Saturday, May 26, 2012

Compassion Please! For Pets and People..

I consider myself a very lucky person. My husband and I live comfortably in a nice house in a nice subdivision tucked up against the Kettle Moraine State Forest. We have two dogs and three horses. If one of my dogs were lost and ended up in a shelter I would have at least three ways to bail him out. I could pull out a credit card, write a check, or head to an ATM machine and withdraw the cash.

I fit the demographics of most animal welfare volunteers. White, female, middle-aged, financially comfortable. A curse and a blessing. A blessing because this demographic loves animals and often has the free time and the resources to help. But a curse, because this demographic seems to have a very short memory for what it was like to struggle to make ends meet.

I cringe when I see comments under blogs and articles like this:

"If you can't afford to properly take care of an animal, you shouldn't have one."
Really? So let's kill them instead?

"If they cared about their dog, they would have reclaimed him the first day." 
 Really? Any thoughts that some people work odd hours or two jobs or don't have a car? Any thoughts that English might be their second language and they struggled to find where their dog was? That they don't have the internet, or a computer, or a smart phone?  Or they are elderly with limited computer skills? Or they are disabled?

"People that lose their dogs are irresponsible and negligent."
Really? What about the rescues, foster homes, transports, pet sitters, animal shelters, boarding kennels and vet clinics that are losing dogs? What about the dogs lost when the contractor leaves the gate open; or when there is a house fire or a car accident? What about the dogs that are lost because it was simply a mistake?

I wonder where the compassion is. The compassion for the people that don't have a credit card, that live paycheck to paycheck and maybe they don't get paid till Friday, and by then the reclaim fees will have increased another $100 or so. Then the decision becomes - Do I buy my groceries to feed my family? Or reclaim my dog? Do I pay the rent? Or reclaim my dog? Do I get my prescription refilled? Or reclaim my dog?

I remember when my life wasn't so easy.  I remember the days, fresh out of college, way before low cost spay/neuter programs; when we couldn't afford the $35 to neuter our barn cats. Spaying a female was beyond our financial reach (well over $100) Back then, $35 was a lot of money. We would literally save up and try to neuter one male each month. But not usually in time to prevent a litter of kittens being born from the females.We had a lot of cats. But we loved them and we did the best we could.

 Does that make me a bad person, an irresponsible owner? Was I a person that shouldn't have pets? What a sad life it would have been. I would have missed out on so much joy that my animals have given me.

Where does the judgement stop and the compassion begin?  Compassion not only for the animals, but for the people that love them - rich or poor, young or old, healthy or frail. Let's dig deep and try to find that compassion again.

Judgements prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances. - Wayne W. Dyer


  1. Here, here! Thank you - we in rescue can be so judgemental and forget that we, too, have been there; I have lost dogs who shouldn't have been lost; families are still searching for pets missing from the Joplin and Harrisburg tornadoes. Let's help people find and get their pets.

  2. There's compassion in the rescue industry, but shelters have bills to pay, too. If shelters waived reclaim fees on a regular basis for every hard luck story they hear, they wouldn't be able to keep the doors open. It's hard enough to survive on a shelter budget as it is.

    I know for a fact that the shelter where I work has made deals and arrangements with people. And SEVERAL times that dog ends up right back with us and the owner expects another handout. At some point you have to expect them to abide by the same rules as everyone else.

  3. Thank you for this insight. I live in New Orleans.After the storm many animal rescue orgs came to help & we were grateful.Time & time again I heard harsh judgement on New Orleans pet owners when I was on the petfinders looking for a friends dog. I knew they just didn't understand.

  4. I've been poor, and I'm probably going to be poor again soon. Giving up my dogs won't be an option! I think that communities should do more to help people keep their animals-food banks, vet vouchers, resources for pet friendly housing-instead of condemning people for being poor or having bad things happen.

  5. Right on, Sister. Sometimes people think that compassion is only something others should have for them. Compassion includes understanding and that means for EVERYONE, all races, creeds, species and breeds. I am currently in the "$35. is a lot of money" place, and while I was out of work for 9 months, I went without food but my dog always had good quality and enough. You set your priorities and do the best you can. It's nobody else's place to judge, only to help if help is asked for.

