It seemed like a story with the potential for a happy ending. Sara Legvold fell in love with a female Chihuahua at the Garland, Texas animal shelter. “I saw that little Chihuahua, and it broke my heart,” said Levgold. “I said, ‘I gotta get that little thing out of there.'” She planned to adopt her. Yet this story’s ending was tragic, not happy. According to The Dallas Morning News, “less than a day after the dog, Blackie, was listed by the shelter as available, she was euthanized because of her aggressive tendencies.”

How, exactly, was the Garland shelter able to determine in less than two days that Blackie had “aggressive tendencies” so severe she needed to be put to death? Was she a threat to public safety? If there has been an epidemic of maulings by Chihuahuas in Texas, I remain unaware of it.

More likely, Blackie was just very scared, filled with terror at being in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers and dogs much larger than she was. Both logic and compassion would dictate giving Blackie some time to acclimate herself to the shelter so her true personality could shine through. And if she still showed signs of aggression, the best course of action would clearly be to contact a rescue organization used to handling troubled dogs, such as Best Friends, Chihuahua Rescue and Transport, or one of the Chihuahua groups based in Texas.

The Garland shelter did admit to making a mistake, but the mistake wasn’t killing Blackie. According to Jason Chessher, Garland’s deputy health director, a shelter employee made a mistake by saying the Chihuahua was available for adoption.”Our employee did indicate that the dog was available for rescue,” Chessher said. “He was mistaken in doing that.” Chessher believes Blackie was “legitimately killed because she was considered aggressive and vicious.” It almost sounds as if Chessher regrets not killing the dog sooner.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Just a few days after Blackie was killed, another dog — a Fila Brasileiro, or Brazilian mastiff — was put to death for aggression, even though a rescue group had expressed interest in adopting the dog.

The problems at Garland are not new, either. In 2009, an investigation by The Dallas Morning News revealed that the Garland animal shelter was “gassing young, sick or elderly cats and dogs in violation of state law, probably causing them a slower, more stressful death.” In addition, the shelter also may have violated city rules on how long animals must be kept before being euthanized. Records showed that “some animals were killed within minutes of arriving at the shelter.” Blackie the Chihuahua was killed withing 48 hours of her arrival at the shelter. In fiscal year 2007, the Garland shelter euthanized 6,334 animals out of a total population of 10,490.

Animal shelters are often understaffed and underfunded, leading to overstressed employees. Yet unlike many jobs, when shelter workers make mistakes or cut corners, animals suffer and often die. The Garland animal shelter, much like the Memphis Animal Shelter, are perfect examples of this. And poor Blackie the Chihuahua is now a posthumous symbol of the flaws in our shelter system.

Photo Credit: David Shankbone

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