I see the same "perfect storm" in the shelter dog world. It is estimated that animal shelter populations are made up of 50% to 70% lost pets. Why is it a perfect storm? Why are there more lost dogs now?
Because the pool of highly adoptable dogs is shrinking quickly (a good thing). So shelters and rescues are saving more and more under socialized and shy dogs. These dogs are being transported, fostered, rescued and adopted. Again all good things. But there are dozens of vulnerable moments. Dogs are being lost from transports, foster homes, vet clinics, pet sitters, boarding kennels, animal shelters, and new adopters in record numbers. Often these dogs are being sent out into the world with an ill-fitting collar or on a slip lead. One frightening moment and the dog is out of his collar and gone.
And where do these dogs end up? Many of them end up in our shelter system and the chaos begins. There is always a lot of talk about all pets being micro-chipped. Unfortunately, there are a lot of problems in the microchip system. The microchip companies don't play nice with each other, some are concerned more with their own profits than in getting lost pets back home (more on this in a future blog). People are giving up their landlines in record numbers and are forgetting to update their microchip information. And we have shelters and rescues who refuse to register a pet into the name of a new owner. A microchip becomes a worthless bar code without the correct information. And that is assuming that the shelter is inputting data correctly, scanning properly and that they have a universal scanner with working batteries!
In Wisconsin we have individual animal control contract holders that don't even have microchip scanners, let alone a website to post pictures on.
Shelters seem to be able to put up no end of barriers for people trying to claim their lost pets: language barriers: excessive reclaim fees and bad policies; poor hours; and a reluctance to post photos and information of lost pets on line. Private rescues accept lost dogs from well-meaning Good Samaritans without holding the stray contract for their area. How is a person supposed to find their dog there?
There are dozens of ways for an animal to slip through the cracks. Bear in mind that stray holding periods vary from 3 to 7 days, so animals are being transported from the southern shelters before their owner even knows where to begin to look for them.
If shelters started to focus on getting lost pets back home through the use of volunteers and proactive programs: just think of the possibilities. Exceptional shelters are returning upwards of 60 percent of dogs back to their owners. Will all the pets get reclaimed? No of course not. But if just 50% of that 50% to 70% went home - just imagine what could happen.
Imagine your local animal shelter if there were 30% less dogs. Would the staff and volunteers have more resources and time available for the remaining dogs to help make them more adoptable? I bet they would.
When we posted on our Facebook page in early December that Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois had helped reunited 968 dogs safely so far in 2011(an additional 57 deceased), a clever fan commented: 'Then you have really saved over 1900 dogs. The ones that went back home and the ones that were able to get adopted because there was room for them." I could have reached through the computer and kissed her.
Unfortunately, many people don't get this concept. It's like the elephant in the room. Animal welfare talk is all about adopting and adopting and adopting some more. A couple of weeks ago we had an impromptu tour of Chicago Animal Care and Control. In the lobby were two bulletin boards 3 deep in lost posters. Hundreds of lost dog and cat posters. I wanted to cry. Owners desperately missing their pets in Cook County where there is a confusing array of stray holding facilities to contend with. Here is the list and I counted 25 in Cook County. How is a person even supposed to begin to know where there pet might be?
Just as we are starting to feel like a broken record - some Wisconsin and Illinois shelters are getting on board, checking our Facebook pages and posting stray pictures on Facebook or on their website. Thank you to those who are participating. But we can't do it alone.
My wish for the New Year? That all shelter staff, boards, management and volunteers proactively re-think their lost pet services and head off the Perfect Storm. Lost pets don't want a new home. They just want to go home.
Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois will be rolling out a shelter/rescue outreach
and training program in 2012. Let's all work together to save lives.