  6. I belong to itchmo, a forum that was begun when the toxic pet food problems started in late 2006 - 2007. One of the members has done an amazing job of locating and listing, by state, different resources for helping people with their pets.


  7. Want to legally kidnap and ransom felines? Join HAWS.

    I adopted Captain Blue from EBHS about 5 weeks ago. Captain Blue is a beautiful white and grey short hair, male, 3 year old house cat. He is extremely sweet with a very easy going disposition and a terrifically sweet yet playful character. Two days ago, Blue decided that he wants to be outside ALL THE TIME and tries to sneak past us when we're letting the dogs out or going in and out of the house. In an attempt to protect Blue from getting lost, I spent the entire morning Wednesday walking him around the outside of the house and the borders of the yard to ensure that he knows the property and had laid his scent down significantly so he can find his way back if he were to get outside and wander away. Wednesday afternoon Blue sat on the deck with us laying in the sunshine happy as a lark and then came in and out of the house all afternoon - all without leaving the yard once.

    Yesterday morning, around 6AM I let the dogs out and went into the kitchen to make myself a coffee to sit in the backyard with the cat and the dogs, again in an attempt to get Blue acclimated to our home in case he got outside without my knowledge.

    At 6:45AM yesterday while I was making my coffee, Blue pushed the screen door open and wandered outside. Blue walked three houses down and sat on the sidewalk in front of one of my neighbors houses. One of the neighbors saw Blue sitting there, took him into their house, called animal welfare and had Blue picked up as a stray.


    When I realized Blue had gotten outside, I searched the neighborhood for two hours, all the while, un-beknown to me, Blue was in a holding area at HAWS (Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha - who has been contracted to pick up "stray" animals on behalf of the Waukesha county).

    At 10:30 AM I received a call from 24Hour PetWatch informing me that Blue had been picked up as a stray by the county and informed me that i could pick him up at HAWS. I contacted HAWS and was told that because Blue was not being supervised by his owner and / or wasn't on a leash that he was in fact "at large" and, as such, was taken into custody by HAWS on behalf of the county of Waukesha. To pick Blue up I would have to pay a $30 fee for pick up, an additional $60 fee because the cat was picked up "outside of normal business hours", and additionally that I needed to purchase a $10 City of Waukesha cat license which HAWS would provide me for an additional $5 fee.

    This meant that to "reclaim" my cat from HAWS I must pay $105. I arrived to pick up my poor, abducted kitty cat, and after having my vet provide confirmation that I had given Blue his rabies booster (remember - I've only owned the cat for 5 weeks) I began writing a check for $105 to pay the fines, only be to be told by HAWS that they do not accept checks for "reclaiming" fees.


    I have now had my eyes opened to the HAWS way of animal adoption. A cat that was brought in for ANY reason other than surrender is considered a "stray". Even if the animal is inquired about by its family, but the family can not pay the associated fees (which after the first 24 hours includes a $20 per-day boarding charge and additional charges for vaccinations or designated tests) the animal will be deemed "adoptable" after 7 days REGARDLESS OF THE FAMILY INQUIRIES OR REQUESTS FOR MORE TIME TO PAY FINES. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that the adoption fee for a cat over 3 years is only $25. HAWS will hold your cat for ransom for their pick up fees instead of working out a payment plan or lowered payment amount and will risk euthanasia of the animal for not being adopted after X number of days or weeks and will accept a measly $25 adoption fee rather than work out or accommodate a family wanting their pet back and are unable to immediately pay the exponential fees.


    1. I think you need to send this to HAWS for a reply. We support them, so I would like to see what they have to say. On the other hand, did you have a collar with ID on your pet? If not, that could have saved a lot of time, effort and anxiety, not to mention money.


    When you go to adopt an animal, find out if they were micro-chipped when they arrived - which is a sign that someone loved this animal enough to make sure it was returned if lost. Ask if the animal has had inquiries by a family, and specifically ask if the animal is there because the family couldn't afford the costs associated with reclaiming the animal after it was deemed a stray.

    Even when I came to pick up Blue - which was within 20 minutes of receiving the call from 24HourPetWatch, he was continually referred to as a stray cat. He is not a stray cat, he is a member of my family who was abducted by an organization which was previously created to protect the animals in our society, but is now just another cog in the money-hungry wheel of local Waukesha government.

