Where Dogs Go To Die

Critics of the MADACC animal shelter say it doesn’t do enough to prevent dogs from being euthanized.

By - Apr 17th, 2013 12:41 pm
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In July 2011, the University of California-Davis did a study of the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission, or MADACC, that offered much criticism of how the animal shelter operates. The study, commissioned by the Friends of MADACC, a non-profit support group for the shelter, echoes concerns raised by some volunteers who have worked at MADACC. Add the fact that MADACC has had considerable turnover of executive directors in recent years, and it’s clear the shelter has problems it needs to solve.

Karen Sparapani, the new executive director hired in February, concedes that MADACC has problems, and promises to make reforms. MADACC opened in 1999 and serves 19 municipalities, providing Milwaukee County’s animals with shelter and care. Its creation allowed the Wisconsin Humane Society to admit fewer animals and pick and choose which ones it handles, leaving MADACC to handle a bigger volume of animals, including those, like pit bulls, that are unlikely to find an owner and eventually must be euthanized. Critics point to several key issues that Sparapani needs to address.

A High Kill Rate

A dog with an uncertain future.

A dog with an uncertain future.

MADACC takes in roughly 13,000 stray, abused and abandoned animals a year. In January and February of this year, the shelter euthanized nearly 500 animals, and in 2012, it euthanized 5,357 animals. On its website, MADACC says it only euthanizes as a last resort. Pit bulls and adult cats are the two species most commonly euthanized, according to Sparapani.

Upon entering MADACC, an animal is given a seven-day “stray hold,” in accordance with state law, in which no rescue or interested party may interact with them. They are not walked or played with. They are in a state of limbo, waiting. Then on the eighth day, if an owner has not come to reclaim them, the animal becomes MADACC’s property.

This is a long time to hold animals on stray hold compared to animal shelters in other states, Sparapani says.

Marisa Kraft, MADACC volunteer and member of the Milwaukee Animal Alliance, says many dogs may meet their death as soon as the stray hold period is over, on the morning of the eighth day, before MADACC opens its doors to the public. This leaves no opportunity for an individual or rescue group to meet the dog.

Jessica Huber, MADACC’s community outreach and volunteer coordinator since June 2012, says this is a misconception, and the majority of the animals are not euthanized on the eighth day. “I don’t know where that comes from,” she says. “It is very variable (depending) on time, space, temperament and the health of the animal.”

These life-and-death decisions for animals were once handled by MADACC’s former shelter supervisor Kevin Wilken, now the executive director at Saginaw County Animal Control Center in Michigan.

According to Nancy Annaromao, a former volunteer who assisted MADACC with animal placement, Wilken would go through the kennels and choose dogs to be euthanized based on the shelter’s need for space. Pit bulls were most likely to be chosen, because it is harder to find owners for them.

“He would go down the list and go pit bull, pit bull, pit bull and he’d mark off nine pit bulls and those would get killed the next morning,” says Annaromao. “There were no merits for the individual dog.”

In an interview, Wilken confirmed that it was impossible to hold on to dogs due to space issues, especially in the summer. Pit bulls were the first to be euthanized regardless of their temperaments. “Every shelter’s overwhelmed with them,” Wilken says. “In summer time they didn’t even get temperament testing a lot of times because there were so many. You’re only able to place so many pit bulls.”

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9 thoughts on “Where Dogs Go To Die”

  1. DogTired says:

    I am tired of all the bad press for MADACC. Yes they need to fix things but they are in a tough spot. Created because Wisconsin Humane Society (not Milwaukee Humane Society – no such org exists) decided not to do animal control as they had before, it is a municipal organization funded by and led by represetnatives of each community – so it is our community leaders who have out MADACC in the spot it is in not MADACC employees who all along have gone above and beyond what is asked/required of their founding purpose. MADACC was never set up to be an adoption center and they do the best they can with their facilities and staff to get as many animals saved by partnering with other organizations. Furthermore, the US Davis report was funded by Friends of MADACC but actually asked for by Melanie Sobel in order to get the idea of what to improve.

  2. MilwDave says:

    I’m sure the room will be filled with outraged citizens. Meanwhile the Philadelphia abortion clinic will continue to receive little if any mention in the media and the same citizens will stand mute.

  3. Chris Stravinski Sharrow says:

    This article is fair and balanced on the problems and challenges facing MADACC. I wish the best of luck to Karen Sparapani in her new position. I’ve recently begun to follow the MADACC Facebook page and look forward to seeing improvements in the next year.

  4. Rainbows24/7 says:

    Good article. Why don’t most people in Milwaukee know that this is going on? I hope the new Director can make the improvements she talks about here.

  5. Bruce Murphy says:

    Thanks for the note on our error, we corrected and changed “Milwaukee” to Wisconsin Humane Society.

  6. readyforchange says:

    In response to dogtired: Yes, MADACC has gotten a lot of bad press lately, but don’t you think that it’s necessary for change? The things that are going on there need to drastically improve, but if no one knows what’s wrong, who will make sure change happens? It really sounds like the new director wants positive change and I want to believe in her with all of her experience. Thanks for the great article, I can’t wait to see the changes that should be happening in the next year, let’s see some more pit bulls saved!!

  7. SusanR says:

    Could we leave comments on the Gosnell trial in Philly out of this? There is no correlation between abortion and euthanasia of animals, at all. Good luck Karen. Many of us are pulling for you to succeed.

  8. NinjaH says:

    The unfair part of this article is the name…really? “Where dogs go to die”? Despite the fact that many of the animals euthanized are not candidates for adoption (illness, behavior, neglect), there are still thousands of dogs that make it out of MADAAC back to their owners, to local humane societies and rescue partners. So NO, it is not “Where dogs go to die”. MADACC serves a purpose in the community and, just like anything in the whole wide world, there is room for improvement. No one at MADACC, no Director of MADACC and no Board Member of MADACC wake up with the purpose to kill dogs ever day. It would be nice if the community recognized it’s role as community members and stop placing all the blame on one organization. I urge you to figure out exactly how much in tax dollars you pay to MADACC per year. I know my cut is less than $13. How many people do you know that regularly advocate for spay/neuter? How many people have you recruited to help volunteer with organizations like MADACC to work with dogs that need walking, training, etc. How much time do you spend advocating for legislature against puppy mills? Do you help inform poeple to adopt instead of shop? MADACC cannot solve the issues of animal over-crowding, over-breeding, and over-pricing. They will make improvements where they can, but if every single person who reads this article can be responsible for getting one more dog spayed in the Milwaukee area, you would not be reading this type of article nearly as often. And, for everyone who thinks the problem is MADACC, I urge you to consider what role have you taken on that gives you the right to blame someone else?

  9. shannon says:

    First of all, who are any of us to say a dog is not a candidate for adoption and cannot be rehabilitated. Secondly, people who volunteer to help these animals depend on writers who also love animals to advocate for social change through words. It is their way of helping. Furthermore, I do not see the blame. For every acqusation, the opposition is clearly reported upon. It is fair and balanced journalism ending on a positive note for a hopeful future.

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