Building Rome dog by dog

Pine Bluff Animal Control is attempting to turn over a new leaf. For decades the beleaguered city department has been more the center of controversy than animal compassion. We want to encourage municipal officials to support these needed efforts.

While the department was only just placed under the command of Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, a few positive signs are already in evidence. Animal Control staff are being trained on a variety of policies and procedures. Police Department public information officer, Lt. David Price also indicated that the shelter is moving toward a “no-kill” paradigm of operation, according to a television report.

With the benefit of additional revenue, the department plans to construct additional facilities for the care and sheltering of animals. Anyone who has ever been in the current facility understands the deep necessity of this construction. Terms such as antiquated, inadequate and sub-standard fail to capture the often grim conditions — conditions that are neither conducive to animal health nor adoption. Fortunately, for the first time — perhaps ever — we now have a management team, staff and cadre of volunteers who understand this reality.

In its publication, Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians ( states, “Despite the lessons learned from the high-profile examples … and the availability of substantial resources to guide shelter operations… it is regrettable that serious deficiencies in companion-animal care in shelters continue to occur. There is convincing evidence that societal expectations for the care and welfare of animals have increased. This ethic is reflected in the professional literature as well as in extensive guidelines and/or codes of ethics issued by trade organizations, regulatory bodies, advisory boards and policy-making agencies for animals in almost every conceivable setting except animal shelters.”

In short, animal shelters all over the nation are being forced to acknowledge a variety of critical lapses. While it is small comfort to know that we are not alone, we are still obliged to do much better than we have to date. As above, we now have indications that the right people are moving operations in a positive direction.

It bears noting, however, that another news outlet took the bait with regard to a series of social media and email accusations about conditions at the shelter. In a near tabloid presentation, conditions and practices that have been allowed to persist for decades were depicted as being condoned by the new management. All involved will have to admit that things aren’t as they should be, but that furor could have — should have — been addressed by any mayor, city council or Animal Control director during the last three decades.

Whatever the motivations of those igniting this tempest, we’d like to believe that their zeal actually represents a kind of hope. To explain this it’s helpful to recall a phenomenon that the 19th century thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville, termed the “revolution of rising expectations.” De Tocqueville theorized that revolution was most apt to occur not at society’s lowest point, but at the point when conditions had begun to improve.

He argued that the pace of expectations would often exceed the pace of improvement. In so doing, people lose sight of the positive change. It seems there’s a bit of that at play here.

“Rome wasn’t built in day,” as the saying goes. Decades of mismanagement and neglect won’t be reversed in a day, either. We’d do well to remember that difficult fact.