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Rescue dog pipeline flows from California to Washington

No local, state or federal agency keeps statistics on how many dogs are brought into Washington from other states for adoption.

But those in the animal rescue community say they’ve noticed an increase in the number of dogs crossing state lines for adoption over the last decade.

Many of the dogs come from California.

The increase of dogs taken to Washington has a lot to do with supply and demand: Prospective Northwest dog owners want small- to medium-size dogs, while shelters in California are overrun with breeds like Chihuahuas.

That trend is not lost on the Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County, the largest shelter in Washington with 11,000 animals. It, too, brings in dogs from out of state.

“It’s our contention if we want to put the puppy mills out of business, we’re going to have to make sure we’re providing the kinds of dogs the public wants,” said Kathleen Olson, executive director of the local humane society. “We’re trying to provide our community a good cross section of breeds and sizes.”

But for every shelter or rescue that works with credible out-of-state nonprofits to bring adoptable dogs to Washington, there’s another that doesn’t.

Animal rescuers, both good and bad, have gravitated to California because it has so many unwanted dogs and, consequently, its shelters have high-kill rates.

One notorious shelter that has pumped many rescue dogs into Washington is the city-run facility in San Bernardino, a low-income community where backyard dog breeding is high and spay-and-neuter rates are low.

The San Bernardino shelter sees more than 16,000 stray or surrendered animals a year. Without enough space to hold them, it is sometimes forced to euthanize animals the day they become eligible for adoption, according to reports in the Press Enterprise newspaper.

In recent years, Facebook and other social media websites have become a meeting place for animal welfare activists trying to save animals from death in places like San Bernardino. Volunteers post lists of dogs slated for euthanasia from California’s high-kill shelters on a daily basis, pleading for people to save them.

Shelters in California make it easy for those rescues to happen — even, in some cases, dangerous animals, Olson said.

“They have a law that if a dog is slated for euthanasia, any rescue has the right to come in and pull the dog, regardless of the behavior,” Olson said.

In some cases, rescuers don’t convey an animal’s aggressive history before the dog is adopted or placed for adoption. That’s because the rescuer is trying to save the dog no matter what, said Lakewood Animal Control Officer Bill Mathies.

While these people need to be held responsible, so do the California shelters releasing the animals, he said.

“If an animal is a known aggressive, why aren’t those animals at the top of the (euthanasia) list?” Mathies said.

One problem with moving rescue animals between states is that important paperwork can get lost.

“There’s a lot of people with big hearts that aren’t doing it right,” said Laura Tonkin, founder of Issaquah-based People United for Pets.

Tonkin uses a network of volunteers in California to identify adoptable dogs. Once in Washington, the dogs are placed in foster homes from Issaquah to Olympia so they aren’t kept in kennels or boarding facilities.

Tonkin balances taking dogs she knows will be adopted quickly with those that are older or have medical conditions. Dogs that bite or have aggression issues don’t make her list.

“It makes no sense for me to take a dog and put it in a foster home or an adopter’s home that’s going to do harm,” she said.

The Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County has a similar policy.

The shelter accepts all animals, even those with aggression issues. But it won’t place aggressive dogs up for adoption.

“Any dog that bites and breaks the skin you do a 10-day quarantine and then euthanize it,” Olson said. “We don’t put it back out in the community.”

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