In 2013, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s announced the opening of a “Behavioral Rehabilitation Center” at the St. Hubert’s-Madison shelter to rehabilitate abused dogs from cruelty cases. At the time, the ASPCA stated:
Dogs admitted to the Center will undergo an intensive rehabilitation regimen, with the goal of improving their well-being and helping them become suitable for adoption.
St. Hubert’s stated the following at the same time:
“St. Hubert’s is proud and thrilled to work with the ASPCA on this groundbreaking initiative to help the neediest victims of animal cruelty and the untold numbers of animals in the future who will benefit from the lessons learned through this program”
The ASPCA announced it would publish a research study about its work at this “Behavioral Center” at the time. On June 30, 2022, the ASPCA published its study.
What did the ASPCA study show? Did the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s do right by these victims of animal cruelty?
Scared and Abused Dogs Slaughtered
The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s program severely restricted the types of dogs it took in. The dogs were victims of animal cruelty or neglect who were fearful or exhibited such behavior. The program would not accept the following types of dogs:
- Physically unhealthy dogs
- Dogs with other behavior problems, such as resource guarding, dog aggression and separation anxiety
- Dogs with offensive aggression
From 2013 to 2016, the study took place at the St. Hubert’s-Madison shelter. In 2018, the Behavioral Rehabilitation Center moved to Weaverville, North Carolina. However, the results did not significantly differ between the two facilities and the authors pooled both locations for their study.
Despite the ASPCA taking in physically healthy dogs and those who didn’t display serious aggression (i.e. offensive as opposed to defensive aggression) and other behavior issues, the organization still killed 61 out of 441 or 14% of these scared and abused dogs (two additional dogs were killed by organizations receiving them from the ASPCA).
Death Panel Kills Traumatized Dogs
The Behavioral Rehabilitation Center’s protocol was limited. For five days each week, the organizations provided a mere 15 minutes of “treatment” a day. In fact, dogs on average only spent 93 days (St. Hubert’s) and 108 days (North Carolina) in the program. Therefore, dogs only received on average 4 hours and 39 minutes and 5 hours and 24 minutes of total “treatment” at the St. Hubert’s and North Carolina facilities. During the the other two days a week, dogs received unspecified in-kennel enrichment. The dogs also received a combination of medicines (selected dogs at St. Hubert’s and all dogs at the North Carolina facility). Specifically, a veterinarian prescribed the anti-depressant, Prozac, and the ant-seizure and sedating pain control medicine, Gabapentin. Thus, the dogs received very little rehabilitation.
Each week, the “Outcome Decisions Panel” decided whether dogs lived or died. Specifically, the study stated the following:
If a dog did not show positive behavior change in response to treatment to meet Adoptability Guidelines and/or continued to suffer from a poor quality of life for behavioral reasons, medical problems that arose while the dog was in treatment, or both, the Panel made the decision to humanely euthanize the dog.
In other words, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s consistently made killing a viable solution.
Killing Sad and Depressed Dogs
The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s death panel used a “Quality of Life Assessment Scale” as one of the two primary criteria for deciding the fates of dogs. Shockingly, the organizations’ instructions explicitly state this life or death tool determines if the dogs are currently experiencing mental anguish and not for predicting whether such mental issues would persist outside of the facility. In other words, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s could kill a dog who is mentally distressed at their “Behavioral Rehabilitation Center”, but would be fine in a home.
At the BRC, this tool is used to help determine if a dog is experiencing a good quality of life based on actual observations in the dog’s current environments. It is not to be used to predict quality of life in another time or context.
The “Quality of Life Assessment Scale” is a tool designed to kill dogs by claiming the animals are “mentally suffering.” If a dog doesn’t play on their own, with other dogs, toys or people, the dog has a “poor quality” of life. If the dog doesn’t socialize with other living beings, the animal must be “mentally suffering.” Dogs that don’t urine mark, chew, dig or roll around must have a poor quality of life that makes killing the only “humane” option. If a dog makes the wrong decision about a fear inducing stimuli, we must kill the dog to put him or her out of their misery. Dogs that exhibit repetitive behavior or are scared and anxious must be killed due to their “poor quality” of life. As a result, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s created a pseudo scientific tool to justify killing dogs for absurd reasons.
