Is Every Life Precious? A Call To Reform Lakewood’s Animal Shelter
“…all dogs not claimed or adopted are transferred to the Cuyahoga County Kennel. All cats not claimed or adopted are euthanized.” – Website of the City Of Lakewood – Animal Shelter – FAQs
Blink your eyes and you’ll most likely miss it. A thick stand of typical Rocky River Reservation trees almost swallows the narrow driveway. The blind curves at this section of the park road almost ensure your eyes will be strictly on the road. And, if you indeed miss the driveway, you’ll most likely also not see the unusually small sign next to it which says “Lakewood Animal Shelter.”
Could it be possible that some significant portion of Lakewood residents is either unaware of the shelter’s location, or even altogether unaware that there is a Lakewood Animal Shelter? Given this somewhat obscure location and the shelter’s relatively low publicity profile, it seems very likely that the responses to both options will be in the positive.
With a relatively small, one-floor building at the rear of an open, gravel-topped lot that the driveway leads to, it could seem questionable to some that such a small building could effectively contain an animal shelter. Operated by the Animal Control Department of the Division of Police of the City Of Lakewood, the building’s relatively small size must at least have some influence on certain of its official policies. Functioning primarily as a temporary detainment center, one of those official policies is the one that appears at the very beginning of this article – quoted directly from its website. Dogs detained here are at least afforded the “second chance” opportunity of being transferred to another government-operated facility of a similar nature. Cats, on the other hand, are facing considerably darker prospects. The Lakewood Animal Shelter has ten cages for cats. Yes, ten. And if cat number eleven shows up, a cage will be made available by simply removing one of the other cats from its cage and then, as the policy states, it will be summarily euthanized. Eleven little cats suddenly become ten little cats again. And one little beating heart beats no more.
If asked, shelter personnel will not hesitate to provide the official “explanation” for this – that this is just what municipally-operated shelters “do”. And, sadly, this is not exactly disputable. For generations, municipally-operated shelters (what a hypocritical name for such an operation) have been putting to death collective millions of domestic animals for no better “justification” than there being more animals than cages. But, there actually are some municipally-operated shelters that have, in recent years, stopped the killing. There is a set of programs that have been formulated by just thinking “outside of the box,” and which have proven successful. But this process begins as an act of will. Apparently, the City Of Lakewood has instead chosen to stubbornly cling to methods formulated in a bygone era in which animals were considered to be nothing more than objects – the very same era in which it was believed that water and air pollution were acceptable.
There is an organization that directly works with the Lakewood Animal Shelter that has definitely made some positive differences. Comprised of Lakewood residents, they are an all-volunteer, non-profit group known as the Concerned Citizens for the Lakewood Animal Shelter (CCLAS). It is members of this group who feed the animals and clean their cages, etc. A few of their members have been willing to take shelter cats into their homes in a temporary, foster arrangement, until someone provides a permanent home. This type of program is crucial towards the idea of keeping all the cats alive, but, sadly, it appears that the CCLAS members involved in this program are desperately too few.
A truly outstanding example of what CAN be accomplished is the example set by the government-operated county shelter for Tompkins County, New York (www.spcaonline.com), located in the city of Ithaca. Killing the animals due to capacity had been a regular occurrence there. Like so many other shelters (including Lakewood’s), the shelter had blamed the “irresponsible pet owners” who had abandoned their pets in the first place, instead of admitting to its own failure to find solutions. Then, in 2001, everything drastically changed with the arrival of a new executive director – one who was totally committed to the no-kill philosophy. From his very first day onward, not one animal was killed due to not enough cages. How was this accomplished? It was not a single idea; it was a network of ideas. One relied upon the concept that the animals needed to be reasonably healthy to have a good chance to be adopted. (The Lakewood Animal Shelter automatically kills unhealthy animals.) Every veterinarian in the community was contacted, with the offer to bring the shelter’s animals to them if they would provide substantial discounts. This worked. Another idea was to contact the local media to ask them to help publicize the animals for adoption. As a result, a local television station, a local radio station, and a local newspaper all feature shelter animals every week. Augmenting this productive media blitz has been a regular flow of press releases. (The Lakewood Animal Shelter only “in-house” publicizes, putting photos and brief bios of the cats onto the City website, buried several layers in, where many would not have a clue it was. Go to www.onelakewood.com/PublicSafety/Police/AnimalControl and then click on “Animals For Adoption.” Or, go to the support group’s website, www.cclas.info, and then click on “Adoption.”) Another crucial concept is off-site adoption events. Pet-supply stores are the most obvious choice for this, but the New York shelter also pursues a presence at neighborhood fairs, grand openings, church bazaars, and other community events. No organization has ever told them no. Soon, local businesses were contacting the shelter, requesting their presence. (There are reports that CCLAS engages in this sort of activity, but this has not been confirmed. These same reports suggest that, if so, it is very infrequent and only at pet-supply stores.) Staying in the public eye has increased awareness of the New York shelter, and this in turn substantially increased the number of their shelter volunteers – from 12 to 140!! The number of homes offered up for fostering there went from a mere handful to a startling 196.
This writer has attempted to establish a line of communication with CCLAS, as the means of learning what exactly their programs are and to share information about programs that they may not have tried, but the results have been discouraging. Only roughly half of my e-mails to them have resulted in any sort of response. I often wondered if I was simply being shut out – with all my talk about “change” and “saving lives.” What few responses I did receive seemed to indicate that this group has accepted the killing, even if reluctantly, of healthy, adoptable cats. And this from a group who states on their website that, “The underlying mission of CCLAS is to improve and protect the lives [emphasis mine] of Lakewood’s pet companion population.” Sadly, it appears that there are occasions, however infrequent, where CCLAS’ stated mission has failed.
“Every life is precious” has long been the unofficial credo of shelters. It well should be, but can be only if we unwaveringly believe that, at the end of the day, any killing of a healthy animal – or even a treatable sick or injured animal – is a profound failure.
One of the things that have made the community of Lakewood so attractive for so long to so many people is the perception that it is a progressive, enlightened community. We can verify this claim in countless ways, and it would perhaps be absolute if it were not for this shameful blemish at the Lakewood Animal Shelter. A community should have total faith in its community’s animal shelter, but this would be because of its lifesaving results. People want to save lives. What they do not want is to help kill animals. Can there somehow, some way, be enough compassion, enough courage, and enough commitment here in our community to put an end, once and for all, to this archaic, senseless, barbaric policy?
If your heart has been aroused by reading this story, and you want to somehow become a part of whatever can be done to keep all of the Lakewood Shelter’s healthy, adoptable cats alive, please promptly contact your Councilperson, the Chief of Police, or the Animal Warden, to express your views. Otherwise, if you have a plan, or an idea about a plan, that may result in increasing adoptions if implemented, share it with any of the afore-mentioned – and share it with the Lakewood Observer, as well.
A 26-year resident of Lakewood.