    Be sure you know the details... my eyes were opened wide after this horrible incident.
    Prior to this, my family continually donated money to HAWS on a regular basis. When my Dad died about three years ago, we had memorials sent to HAWS in lieu of to the family and raised about 4-5 thousand dollars for the facility... we never received so much as a thank you card.

    They have continually become more and more of a corporate entity mirroring the DMV rather than a family-friendly or animal lover focused facility.

    1. Kbear, That is absolutely horrible. I think that you should make this as public as possible. Youtube, a blog, Examiner article, news story (it would be great to see a local news story go undercover and expose this if they were willing), reviews, etc. Ecourage people to writ letters, a petition...
      I will re-post on my FB...
      They will rake in thousands and thousands at their next festival and naive people will write them checks. It makes me sick...

  9. Kbear, check out my do it yourself cat fence to make sure that Blue does not escape - Wow I had no idea that reclaiming your OWN cat would be that difficult.

  10. I am so sorry this happened KBear, but frankly I am not surprised. Many shelters use the revenue from reclaims to offset their operating costs. Even though they are already receiving income from the county to do animal control.
    A very progressive shelter would have taken a different approach than HAWS. The animal control officer would have scanned your cat, Blue, immediately and called in the microchip number. Your cat could have been home in about fifteen minutes without ever having to be subjected to the stress and possible disease of the shelter. (Let alone possibly displacing another cat that was already there).

    If Blue had been returned to you immediately, I am sure HAWS would still be on your list of organizations to donate to. Unfortunately, they made the choice to be "penny wise and pound foolish".

  11. I agree that the fees are unreasonable for reclaiming but also think there should be some fee and it should be compounded if it is a habitual "stray". Never having worked at a shelter, I don't know how often they see the same animal come in. I have had neighbors who let their dogs run and think this is perfectly acceptable. I have returned their dogs countless times, swerved to avoid hitting them in the dark, etc. and tried talking to the people about training and was basically told to mind my own business. So I can understand charging fees because not everyone is a responsible owner who just had a dog or cat escape by accident. But I do think a one time reclaim fee should be low and repeat offenders should be higher.

  12. Monica, Shelter Operations ManagerJuly 21, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    Kbear, I hate to point out the obvious, but perhaps if your cat was wearing a collar and tag, the neighbor would have called you instead of the shelter. I'm sure she was just trying to keep him out of harm's way- a cat can cross a lot of streets in 45 minutes, and vet bills are way more expensive than shelter reclaim fees.

    Next point I'm going to make is: if there are costs associated with a stray animal being picked up and brought to a shelter, the animal owner SHOULD have to pay them (and this is actually required by law where I live). Even if a shelter is receiving money from the county to do animal control (and not all of them DO), it probably doesn't cover the entire cost and why should taxpayers and donors have to cover costs associated with strays when we know who is responsible for them?

    Furthermore, why shouldn't a shelter use some revenue from reclaims (if there is any) to offset operating costs? Taking in strays is part of operations, isn't it? If we don't have a building and utilities, we can't help anyone. Charities are charities, but if you don't also run them as a business, they end up run into the ground more often than not.

    As for HAWS not accepting checks for reclaims- I can't speak for them but I'm not surprised. They've probably had too many bounce. If that was happening at my shelter, we'd have the same rule.

  13. We lost our dog. I didn't worry at first. We live in the country and I assumed she went to the neighbors. By the time I realized she wasn't there it was too late. We have no official humane society in St. Croix County. Each town does have an animal control officer but there is no uniformity or communication. It took us over a week to find her at a small independent shelter. I found her on a Friday night and when I did find her they wanted $400 that night and the fee would go up every day. I couldn't get to the bank on Friday night and even if I could I didn't have $400. We heard every judgment you described from the shelter. They also lied to us about several things (some of which they actually left recordings of on my voice mail!). I want to be clear I was able to pay, even up to the amount of their roughly $275 adoption fee. We just couldn't come up with that much. HOWEVER I had been working with Lost Dogs of Wisconsin AND have some very gifted friends. Soon a friend set up a web donation site with our story and LDOW posted info too. By the end of the day the compassion of friends and TOTAL STRANGERS had saved our girl! We are so grateful! Unfortunately for the shelter they had a fundraiser the next weekend. I know of many who were going to go but after our situation they decided not to. Had they been a little more helpful I would have been their biggest advocate, now, I tell people to avoid them at all costs.