“Adoptability Guidelines” Designed to Kill Scared Dogs
The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s provided “guidelines” to its death panel to help them determine the fates of dogs. While the organizations state these are “flexible guidelines”, the instructions explicitly state “dogs should exhibit interest/excitement at best and mild to moderate fear at worst in each category” to “graduate from the program.”
The following serve as flexible guidelines, not criteria, to help the Outcome Decisions Panel determine each dog’s outcome. In general, in order to graduate from the program, dogs should exhibit interest/excitement at best and mild to moderate fear at worst in each category.
The “Kennel Presence” standards doom scared dogs who are experiencing kennel stress. The general guidelines require dogs to act nice in their kennels when a person walks by and approaches their kennels:
The dog can tolerate unfamiliar people walking past his or her kennel.
The dog can tolerate an unfamiliar person approaching the front of his or her kennel and pausing for up to 30 seconds to look at the dog.
Additionally, dogs who show barrier reactivity fail the test and presumably are destined for killing:
Lunging and barking, charging the front of the kennel, growling, and showing teeth in the kennel are not acceptable.
In reality, barrier or kennel aggression has no relationship to aggression in the real world. It is shelter specific behavior relating to the stress dogs, especially abused and traumatized ones, experience in an unnatural environment. During my times volunteering at shelters, I knew countless dogs with kennel aggression that were perfectly fine in a normal setting. In fact, Dogs Playing for Life, which is an expert at providing enrichment to shelter dogs, states barrier aggression should not be used to assess a dog’s aggression:
Staff will learn that a dog’s behavior on-leash or in their kennel (such as leash reactivity and barrier reactivity) is not an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills. A dog that may be labeled aggressive because of kennel behavior may exhibit healthy social skills in play group.
The ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s “Social Behavior/Interaction with People” guidelines require abused dogs to be social butterflies. Dogs should eat out of a familiar person’s hand and follow them around or greet them. One has to to ask, how many people, let alone those experiencing several emotional trauma, could pass such tests?
The dog can eat from a familiar person’s hand.
The dog can eat in the presence of an unfamiliar person. The unfamiliar person can toss treats on the ground/floor.
The dog exhibits behavior indicating that he or she has developed a social relationship with at least one person. Behavior may be subtle: positioning the body near the familiar person, following the familiar person around a room or pen, wagging at or approaching the person to sniff/greet when he or she enters a room, etc. Demonstrative social behavior is not required (e.g., jumping up on the person, play bowing, licking the person’s face).
In fact, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s explicitly state dogs who move away from their owner more than 50% of the time or urinate or try to escape exhibit “unacceptable” behavior (i.e. code word for deserve to die).
Mild fear when interacting with a familiar person in other ways is acceptable. However, moving away 50% of the time or more when a familiar person attempts to come into close proximity (within arm’s reach) of the dog is not acceptable unless the dog immediately returns to the person after the initial move away.
Extreme fear is not acceptable (e.g., loss of bladder or bowel control, escape behavior).
The guidance for putting on a dog’s leash sentences many abused animals to death. Dogs have to let both familiar and unfamiliar people put a leash on. If it takes more than 5 seconds to put the dog’s leash on, the dog is doomed.
The dog allows a familiar person to leash and unleash him or her using a slip lead and clip lead in a variety of environments, including the dog’s kennel, a “Real Life Room”, and an outdoor play yard. The use of a drag line to facilitate leashing is acceptable if the dog is in a larger room or outdoor space.
The dog also allows an unfamiliar person to leash and unleash him or her using a slip lead and a clip lead in a variety of environments without the presence of a familiar person or a helper dog.
A person shouldn’t need to use “stealthy,” skillful handling techniques to apply the leash. The dog doesn’t have to stay in one place during the leashing process, but it doesn’t take more than 5 seconds to apply the leash.
If the dog pees, shakes, tries to get away or bites the leash, the dog fails these tests and is destined for killing:
Moderate fear and extreme fear are not acceptable (e.g., loss of bladder or bowel control, escape behavior, violent trembling, catatonia).
Aggression directed toward a person or the leash (snapping or biting at the slip lead during leashing) is unacceptable
The ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s “Leash Walking” guidance is designed to kill traumatized dogs. If a dog is even the slightest bit reactive, the dog fails. Specifically, the guidance states a “dog can tolerate both a familiar person and an unfamiliar person walking him or her on-leash in the following contexts”:
The dog can walk on-leash past at least one unfamiliar person without a helper dog present.
