Rescued Pets Movement would like to respond comprehensively to the recent media reports and other attention involving its partnership with Houston’s Bureau of Regulation and Care (BARC) and its relationships with Colorado rescue organizations.
The Importance of Companion Animal Transport Programs
The National Federation of Humane Societies “has identified animal transfer programs as one of the key strategies to achieving its 2020 Vision to find a home for every healthy and treatable animal on a nationwide basis by the year 2020.”
Rescued Pets Movement recognizes and agrees that while transport programs are a “key” part of reducing the homeless pet population, it is not, by itself, the solution. Indeed, spaying and neutering is the primary way to put an end to the homeless pet population. RPM’s program, however, focuses on the companion animals that are alive and in our shelters today. Our program is making, and can continue to make, a significant impact on BARC’s save rate.
Transport Programs Are Not New
RPM’s transport program, while brand new to Houston, is not a new concept. One of RPM’s founders was actively involved in a very successful transport program in New Mexico for over four years before returning to Houston. RPM is based on her vast transport experience and strong relationships with accredited nonprofit rescue groups in Colorado.
Transport programs like these have been saving shelter animals for over fifteen years. PetsMart’s Rescue Waggin’, for example, has been in existence for ten years, and in that time, the program has transported over 60,000 dogs and puppies to areas of the nation that have a need for adoptable pets. According to PetsMart–“Location is everything: Some cities have too many homeless dogs and puppies; others have waiting adopters.” (See http://www.petsmartcharities.org/pro/adoption-programs/rescue-waggin.)
Another example is the ASPCA’s “MAP” (Moving Animals Places) program, which recognizes the importance of transport programs for saving the lives of shelter animals across the United States. MAP is an interactive and free web-based map application that connects animal shelters across the country and allows participating shelters with surplus animals to find and partner with shelters that have available space and a higher demand for adoptable animals. As the ASPCA recognizes: “The one time or reoccurring animal transport process can help more animals find loving homes.” (See http://www.aspcapro.org/map.)
We encourage you to visit the websites of these programs and learn more about them.
On March 1-2, 2014, two RPM officers traveled to Colorado to meet with a number of our Colorado rescue organization colleagues. We were amazed at the actual lack of animals in those facilities. For example, Longmont Humane Society and MaxFund were both less than half full and had no puppies, and Boulder Humane Society (not yet a partner) had only 47 pets in the entire facility. Boulder Humane–which is a receiving shelter for 55 outside organizations, is a member of PetsMart’s Rescue Waggin’, and “[t]ransfer[s] in thousands of dogs and cats each year from overcrowded shelters where they face uncertain futures”–has been accepting transferred pets for several years.
The Allegations Against RPM
There have been reports in the media and unsubstantiated statements on Facebook that BARC and RPM are not following best practices when transporting BARC pets to Colorado. Statements have been made that RPM is moving sick or seriously injured animals on our transports because we are transporting heartworm positive dogs. It has been alleged that, even in spite of each pet receiving a health certificate by a licensed veterinarian stating that the pet is healthy to travel, heartworm positive dogs still should not travel.
Best Practices for Transporting Companion Animals
The National Federation of Humane Societies (NFHS) has set out best practices when transporting companion animals. (See http://www.humanefederation.org/Transfer
BestPractice.cfm.) There are three tiers. Tier 1 provides “[b]asic, minimum standards for transporting animals in a healthy and safe manner.” Under that tier (which still meets standards for transporting animals in a healthy and safe manner), heartworm testing is not even required. Tier 2, which provides “[m]oderate standards for transporting animals from source shelters with more than basic resources,” requires only that a heartworm test be performed and the result of that test be reported to the receiving organization. Tier 3—the highest tier—sets out “[a]dvanced standards for transporting animals from source shelters with supported resources.” Tier 3, like Tier 2, also requires only that a heartworm test be performed and the result of that test be reported to the receiving organization.
There is no law or regulation in the State of Colorado that makes it illegal to transport a heartworm positive dog into the state.
A dog is not per se unhealthy to travel or seriously injured simply because he or she has heartworms. Whether a dog is “healthy” to travel is determined on a case-by-case basis by a licensed veterinarian when issuing a health certificate.
RPM’s Transport Practices
BARC or RPM tests every dog over six months for heartworms, and RPM fully discloses those results to our receiving organizations. This disclosure is made when we first contact the receiving group, and the receiving group commits to taking a pet with this information in hand. In fact, RPM rarely commits to transport a pet from BARC without a commitment from a receiving group, and again, that group is fully aware of the dog’s heartworm status before committing to take the dog. RPM goes even farther by sending every heartworm positive dog with a year’s worth of heartworm preventative. Accordingly, by testing for heartworms and disclosing those results up front, RPM goes beyond NFHS’s minimum transport standards. In fact, RPM’s transport practices are most comparable to Tier 3 (RPM does not include a parvovirus titer because each puppy under six months old receives two parvo boosters and is held for a minimum of ten days to ensure the illness does not present before transport). RPM also complies with regulations on transporting animals within the State of Colorado as set forth by PACFA (discussed below).
