Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Remembering why the basics are so important - a visit to four animal shelters in China

A Blog Posting from animal behaviour and welfare consultant – Jenna Kiddie
I was very lucky to have had the opportunity in April to visit four animal shelters, three independently-run and one government-run, in China with JMICAWE's vet, Heather Bacon and veterinary nurse, Hayley Walters. Having worked with several UK welfare charities I am familiar with the UK shelter model where dogs are kept in pens, singly, in pairs or in small groups. Therefore, it was perhaps slightly surprising  to be met at the entrance to the three independently run shelters by free-roaming dogs of all shapes, sizes and levels of mobility. Many of the small, paraplegic and friendly dogs are allowed free reign within the shelter boundaries and although an unusual sight to someone used to seeing dogs housed in kennels, all of the dogs looked content with their situation: they had free access to a range of environments, had space to move around in, they were able to explore and interact with a range of other dogs but with the opportunity to avoid them if they chose. This was perhaps in contrast to the welfare of the dogs that were not allowed to free roam and were kept in large groups in relatively small pens in all four shelters. This overcrowding meant that not all of the dogs had access to beds, and competition over access to food was evident.
Overcrowding is therefore a huge welfare problem for the animals kept in these shelters and is likely to exacerbate the consequences of a lack of biosecurity. Although two of the independent shelters do quarantine new dogs for one month to monitor for signs of rabies and to desex the males, as well as running annual rabies vaccine programmes for all dogs in their care, this focus on rabies is perhaps done as a result of the concern for human safety rather than dog welfare as there were several dogs showing signs of other infectious but preventable diseases such as canine distemper virus. Interestingly though, one of the independent shelters that followed these protocols had a significantly and surprisingly much smaller number of sick dogs, in fact only one of the dogs that we saw appeared to be showing signs of infectious disease. However, as we were guided around the shelter, and were not shown the whole site we were unable to determine whether the sick dogs were kept out of sight in order to encourage public funding or whether they were actually  receiving much superior care compared to the other shelters.  Appropriate isolation of infectious animals was not evident at the other shelters, perhaps because of a lack of knowledge or a lack of facilities.
However, despite a lack of resources and knowledge of specific welfare concerns , the dogs were obviously cared for in the independently run shelters, with all of the staff and volunteers showing compassion for their wards. Unfortunately, this same compassion was not evident in the government run shelter where policeman had been posted to the job. This lack of compassion led to additional welfare concerns including fear of punishment and aversive handling techniques. Indifference to the dogs' welfare also meant that what limited medical care and other welfare needs provided for at the independently run shelters was less likely in the government run shelter.
By identifying the various welfare, management, facilities and ethical concerns at the different types of shelter, organisations like JMICAWE are in a perfect position to facilitate animal carers to improve their knowledge of shelter management with respect to animal welfare and the knowledge gathered during  these visits can help structure future education programmes.

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