The dog can walk on-leash in an unfamiliar area without a helper dog present.
The dog can walk up and down stairs, both indoors and outdoors.
The dog can walk through thresholds without balking, panicking, or fleeing.
The dog can walk on-leash in a park-like setting and in a neighborhood with moderate distractions, like occasional passing cars and foot traffic.
In fact, a dog fails and is likely sentenced to death if he or she gets scared for more than a minute by a car or a sudden sound. If the dog panics, chews on the leash or stops walking, the dog fails and the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s will likely kill them.
Mild fear throughout is acceptable. Moderate fear (e.g., startling or stopping when hearing a sudden sound or when a car drives past) is acceptable if the dog recovers, showing a decrease in fearful body language/behavior, within one minute.
Extreme fear is not acceptable (e.g., panic, escape behavior, “gator rolling,” chewing on the leash, becoming completely immobile, and refusing to continue walking).
The “Handling” guidance dooms even dogs who don’t come from abuse cases. Abused dogs must allow strangers to touch them. Furthermore, traumatized dogs have to allow “familiar” people to grab their paws, ears and muzzles and allow those people to give them a bear hug for 10 seconds. If the person has to work to do these things, the dog fails.
The dog tolerates both a familiar person and an unfamiliar person gently handling non-sensitive areas of the dog’s body (chest, shoulders, back, etc.). The dog does not have to appear to actively enjoy or solicit petting.
The dog tolerates a familiar person gently handling sensitive parts of the dog’s body (e.g., paws, ears, muzzle).
Touching the dog shouldn’t require the use of “stealthy,” skilled handling techniques or forced proximity (confining the dog to a small space in order to corner him or her).
The dog tolerates a familiar person gently restraining him or her (picking up the dog or performing a vet hold) for 10 seconds.
The dog doesn’t need to stay completely still when the person attempts to pick up or restrain him or her. However, the handler shouldn’t need to reposition the dog more than one time to accomplish the task.
If the animal shakes, tries to get away or urinates during these trauma-inducing actions, the dog fails and likely faces a death sentence.
Moderate and extreme fear are not acceptable (e.g., loss of bladder or bowel control, escape behavior, violent trembling, catatonia).
If the dog growls or muzzle punches when someone touches a sensitive area, the dog fails and is likely slated for death.
Growling, snapping, muzzle punching, attempting to bite, or biting during gentle, pain-free handling of non-sensitive or sensitive areas is not acceptable.
If a dog resists in anyway when putting on a muzzle for a veterinary appointment or won’t wear the muzzle for more than three minutes, the dog fails and likely faces being poisoned to death by the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s.
If restraint or handling sensitive areas in a veterinary context provoke an aggressive response, the dog can tolerate wearing a muzzle for a minimum of 3 minutes. A familiar person can easily apply the muzzle, and the dog does not panic, paw at the muzzle, or thrash around after it is secured.
The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s even slate dogs who don’t like being in crates for potential death. According to these organizations’ “guidelines”, dogs must go into a crate within 10 seconds or resist being put into a crate for three seconds or less. If a dog barks or whines in their crate for more than a minute during their first 30 minutes in a crate, the animal doesn’t meet these ridiculous guidelines.
The dog can go into an airline or wire crate within 10 seconds. He or she may do so by following a tossed treat, responding to a cue (verbal cue or hand signal), or moving into the crate when gently guided by the collar. If guided by the collar, the dog does not balk or attempt to back up for more than 3 seconds.
The dog can be left alone inside a crate for at least 30 minutes without barking or whining for more than a total of 1 minute at a time. The dog does not paw at the crate, bite at the crate, or attempt to escape from the crate.
The guidance dooms dogs who shake, pant heavily, “excessively” drool” or attempt to escape from their crates. If a dog barks for more than five seconds while in their crate after a person startles them, the animal fails the test. In other words, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s view these as capital offenses worthy of the death penalty.
Moderate and extreme fear are not acceptable (e.g., trembling, panting heavily, excessively drooling, attempting to escape).
If a person suddenly enters the room and startles the dog, alarm barking alone is acceptable if the dog stops barking within 5 seconds.
