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What Happens When ‘Save Rates’ Trump Common Sense?

Written by Lindsay Pollard-Post | July 17, 2014

Penny, a spunky senior mutt, loved taking daily walks with her 76-year-old guardian, Hazel Mortensen. They would stop at shops along their route so that Penny could visit her many adoring “fans” and accept treats from smitten shop owners. But one day, Penny’s walk was violently cut short.

Three dogs who were being offered for adoption by a “rescue” group in a public park attacked Penny (who was on a leash), breaking her jaw and injuring her so severely that she required 75 stitches. Hazel lost part of a finger and needed surgery on both hands after the attack. Penny survived, but her back legs were injured. When she started dragging her legs up the stairs, Hazel knew that her beloved companion’s quality of life had become unbearable, and she made the heartbreaking but compassionate decision to have her euthanized.



Incidents like this are becoming increasingly common as some shelters become so obsessed with “save rates” that they are willing to compromise the welfare of animals and people in the community—as well as that of the animals they take in—just to avoid having to raise their euthanasia figures. In some cases, dogs with known histories of biting have allegedly even been adopted out to unsuspecting members of the public. And dogs who are repeatedly adopted, returned, kept isolated, and shuttled around to different facilities are victims, too. Being rejected over and over again is a confusing and traumatic experience for dogs, and it can cause them to develop various types of fear-based behavior—including biting—through no fault of their own, such as in these cases:

  • In Roswell, New Mexico, last month, three dogs reportedly escaped from a “rescue” facility and attacked a 9-year-old boy outside his home. The dogs reportedly ripped off the boy’s shirt, mangled his arms and legs, and pulled him to the ground. The boy sustained puncture wounds to his neck, chest, arms, and legs. The dogs also ripped off part of his ears.Two of the dogs were shot at the scene, one fatally. The wounded dog later had to be euthanized because of the severity of the injuries incurred, and the third dog was impounded. Many dangerous dogs who are “spared” a peaceful passing through euthanasia are still killed—but often by gunshot rather than humanely—after they attack someone.
  • In Stamford, Connecticut, the city’s animal control manager turned herself in to police last month after a warrant was issued for her arrest for three counts of reckless endangerment. Among other similar allegations, the shelter advertised an 84-pound dog who had been returned because he had bitten someone as “harmless in play.” The dog was adopted out again and bit someone so severely that he or she had to go to the hospital.
  • At the Animal Care League in Oak Park, Illinois, a dog who had reportedly killed a cat within three hours of being adopted was adopted out again without notifying the new adopters about the dog’s history. According to a former employee at the shelter, “members of the staff felt as though they had to lie to the second family all in the name of adoption.”
  • A Whitestone, New York, organization called Second Chance Rescue allegedly adopted out a dog to a father with two children despite a report from the shelter that the dog had originally come from advising against placing him in a home with kids. The dog allegedly clamped down onto the leg of the adopter’s 9-year-old daughter while she sat on a swing. When her 13-year-old brother tried to pry the dog’s jaws off her leg, the dog nearly bit off his nose.

Not only is offering dogs who have shown a propensity to attack or kill humans and other animals for adoption dangerous, it also deters people from adopting any dog from a shelter out of fear that the shelter won’t disclose the animal’s history of attacks, and it can taint the public’s opinion of all dogs in shelters—the vast majority of whom are friendly and loving and have ended up homeless through no fault of their own. At the Animal Care League shelter in Oak Park, Illinois, a veterinary technician attributes an 18 percent drop in dog adoptions this year to the bad reputation that the shelter has been developing as people have learned about the aggressive dogs who were adopted out by the group.

Obsessing over “save rates” and “live-release numbers” at shelters causes more animal suffering, not less. Please, support well-run open-admission shelters—those that welcome every animal who comes through the door and recognize that euthanasia is the most compassionate option for some animals—and work to stop the homeless-animal crisis at its source by spaying and neutering.

