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Shelter Shock: No Kill Turns Into a Life Sentence for a Couple of Old Coonhounds

I can’t stop thinking about Penny and Frosty, a couple of 14-year-old, Coonhound/Labrador Retriever mixes who have lived their entire lives at the Humane Society of Branch County, a no-kill shelter in Quincy, Michigan.

Penny’s Puppy Days are Over

These old old-timers started popping up on my facebook news feed last week. At their age, Penny and Frosty should be curled on a plush bed by the fireside on cold Michigan nights, not spending their final days at the shelter where they arrived in of a litter of puppies fourteen years ago.

Now those puppies have grown into a couple of old ladies. Penny was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and is hanging in there. Frosty is on thyroid meds.

News of the pair online sparked plenty of questions. People were haunted by Penny’s gray muzzle and Frosty’s sad, cloudy eyes. These old girls have never known a home for long. They were adopted twice but returned, according to Humane Society of Branch County’s facebook page.

A couple of young volunteers recently put the word out on these two, states a facebook post by Humane Society of Branch County in response to questions about Penny and Frosty. The dogs don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

“[Penny and Frosty] really are not able to travel a long distance,” states the rescue’s post about potential homes. “Anyone that would have the heart to adopt these sisters probably has other dogs, and these dogs need to be the only dogs in the family. They are not housebroken, either.”

My first reaction to hearing about Penny and Frosty was that this rescue let these girls down a long time ago. When did someone — or several people — at this organization decide that keeping dogs in a shelter/boarding environment interminably was acceptable?

Frosty Grew Old With No One Person to Call Her Own.

Maybe those “young volunteers” who recently spread the word on these dogs are still innocent enough to believe that when they notice something wrong, it is their duty to make it right. I wonder how many other people who witnessed these dogs living in a kennel all this time felt the same way but just kept quiet and let the rescuers do their jobs. Meanwhile, Penny and Frosty’s lives passed them by.

In the Humane Society of Branch County’s defense, Quincy is just a teeny town in Southern Michigan with a population of only 1,700 people. Quincy is surrounded by mostly small towns, and the nearest big city is Detroit, 100 miles away. So, it’s not like this group has a wealth of resources available when it comes to animal rescue.

The shelter is small and run by volunteers who devote their lives to saving animals. These people do the heartbreaking and difficult work of helping homeless animals, which is something most people don’t do, because it makes them “too sad.”

The shelter may be small, but plenty of people want to know about the old dogs. The hundred or so facebook comments about Penny and Frosty on Humane Society of Branch County’s page covered a wide range of opinions:

“Many shelters provide a more fulfilling and enriching life than a kennel in a [run] for hours on end or a chain in a backyard.” wrote one woman. “This shelter took these dogs back when adoptions failed and didn’t rush them to the needle when they presented with costly medical conditions. If you don’t know anything about the dogs or the shelter, then quit making assumptions and running off at the mouth.”

“The shelter staff are these dogs’ family,” wrote another. “It might be more stressful and upsetting to move them somewhere else at this stage. They could feel the same abandonment that most dogs would feel when dumped at a shelter by their family….It sounds like they are loved and well cared for right where they are. Kudos to you for being their family all these years!”

Others weren’t so forgiving: “Maybe this is why you kept Penny and Frosty for 14 years -to use as fundraisers. To not be able to find loving homes in 14 long years is shameful. Not finding loving homes, and not socializing these dogs and not housebreaking them is NOT compassion and good care. They could have had such a better life than lifelong at a shelter with no special person to call their own. You failed these dogs.”

It’s true that Penny and Frosty have had better lives than the thousands of dogs out there starving on chains or wandering the streets. Then again, if they’ve been well-loved and cared for, why didn’t anyone take time to housetrain them? Wouldn’t that have made them more adoptable? Apparently, the two are dog aggressive, but was there really no home where they could be the only dogs?  Why did no one call in a dog trainer? I have to wonder how hard anyone really tried, in 14 years, to find these girls a home, or at least a foster home.

Before anyone bashes the Humane Society of Branch County’s current group of volunteers, though, keep in mind that most of these people probably weren’t the ones who initially failed these dogs. That group likely burned out long ago. If you want to know what this little rescue is up against, a facebook post from one of its workers, who has been there for only a year, sums up how most people in animal rescue spend their time and how much they care:

“We are a small shelter in the middle of nowhere and receive no funding….. I work at this shelter for basically nothing. Every cent of my money is used in making vet runs with my own car and gas…..I have donated money upon money to the shelter…I am working at that shelter six days a week and sometimes even on Sunday. Many times I work into the night…..I have shed tears when they come in and when they get adopted, when they are sick and when they don’t get chosen.

“I often bring them home to give them a break from the shelter or to nurse them when they are sick. I would never, never exploit any of these dogs. Perhaps I have failed…..I often think the same thing….All I can say is we are doing the very best we can do for Penny and Frosty and for every dog that comes to this shelter.”