The guidelines for how the dogs respond to getting into and riding in cars is deeply disturbing. The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s expect traumatized dogs to allow people to boost them or pick them up to put the animals in cars. Also, dogs must be able to ride in a car restrained by a seat belt, inside a crate or behind a barrier. Apparently, dogs who don’t like to ride in cars are worthy of the death penalty in the ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s eyes.
The dog can get into a car by jumping up into it, by jumping up partway and then allowing a handler to “boost” him or her into it, or by allowing a handler to pick him or her up.
The dog can ride in a car, restrained by a dog seatbelt, inside a crate or behind a barrier.
Dogs who are scared in cars get no empathy from these kill first organizations. If a dog becomes startled for more than 30 seconds when a loud truck passes or when the car makes a sudden movement, the animal fails the test. If the dog shakes, attempts to escape or bites the leash when getting near or into a car, the dog is deemed unfit. Similarly, if a dog barks for more than five seconds after someone suddenly appears and startles the dog in a car, the dog fails. If a scared dog lunges, barks, growls and shows teeth while being scared in the car, the dog fails. Thus, the ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s guidance sentences dogs to potential death for the mere crime of being scared to ride in cars.
Moderate fear (e.g., startling when a loud truck passes by or when the car makes sudden movements) is acceptable if the dog recovers (shows an obvious decrease in fearful body language/behavior) within 30 seconds.
Showing extreme fear (trembling, attempting to escape, biting at the leash, etc.) when approaching a car, getting into a car, or riding in a car is not acceptable.
If a person suddenly appears and startles the dog while he or she is in the car, alarm barking alone is acceptable if the dog stops barking within 5 seconds.
Lunging and barking, growling, and showing teeth at any time are not acceptable.
Dogs who are scared of other dogs get no reprieve from the behavior Nazis at the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s. If a dog shakes a lot, urinates, tries to escape or becomes frozen in fear when seeing another dog, the dog fails the test and likely faces a death sentence. Dogs that bark for more than 10 seconds when seeing a dog off-leash fail the test. If the dog is on leash, the dog fails if the handler can’t lead the barking dog away in five seconds or less. Upon greeting another dog, the dog fails the test if the dog growls, barks and shows teeth for more than five seconds. If the scared dog lunges forward and barks and growls at another dog, the dog fails and is slated for death. Even if another dog attacks the scared dog, the dog fails if it defends itself and continues after the aggressor dog backs down. Thus, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s expect traumatized and abused dogs to be perfect with other dogs or face a death sentence.
Extreme fear is not acceptable (e.g., loss of bladder or bowel control, escape behavior, violent trembling, complete immobility).
Alarm barking alone may be acceptable when the dog sees another dog from a distance (8 feet away or more) or when another dog comes into view, as long as he or she stops vocalizing in under 10 seconds, and, if the dog is on-leash, an average handler can lead him or her in another direction within 5 seconds or less.
Lunging or charging forward toward another dog, along with barking, growling, and/or showing teeth, are not acceptable in any context.
When greeting another dog, growling, barking, showing teeth, and snapping are acceptable as long as these behaviors are brief (under 5 seconds) and inhibited: the dog stays in place or moves away from the other dog. Appropriate “corrections,” such as loudly barking and snapping at another dog that jumps on the dog or persistently solicits play, are acceptable. Biting (causing one or more puncture wounds) is not acceptable.
All aggressive behavior is acceptable if the dog is responding to aggressive behavior initiated by another dog—unless the dog continues to aggress after the aggressor stops (lies down, tries to move or run away, rolls over, yelps, and shows fearful body language, etc.).
Most disturbing, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s killed dogs with “moderate” fear who improved. According to the ASPCA guidance, these dogs were not “extremely fearful” during the majority of their evaluations, showed brief social behaviors with a familiar person and did not bite or attempt to bite. Specifically, the dogs the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s killed on average improved from having “severe” to “moderate” fear. Thus, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s killed dogs who progressed and clearly were capable of living their lives without harming anyone.
Program Utilizes Scientifically Invalid Temperament Tests
The ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s “rehabilitation” program is based off flawed temperament testing. While the tests were more expansive than those in the ASPCA’s SAFER program, many of them are still based on behavior in an unnatural shelter setting. Scientific studies show these tests are inaccurate. In fact, the authors of a 2019 study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior concluded:
This argues against use of any behavior evaluation to make important decisions for shelter dogs, especially if the behavior(s) of concern were only observed during provocative testing.