Commenting is closed.
  • Maria Amaral says:

    I agree with Norma Campbell.

  • Katie says:

    Very good article! I’m a pit bull advocate but I always say, if the dog is dangerous and unable to be rehabilitated it needs to be euthanized. The articles linked to area also very good.

    • Holly says:

      Agreed, well said. This article had to be written (again and again). I’m worn out from fighting with hapless dogooder rescue organizations and those uninformed individuals who are clueless about how PETA saves and rehabilitates those they can and they turn the other animal angels over to God. This is the kindest way to save an animal who has already been to hell and won’t survive going back. PETA presents their/our case in a calm, rational and factual manner with a heartfelt yet professional presentation. Which is the *only* way to attract the public’s attention and to garner the support of those who truly care about the best way to work with severely abused and neglected animals. This is one of the reasons PETA is still around and is recognized worldwide.

  • andrea says:

    I have worked with all types of animals my entire life ,well since I WAS 5 AND I’m KNOW 55. I’ve been a Vet Tech and know that there are so many mishandled animals that cannot recover from the abuse suffered at the hands of the owner, the only fair and loving thing to do is to euthanize the animal. Animals have feelings and emotions, get depressed ,show anger from abuse and there are times certain animals will never be safe around the general public. IF THIS IS THE CASE THE ONLY HUMANE THING TO DO IS TO EUTHANIZE THE ANIMAL IN A LOVING WAY. NOT BY DROWNING IT, THROWING IT OFF BALCONIES, STOMPING AND HITTING IT WITH OBJENCTS BUT AN INJECTION THAT SIMPLEY PUTS THE ANIMAL TO SLEEP THEN THE INJECTION THAT SENDS IT TO HEAVEN. I have cried a million tears since joining PETA and seeing the horrific footage animals go through and for the sake of their wonderful hearts I hope they die rather than continue to live in the abusive place. I also hope all violations of abuse will someday somehow become a way of life and animal abuse numbers will go way down when laws are put in place to protect ALL LIVING CREATURES,AS FOR THE ABUSER MAY GOD HELP YOU TO SEE THE ANGER AND VIOLENCE YOU ARE INFLICTING AND CHANGE YOUR WAYS BEFORE YOU MEET YOUR MAKER.

  • Karla Botha says:

    I have unfortunately had to euthanize two dogs in my life. One was a rescue who was too abused to be saved, the other a pup that was shot by a farmer. The shot did not kill the animal – just put it in pain. Sometimes euthanasia is the kindest option. I know that I would not want to suffer pain and torment my entire life. If the animal cannot be saved and/or the quality of life has become unbearable….euthanize.

  • melanie howard friedland says:

    oh my god, yes sometimes indeed it is necessary to euthanize animals, sad but true.

  • susan armstrong says:

    I am all for saving an animals – but id they know there is a history of attacking – then no unless they are adopted out to childless people without other animals who preferably do not work and have the time to instil all the boundaries that animals need

  • Lisa Luz says:

    I was walking my 7 pound rat terrier when a vicious dog came after her. I clutched her up above my head in my hands as the dog circled me, ran straight for me, lunged at my dog, over and over again. I was terrified, yelled for help, saw men standing around but they did not help me. The dog had terror in his eyes as he took me took my knees, my instincts kicked in and I had to determine whether the dog would bite my hands. I went out into the street where I stopped traffic, the dog had taken me down again. I saw blood all over my dog but it was my blood, I didn’t feel any pain, he had biten my lip. I had no choice but to let her run, I let my dog go, a man bent over and took the dog off me. Later, the dog was taken to animal Control where they determined the dog was to be adopted out at the Humane Society! I had to call the police and have them call Animal Control because the dog was to be euthanized being that hewas vicious. Isn’t that insane? I am glad I checked because this dog was trained to kill and he would have tried to kill again.

