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The Evolution of Dog Rescue

When people think about the local animal shelter, I would guess they have an image of that ASPCA commercial with the pathetic looking dog pressing his nose and adorable eyes against the bars of his cage as he begs you to take him home. That commercial is so well done, I usually turn down the volume if I don’t change the channel. Sheryl Blancato, founder of The Second Chance Animal Shelter in North Brookfield, MA, and her husband Joe say that the mission of animal shelters in the US is moving beyond the issues represented by what we see in that commercial. For instance, in 2015 Second Chance Animal Shelter with operations in Central and Western Massachusetts helped 26,000 animals, but only 1000 of those animals were adoptions. Sheryl and Joe Blancato discuss the evolving mission of animal rescue in the U.S.

When Sheryl Blancatostarted Second Chance some 20 years ago, it was out of necessity. At that time Mrs. Blancato was working as a part-time animal control officer in North and East Brookfield, MA, and when she picked up an animal, she found herself having to drive an hour in one direction to a shelter where she could drop it off. “We needed a closer site to house the animals we were finding.”

Fast forward to 2017:

Programs offered by Second Chance Animal Shelter

  • Subsidized Veterinary Care – Locations in North Brookfield, Springfield, and one soon to open in Worcester to offer veterinary care to those living in underserved communities

  • Project Good Dog - In conjunction with the Worcester area sheriff’s department in which inmates that are transitioning back into the community train dogs to have better manners – Second Chance trains inmates to train dogs and Second Chance takes on all costs of the program.

  • Homebound to the Rescue – Free program for elderly folks with pets to help them maintain the health of their animals through basic veterinary care: exams, vaccines, nail trims, flea treatments, etc.

  • Educational Outreach – Second Chance visits local schools and youth groups with animals to educate children about how to take care of pets and to inform young people about the plight of homeless animals. Sheryl counts on children passing on what they learn to family and friends to build a community that cares about animals.

  • Quarantine Facility/Hub for New England – When animals are transported from other states to Massachusetts, they have to be quarantined for a period of 48 hours and they need a veterinary release before they can be adopted. This facilitytakes in 150 animals per month and will help to supply dogs and cats to other shelters throughout New England.

  • Pets for Life – Humane Society of the United States program – Second Chance goes into underserved communities where they offer vaccinations, free spaying/neutering. Sheryl says: “Veterinary care has become unaffordable for many; especially in the underserved (communities). And that’s why we have our subsidized vet clinics…in the Northeast 87% of the animals in the general population are spayed and neutered. But, it’s a flip in the underserved communities. 87% are not. And of those, 77% have never seen a vet in their lifetime.The other 23% that have seen a vet…it’s usually a vaccine clinic.” Joe Blancato adds that “in the underserved community in the U.S., there are approximately 23 million cats and dogs living in poverty”.

Sheryl says there are many people who say that folks who do not have much money should not own a pet. That would mean that the joy of owning a pet is only for the wealthy. She goes on to say: “Think about the elderly widow who has nobody but has this cat or this dog. That (animal) is their whole life. Are you going to say that because you’re on a fixed income and can’t afford veterinary expense, you can’t have it? I know people who should be going to assisted living, but they are not because they want to stay with their animals.”

During their training with Pets for Life, Sheryl describes being shown a picture of a dog with no hair. The dog’s physical state appeared to be horrible.All the training participants were asked: “Is this an abused animal?” They all agreed that it was indeed abused, but then they were told the real story: The dog in the picture was owned by an elderly lady and when the dog got mange, she tried to cure it by putting motor oil on the animal. Apparently, it is an old wives tale that motor oil cures mange. The lady was not abusing the animal; she was trying to help it. She loved the dog. And according to Sheryl, the kicker was that if the dog had been removed from the lady’s home, it would have been put down because it was only nice to her and probably not adoptable. Instead, Pets for Life was able to cure the dog’s mange, and the lady and her dog were able to remain together.

Joe Blancato adds that those who have worked in the animal welfare field for many years have seen many horrific situations and “we have become jaded and we have become very judgmental. So when you walk down the street and see someone with an animal that has a visible issue, your immediate response is ‘You’re a bad person’…What we’re saying is that you have to stop this judgmental stuff and find out what the real issue is.”

