September 22, 2010

SDHS Accused of Unnecessary Euthanisia

Ex-Volunteers: Humane Society Euthanizes Treatable Animals

SD Humane Society Says All Animals Go Through Behavioral Assessment

POSTED: 6:09 pm PDT September 21, 2010 UPDATED: 7:34 pm PDT September 21, 2010

SAN DIEGO -- Former volunteers at the San Diego Humane Society said the organization has been euthanizing treatable animals. The volunteers claimed the Humane Society is killing adoptable animals while taking money on the promise of saving them.

"I can tell you without a doubt, I've never done one where it didn't hurt, but it didn't mean it wasn't right," San Diego Humane President Dr. Mark Goldstein said when asked about the allegations.  Last year, Goldstein signed off on 510 cases of euthanasia. He said every one of those animals went through a behavioral assessment. "Its probably one of the most controversial parts of what we do," Goldstein said. "The question becomes can you predict what you see here to the future of going home."

San Diego Humane said it does not euthanize any treatable or adoptable animals at its facilities. The organization once had the goal of eliminating all euthanizing of treatable and adoptable animals in the county by 2005. That goal has now been pushed back to 2020.
Goldstein said San Diego Humane will continue using behavioral assessments to determine which animals are treatable and adoptable.

"Is it an art? Absolutely," Goldstein said. "Are we going to be doing it differently in 10 years then we do today? No doubt."
"Do you ever get it wrong?" investigative reporter Mitch Blacher asked.
"I don't think anything in life is always perfect," Goldstein answered.

Former Humane Society volunteers told 10News the behavioral assessment is far from perfect.
"Are there any animals you can think of that didn't deserve to die?" Blacher asked former volunteer Elizabeth Willes.

"Oh, yes, a number of them," Willes said. "We cannot figure out what they are doing to these dogs, whether they're lying or the dog is just so scared of the environment, but clearly there is something wrong there."

Since leaving the Humane Society, Willes joined a group called Saving Pets One at A Time, or SPOT. The group rescues dogs set to die in county shelters, including animals from the Humane Society.

Six months ago, SPOT saved a black lab named Hank.

"He failed his behavioral assessment," Willes said. "The person doing it found his behavior threatening."

The San Diego Humane Society said Hank was "unsafe to hug because of threatening behavior." They also said he "is subtle in his threats and that those threats are unrecognizable by the average public."
Hank is one of more than 100 animals who now have a home because of SPOT.

"None of these dogs have attacked anybody?" Blacher asked

"No," Willes said.

San Diego Humane found homes for 2,332 animals last year and said it served more than 38,000 animals.
"I don't believe I've ever taken the life of an animal, even here, that wasn't necessary," Goldstein said.

Goldstein said his first priority is protecting the public from dangerous animals.

The following is a statement from San Diego Humane Society regarding Behavioral Assessment Policy:

Every dog that comes to SDHS is given a behavior assessment as one part of an overall understanding of the dog's background and nature. Detailed owner history, medical history, staff and volunteer interaction notes, along with many other variables, are all taken into consideration. From a behavior assessment standpoint, we have trained staff who has been conducting these assessments for many years. The field of behavior assessment continues to mature as we all learn more. As an example, our organization recently hosted a behavior summit where we brought together some of the leading experts in the field. We hosted board-certified veterinary behavior experts including both American and European Diplomats, to share knowledge in a think-tank environment. These discussions are continuing this week in Germany, and continue to keep our organization on the leading edge of this practice.

As has been conveyed regarding the complex issues of behavior assessment, dogs are not categorized as "pass" or "fail," but rather observations gathered around this process help our staff put dogs into a category of definitions defined collectively by the San Diego Animal Welfare Coalition. These categories include "Healthy" "Treatable/Manageable," "Treatable/Rehabilitatable" or "Unhealthy."

Following the assessment and accumulation of observations and additional information, some dogs may fall into the "unhealthy" category. There are several options for dogs that fall into this category:
1) They can be returned to their owner, should the owner be interested in reclaiming the animal, with a suggested plan for behavioral follow-up;
2) We may solicit the assistance of one of our many adoption partners who we feel would benefit the animal or provide beneficial assistance in this process;
3) Depending on individual situations, other options may be considered that may benefit the animal and will still support this organization's goals of ensuring public safety and the animal's quality of life;
4) If the Hayden Act applies to the dog's situation, it can be released to a 501(c)3 if this 501(c)3 is interested in receiving the animal;
5) Or, if none of the above is a viable alternative or appropriate, the animal is further evaluated for possible euthanasia, which includes the gathering of several signatures before a final decision is made and any action taken.

In all instances where "Unhealthy/Untreatable" animals are involved, these cases are handled in a manner which ensures public safety, considers the animal's well being, and follows the law.

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