Friday, May 24, 2013

A Rock and a Hard Place

Most of my readers know that I spend a good part of my day volunteering for Lost Dogs of Wisconsin. Along with Lost Dogs Illinois, and now a few more "sister sites" we have proudly helped thousands of lost dogs get back home to their owners.  Many of these dogs were lost from their home and then become "lost in the system" of animal control/sheltering/rescues and I have written about this in the past here.

One of our goals is to work with the animal control facilities and shelters to untangle the mess that is currently the lost pet recovery system in our nation.  Since the main function of tax-payer funded animal control is to hold lost pets until owners reclaim them, (thereby protecting the public from traffic accidents, dog bites, etc - caused by loose pets) you would think that the shelters would be happy to help us help them. But sometimes we want to beat our heads on the wall.

Our organizations advise people that have found a dog to contact their official local stray holding facility (whether it be the shelter, a vet clinic or kennel, the town office or police department).  Some stray-holding facilities will allow the finder to "foster" the dog until an owner is found; but many want the dog brought to their facility. And that is okay, as long as they are doing everything possible to proactively reunite the dog with their family. Unfortunately, many aren't. They  are holding the dogs for ransom. Sometimes, far beyond what the owner can afford.

The large animal control facilities are government agencies and they look the part; a little bit intimidating to the average person ; some with bullet proof glass, or uniformed officers manning the front desk. The owners are often a little beat down already, they've been looking for their dog, often taking time off work, spending money on gasoline and printing flyers.

One owner, that I talked to on the phone last week was down to her last $8 for gas money. Thankfully she found her dog before her tank went dry.

Anyways - I digress.  Here's my point. This week, a 10  year old small mixed breed dog landed at animal control. The owner had done everything right to try to find him and the match was quickly made between our Facebook posting and the shelter. She goes to reclaim him (he had been there overnight) and the bill was $160.  A pretty nice hotel room! Thankfully she was able to afford it. But that is not always the case, the stories are heartbreaking and we hear them almost every day.  Another one last week: A woman enters the "shelter" with her small child to reclaim her dog. The little boy is thrilled that his dog is there and is happily telling anyone that will listen that they have come to get "Buddy".  When the front desk staff tallies up the reclaim fees, the woman takes the boy's hand and walks out of the building without looking back. Buddy never stood a chance.

So our nation's shelters are killing Buddy (or another dog that Buddy displaced) because they are using lost pet owners as a revenue source, and many owners simply cannot afford it. These shelters are already getting paid by taxpayers to hold lost pets. They are double-dipping. Some are even upcharging the costs of simple vaccinations and microchips - making more revenue off of these services, and on the backs of the pet owner.

It is not uncommon for reclaim fees to reach $400 or more. Often more than the cost to adopt a dog from the same shelter. They have become like airlines - tacking on charges upon charges - a laundry list of reclaim fees.

Shirley, over at YesBiscuit wrote about a really sad situation this week, where the dog was killed while the owners were at the ATM machine, withdrawing the money to pay the ransom. EVEN THOUGH the owners had visited the shelter several times and were told their dog was not there.

I am finding it increasingly hard to recommend that people take found dogs to the shelter when I know that the reclaim fees may be beyond the reach of the average person. The shelter directors say "Well I would have negotiated if they had asked".  But the problem with this excuse? The front staff are often not authorized to negotiate. The shelter director may not even be aware that a problem exists because he or she is sitting in their office while the scenarios play out at the front desk. And to most people - the thought of negotiating with a government agency doesn't cross their mind so they don't ask.  Do you think you can go into the DMV and negotiate your vehicle registration fees? It wouldn't occur to me. I'm sure it doesn't occur to most distraught dog owners. Pretty soon the high ransom fees, becomes the rumor on the streets, so people give up before they begin because they won't be able to afford it anyways.

Shelters - help us out here. We're between a rock and a hard place. We are working our butts off to work WITH you - we offer free training for your volunteers and staff. We post your microchip clinics and guide people to your doors to our 50,000 plus Facebook fans. We defend you when people post negative comments on our Facebook pages and we encourage people to bring lost pets to you. We WANT to help you help owners so that you look like the good guy and increase your goodwill, your donations and get positive press. We want to help you reduce shelter deaths. But you have to help us help you.

"Alone we do so little; together we can do so much." - Helen Keller


  1. Fantastic view of the behind the scene workings in animal shelters/facilities across the US. Many fail to realize the financial gains being made on the backs of dying animals lost in a system that has provided no real steward. They are available for profit and corrupt practices to befall them because we fail to humanely monitor and act on negative practices. We have power in numbers and need to act on them to start moving these mountains around. The goal should be to get them out regardless of the potential profit loss or gain. Thank you Kathy for fantastic insight into a hidden and preventable problem.

  2. I would like to add a comment here that was posted on a Facebook thread where this blog had been shared. A woman named Joyce had made several negative comments that if people couldn't afford reclaim fees, they shouldn't have pets. Here is her last comment:

    Joyce: If they can't afford $100, how can they possibly afford food, license, training, and medical bills?

    And the reply: Joyce - I am a student on a budget, who adopted a chi mix over a year ago. She is the love of my life. I do not have an extra $100, mostly due to the fact that I feed my dog organic food, keep her up to date on vet stuff and make sure she has appropriate clothes and bedding. How dare you judge me and others like me; I may not be independently wealthy but I spend more time loving my dog than I do on Facebook pointing my nose up in the air. Instead of spending time being negative, you could better serve those in need by donating some of the money you seem to have growing on tress to animal welfare groups.

  3. I sure hope Joyce doesn't have any pets.

  4. Just a little venting ...

    A problem with the system in my area is there seems to be no negotiating on the fees, which I guess I can understand but how about a payment plan or something like that? Our impounded animals can leave the pound alive in two ways - through their owners or through a rescue group/shelter. If the owners can't afford the fees, then the shelters almost always take them in at least, but then the rescues/shelters won't adopt them to the original owners. The reason is because they view these owners as irresponsible. It's heartbreaking.

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  6. Adding a comment here for Alison Mednick Buzzotta Hector: Good blog post Kathy on the financial ramifications of lost pets to owners. Tried to comment on the blog but no ID would allow me too. What I wanted to add was :No owner should be refused the right to reclaim their family member unless there has been proven neglect or abuse. The shelters should be mandated to work with every owner in setting up an affordable payment plan not unlike a hospital for bills and the amount should be reasonable.

  7. Hi Kathy, you made some good points. In our area AC tries to take the dog home if possible, somtimes that is prevented due to lack of ID. Also, much of what people consider fines are actually " catch up" fees. the dog is picked up without vax or license and they have to pay that before reclaiming the dogs. I have a page that runs a dog search for large breeds, and I can tell you that most of these losses are from owner carelessness. It's not fair to tax the general public to support us pet owners. If I lose on of my dogs, it's my responsibility to pay. BTW our AC will work with an owner to get the animal out of shelter.