  14. Love this article, Kathy! I see and read so much negativity towards owners of lost pets on the internet and I just cringe. So many people are
    so judgmental and do not feel any compassion or sympathy for others. It's so sad. This goes for the shelters and rescues who require insane bail out costs. Shelters and rescues know our connection to our pets run deep and they definitely take advantage of our relationships with them. It's traumatic to lose a pet but then to locate it and not be able to afford the bail set to return it to you is unthinkable.

    People do forget that many of us are not made of money and what we do have is hard earned. I grew up fairly poor. We had pets but there was no extra money for them and in order to keep our cat all us kids had to pay to have her spayed otherwise she was going to be sent to the shelter. I worked hard to get where I have been and I was a middle class financially comfortably mother up until about 4 years ago when unemployment hit us really hard. I still have my pets even though I cross my fingers none of them get sick or some how get lost. Thank god I have never had to bail out my pets from a shelter. I would be devastated if I couldn't get them back.

    I think Kbear's experience should be emailed to the head of HAWS and board of directors. HAWS has come a long way since the staff threatened to quit if improvements weren't made but so much more needs to be done. Their facility is wonderful but the cosmetics of the organization cannot hide the major flaws that exist. I adopted a kitten from them 3 years ago and after conferring with my vet we figured out that he was taken from his mother, who was at the shelter also, too early and it has made a big impact in his personality & behavior ever since. I won't give up on him but some people would have dumped him because of his behavioral issues. It was during kitten season and HAWS was just trying to get rid of the kittens as fast as possible without any regard to their overall well being. The fact that HAWS doesn't even try to improve is what bothers me. HAWS should look at themselves in the mirror and ask "can we do better?". The answer is they sure can and it doesn't cost a small fortune to do it!

  15. I work in rescue and I happen to be very poor. Still, the bottom line is that anyone who "loses" a pet for any reason other than a natural disaster is completely irresponsible and I stand by that. There is no reason to lose a pet. In every situation other than a natural disaster it can be prevented. For example, pets traveling in vehicles should be in carriers so that they can't run off out of fear in the event of an accident.

    I don't care what any of you say. I expect arguments, and they won't change my mind. Being poor has nothing to do with being responsible with your pet's whereabouts and keeping them safe at home. I also volunteer at my local county shelter. This is not about money or not being able to get to the shelter in a timely manner. It's about the fact that irresponsible people let their pets end up there get there in the first place! I also run a website for my organization and I constantly receive lost pet submissions and get to hear all of the excuses. It's sickening. Irresponsible? You'd better believe it!

    1. Anonymous, I think you have clearly supported what I was trying to convey in this blog. Your judgmental attitude towards people that have lost their pets shows the lack of compassion by some,(Not all) shelter volunteers and staff. This is not helping animals or helping to reduce shelter deaths and I would hope that you would reconsider your choice of volunteer work. Rescue and shelter work is as much about customer service and people skills as it is about loving animals.

  16. Dear Anonymous

    I am one of those owners that you call irresponsible. Four years ago I had two very shy/timid hounds escaped from two different vet clinics two months apart. Both were accidents! One employee slipped on the ice and let go of the leash as she was falling down (as the irresponsible owner that you have called me - my beagle had a martengale collar and a sensation harness (both had id tags) clipped together in the front with a leather leash to make sure my beagle did not slip out of his collar or harness). The employee did not set out to slip on the ice. The other hound backed out of the slip lead at the other vet clinic - again it was an accident. Yes, I was upset but I knew that neither of the employees set out to lose my dogs on purpose. According to you, I would be called irresponsible because there are no excuses.

    You mentioned that dogs are safe riding in crates in a car - majority of the time they are safe. Crates are not fool proof. My friend was in a car accident; had her beagles in crates...the crates popped open upon impact. They escaped when the first responder open the door to her SUV. But according to you there are no excuses and she is irresponsible.

    I would hope that you reexamine why you are volunteering or working for a shelter/rescue. we cannot be judgmental - we need to helpful and supportive when people lose their pets.

    I would also suggest doing some reading about lost pets - Missing Pet Partnerhip and ASPCApro.