“There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?”
There are a thousand reasons the public dislikes, mistrusts, and avoid animal shelters. Most are unfounded and unreasonable, yet, for some reason, we keep creating our own reasons to hate us. Saturday, I found myself on the public end of an animal shelter interaction and got a reminder of why all of Humane Pennsylvania’s partner organizations and all our staff need to be keenly aware of how our policies and rules are perceived by the public.
My wife received a call from a work acquaintance who serves on the board of a private dog rescue. One of their foster dogs had run away from its foster home and ended up in a shelter in another county (from us, not from the family). When they figured it out, they called and were denied the dog until at least Monday when “a manager was in” to authorize them to give the dog back to an “unknown rescue”.
There might be some reasonable policies behind this so I asked a few questions of this acquaintance. Did you provide proof of ownership? Yes, the shelter was given the relinquishment form of the previous owner (and that form was emailed to me). Check. Are you a legitimate rescue? Now, to honest, that doesn’t really impact ownership, but there are some shady faux rescues out there and shelters can sometimes be cautious. Yes, they presented their federal 501c3 paperwork. Check! So why wouldn’t they release the dog?
I offered to email (I was out and didn’t have his phone number in my contacts or I’d have called) the organization’s executive director, who I know and work with in other organizations and I suggested our acquaintance make use of a tool known round the world: name drop. Call them back, mention my name, that I was contacting their boss directly to straighten this out, and that I’d appreciate some help. Maybe that would allow for phone service in this old timey location where managers are inaccessible on a Saturday afternoon (maybe they could modernize and buy a pager). She did and still no go. So I called, because I’m annoyed now. Why would a shelter choose to keep a dog?
I spoke to the person in charge who was in charge to be the person I needed to speak to but apparently not in charge enough to make a decision. She said that, yes, she had seen all the paperwork proving ownership and the legitimacy of the rescue. But the dog still had its prior dog license on it so they needed to verify with the original owner- despite the signed paperwork. Now, that’s dumb of the rescue, and I told them that, but it did add a layer of confusion to be worked out. OK, since that now made a little sense I asked, did they call the prior owner? Yes. Did the prior owner tell them they had given up the dog? Yes, months ago. But for some reason they still would only release the dog to the prior owner, for “legal reasons”.
Here’s the kicker, the person who gave up the dog to the rescue was the elderly wife of the actual registered prior owner- who had died. That’s why the elderly woman relinquished the dog. She didn’t want it back because she was old and couldn’t care for it. If they wanted the registered prior owner to collect the dog, it would be a long wait because I hear the commute from Heaven on a Saturday is a total bitch and if his ghost did show up, I bet he’d be pissed.
The wouldn’t give back a dog to the current legal owner because the dog had a dog tag registered to a dead person, whose wife told them she gave up the dog months ago, and the paperwork showing her signature was presented, and they couldn’t anything until next week when a “manager was working”.
This is why people hate us.
I used my scary voice of authority on the woman a little bit- OK, I kind of yelled at her- about professional courtesy and asked her to call the executive director- she could not- then asked her to call any manager who undoubtedly had the executive director’s phone number and ask them to call him. She’d see what she could do. She was the most efficaciously unhelpful desk person imaginable.
Apparently she got through to someone who got through to their boss who said I or someone on my staff- gee, thanks for the professional courtesy- or the head of the rescue could pick up the dog, but not the foster family. This is presumably because they were so irresponsible as to have their foster dog run off.
Here is the other reason people hate shelters: We provide a service and when it is made use of we hold use of the service against the person using it. Do we accept surrendered pets? Yes! Yes, we do you elderly old lady scumbag giving up the pet we said we’d take. Do we take in strays? Yes! Yes, we do, you irresponsible pet owner.
Incongruously enough, animal shelters who use the Asilomar Accords reporting structure get a total pass for animals which are “lost” from a shelter because even shelters, packed to the brim with staff and volunteers in locked, gated facilities lose animals from time to time. But God forbid a nice family trying to foster the dog of an elderly widow until it’s adopted, a family keeping that dog from entering a shelter as a surrender in the first place, should have the irresponsible audacity to lose that dog. And then to actually immediately seek it out at the shelter who voluntarily took it in to try to reclaim it. Shame on them!
There are enough policies and regulations which shelters have to abide by for legal and reasonable policy concerns which already place burdens and annoyances on the public. We can explain those and we have to live with those. But when we create barriers, when we choose not to be helpful to well-meaning people, when we choose a course of action which serves only to keep animals in our shelters instead of sending them out, we are handing an already jaded and suspicious public yet another reason to hate shelters.
The next time you hear a shelter professional whining and wondering why more people don’t adopt from us or support us, you can wonder, as I do, with so many burdens already placed upon us, why do we insist on creating our own?