RPM expends vast resources to ensure that each pet that is transported is healthy and able to travel. We hold each pet until it is healthy to travel and provide each pet with extensive veterinary care in the interim–at great expense. As a safety net, we also microchip every pet we transport in case one of those pets ends up in a shelter. We are always ready and willing to retrieve any pet that is not claimed and to take back any pet that a Colorado group needs to return to us.
Finally, RPM has invested significant funds to retrofit our existing van with special flooring, insulation, dual heat and air conditioning, and a back-up camera for our driver. A Colorado animal control officer recently looked at our van and the records that accompanied our pets and was very impressed with our operation.
New Hope Rescue
Colorado enacted the Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act (PACFA), which the Colorado Department of Agriculture touts as the most “inclusive and comprehensive” animal welfare program in the nation, “making Colorado a leader for pet care in the United States.” At all times when RPM was sending pets to New Hope, the organization was licensed by PACFA, and we never heard of any complaints against this organization. In order to be licensed by PACFA, New Hope was inspected by PACFA officials and passed that inspection. New Hope’s PACFA license expired on February 28, 2014, and we understand that it is being renewed in accordance with PACFA rules.
While we have been provided no specific information on the pending case against New Hope (although requested multiple times), we understand the complaint against New Hope to relate to its alleged failure to do Immiticide treatment on a nursing mother that had only been in Colorado for ten days and was still adjusting to her new surroundings.
Proper Heartworm Treatment for a Particular Dog
Whether Immiticide is the proper treatment and the timing of that treatment should be left to the educated judgment of a licensed veterinarian on case-by-case basis with the primary focus on what is in the best interest of that particular dog. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, Immiticide should not be given to a nursing mom.
The American Heartworm Society (AHS) publishes Guidelines for the Prevention, Diagnosis, and Management of Heartworm Infection in Dogs. It is our understanding that until these guidelines were amended in January 2014, “soft” or “slow-kill” treatment (giving the heartworm positive dog a monthly HeartGard to kill of the larvae and allowing the adults to die on their own) was recognized as a viable alternative to Immiticide treatment. Even with the amendment, the 2014 Guidelines recognize that, when there is a shortage of Immiticide (as there currently is), soft treatment is the only option.
Certainly, in Houston, where there is a high incidence of heartworm positive dogs, the Houston rescue groups and their veterinarians explore the appropriate treatment options, and the slow-kill method is a widely accepted alternative. It is shocking to think that if a Houston rescue group or pet owner determined with their vet that the soft treatment was in the best interest of the dog, they could be charged with animal cruelty.
The Current State of Events
When we first spoke with the local organization alleging charges against New Hope, we were assured that if any of the dogs seized were transported to New Hope by RPM, they would work with us to have those pets returned to us. Although RPM asked that the mother and her seven puppies be released to us, they have not done so and, instead, have already adopted several of the puppies out less than two weeks after they were seized. (According to this organization’s website as of last week, its adoption fees range as high as $600, and last week it had a puppy up for adoption for $500). They still refuse to return the mother.
The vast majority of pets in RPM’s program were set to be euthanized the day we pulled them from BARC and had no other option but RPM’s transport program. Indeed, the mother and puppies at issue in the New Hope matter had no other option except for RPM’s transport program. BARC contacted us, informed us that no other rescue group could take the family, and stated they would be euthanized by the end of the day. We literally were the last hope for this family of a mother and her seven puppies. We then contacted our Colorado rescue colleagues, and New Hope stepped up to help this mother and puppies, heartworms and all.
In light of recent events, including the Colorado organization’s chilling position on heartworm positive dogs and the ease at which individuals have jumped on board to question our practices without investigation, we are being forced to suspend assisting heartworm positive dogs. In just the past two days, we have had to decline to help three families of mothers and nursing puppies and a few other adoptable dogs simply because the moms/other dogs were heartworm positive. No other Houston group could take them. They were euthanized. We are deeply saddened by the death of these families and dogs that could have had a chance at rescue and life but for the position that heartworm positive dogs are per se “unhealthy.”
We are further saddened by the attack on RPM and the ease at which those who claim to want to save lives are so quick to discredit qualified rescue groups. Animal rescue groups should be one community with one objective–the safe and loving care of all pets. We all have a duty to stop the backbiting, to work together to relieve animal suffering, and to play a part in stopping the euthanization of shelter animals.
RPM’s sole concern is the best interest of Houston’s shelter pets and the homeless pets we take into our program, and it is a shame that we have had to waste significant time and energy to respond to baseless, uninformed allegations and supposition. If there are further questions, please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will do our best to timely respond.
Thank you to those who support our program. We honestly could not do what we do without you. Do not worry–RPM will continue its mission and will continue our work to save the lives of Houston’s shelter pets that will otherwise be killed. RPM remains the very last resort and hope for many of the animals at BARC today.