  • Louise says:


  • I have been lucky all my shelter rescue dogs have been great. Each comes with their own problems of shyness,fear of being hit,turning in circles because he was from a puppy mill and had lived 4 years in a small breeding cage. No biters though or attack problems. I was lucky. With love and kindness they are showed what great dogs they were.

  • Frederick Semel says:

    I send my deepest sympathies to Hazel over what was obviously an extremely painful experience with the loss of her beloved Penny. Take Note-Public! When you adopt, go to a certified organization such as your local SPCA that knows how to screen for temperament and implements other measures to assure incidents like this don’t happen.

  • Leanne Petro says:

    I recently had to have my beloved 16 year old cat euthanized due to illness and old age and know how heartbroken Hazel must have felt – I am sorry she had to endure having to lose her companion because of someone else’s irresponsible actions. The attack must have been really frightening. Hopefully steps can be taken to put an end to this kind of thing. Keep up the good work Peta, you are an inspiration…………




  • Marilyn Byrne Graziano says:

    I agree with Marie-Claire Marchand

  • Andrea Briones says:

    I have known more than one instance of shelters dumping dangerous biting and over active dogs to elderly women who could not properly handle them. I do not believe that campaigning to get people to adopt pets who would otherwise not have adopted a pet is a bad idea. We can make shelters better places to live and invite the public to come and play with dogs and even “adopt” a favorite dog to visit regularly. There could be shelters in every neighborhood with parks for people to come and take dogs out to play and for walks.

  • Christine says:

    We have had cases like this in Australia that resulted in pounds and animal shelter fined and shut down for compiling with regulations

  • Cheryl says:

    Each person with a pet must face this difficult decision of releasing a loved animal companion when that times comes, including myself. I found peace when a friend reminded me that these animals are trusting their lives to us. It is a gift of love to make that hard decision to help them to the other side of the rainbow. Remember they are trusting us to help them…even to depart in is a kind thing to do. We shouldn’t want them to be suffering. Just be there holding and comforting them until the end. Animals love us more than we could ever love them back.

  • Yvonne A. says:

    There are times when euthanasia is the kindest, most unselfish decision a pet owner could make. Think of what the pet is going through, and their quality of life. This article does an excellent job of describing why shelters need to be responsible and upfront when adopting out animals, and wise when making decisions about an animal’s future. Being returned over and over is a very sad and confusing experience for a dog. Euthanasia is sometimes necessary if a dog bites even after going through rehabilitation. It is more merciful than leaving a dog to languish in a pen and never have a home.

  • Donna McCartie says:

    It is sad to know that animals have been needlessly born from lazy uncareing humans.. then left to fend for themselves or be so mistreated that they do become vicious. All this sadness brought on because the cruellest animal of all …. the human….

  • Karen says:

    I am so sorry for the loss of Penny and the injuries to Hazel’s hands. When I saw her pictures, I was reminded of a small black and white dog that looked like her, also named Penny, who lived next door when I was a child. It’s doubly sad that the end of her life came about as a result of that attack. We know that our pets will die, but we want their ends to be gentle and as painless as possible.

    I am a pet rescuer and have taken in dogs and cats that other people probably would not have accepted. I do not have children, and was definitely cautious with dogs around the smaller, more vulnerable animals. I’m happy to report that their behaviors improved and none of them harmed anyone while transitioning from whatever experiences they had been through. I completely agree that one has to be very vigilant until these animals stabilize and their history should be completely revealed to an adopter. It is very sad when a healthy animal loses its life due to behaviors developed through mistreatment, but it’s also wrong when many other potentially great pets lose out on getting a new home because people looking for a dog have been turned off by a bad adoption situation.

  • dawn says:

    each animal needs to be evaluated and, if necessary, segregated to protect itself or others. Volunteers mean well but they also need to know the animal they are representing before doing any handling.