In fact, the ASPCA itself wrote a “Position Statement” in 2018 arguing against using its SAFER test in most circumstances:
For these reasons, the ASPCA recommends that, unless aggressive behavior during an assessment is egregious*, shelters should consider it valid only if corroborated in another environment.
*”Egregious” aggression should be defined by the individual shelter, but some defining characteristics could be (a) a bite that requires medical treatment, (b) an injurious bite that the dog could have avoided inflicting but opted to bite rather than retreat, (c) an injurious bite delivered without obvious warning, or (d) an attack in which repeated injurious bites are delivered.
The authors of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior study criticized the ASPCA’s limited use of temperament tests:
However we would argue that even if used in such a fashion, it must still be recognized that the clinical importance of the behavior(s) remains subjective and should not be interpreted as a scientifically validated indicator of future behavior.
Despite this, the ASPCA continued using scientifically invalid temperament tests at its Behavioral Rehabilitation Center even after it wrote its position statement arguing against using such tests. Specifically, the ASPCA published it position opposing temperament tests in 2018 and continued to enroll dogs into its study using such tests through 2020.
ASPCA and St. Hubert’s Hypocrisy
The ASPCA’s killing of more than 60 abused and traumatized dogs contradicts its TV ads about the organization saving abused animals. When one considers the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s deliberately did not accept dogs who displayed serious aggression (i.e. offensive) and those animals with concerning medical issues, these killings become even more disgusting. Simply put, the ASPCA dupes its donors into thinking it is saving abused dogs when it is in fact killing significant numbers of these creatures.
The ASPCA’s killing becomes more abhorrent when we consider the immense wealth this organization has. According to the ASPCA’s most recent year Form 990, it took in $325 million of revenue. At the end of its most recent fiscal year, the ASPCA had $407 million of net assets. The ASPCA’s CEO received $966,004 of total compensation in its most recent reported year. As a result, the ASPCA killed scared and abused dogs after short periods of time while it had massive amounts of money available and paid its CEO exorbitantly.
The ASPCA’s corruption is consistent with a CBS News expose last summer. The news organization found the ASPCA only spent 40% of its money on the animals despite its TV ads portraying that is where the money goes. Additionally, the organization took advantage of the public belief that the ASPCA and local SPCA shelters are the same organization, when they are not, to garner fundraising dollars for itself.
Most insidious, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s are trying to pass laws to force innocent pet owners accused of neglect and abuse to surrender their animals to them and/or their partner kill shelters. Under these bills, shelters can force owners accused of neglect or cruelty to surrender their animals before a case is decided if those owner can’t pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of fees. After shelters take ownership of these pets, these facilities can kill the animals. As we see with the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s own study, this is a very significant risk. Even if the owners are ultimately found innocent, they cannot get their animals back. According to Connecticut’s Office of Legislative Research, only 18% of 3,500 animal cruelty cases in the state from 2008 to 2018 resulted in a finding of guilt. Thus, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s push these laws to raise money off these cases and then often kill the pets when their fundraising use ends.
Unfortunately, the ASPCA seeks to kill more dogs who are “mentally suffering” under proposed New York legislation. While vaguely worded, the bill would essentially force shelters to kill mentally or emotionally ill dogs they couldn’t treat. When we couple this with the ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s pet seizing cost of care bill, we can see shelters seizing innocent pet owners dogs, fundraising off them and then killing them because they couldn’t “treat” them. In other words, these bills would codify the ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s abhorrent practice of killing scared dogs.
The ASPCA authors of this study stated the following:
This program represents a significant investment of time and expertise; we acknowledge that only well-resourced animal welfare agencies can provide a comparable program for moderately to extremely fearful dogs.
Although the treatment time required was not insubstantial, we hope this report will encourage well-resourced organizations to invest in the recovery of homeless animals who fit this population’s behavioral profile.
Frankly, no organization, wealthy or poor, should implement a “program” that kills more than five dozen scared and abused dogs. Imagine if you were an abused dog in a facility with people looking for ways to kill you? How much fear would you experience when behavior Nazis were provoking you to become more fearful and lash out? People who sought to make you so scared you urinated or defecated on the ground, trembled and became catatonic. Simply put, these are sociopathic actions and no organization who cares about animals should ever replicate them.