On one such occasion, I took the back roads and thoroughly enjoyed the drive: through scenic farmland and rolling hills. Most of Wisconsin is like this and I was travelling only a very small portion. We are the nation's largest producers of cheese, cranberries, oats and snap beans. Wisconsin ranks second (only behind California) in the number of organic farms and the value of organic sales. There are 78,000 farms in Wisconsin totalling more than fifteen million acres. Agriculture is second only to manufacturing, as the driving force behind Wisconsin's economy. This doesn't include the thousands of hobby farms and acreage dwellers.
I started to think about how much of our animal welfare community has lost touch with reality and the rest of Wisconsin. The pendulum of animal welfare has swung so far past the middle ground - into the realm of unrealistic expectations of "perfect" inside homes.
One of my good friends has spent most of her adult life working in animal welfare. She used to manage a small rural shelter in Wisconsin eighteen years ago. They adopted out barn cats then. Not so anymore. It saddens me to think of the lives lost because one small shelter changed a policy. Then multiply that by the hundreds of shelters and rescues in Wisconsin, many who have implemented increasingly restrictive adoption policies in a misguided attempt to save lives. Thankfully, some shelters are reversing the trend, to more open adoption policies that actually DO save lives.
Restrictive adoption practices: no farm dogs, no barn cats, no children, must have fenced yards. The KC Dog Blog wrote an excellent piece on this a couple of weeks ago "Loving Homeless Pets to Death."
I recently received this email from a rural Wisconsinite who had stumbled across my blog about barn cats:
"I just read this blog of yours and am contacting you about the same situation with dogs. Specifically, since you are in favor of Barn Cats, are you also in favor of "Barn Dogs'? I want to adopt a dog (not a puppy) that will be kept outside, but obviously there is no shelter or rescue group that would ever let this happen. I am tired of being judged on how it is better to kill a dog than let it enjoy a yard with a family, food, and shelter."
Unfortunately, I didn't have a good answer for her.
Small, rural shelters will suffer the most from these bad policies. If you aren't a welcoming place for your whole community you are doomed. If you deny adoptions and make judgmental decisions about the people who walk through your door, then don't expect donations to come flooding in when you ask for them. At a small shelter, the pool of available donors is pretty small - so you better not have turned them away or turned them off when they came to you to adopt, surrender or find their lost pet.
When will the pendulum swing back to the middle ground of common sense? When shelter and rescue staff, volunteers and management realize that their misguided philosophies are killing animals, instead of saving them.