The story behind the loss of Prince Charming

The story behind the loss of Prince Charming
Prince Charming

Guest post by Jenny Schlueter, Tree House Humane Society
(For my take, read here.)

As readers of this blog know, Tuesday afternoon Tree House placed a hold on Prince Charming, a handsome medium-haired stray cat that was from one of our targeted trapping areas. Usually, I don’t have the time to update the threads on Facebook, but since I was home sick, I took the time to let the many posters on his thread know that we had requested a firm hold and had a foster home ready for him.

About half an hour later we received a message that he was no longer available. I asked for clarification if that meant “not currently available” or “no longer with us” and the response was “no longer with us”. I was sad and disappointed, but did not ask for further clarification from the supervisor on duty at that time. There was no indication that the cat was sick on his post, but I assumed there was an explanation that I would find out later. I hesitated to post anything on his thread not wanting to stir up any controversy, but I knew people would be asking so I simply posted that he was gone and I was sorry we couldn’t help him sooner.

When people started questioning what happened on social media it and saying really negative things, I posted a response that there was probably some kind of explanation. Since it was late and I was sick and just wanted to sleep, I decided to address it on Wednesday. Negative rage-filled messages poured in the rest of the evening, which I did my best to ignore. A discussion also ensued about the change in Chicago’s stray hold ordinance.

Later that same night, I got a message from Kathy (the writer of this blog) - whom I know well and respect. I explained what happened and I told her that I intended to find out more info from CACC on Wednesday. Our conversation was relatively brief, and since I had work to do, I hung up and focused on that. Kathy and I often talk “off the record” when a story is developing and while we are both waiting for all the information to develop. Sometimes it’s a matter of days, sometimes a post doesn’t develop at all. I had assumed nothing would be written until more information was forthcoming.

In the meantime, the debate was in full swing on social media from a lot of animal activists wanting to start a conversation about the new stray hold laws and peoples’ concerns about it. Kathy went ahead and posted a brief account of what happened and questioned whether the new stray hold ordinance was going to really help rescue more animals or not. After the post went live, I received a lot of feedback, but concentrated on preparing for my busy day on Wednesday. I soon realized that I needed to reach out to CACC to let them know that I was sorry for the drama and any misunderstandings the posting may have caused, and that I had hoped to speak with them about the situation.

I was downtown presenting at a TNR symposium and then at a meeting for most of the afternoon, but when I got back to the shelter, the first thing I did was go to speak to our Executive Director, Dave de Funiak. Of course by then he told me he had received a voicemail from CACC. Dave represents Tree House on the Commission for Animal Care and Control and I told him that I had never intended for this to blow up this way, and that I was not interested in jeopardizing our working relationship with CACC.

I still hadn’t received a response from anyone at CACC, so I wrote this time to a few other people and reiterated my regret for the communication and expressed my interest in discussing the situation and making things right.

Meanwhile, I learned of an email from a member of CASA that had asked for an explanation for what happened. CASA members spent a lot of time debating the merits of the new stray hold ordinance and wanted to make sure that CACC was going to keep its word of utilizing the law only to facilitate rescues and that they’d hold all animals for at least 5 days as long as they were not seriously sick or injured.

CACC admin had written a very thoughtful email about what happened explaining that the cat had become very ill and testing showed that he was FeLV+. He was struggling and therefore humanely euthanized.

So why I am writing all of this now?

Of course first and foremost I want to apologize for the role my comments played in stirring up any controversy and for giving anyone any reason to mistrust the transfer process at CACC. I also feel horrible for doubting for even a brief time the process and the sincerity of the people implementing them - all of whom I’ve known for quite some time and with whom I’ve had a good working relationship.

However, I also believe that there is an elephant in the room and it is something that many in the rescue community knows I have been trying to discuss for a long time.

There is a level of mistrust that does exist between CACC and the rescue community, and sometimes between other shelters and rescues as well. And, ironically, I am the person who probably preaches the most for positivity, trust, teamwork, etc. in order for us to save as many animals as possible. And now, I temporarily fell prey to the frenzy of mistrust and suspicion that exists, and I really regret that.

