraid.
I understand why many people in the rescue community want animal controls to be a no-kill facility. Euthanasia is more than heartbreaking. But, instead, dogs and cats are left to fend for themselves. Many rescuers criticize the Humane Society of Missouri for euthanizing. However, it is now literally the only open admission facility in the St. Louis area. Society receives the overflow of animals that can no longer go to our animal controls because our animal controls are now no-kill facilities.
I consider “no-kill” to be a misnomer anyway, as no-kill shelters turn away hundreds of dogs and cats who end up dying on the streets. When there is no more room, there is no more room.
Our system is failing horribly. Abused dogs whose owners are charged are not removed from the abusive home. Why? There is no place anywhere to house abused dogs. Shelters, rescues and foster homes are packed. Animal controls, shelters and rescues are frantically trying to free up space. It’s a bit like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon, and it doesn’t work.
Missouri can do better. Backyard breeder regulations should be stricter, puppy mills should be banned, and more city and state animal control and investigation officers should be hired. And we have to be realistic about the need to euthanize – we have no choice. Our system is broken. Animals lose. We can do better. Missouri needs to do better.
Dara Ashby worked in federal disaster animal rescue, pet overpopulation, and animal welfare and rescue for thirty years.