Cleo, a feral cat who has been vaccinated and neutered, and whose caregiver loves her. (Photo by Casey Post)
In August 2013, the Maddie’s Fund Shelter Medicine Program issued a summary of recommendations to the Hillsborough Co pound in FL following a consultation. The recommendation regarding stray cats was particularly troubling to me since it threatened the bond between people and their lost pets. From the report:
Eliminate the required hold period for stray cats. Stray cats lacking identification are extremely unlikely to be reclaimed by owners and are at high risk for shelter – acquired disease and euthanasia. Eliminating even a few days in the shelter may be the difference between life and death for them. The shelter can simultaneously have an option for immediate live release paired with a required hold period of 3 days prior to euthanasia.
Not only is Maddie’s Fund failing to attribute a low return to owner rate to its proper source – the pound, it fails to acknowledge one of the primary purposes of municipal shelters: to reunite lost pets with their owners.
The No Kill Advocacy Center weighed in on the elimination of stray holding periods when HSUS suggested it in its 2013 white paper on California shelters:
[I]f a dog or cat comes in as a stray, and he does not have identification, he can be adopted to someone else immediately without giving his family any time to reclaim him. This is unfair to families who deeply love their animal companions. […] Accidents happen; animals get lost and end up at shelters. Since the choice presented — immediate adoption or sickness/death — is a false one, breaking up families by having them lose all rights in their animal with no reclaim period of any kind appears draconian.
I am deeply opposed to the elimination of holding periods for any pet whose owner might be looking for him. It’s the shelter’s job to treat the bond between pets and their people as sacrosanct. Which is why I was shocked to read that the Target Zero Institute, in its recommendations to the troubled Amarillo pound in TX, has taken the travesty even further. TZI not only recommends eliminating the holding period for stray cats lacking identification but for all cats found outside – including friendly, possibly microchipped pets who may be wearing collars and/or tags and whose owners are searching for them:
The TZI recommends returning outside cats back to their original neighborhoods following sterilization, rabies vaccination and ear tipping. […]TZI recommends returning cats to their ‘outside home’ where they have a food source as evidenced by a healthy body weight. These may be feral cats that cannot be handled or friendly cats found outside.
If Amarillo, or any other municipal shelter, adopts TZI’s barbaric recommendation regarding cats found outdoors, your pet could be turned into the shelter by a cat hating neighbor or anyone at all, or he could simply be trapped by an ACO and, so long as he appears to be “visually healthy”, he would be immediately vaccinated, neutered, ear-tipped and put back on the street. This would happen as a matter of policy – even if you were actively searching for your pet, even if you had microchipped him and even if you had placed a collar and an ID tag on him. If he’s found outside, TZI wants him immediately anesthetized, put through surgery and turned loose in the area where he had gotten lost (or presumably where the cat hating neighbor says he was found).
TZI says in its report that this practice will save money by reducing the number of cats who “have to be cared for, fed and ultimately [killed] in large numbers” at the pound.
No cats “have to be” killed. Full stop. If you don’t get that, get out of the shelter consulting business.
All cats impounded by shelters should be immediately – in the field whenever possible – scanned for microchips and checked for ID tags. No exceptions. A chip or ID tag should equate with a free ride home from the ACO. Those cats lacking identification should be photographed and posted online by the facility immediately. Anyone visiting the shelter looking for a lost pet should be shown every pet in the place as a matter of course. Reuniting families is part of the job. It seems to me to be one of the best parts, by the way, and I can’t imagine why anyone who supposedly cares about shelter pets would want to eliminate it.
Now that Maddie’s Fund and HSUS have opened this awful door and TZI has barreled through it with a bulldozer, I can’t help but wonder what’s next. Will some consultant recommend that shelters stop housing all dogs found outdoors too? Gee but we can’t turn dogs back out onto the streets, can we? So what will “have to be” done with them?
I’m not a shelter consultant, just someone who loves pets and believes dogs and cats have a right to live, regardless of their status in the community. I don’t get paid for my ideas nor do I have any big money backing me behind the scenes. Here’s my unsolicited recommendation to shelters and their staff, for what it’s worth: Do your jobs. Stop looking for ways to avoid the hard work of sheltering by bringing in big money consultants. You are accountable to the local taxpayers who pay your salaries and who love their pets. Start acting like it.
(Thanks Clarice for the link.)