  • Olivia Tuttle says:

    I sure hope that they will be more careful. I cannot stand to see animals treated inhumanely because people have not scruples. I have adopted 6 animals in my life, 5 dogs and a bird not to mention cats that have been dropped off in my area and we took in. My son and his wife also like to give homes to animals who are homeless. The dog that I have now is a rescue and was picked out by my husband a year before he passed away unexpectedly. I could almost say that my dog has my huband’s spirit because he loves me so much and is so affectionate. In a big nutshell, I hope that we are all able to do the right thing.

  • nancy says:

    If I lost my baby to an animal that would have done what was done to penny, I would be outraged to.. God bless Penny.

  • LaDonna says:

    I am so sorry for the loss of your pet … it is heartbreaking. I’ll keep you in my most positive thoughts and prayers. I hope that you are healed physically — I know it is impossible to be emotionally healed from this process …

  • These dogs need to go through training so that they are adoptable and can be trusted! Adopting out mean dogs is just not right; please spend the time to rehab them so that they can enjoy good homes!

  • Priscilla Point says:

    This disgusts me. People need to take responsibility for their animals.

  • Elaine Small says:

    There is at times a lack of compassion in our society across the board for all living creatures. We have to strike a balance to ensure the safety of both humans and animals.

  • Vera says:

    I have been rescuing for 22 years … and have seen the worst of the worst. Several dogs I kept because I could not in good conscience adopt them out. Two were so damaged, despite my efforts they needed to be euthanized. Sometime there is no option. A dog that bites can never go to a family home.

  • Caro Anderson says:

    While I support our local “no-kill” humane society shelter, I do not think this policy best serves our community or it’s homeless pets. Many pets needing homes are put on wait lists that take way too long, which result in many of them being dumped or re-homed to less than suitable homes because the shelter cannot take them within a reasonable time. While euthanasia is an unpleasant task, it’s also necessary as long as irresponsible people keep breeding pets for which no homes exist. It’s very sad…the shelters have a never-ending need for more money to operate, and those responsible (the “back-yard” breeders & “puppy mills”) are not penalized as they should be (or better yet, shut down!). Why should all the responsible pet-owners & homeowners be hit with the costs* to fix the situation that very few of them have caused. (They wanted to tax those getting their pets vaccinated, & now they are trying to get homeowners to voluntarily contribute on their property tax bills…but it’s not working…the country shelter has a financial crisis & may have to close!)

    My heart goes out to Hazel Mortensen for the loss of her beloved companion Penny. Those in the position of adopting dogs need to make some difficult choices and use common sense when it comes to the pets they offer for adoption. The world as we know it is getting more crowded, both with people & pets.

  • Adriana Fernández says:


  • Marvin says:

    There is a tremendously important lesson here. Dogs are, first and foremost dogs and not people. They do not behave as people might wish because their world differs from our in many significant ways.

    Dogs behave as they do because of millions of years of evolution which exhibits itself as various behaviours. Breeding will tend to focus certain behaviours in different breeds and so create dogs which favour certain physical and emotional characteristics. Certain environments will stimulate, or trigger those characteristics and so may cause some dogs to become more aggressive.

    To fully understand that would require us to see, feel and think like dogs. Such understanding is not common to average people. Even highly qualified and experienced dog trainers will acknowledge that some specific dogs should not be with children or other animals.

    This is not a breed specific bias, and I am not singling out any one breed as an example. It is important to note that dogs are individuals and as just have tendencies towards being more passive or more aggressive, such as do humans.

    Broad general policies may serve a human idea of ethics and morals, or some political objective, but may not be correct for every dog and every situation. The end result of trying to make such policies fit all dogs in all situations will simply result in more tragedies and more public confusion.

    Full disclosure regarding the history of every dog at every shelter should be the ongoing policy. It is the only responsible thing to do. Dangerous people with violent histories are segregated from the population. While we may be sympathetic to them owning their condition being the result of a tragic circumstance, we also don’t want them free to do more harm. Such should be our attitude toward dogs.

