Amy Sutherland had a very ambitious goal in writing a book about her beloved dog Penny Jane, “Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find them All Homes.” Her goal? She told Shelter Me, “The central question driving the book is how can we find all these dogs homes.”
By “these dogs,” she means dogs in shelters. Sutherland had been volunteering for years at the Animal Rescue League in Boston, MA. There she met dogs of all sizes, shapes, and ages, all with hugely different personalities.
Sutherland has put in the time and effort — she knows what it’s like to help difficult-to-adopt dogs. She has helped several of them.
“I have a real soft spot for the jumpy-mouthy dogs.I’m known for that in the shelter. That’s what I’m up for. I could do an old dog, but I feel like jumpy mouthy dogs are misunderstood, and when Penny Jane passes on, that would my inclination.”
Penny Jane is the fifteen-year-old dog she adopted who had almost no
human contact as a puppy. In her book, she tells the story of how she and her husband brought Penny Jane around.
In the beginning, Penny Jane refused to go into a crate. So Sutherland explains how she got Penny Jane used to the crate.
“I found that feeding Penny Jane in the crate at the front so she just had to stick her head in it worked. Then I pushed the food farther back. It took a lot of patience.”
Penny Jane had her 15th birthday the day the book with her name was published. “She’s a honey-pie,” Sutherland said. “She has arthritis and had an eye removed in January. She loves walking.”
Sutherland says that she wanted to expose people to shelters in her book, but she didn’t want to make it an unrealistic shelter. So she included stories about dogs who face life and death. In fact, some of the dogs in the book do get euthanized, because that’s what happens in shelters. Sometimes, dogs don’t get adopted, and it may be crueler to have them live their life in a cold, concrete cage than to humanely euthanize them.
And there is also the very real issue of space. While a few towns may say that they are
“no kill,” Sutherland doesn’t believe that it is possible for this to be the case across the country at this time. And Sutherland believes that the words “no kill” can be very divisive because “if you are not no-kill, are you pro-kill?” She believes that using that terminology can make shelters resentful toward each other. She said that those words change practices for some shelters because of the types of dogs they will take. And part of the problem is that people don’t know much about shelters. Sutherland said:
“The broad public doesn’t understand – think all shelters the same and don’t understand the difference between city, nonprofit.”
Private shelters can pick and choose the dogs they accept. They can take lots of puppies, who almost always are adopted quickly and easily. Private shelters can take dogs who are heartworm negative and don’t need costly treatment. They can refuse the pit bulls, the senior dogs, and the sick dogs, saving time, money, and kennel space.
Municipal shelters don’t have that choice. They are usually open admission, which means that they must take any animal whose owner surrenders it, and they must take in strays.
Sutherland prefers to think of “no kill” as a goal. “I completely agree that we need to be shooting for something. For a long time in this country, we weren’t. I wanted to explain it in the book because so many people don’t understand it. People ask – are you no kill?” In fact, the Animal Refuge League states the problem on their website. They write:
“We also have partnerships with shelters in other areas of the country that are inundated with animals as their communities lack access to spay/neuter programs. These shelters may not fit the “no-kill” category, but labeling them a “kill” shelter diminishes the hard work and compassion they provide to their communities and to homeless animals.”
And that’s the problem. While in Maine, there are many spay/neuter programs, those are not available all over the country. When dogs in rural areas or huge cities are not spayed and neutered, litter after litter of dogs and cats contribute to the problem of too many animals in shelters.
Sutherland is optimistic about the problem. She says, “We have to let everybody in the tent to solve this problem. We have to figure out how to get as many people involved in a way that works for them. If somebody wants to adopt a mutt or a rescue dog, but they want a puppy, that’s ok.”
Sutherland talked about senior dogs. “At ARL, everybody ‘Awwws’ over the puppies. I don’t even go in and see them. I feel there’s a lot of senior dogs who need homes. I think the tide is turning for them. It used to be hopeless for them, and in the last ten years it’s started to change.” She talked about those who are willing to adopt a senior dog or one of the harder-to-adopt dogs.
“There are some people who don’t want to just rescue a dog – they want to climb a mountain for a dog. They want someone who’s old. They are up for that. Everybody has a different way they are cut out for helping.”
When asked her feelings about transport, Sutherland admitted that the idea of transporting dogs from shelters in the south up the east coast is not going away. “I had resented transport from the south, and that people weren’t coming to the Boston shelter to get their dogs. It makes it seem like we don’t have a problem. We have a very high spay/neuter rate, but we still have animals in shelters in Massachusetts and Maine. But there’s a range of people to get involved in this and so we have people who want to adopt from us and some want to adopt dogs from the south. There’s lots of ways to give these dogs home.”
But is transport being done in the most practical and safe way? Sutherland points out that there is no national network for this. She questions whether we send animals to the best places. It is worrisome that people are picking up animals from shelters without ever having seen them.
“We do have to think about people – people shouldn’t be taking dogs who aren’t safe. People really want to save dogs. That’s a noble cause. It’s got to be done in a cool-headed way.”
The people on the front lines can’t adopt them all, explains Sutherland. “We are there to find them all homes. I’ve been out talking to people and telling them there are so many ways to get involved with pet homelessness. You don’t have to be on the front line; you can donate, work with spay/neuter, work with legislation. There are many ways to help without breaking your heart over and over.”
Sutherland points out that a problem with spay/neuter clinics is that offering it on the premises doesn’t always do the trick. People from some neighborhoods can’t get there. In Oregon, she explained, they have a free spay and neuter clinic and they arrange pick-up of the dogs. “I think that’s brilliant,” exclaimed Sutherland. Spay and neuter services have to be affordable and accessible.
Sutherland finished the interview by saying:
“I try to do a lot with my book. The central question driving the book is how can we find all these dogs homes. I tried to answer in an engaging way by telling all the dogs’ stories. I think that one of the central ways we can find homes is to get more and more people engaged. I hope that my book inspires that by bringing forward how important dogs are in our lives or to shoe people how the shelter works. Demystify shelters so people know how they work.”
Please note: Photos above are of dogs at the Animal Refuge League in Portland, Maine, and the San Bernardino City Shelter in California.
Sutherland made a special plea for Keanu at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, MA. His Petfinder page (ID#A246340) says:
Five-year-old KEANU loves people and playing – fetch, tug, chase, you name it, he’ll play it! His favorite things in the world are tennis balls, but he loves all toys, so long as they are sturdy enough to stand up to a good strong chewing session. He knows sit, stay and down. Keanu is a big boy so he might be too much for small children who he could accidentally knock down. He is a bit overweight so will need a weight management plan, however, he’s definitely become more of a couch potato so he will need encouragement to get outside and active! (But you won’t find a better tv-watching pal anywhere!) He will also need a refresher on house-training and could use a good schedule to get on track. Keanu prefers to be the only dog in the house, but could have a dog friend or two for supervised playdates, and he cannot live with a cat or small animal. If you are interested in meeting this big guy, please plan a visit to ARL today!