But why does it exist?

Is it passion getting in the way of logic? Is it compassion fatigue? It is just human nature? A lack of transparency? Communication Issues?

I would venture to guess that it is a combination of all of those things and more. I want to suggest that we take this opportunity to start a dialogue that will lead to a better working relationship between CACC, the rescues, transporters, volunteers, fosters, etc.

We all want the same thing, and in order to get there, we need to trust each other. When things don’t go our way we need to talk about it, not just post an angry rant on Facebook. For example, CACC: if a transporter tries to assist someone relinquishing an animal on the other side of the counter, don’t punish them, talk to them politely and listen to what they have to say. Rescues: If an animal leaves CACC with a medical condition that you didn’t expect or you feel they didn’t receive adequate treatment, ask CACC about it.

CACC: If a rescue has a question about an animal, do your best to answer the question in a timely manner and don’t give them a hard time about getting records. Rescues: If CACC has to euthanize an animal, don’t comment that they are murderers. These are just a few situations that I have witnessed or have been involved in personally, and I could go on and on, but you all get the picture...

The hardest thing for me about working on our Transfer Program has been to deal with all the negativity surrounding the process, mostly because people always assume that the other party is attacking them so they act accordingly. And I admit the negativity led me to express my concerns in a way I would not have normally done yesterday without getting all the info I needed before doing so (even though I always maintained that I assumed there was a good reason for it, I shouldn’t have talked about it until I had the full story).

But I would like to point out that perhaps the process and the communication could be improved. Although I was well aware that the new law was in effect, because the “due out date” for Prince Charming was still listed as 3/5 and we placed the hold on 3/3, the fact that he was “no longer with us” was all the more shocking because of the date. The fact that there was no info on his profile alluding to the fact that he was sick, led me and others to question why he was gone. When I asked for clarification about the status of the cat, I wonder why the supervisor was not able to mention that he was sick and tested FeLV+? If the community had known this, most would not have questioned that decision, I certainly wouldn’t have, and none of this would have ever happened.

However, I am not saying these things with the intention of placing blame. I am simply trying to suggest that these are issues that might need to be revisited in order to improve communications and therefore increase the level of trust between all the stakeholders involved in rescuing CACC’s animals.

Of course, some would say that we simply must trust each other and that’s it. But in my opinion, trust is earned through open, non-defensive, clear communication.

I understand that currently CACC does not have the resources to provide all the information I refer to above in a timely manner; the transfer team is made up of volunteers and it is impossible for them to keep the profiles updated in real time; the supervisors who read the emails are certainly drowning in requests, confirmations, transport authorizations and more all day and probably don’t have the time to give detailed accounts of what happened to each animal and why.

However, I wonder if in the future a system can be implemented similar to some I’ve seen in other cities with real time medical information updated on a database that anyone can access so that people have the ability to find these answers for themselves and make more informed decisions about the animals they are interested in rescuing?

Of course, proactive rescue which we’ve been discussing a lot this year really works best with in-person evaluation of all animals, but this is not always possible for some rescues, so having another way to get this info would be very helpful.

All of this happened in the shadow of the new stray hold laws which means that any stray cats at CACC become city property the same day they arrive at 7 p.m. and dogs have a three-day stray hold. While I’ve heard many concerns from the rescue community about how this might negatively impact animals, I have reassured them many times that CACC is serious about the reduction in hold time only being used to help more animals, not to euthanized them, and that we must give some time to see how it goes. If executed properly, this ordinance can really make a positive difference for the lives of the animals at CACC to get rescued more quickly and can be a model for other communities.

As Kathy mentioned in her first post, only time will tell, but we can all contribute to its success by working together in a positive way, not wasting precious time and energy on spreading negativity and insults, and working on building the trust needed to do our very best for the animals that we are all passionate about rescuing.

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    I am a crazy cat lady and puppy mill warrior that blogs to advocate and educate about pet issues. In American animal controls, millions of pets are abandoned each year and an estimated 4 million die just because there are not enough homes. It truly seems like it’s Raining Cats and Dogs.

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