I left a message this afternoon on Humane Society of Branch County’s voice mail, inquiring about Penny and Frosty’s future. I haven’t heard back yet but I don’t hold that against anyone. If this small shelter is like most, it has a croaking answering machine on a table in some drafty corner that gets checked only when someone is there to check it. Hopefully, I will hear back and have an update soon.

For now, it looks like Penny and Frosty will live out the rest of their days at the only home they’ve known, a shelter where those entrusted with their care do actually seem to love them. And the dogs do get to go outside daily, when weather permits.

I guess only the people running Humane Society of Branch County know for sure how hard anybody tried over 14 years to place these girls in a home. Honestly, there is no one person to blame, and what good would blame do at this point? It’s just sad that as staff and volunteers came and went, over all those years, somehow, one year turned into two, and two into four, and four into eight for Penny and Frosty.

Now these dogs’ lives are nearly done. I can’t help thinking that someone, somewhere along the way, could have tried a just little bit harder.

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About Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is involved in the Kansas City, Missouri animal rescue community and is a freelance writer.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Shelter Shock: No Kill Turns Into a Life Sentence for a Couple of Old Coonhounds

  1. Good article/essay Deb. Shared on facebook.

    Posted by strollingturtle | November 28, 2012, 2:55 am
    • It is so hard readng this article. I look at my 18 year old and how he struggles on a daily basis. Medication must be timely, bathroom outings the same, special food because he will only eat certain things…and then I look at those old ladies “behind bars”. Rescue work is very tough work – emotionally and physically exhausting. But remember the little star fish that someone threw back into the ocean – for that one saved, it made all the difference in the world.

      Posted by Debi Spangler | November 29, 2012, 10:40 am
  2. You did a good job offering a lot of different perspectives on this sad situation. I agree, someone could have tried harder. I think the comments from the shelter workers are very telling. They assume that anyone who would have the heart to adopt these two must have other dogs. Besides, they are not house trained, they write. Here, with this Facebook posting, they have probably the best chance they’ve had in years to find these two a home, yet they basically admit defeat from the get go. I suspect that kind of pessimistic attitude has probably been at the shelter longer than Frosty and Penny and has prevented them from finding homes. There are many dog lovers who might have just lost a pet to disease or old age who might love to open their home to a pair like Penny and Frosty. If you assume the right home is not out there, then you’ll never find it.

    Posted by Allie | November 28, 2012, 9:03 am
  3. I live in a very rural area as well, where there is one humane society in a 75-100 mile area and one mostly outdoor rural rescue ran by an overwhelmed older gentleman. I come from an urban area, where the humane society is well funded, staffed and volunteers are even sometimes turned away. No one in those urban and suburban areas can fully comprehend the magnitude of the need in rural areas unless they’ve experienced it for themselves. These small, rural humane societies do the best they can with what they have. They are up against their physical locale, as well as a mentality toward animals that is less than progressive. People would just as soon shoot a stray as save one. It is so very sad these two dogs lived a shelter life for their entire lives, but in these rural areas, good positive reinforcement dog trainers aren’t a dime a dozen (I once had a local dog trainer here suggest to me to tie a dead chicken around a dog’s neck to keep it from killing chickens – I was trying to save it from being shot by the owner) and we don’t exactly have the larger humane societies and animal advocate groups beating down our doors to help. The one humane society in our 75 mile radius felt it had to limit its intake of strays to one county, or risk being overwhelmed with homeless animals and losing its No Kill status. If the No Kill Movement wants to know where it should move its front lines now, it is to these rural areas, which have good, caring people who want to save these dogs and ensure they get good homes. There are just less of us with fewer resources battling great odds of poverty and ignorance.

    Posted by Living Large | November 28, 2012, 10:37 am
    • I fear you are right, Living Large. We found a group of older puppies dumped at the river near my in-laws’ lakehouse in rural Missouri several years ago. Could find NO group, NO shelter anywhere near there willing/able to take them; we ended up hauling them back to Kansas City with us where we took them to Wayside Waifs. A few months ago, a rescue all the way up in Minnesota took an emaciated, abandoned Mastiff who’d been wandering around that same community for YEARS, starving, being hit by cars, etc. (I’ve been told the situation for cats in that area is no better – actually worse.)

      Not that every urban shelter is well funded, but I believe resources in rural areas are sadly lacking across the board. It may not have been the best life, but maybe these girls have had at least a decent one.

      Posted by melinda hartel | November 29, 2012, 10:03 pm
      • Melinda, good for you for taking those puppies all the way to KC to Wayside Waifs. Most people don’t want to be inconvenienced even a little to help a stray dog, and you gave them a chance to have good lives.

        Posted by Deb Hipp | November 30, 2012, 12:10 am

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