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Wednesday, September 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 56.0° F  Partly Cloudy
The Paper
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Humane relations

After reading Vikki Kratz's article "Better Off Dead" (12/7/07), I was appalled yet grateful. I couldn't believe the Dane County Humane Society would have all that space for cats and not use it. I am amazed they say cats get sicker and it's too hard to care for them when they use all of the cages.
Twice within the last year, I have adopted cats from the Humane Society. Both had upper respiratory infections. And both times, when I went to look for a cat, there were not many to choose from, and the cages were only half full.
It wasn't until I read this article that I realized what was going on. I'm grateful I got both cats when I did, [before they were euthanized due to illness]. Thank you for this article, and I hope it doesn't stop people from adopting from the Humane Society. That's what needs to happen to keep the animals from being killed.
Jamie Wentworth, Fitchburg

I am a volunteer at the Dane County Humane Society and think the problem is that Dane County needs to commit itself to better care of animals.
Do I wish DCHS didn't have to kill cats? Of course. But an open-admission shelter can only care for so many animals. There are too many farm cats that get surrendered. Until more people spay and neuter their animals, the problem will continue.
The shelter does the best it can, and if Vikki Kratz thinks it can be done better, maybe she should get involved with DCHS to change things. You'll notice she works with Friends of Ferals, which only will accept certain cats, unlike DCHS, which takes in all.
Jeff Cohen

Ms. Kratz: I am at a loss as to why you would write such a one-sided article. You were granted interviews and access to DCHS over a month's time, saw areas that most of the public do not see (i.e., isolation), yet failed to acknowledge even the bare basics of what you learned.
Your article tears apart the already small rescue community that exists in Dane County. Does DCHS need help, and can there be improvement? Yes. Do there need to be more changes and more programs implemented? Yes. Does criticism of a one-sided nature really help accomplish the main goal, that of helping the animals? I think not.
If your true goal was to be of service to the animals in need at DCHS and in Dane County, I believe you have failed.
Tara Cohen

I was a lead volunteer in the capital campaign that raised $5 million for a new animal shelter, so I am familiar with the vision presented to the community. The intent was to never euthanize animals due to space considerations alone. The community stepped forward with incredible generosity and in good faith so this vision could be fulfilled.
Soon after the building was complete, a group led by current board president Cathy Holmes engineered a "coup." The new group obviously did not have the professionalism or management skills to run an organization with a $2 million-plus annual budget.
Holmes and executive director Pam McCloud Smith have had six years to prove themselves, and what we have now is a Humane Society in a downward spiral. This is a tragic waste of a topnotch facility, and a betrayal of the community that built it. Unfortunately, animals who deserve better are paying the price.
Marilyn A. Gardner, Mount Horeb

To suggest that euthanasia is the "easy way out" [as did a quoted source] misrepresents the reality and is hurtful to the shelter staff who are trying to make things better for the animals. This is not to say that DCHS has not made some mistakes; no one is perfect and many factors are out of its control.
Please do not kick DCHS when it is trying to pull us all up. Let us pull together as a community and give it the support it needs.
Cindy Karsten

I worked full-time as an adoption counselor and animal caretaker at DCHS for three years. I've fostered at least 15 animals, both dogs and cats. I've helped local families adopt hundreds of cats treated by Dr. Sandra Newbury and her staff. I left my job there two years ago.
While I certainly do not agree with all of the policies of DCHS and I am not completely up-to-date with recent changes, I understand the complexity of the issues the shelter addresses and the critical role it plays.
Dane County, like most of America, has an animal overpopulation problem. I think this article aimed to turn people against a nonprofit group that is doing good work. If the number of people looking to adopt from DCHS goes down as a result, the pressure to euthanize due to overcrowding will increase, more animals will die, and the author will bear some of the responsibility.
Dave Elger, Sun Prairie

Hello Vince: I wanted to thank you for your column (Making the Paper, "Truth About Cats and Dogs," 12/06/07).
I am with you both in preferring that animals not be destroyed in shelters and in knowing that the no-kill ideal is "mighty hard to achieve," but not impossible. Certainly, it is a nice thing to aim for. We just need to be careful we try to get there carefully.
Also, I am so happy you pointed out the importance of spay/neuter, which is probably the reason we have achieved what we have for dogs in Dane County. I think no-kill can be possible if we get the numbers down.
I also appreciate your comments about managing with care and compassion without losing sight of practicality. That is what I try to advocate.
Sandra Newbury, DVM

I was a volunteer at the Humane Society for four years and had a very different experience than the people mentioned in your article. I'm glad you are promoting awareness on this issue, but I don't think you gave DCHS much of a chance to tell its side of the story.
Anytime an animal is at risk of being euthanized, the Humane Society sends emails and calls volunteers, rescue groups, etc., to see if anyone can take it. I saw no mention of this in the article.
The whole Madison community needs to work together on this issue. It's people who refuse to spay and neuter pets that create these problems - and the numerous people who support breeders, pet shops, etc. that increase the numbers of animals coming into the shelter.
Patricia LaPointe

