Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Court Case Dog Program Saving Lives

Court cases involving animals can drag on for prolonged periods of time, especially when the accused strives to regain custody of the animals. I can remember dogs languishing years in kennels with limited human contact at the shelter I used to volunteer at. A wolf spent three years in the dog bite quarantine until finally he was released into the custody of a wolf rescue - I met him six months later and was amazed by his complete 180. Life in a kennel, for many animals, is frustrating. Boredom and lack of physical and mental stimulation lead to behavioral problems and significantly reduces the welfare of the individual animal.

Like with Pit Bulls confiscated from fight busts, neonatal puppies and kittens, injured or geriatric dogs and cats, court case animals are generally killed. Few, if any, are given the individual care they needed after such prolonged sensory deprivation. It seemed they too were being found guilty of a crime they did not commit. But as times have changed for the unwanted, the young and old, the medically treatable dogs and cats, so they have for our perception of court case dogs.

In January of this year, Safe Humane Chicago started the Court Case Dog Program in conjunction with Best Friends Animal Society, Chicago Animal Care and Control and D.A.W.G. Court Advocacy. While there is still that period in which the dogs suffer AT the shelter, the Court Case Dog Program seeks to create an opportunity for the dogs to be placed into permanent homes after the court case is over and they have been signed over to the custody of Chicago Animal Care and Control.

The dogs who are approved for the program live at the shelter initially and receive a lot of social interaction and basic training with volunteers. Once the dog is ready for placement, the program reaches out to other shelters, rescues and foster homes to find permanent placement.

Unfortunately, there is a low approval rating. Of the 100 dogs from court cases in Chicago this year, only 37 were chosen for the program. Thirteen have been adopted and the remaining 24 are in training. Hopefully, over time, that can be improved.

This is a niche program. It will help a small percentage of animals in need of homes, but it is innovative and progressive in that it addresses an area of dog welfare mostly ignored. All dogs deserve a chance at a new home. Barring any medically hopeless condition, even dogs with behavioral problems deserve a chance at permanent placement in a sanctuary-type setting. This program gives dogs who would normally be killed, regardless of temperament, a chance at adoption. And for that reason alone, it's worth it. I hope they can save more dogs and that other shelters will see this pilot program and emulate it for their own facilities.

-Marji B.

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