    Beyond all else there needs to be a tremendous effort to educate people about dogs and dog behaviours. So much trouble and needless tragedy could be avoided if people better understood dogs and how to interact with them. When it comes to dogs, fear and ignorance and the worst enemies.

    It is important to note that humans have invited dogs into our lives. We have made them into the animals which occupy the world with us. In that regard we need to take special care to ensure that we do what is not only responsible but also ethical in how we treat them.

  • I had a similar experience from my local shelter. My son was 13, my daughter three when we adopted a beautiful Samoyed. We bought him home and he was quiet and well behaved. We never heard him bark. Once I “thought” I head him growl when I gave my daughter a hot dog for lunch but I was unsure. Sitting in the living room looking out the storm door, “Bart” saw a kitten rush out of the door of the house next door. In 2 seconds flat he burst through the storm door and after the kitten. Fortunately, the kitten ran beneath a Blue Spruce tree that was about 35 years old, no way Bart could find his way under the tree. I went outside, got him by the collar and too him indoors. I shut the front door, but Bart saw the little kitten leave its hiding space through a kitchen window. He burst through a wooden sliding door, down three steps and out of the back screen door after the kitten who retreated back under the tree. He would not respond to my call, unsure what to do, I called the shelter, I described the behavior and the shelter staff inquired, “is the dog’s name Bart?” They where obviously familiar with Bart. They advised me to use a garden sprinkler and give Bart an unexpected shower. Bart immediately regained his senses. This time I put him in the car, knowing he could not escape. I gathered my handbag and drove to the shelter which was closed for the weekend. The emergency worker responded at the rear door, and said “Hello Bart.” I asked what would happen to Bart. The staff person told me, he could not comment but based on Bart’s history this beautiful Samoyed would be put down. I was both heartbroken at the thought of his death and livid because my children had been in danger, especially my 3 year old.

  • maria says:

    Fire them all for abuse

  • Beverley Bairstow says:

    It is heartbreaking for this poor lady to have to go through this, I’m a senior with a lovely dog as my only companion. I cannot imagine what this trauma must have been like, My heart goes out to her at may Penny rest in peace.

  • Veronica Marco says:

    I am sick sick sick of these hateful humans who betray innocent pets…..really
    feel overwhelmed by it all….please keep exposing these hateful heartless humans
    thank you for standing up for the animals ,,,

  • Kathy Wilkins says:

    A few years ago there was a beautiful orange neutered male cat hanging around our house and we called him Heathcliff. A neighbor and I fed him for a while but we wanted to find him a home. We both had animals and couldn’t adopt him so I called the Norfolk SPCA for help. They told me they were a no-kill shelter and so there was a 300 plus-long waiting list before they could help us! We were lucky with Heathcliff, cause we ended up finding him a home. And I admit it, we were attached to him and didn’t want him euthanized, so we did everything we could do to avoid that. But I felt there should have been some sort of assistance for us, but in the end, we did their job! The NSPCA representative I spoke with had some negative things to say about local organizations that DID practice euthanasia but they had no help for us. And I’m suspecting that in the end, the Norfolk Animal Management Center, PETA and other animal welfare organizations that do euthanize are, in the long run, doing their dirty work for them. I don’t like euthanasia, nobody does; I kept out of it when all the volleying was going on in the newspaper some months ago about the subject, but what is the good in being no-kill and having it disable you from being able to help other animals in the community? I think, aside from the obvious solution of spaying and neutering that society seems to be to selfish or uncaring to accept, shelters, those we depend on for answers to society’s animal issues, need to make some responsible decisions. All animals can be loved, but not all are adoptable. Readopting an animal that bites or that keeps being returned is a sign that someone is not making reasonable decisions concerning those adoptions. Loving all animals is easy. Loving animals enough to do right by them, even when it hurts us, is harder to do, but necessary. And until society rises up out of its ignorance, innocent animals will die.

