Friday, November 13, 2015

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

A bill has been currently introduced into  the Wisconsin State Legislature that seeks to reduce the required stray hold for found animals from the current seven days to only four days.  The main intent of this bill (AB487) is to improve the outcome for seized dogs (often called Court Case dogs)  which of course is a very good thing!  Unfortunately,  the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS) and the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) who helped draft  the bill have also included a paragraph that reduces the stray hold for all animals (dogs AND cats).  These are two entirely different issues and should be treated as such, not combined together in one bill.

They have also published a set of Frequently Asked Questions to put their spin on the issue and are trying to convince the public that a reduced stray hold is a good thing.  The WHS and MADACC have not taken into consideration how seriously flawed our current system is. They have not taken into consideration that this is a large state and there are issues that need to be addressed everywhere (not just in Milwaukee County). Here are some of the current problems:

  • There is no centralized database being used by shelters in Wisconsin for reporting lost and found pets.  (There is a database available, that is completely free to use called Helping Lost Pets, but stray holding facilities are not making use of it). Stray holding facilities can include large shelters, vet clinics, boarding kennels, police departments, town offices, or individual contractors who may hold the dogs in their garage on their property.  These facilities do not cross-communicate making it very difficult for an owner to locate their lost pet.  Unlike car keys, that usually stay where you lose them – dogs and cats can easily wander and cross jurisdictional borders  ending up in a stray holding facility many miles from where they went missing.
  • Many Wisconsin stray holding facilities do not post photos of found animals on line, which requires  the owner to visit the facility in person to check. This is often time consuming and costly, and many owners do not even know all of the places they should check. I wrote about this previously here in Annie's Story. 
  • Many Wisconsin stray holding facilities have exhorbitant fees and fines to reclaim a lost pet. Owners often need a few more days  to come up with the money to reclaim their pet. It is not uncommon for reclaim fees to be in excess of $200.
  • Many Wisconsin stray holding facilities have not embraced the changing demographics of our state and do not offer bilingual assistance to owners who have lost their pets.

For more information on the problems with the current system please click here.  I have also written about this in: Navigating the Maze of Stray Holding Facilities

Instead of working to correct the current broken system and to ensure that owners have every possible opportunity to be reunited with their lost cat or dog, WHS and MADACC have put the cart before the horse.

A few points to consider:

* MADACC had only a 29% return to owner rate for dogs in 2014.  Instead of working to improve that and bring it up into the 50% or better range that other shelters  (such as the Washington D.C. Humane Society) are achieving, their knee jerk reaction is to reduce the stray hold and claim that people aren't looking for their dogs.

* Return to owner rates around the country for cats are low for many reasons - but not because a cat's owner loves them any less than a dog's owner.  It has more to do with the number of feral cats entering shelters, the lack of uniform terminology to describe cat's coat color,  and the number of indoor/outdoor cats that may take a day or two for owners to worry about them.  A reduced stray hold will be especially harmful for scared lost cats and community cats because it will enable the shelters and stray holding facilities to kill them on Day 5 if they are deemed "unadoptable" because they are showing stress in the shelters.  Instead of working to create a new progressive Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return (TNR) ordinance for Milwaukee County, which other counties could follow,  WHS and MADACC have chosen to draft and support a bill that will allow the quicker killing of cats in shelters.  We have many shelters in the state that already have a very high kill rate for cats.  This gives those shelters the power to kill quicker.

* WHS and MADACC's FAQ tries to imply that there is a correlation between length of stray hold and save rates.  Ironically, although no mention has ever been made by WHS or MADACC that they aim to make Milwaukee a No Kill community - they imply that if they had a shorter stray hold, they could do better, like Austin and Kansas City which are true No Kill communities.  In fact, there is no correlation between short stray holds and save rates. You can find plenty of shelters with short stray holds and horrific kill rates.

* WHS and MADACC are saying that shelters don't "have to" comply with the shortened stray hold. They can keep an animal as long as they want. But of course, shelters like Sauk County Humane Society in Baraboo,  whose director believes that "killing is kindness" will kill animals on Day 5.

*WHS and MADACC use the example of a black cat being hard to identify as a reason to not support requiring shelters to post photos of found pets or use a centralized database. Of course, there are some breeds and animals that tend to look alike. But discouraging the use of a centralized database and online photos  by using the "black cat" example is utter nonsense.  Thousands of animals have been reunited with their owners because their picture was recognized on a database, a website or social media.

*WHS and MADACC say that impound facilities have a legal obligation to keep records regarding euthanasia.  Unfortunately, getting these records are next to impossible in Wisconsin from most shelters that are private organizations holding public contracts.  Wisconsin Humane Society's  - Ozaukee and Racine locations are two examples of shelters in Wisconsin who do not make their records publicly available. So making "guesstimates" about Return to Owner and euthanasia numbers are simply that - guesstimates.

It would have been nice to see WHS and MADACC work towards fixing the problems to make sure  ALL Wisconsin shelters and stray holding facilities comply with minimum standards to improve their return to owner rate by doing things like:

* using a centralized database like the free system,
* posting photos of impounded animals online
* scanning every animal for a microchip at least twice with two different scanners using best practices for scanning (including not scanning them on or near a metal exam table or metal door)
* putting signs up where the dog or cat was found
* using volunteer pet detective groups to help match lost and found reports and track down dead end microchips
* reducing or eliminating high reclaim fees
* requiring shelters to microchip or provide an ID tag for all adoptable animals (many Wisconsin shelters do not microchip adoptables, where in Illinois it is required by law) and offering low cost or free microchip clinics (including enrollment) to pet owners.

Example of a sign put up by an animal control officer to indicate where a dog has been found. 
Photo courtesy Donna Watson - Help Find Rudy

The ASPCA has also recently come out with some very strong guidelines regarding what shelters should be doing to help reunite lost pets with their families. You can read them by clicking here. 

WHS and MADACC have hijacked the Court Case dog bill to serve their own needs.  This is a shame - a shame for the Court Case dogs and a shame for the lost pets and their owners who need the help and support of an efficient return to owner system in our shelters and stray holding facilities.

Preserving the owner/animal bond should be at the heart and soul of every animal shelter's core mission.  Lost pets don't need a new home. They just need to go home.  Let's work together to fix our broken system.

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. ~Anatole France 


  1. We have basically the same issues in FL as you have in Wisconsin. I would like to follow your progress. Is there a way to subscribe to this blog?

  2. HI Mary. Yes there is a way to subscribe. Over on the left hand side there is a place where you can subscribe to my posts. Thank you!