I am appalled by the number of animals being euthanized by the Dane County Humane Society. Yes, reality is harsh. Certainly, difficult decisions must be made. Yet neither ease nor convenience, much less budgetary considerations, justify taking the life of an animal.
People, please! Bypass the Humane Society. If you have an animal that needs to be placed, contact a rescue group like Shelter from the Storm or Angel's Wish. Be sure you are working with those who have the animal's best interests at heart.
Kelly Bodoh, Sun Prairie

Your story didn't mention that DCHS is also culling pit bull terriers, to the dismay of many volunteers and staff. According to DCHS statistics, in an average month, the shelter takes in about 17 pit bulls. Sure, some dogs (not just pit bulls) cannot be adopted, but DCHS will kill an adoptable pit bull because it already has five (its quota) on the floor.
Despite their tarnished image, pit bull terriers actually do better than golden retrievers on a standard temperament test (see It's all about the people and how a dog is raised. DCHS needs to revise policies that target specific breeds.
Alyssa Severn, organizer, PitiPals + Positively Pitbulls

As heartbreaking as the realities at the Dane County Humane Society are, we need to focus on why these animals end up there in the first place.
Members of the pet industry who benefit financially from the sales of animals must be held accountable, as should pet guardians who fail to have their pets spayed or neutered. Also culpable are those who dump animals on overburdened and underfunded shelters.
Despite the countless scores of neglected, battered and homeless animals, pet shops continue to sell them like merchandise to anyone with a pulse and a credit card. The laws tend to side with the pet industry, rather than what's in the best interest of the animals.
Paula Fitzsimmons

Years ago, I found a healthy young stray cat, and took him to the Dane County Humane Society, thinking his family would come for him. It didn't.
A week later, he was so sick with an upper respiratory infection he was going to be euthanized. I retrieved the poor fellow and spent the next four weeks nursing him back to health, so I object to Ms. Kratz's statement that this illness "is easily treatable."
And cats in a shelter environment easily become stressed out, upset and depressed, making it much more difficult. We need to have an abundance of foster families willing to nurture sick felines and help them find homes; I strongly encourage DCHS to revitalize its foster program.
Having been a DCHS staff member and volunteer, I can attest to the dedication of all who work there. Rather than throwing stones, I suggest concerned residents become DCHS members, attend monthly board meetings, and vote for board members who believe they can usher in a no-kill era.
Patty Roth

There is an alternative to euthanizing animals. The Green County Humane Society has been a no-kill shelter for more than eight years. In that time, no animals have been killed because of space limitations. While it is a continuous struggle financially to keep the shelter going, thanks to volunteers, generous donors and a dedicated staff, we have been able to remain true to our mission.
Almost every Saturday, we have animals available for adoption at PetSmart West in Madison. We always need foster homes, more volunteers, and help in fund-raising. Our website is and we can be reached at 608-325-9600.
Marsha Stanek, Oregon, GCHS volunteer and board member

Kratz is pointing fingers at the wrong party when she criticizes DCHS's euthanasia practices. Those who don't spay and neuter their animals, or surrender them because they made them sneeze or clawed the couch, are to blame, not the shelter, which is staffed by extremely caring individuals who take on society's dirty work.
That's not to say that DCHS shouldn't examine its dog vs. cat euthanasia rate. Euthanasia is a reality that no one likes less than shelter staff. But yes, let's examine who we are euthanizing and why.
Liz Welsh

In "white-collar, highly educated" San Francisco, the cats may be safe but the mice are not. Just like the rats, they're poisoned and trapped and snatched up by, uh, cats.
And not those mosquitoes. They're gassed en mass; swatted and slapped; bloodied and smashed. And the gnats? My God, think of the gnats! They no sooner hatch and the poor things get whacked. Why, Miss Kratz? Why protect just the cats from euthanasia?
Therese Cuccia

Animal rescue organizations are rife with passion, intensity and heartbreak. You see firsthand the results of human cruelty and neglect. You see innocents suffering. And good, kindhearted people must make devastatingly difficult decisions that are not always easy to understand or accept.
Therefore, it's not hard to find someone in any such organization whose beliefs are challenged by those tough decisions, and are anxious to speak out, based on their hearts and not always the complete facts. That, unfortunately, is as far as many reporters choose to go when pursuing stories about the Dane County Humane Society.
Having spent time within this organization - as a member, adopter, foster home provider and board member - I have seen very closely what a wonderful, compassionate and dedicated group they are. To see them accused of "killing cats" out of laziness or lack of dedication is as wildly incorrect as it is vicious.
Jacqi Fleissner

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