  • Cory says:

    I am so sorry you lost your dog to this.

  • Jaqueline L. says:

    But to Hazel Mortensen ~ I’m so sorry for your loss and for Penny. Those dogs shouldn’t have been loose whatsoever. It’s a terrible thing.

  • Judy Guy says:

    This is most distressing to hear. Now we have to really keep an eye on the places we thought were helping the animals. What is this world coming to?

  • Michael says:

    Having any pets require full commitment and being responsible. If you are not responsible enough then don’t. Animals have feelings, please do not abuse them.

  • Deborah Ellsworth says:

    No kill shelters should ALWAYS be concerned with the quality of life these animals are going to have.

  • Lynda Barondes says:

    I’m afraid my comment would be rejected because I am incredibly angry!Thank you for all your work.

  • This is never acceptable–people who are trained to evaluate homeless dogs must go the distance and never let dogs that are dangerous to people or other animals be in a position do injure and casue the death of someone’s beloved pet. It gives adoption a bad name which in the end will cause more homeless dogs to suffer and never find a good home.

  • Understandably homeless dogs with behaviors must be thoroughly assessed. So, rescue shelters must be trained to do the appropriate assessment of each animal. Once that is done, factors must be considered that would help in placing that animal in an appropriate home. Some animals may never find a appropriate home because of their history and temperament. But always, full assessment must be done before that animal is put down.

  • June Cowden says:

    I was the Executive Director of a humane society for 6 years. I believe we did an excellent job for the animals who came into our care. I was often asked why we did not advertise ourselves as a “no-kill” shelter although we met and exceeded the standards for such a designation. I replied that it was, in all cases, false advertising. It gave the public the impression that no animal was ever euthanized for any reason, which is inhumane and unethical. We controlled our population through receiving animals by appointment to manage space and by an extensive foster care program.

    When asked by the shelter’s Board whether we should declare ourselves “no-kill”, I and several other staff explained why that designation is really a lie – it doesn’t mean animals don’t die, it just means they don’t die “here”. We told the Board that if such a designation were imposed on the shelter that we all would hand in our resignations. Fortunately, they were intelligent and open-minded people who were willing to learn and the matter ended there.

    Don’t be fooled by language that is really just a cover-up for false, ineffective and cruel practices.

  • Rescue groups are fingers in the perpetual dike….stricter laws in terms of mandatory spay neutering and limiting amount of breeders is vital to stem this tide…..anyone who is interested in seeing the tide turn need only look to Germany as a model…..they put the responsibility back where it belongs; in the owners lap!

  • cARO says:

    Poor darling Penny …. so what happened to the Rescue people who had the rogue dogs….

  • cARO says:

    I will say a thousand times … it is not the aimals who re bad …. that is how their BAD HUMAN BEINGS have brought them up…. that is the ROOT OF THE TROUBLE . HUMAN BEINGS.

  • carol edwards says:

    This is a very difficult one for me being an avid animal lover, if the animal is known to have attacked anything ie animal/person it must always be notified to the person adopting. If then it is taken and attacks again it should be humanely euthanized, and I mean humanely. In some cases these animals cannot be rehomed, but as long as a chance has been given to them then you can ask no more. Unfortunately some homes do not give these poor animals a chance and they are put to sleep immediately, this is not right.



  • rose says:

    I am so sorry you and penny had to go thru this. it’s the worse feeling in the world to loose your pet. probably worse at the hands of animals not being watched. i hope they throw the book on the owner(s) responsible for penny’s attack and ultimately her passing.

    • joellen gilchrist says:

      Rose, the attacking dog had no owner. Read the article again. Those responsible for the attack are “no-kill” shelter people who were unable to control a vicious dog they had up for adoption in a park.

      • Lois West says:

        I’ve been crying while I read these heartbreaking stories. I do not believe that pet animals are vicious by nature. I hope that animals that need help will find a person who is able to heal them.