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Published: Tuesday, 5/17/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago

Exemplary animal care

Saving the lives of lost, abandoned, and confiscated dogs takes a lot of time, effort, expertise, and money. But as our British cousins have demonstrated, it is possible.

About 6,900 dogs call Battersea Dogs and Cats Home outside London home each year. Dogs Trust, which operates 17 Rehoming Centers throughout the United Kingdom, takes in some 16,000 dogs a year. Both have high success rates matching animals with new owners.

At Battersea, animals live in clean, spacious kennels, are well-exercised, and receive abundant stimulation. Dogs have toys, interaction with humans and other animals, piped-in music or talk radio, and soothing scents are sprayed throughout the kennel — all to enrich the kennel experience. As Battersea animal welfare manager Claire Porteous noted, this creates a “dynamic environment” that reduces stress that can adversely affect behavior and make a perfectly good dog appear vicious.

The animals’ physical and behavioral health are evaluated by experts. Care is prescribed to give animals the best chance to be adopted. Potential owners are screened as well to reduce returned animals. The group even provides three months’ outpatient care for adopted dogs and a telephone advice line to help new owners deal with issues that may arise.

The result is a kill rate of about one in three, mostly of dogs that are banned in Great Britain. But dogs are not deemed “incurably aggressive” until they have had time to adjust to kennel life, been evaluated at least twice, and often put through behavioral training.

Dogs Trust doesn’t accept all animals. It turns down illegal breeds and overly aggressive animals. But it does run a special home for old dogs, fosters out dogs with medical problems, and runs a sanctuary for animals that get along with other dogs, but not people.

Both organizations use volunteers extensively. Still, this level of care is costly. Battersea’s annual budget , which includes care for 2,700 cats is $21.5 million.

Some of that money comes from modest adoption fees. A tiny amount is from government sources. But most is raised through private donations, bequests, and fund-raising. So in addition to veterinarians and dog trainers, Battersea employs a full-time staff to devise creative ways to raise money.

Lucas County Dog Warden Julie Lyle has only one-tenth of Battersea’s budget. Even so, her $2.13 million 2011 budget is 27 percent larger than it was a year ago. That’s enough to make an effort to improve the wretched lives of the dogs in her care.

Ms. Lyle made a start at changing both attitudes and conditions at the county pound and among county officials. But one of the biggest changes must be in commitment to care.

Battersea adheres to the philosophy of 19th-century British writer John Bowring, who said: “I cannot understand that morality which excludes animals from human sympathy, or releases man from the debt and obligation he owes to them.” The standard of care in Lucas County generally has led to an early death.

The exercise yard, additions to staff, more spacious kennels, improved adoption area, and other changes Ms. Lyle has in the works are steps in the right direction. Battersea and Dogs Trust demonstrate how much more is possible, without resorting to excessive license fees or extensive taxpayer support.

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