“In 1999 there were more animals that needed to come into the shelter than we could keep up with. That (situation) evolved to (a mission of) high volume spay/neuter. That was 2006.” Through the spay/neuter programs in conjunction with subsidized veterinary care and improved education around how to train your dog, the quantity of animals coming to shelters in New England have greatly decreased. Animal welfare is becoming much less about adoptions and much more about keeping animals in their homes.

“I can’t tell you how many times in the course of a month, we get a phone call at our adoption center saying: ‘I want to surrender my dog.’ When asked why, the person responds: ‘It’s peeing all over my house and I can’t deal with it anymore.’ Second Chance will respond: ‘Have you seen a veterinarian? Maybe your dog has a urinary tract infection. And if it doesn’t, we’re going to teach you how to house train that dog.’ Now what happens? The dog stays in its house.”

Second Chance’s subsidized health care has grown organically in the same way that Sheryl first started the shelter. A true example: A family is emotionally devastated when they bring their dog to the shelter after it was hit by a car. The veterinarians at Tufts (Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University) said it would cost $10,000 to fix the dog’s broken legs or offered an option to euthanize the dog. Not willing to accept those choices, the heartbroken family brings their dog to surrender it at Second Chance. Second Chance has some of the equipment to fix the dog’s legs but not all of it, so the organization purchases more equipment and offers to fix the dog’s legs for $3500.00. The family agrees, the dog is saved, the family stays together and Second Chance becomes even better equipped to handle more emergencies.

Second Chance has two subsidized veterinary clinics, one in North Brookfield and one at “the X” in Springfield, MA. The area surrounding “the X” is underserved. Folks who live there tend not have money to pay a vet and many probably would not have access to transportation to even reach a veterinarian. Now, Second Chance is opening a third subsidized veterinary clinic in Worcester, MA down from Clark University. Joe Blancato describes responses he gets from some people when they hear about the location of the newest clinic. He says they say “ooh”, as to say “Why are you going there?” His response, “Because those are the people that need us. They don’t have cars. They can’t come to North Brookfield. They can’t put their pit bull on the bus. So, we need to go to them.” Second Chance also utilizes two 26 foot mobile surgical units to reach folks who do not live within walking distance of these smaller clinics and say that they have now outgrown their clinic location in Springfield because “we are constantly packed there.”

Blancato considers Second Chance “a responsible transporter”. She reports that her organization gives shelters in the south $25 “for each dog we transport” and that money is to be used for spay/neuter. Transporting animals provides some relief, but it does not solve the problem. By supporting spaying and neutering programs, little by little, there will be fewer and fewer animals that need to be transported north. In fact, Sheryl Blancato estimates that in 5 to 7 years, there will no longer be a need for animal transports from the south because there will no longer be an overpopulation of dogs and cats. Because the need for shelters that engage in adoptions will continue to diminish, animal welfare organizations will need to change their focus to education, training, and/or veterinary care or run the risk of becoming obsolete.

What is an adoptable dog?

Weighing in on the question, Sheryl says that when she hears about shelters that have few dogs for adoption, she thinks that it would be helpful for shelters to revisit/review their criteria for what makes an animal adoptable. Maybe some food aggressive dogs do not have to be euthanized. Perhaps they can be rehabilitated. Mrs. Blancato goes on to say that some people believe that if a dog has cancer, he will not be adoptable. To that, Blancato says that she adopted out 5 dogs with cancer last year.

Project Good Dog

Project Good Dog has only been operating for 1.5years, but preliminary data suggests that the recidivism rate of inmates who work with dogs in Worcester was cut in half. One inmate programparticipant who had been locked up for 20 years reported that he learned that he could care about something other than himself. Sheryl Blancato adds that because the dogs that are placed with inmates are the dogs in need ofconstant, consistent training, something that cannot be provided in a shelter setting, euthanasia rates are dropping. The program is a win for inmates, dogs, and for society.

What’s next?

In February, Sheryl will be heading to Puerto Rico to mentor a shelter on the island. With some shelters reporting a 95% euthanasia rate, dogs in P.R. are facing a significant challenge. Mrs. Blancato is confident that by instituting changes that have worked here in U.S. mainland: transporting dogs from overcrowded shelters, supporting spay/neuter programs, and educating people about how best to train and treat a dog, it won’t be long before Puerto Rico sees significant improvement in the welfare of dogs on the island. Soon, through the efforts of people like the Blancatos and the Second Chance Animal Shelter, the narrative portrayed by the next ASPCA commercial may be one of hope instead of sadness.

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