Rebecca Stevens fights ‘open-admission’ and Pit Bull stereotypes
By Brendan Quealy
Working at an animal shelter is not an easy task—especially when resources are low and things do not turn out the way you expected. For the staff of the Humane Society for Hamilton County (HSHC), their work is especially difficult because they are the only open-admission facility in their surrounding communities. “We serve as the clearing house for all of the other animal welfare agencies,” says Rebecca Stevens, the executive director of HSHC. “We are the only animal welfare agency that is open-admission—we don’t shut down no matter what.”
“Open-admission” means that the facility cannot turn away any animal for any reason, and because of that, they are often forced to euthanize animals due to a lack of space. But Stevens has made sure HSHC never puts down a healthy animal. In fact, Stevens is quick to point out that not only is HSHC different from the other local animal shelters, it is also different from many other open-admission facilities. “The animals who are hit by cars, the ones who are really sick, or whatever else you can think of—they all come here and every single one of them gets the same chance to live,” says Stevens. “We are very invested in ensuring that every animal lives despite how marketable or not marketable he might be.”
To ensure that her staff only has to put down animals that are suffering medically or have dangerous behavioral issues, Stevens has taken the HSHC’s cause to the public. She and her staff have created a foster home community of more than 200 families and individuals. The HSHC’s most successful program has been their “Survivor Program,” which Stevens began after she received numerous requests for dogs that had been rescued in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. However, her facility had not taken in any of those animals. “It was killing me to turn people away,” says Stevens. “So I started explaining to them that I don’t have the animal you’re looking for, but I’ve got another here with a story that you have to hear.”
Stevens realized people were looking for a good story. They wanted to rescue an animal who had gone through a harrowing experience and come out the other side better for it. “These animals have survived the unthinkable,” says Stevens. “They have overcome so much, and it shows people that they have the means to survive.” About 90 percent of the animals who come in with severe health issues survive their ordeal and are then placed in the “Survivor Program” to be adopted out.
Stevens gives much of the credit to the workers at the Humane Society for Hamilton County, “The staff here is amazing,” beams Stevens. “I could not do this by myself. The people here are incredibly dedicated. They have some of the hardest jobs, and I have the greatest respect for them because I know how hard it is to look in those faces every day.” Stevens also works to educate people about Pit Bulls and dispute some of the myths out there about the breed. She believes better legislation and a better execution of those laws can help solve the problem. Her worry is that knee-jerk reactions will lead to breed-specific legislation that will target the Pit Bull, when “any person with an ounce of common sense can see that eradicating a breed will not put an end to this issue.”
Stevens says that the best way to help her and the rest of the dedicated staff at HSHC is to foster an animal—especially a Bully breed—because that opens up space at their facility.
To find our more information, please visit HamiltonHumane.org.