A lot of people (well, maybe not the ones who regularly read blogs like this) think of animal shelters as safe places for strays and pets people can no longer keep. After all, it’s called a SHELTER, right? Folks believe that if they need to rehome a pet, the staff at the shelter will do everything they can because nobody WANTS to kill animals, right?
Unfortunately, the reality at most kill pounds is that owner surrenders are the first to go. In NC, there is no law requiring that the shelter hold, evaluate or attempt to find homes for these pets, and the easiest and cheapest way to deal with them is to kill them immediately. (Well, OK, there sort of is a law, but it’s got big holes in it and no actual enforcement, so it may as well not exist.) So in pounds where the director is dedicated to doing what’s easiest and cheapest, that’s what happens.
A few pounds acknowledge the truth to surrendering owners, telling them their pet will most likely be killed. Some lie and let people surrendering pets believe pound staff will find the animal a new home, when staffers know perfectly well the animal will be marched straight to the kill table. Which is preferable?
Consider what happened to Danielle at the Wake County pound (2011 kill rate: 49.82%). Danielle’s family had to move into a small apartment and she believed her 2-year-old dog, Tucker, would be happier in a home with a yard. So she took him to the Wake pound thinking they would be able to find a better home for him. “I thought, as did everyone else I asked prior to making this choice, that the shelter was a selfless option for rehoming our beloved dog. Based on the website, they made the adoption section to look like a positive way to do things. I thought that was the step in finding a better home for your loved animal,” Danielle said.
“The Shelter greeted us with smiles, and appeared on the outside to be a great choice,” Danielle said. “They then killed my dog in less than an hour of him being there.”
Danielle called twice in the hour after she dropped Tucker off to see if staff had deemed him eligible for adoption.
I called immediately after I got home from dropping him off to see how he was doing and if he was okay because I was worried. They told me he was “great and his picture would be posted on line within a half hour, if not feel free to call back.” I waited 30 minutes, no picture, so I called again trying to get through. When I got through to a staff member at the office, I asked how he was again. She said he was still processing, then told me to hold on. She got back on the phone and said, “he actually is about to be euthanized, not adopted.” I was in complete shock and said “Can I please reclaim him?!” She said yes, and I told her I was on my way. By the time I ran my son out to the car and my husband was walking to the car with my baby, she called me and said “don’t bother coming, he’s gone.” I cried and pleaded with her that I just brought him there and it was impossible. The staff doted on how sweet he was and acted like they were a warm, loving, rehoming facility. An image that was completely false behind closed doors, I now know.
Danielle went back to the Wake pound to pick up Tucker’s body and asked staff why they couldn’t let him live. “The director stated they didn’t have to call me per their policy. I asked her why a simple phone call couldn’t be made or a note in the computer that I was calling, and I expressed I didn’t want him euthanized from the beginning when I brought him in. The director said it happened too fast to stop it. My point exactly, they killed him in less than an hour. I cried to the director this morning and pleaded with her to make a change where they inform the owner before euthanizing. I pray that it happens.”*
It happened too fast to stop it. As if the killing at her pound were completely out of the director’s control. As if she were just the powerless servant of the big killing monster in the back, who gobbles up all the fresh owner-surrendered pets before anyone can stop him.
Cut to Alamance county: Pam Lee (yes, that Pam Lee), was looking for her lost cat Sassy** at Burlington Animal Services (2011 kill rate: 70.9%) when she saw an elderly man sitting in the lobby filling out paperwork:
I smiled at him and asked him how he was doing, to which he replied, “Not very well, I’m afraid.” I asked him what was wrong and he told me that due to their health and age, he and his wife were having to surrender their two beloved cats to the shelter. They had run an ad in the paper, but got no response, so they didn’t know anything else to do. He was under the impression that the shelter would put them up for adoption and help find them homes. I told him this would not happen and to not surrender the cats; I would take them with me.
At that point, the lady working in the front came into the waiting room and let him know that they were full to capacity and his pets would probably be euthanized as soon as he surrendered them. He was horrified and I saw tears come to his eyes. She then told us that if we wanted to make a “deal” for the cats to go to the parking lot and discuss it and they would just tear up the paperwork he was filling out. He handed her the incomplete papers and went to the parking lot with me. He had one of the cats with him: a beautiful fat 7-1/2-year-old lilac point Siamese named Lily.
Pam took Lily home and picked up the couple’s other cat, a 4-year-old male named Charlie, a couple of days later.
“The shelter was accommodating on this transaction, although they made it pretty clear that they would make no effort to find these cats homes,” Pam said.
Burlington Animal Services is a high-kill pound, but at least they don’t lie to to surrendering owners:
This sign in Burlington Animal Services lobby tells the truth about what will happen to most owner-surrendered pets.
(They do, however, lie to potential adopters who want to save pets scheduled for death.)
Of course, this whole discussion would be moot if the Wake County and Burlington pounds were to join the growing ranks of shelters across the country who have stopped killing healthy and treatable pets. Instead of being greeted by cheerful lies or devastating truths, Danielle would have spoken to a staff member about programs designed to help her keep Tucker if possible, or she would have been asked if Tucker could stay with her family while the shelter helped find him a new home. Or if no other solution could be found, they could have told Danielle a truth everyone could be happy with: “We don’t kill healthy pets like Tucker.”
*Danielle said the Wake pound director left her a voice mail saying that they are going to adjust their policies regarding owner surrenders.
**Pam went to BAS three times a week looking for her lost Sassy, who finally turned up back at home on Nov. 18, after being gone for three weeks.