In a busy hallway, out of the sight of potential adopters, a staff member and two kennel volunteers at Wayside Waifs Humane
Society in Kansas City, Mo., crowd around a video camera. They're watching film of a Yorkshire terrier snapping angrily at
a plastic hand on a stick positioned near her food. Even when the hand leaves the food bowl, the Yorkie chases it to the corner
of the room. "I was scared," admits one volunteer who was in the room with the Yorkie during the test. The dog won't be put
up for adoption without behavior modification. But who will provide that training? The shelter? A behaviorist? A private practitioner?
The advocate: Dr. Luke Pickett (pictured with a newly neutered cat) turned away from private practice to become a veterinarian
at Wayside Waifs Humane Society. "I'm the advocate for these animals without owners," he says. (PHOTOS BY MARK MCDONALD)
At first glance, it may seem like private practitioners are on the same team as shelter personnel, animal control officers,
and rescue groups. Everyone wants the best for the pets who wind up in their facilities.
But beneath this unified surface runs an undercurrent of suspicion. Shelter staff worry that veterinarians are badmouthing
them when treating pets adopted from their facilities: "This disease should have been diagnosed. This animal had to have been
sick at the shelter." In turn, veterinarians worry that shelters tell folks that private-practice doctors are heartless profitmongers
because they have the audacity to charge for their services when so many animals need help.
These are extreme positions, and neither is entirely valid. Pets adopted from shelters may indeed become sick soon after they
leave, but symptoms often don't appear during the shelter stay, medical treatment is costly, and close quarters are inevitable.
On the other hand, idealistic animal-welfare personnel may have a hard time grasping the financial realities of running a
private practice. These misunderstandings continue, and the reality remains: Homeless pets need help.
In the trenches
Are you ready to break the impasse? Do you want to help but don't know how to balance animal-welfare needs with those of your
business? Well, many of the shelter personnel we talked to want just one thing from you: A listening ear. They have stories
to tell. They're reaching out. Can you spare a minute?
The big, fancy shelter
In Wayside Waifs' lobby, a receptionist sits at an information desk, signs point toward dog and cat adoption areas, and, on
this day, a volunteer explains to a new adopter that a resident dog's behavior issues stem from abuse by a previous owner.
Unlike many animal control facilities and shelters, Wayside Waifs can afford a staff of more than 50, including four technicians
and two full-time veterinarians who maintain protocols for behavioral assessment, disease treatment, and other health considerations.
Through a door and down a clean-smelling corridor is the intake area, where everyone who enters must wipe their feet on a
trifectant-soaked mat to keep from spreading pathogens. Cages behind big glass windows hold newly arrived cats that will be
in quarantine for at least two weeks. They can't move on to the adoption area because one of the cats was diagnosed with a
contagious disease, and shelter staff need to be sure none of the others are infected. Disease outbreaks happen.
Beneficial relationship: Private practitioner Dr. John Lyle (left) helps shelter veterinarian Dr. Luke Pickett. (PHOTOS BY
Courtney Thomas, director of operations, has been working at Wayside Waifs since 2002 and knows that reality. This shelter
is Kansas City's largest and one of its finest, but it's not immune from the problems every shelter faces. "The moment an
animal walks into a shelter, it's potentially exposed," Thomas says. "The best we can do is vaccinate on intake, cut down
on stress levels, and do our best to limit the spread of disease."