THE CRISIS OF OUR PUBLIC SHELTERS

UPDATE–

Homer Shelter and City of Homer settled with CCCR in December 2016. The City of Homer has agreed to send the shelter a letter confirming that rescue groups and potential adopters will not be denied the right to rescue or adopt based on speech. The right to freedom of speech will not be restricted in order for folks to have equal access to the shelter; this is the outcome we were hoping to achieve. Thanks to all those who supported our efforts!

On January 1, 2017, the Homer Animal Shelter was taken over by a new contractor and manager. CCCR looks forward to the good working relationship with the shelter for the benefit of the animals there. Welcome Amy and Alaska Mindful Paws!

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On February 4, 2016, Clear Creek Cat Rescue filed suit in Superior Court against the City of Homer and the manager of Homer animal shelter. CCCR has been rescuing cats from the Homer Shelter for a couple years. But now CCCR is being denied the right to rescue.
On January 7, Judy, our Rescue Coordinator, made comments at a public meeting of the Sustainable Animal Control Review Committee in Homer; the comments were suggestions of ways to improve shelter operations such as having a set adoption fee and adoption guidelines, more use of volunteers at the shelter, and a written Rescue Agreement between the shelter and rescue groups. The next morning, on January 8, the shelter manager sent an email to the city saying that she would not work with Judy and that the committee should not consider Judy’s comments. Since that time the shelter manager has refused to allow CCCR to rescue cats, and the Review Committee did as told by the manager and did not consider any of the comments.
Since the Homer shelter is a publicly funded shelter, we believe that we have the right of free speech without having our rights to rescue denied.
This is an issue that is being contested all across the country as rescue groups stand up to shelter managers who penalize rescues for saying anything critical about the treatment or living conditions of animals at shelters. So often the animals are the ones who suffer as shelters choose to kill animals rather than allow rescues to take them.
We hope that this legal action will help Alaska move out of the dark ages of animal sheltering where animals are killed unnecessarily, and open the avenues of partnership for rescue groups and shelters for the benefit of the animals whose lives hang in the balance.
Thanks to our attorney, Paul Bratton, for taking this case on pro bono.

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Thousands of cats (and dogs) are killed by the public shelters in Alaska every year. Many, perhaps most, of those animals didn’t have to die. A more open relationship with the public and a more humane living situation for the animals could prevent these deaths.

The dream in the creation of public animal ‘shelter’s was to provide a place where lost and abandoned animals would have a refuge and care until they could go back to their homes or find new ones. But in Alaska, as in much of the country, the reality for an animal, particularly a cat, entering a ‘shelter’ means that you have a good chance of not coming out alive. This is not because of some defect or failing of the animals, but the breakdown of our shelter system.

In Alaska, many of our shelters have been run like fiefdoms, controlled by one person who makes all the life and death decisions of the helpless creatures that find themselves there. These managers become all powerful and often wield that power in a way that is harmful to the very animals that they are supposed to protect. Checks and balances in our shelter system are almost non-existant. The horrors that go on in the back room are hidden from the public, and the public officials generally don’t care. Shelters are funded by cities and boroughs and yet, in most cases no one in the city or borough governments takes on the role of overseeing the workings of the shelters. The city and borough governments are focused on ways to make money, which shelters typically are not. And so the shelters function autonomously, without any oversight.

Over the years, Clear Creek Cat Rescue has rescued cats from most of the shelters in southcentral and the Kenai Peninsula—Houston shelter, Mat-Su shelter, Anchorage shelter, Seward shelter, Kenai shelter, Soldotna shelter, Homer shelter—as  well as taking cats from Dutch Harbor and other outlying areas. And what we’ve learned is that the system is broken. In almost every case, any criticism of the public shelter, no matter how careful and helpful, will result in being blacklisted. This applies to adopters as well as to rescues.

This situation unfortunately is not unusual in the world of shelters. All across the country, rescue groups have faced the terrible dilemma of either silently watching ill treatment and unnecessary killing of animals in order to be allowed to save a few, or speak up for change and be denied the right to rescue any. Most rescue groups feel they have no choice. The fear of having more animals killed because the rescue is no longer allowed to rescue has crippled rescuers from even speaking up. They continued to operate in that place of fear, controlled by the whims and desires of managers who held the power of life and death in their hands.

But at last, some rescue groups have said ‘enough is enough’ and are fighting back.  All across the country rescue groups are starting to speak up, to call for change, and to file suit against shelters that deny the rescue groups the right to rescue because rescuers speak up about the conditions of the shelters. If we don’t speak up about the problems in our shelters, about the unnecessary killing, who will?

It’s time for a change.