The Path Ahead Animal Shelter Consulting

The official blog of The Path Ahead Animal Shelter Consulting

Infrastructure building, Lifesaving programs, Management team support

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Better off dead

Recently, in a Northern California animal shelter, a local resident brought in an adult female cat, securely taped into a cardboard box. Customer service staff asked the woman some questions about the animal she was bringing in: Is this your cat? Where did you find it? What is the reason for bringing it to the shelter? The woman impatiently answered the questions, acting as if in a hurry and saying she wanted to "drop it off." This progressive shelter practices managed intake, a process which helps to keep animals out of the shelter who will not benefit from it. In this process, front desk staff try to determine if the animal is truly in need. Is it ill or injured? Is it a kitten too small to survive on its own? If so, can the finder keep it until it is old enough to go up for adoption? In this case, the woman admitted that the cat belonged to her elderly neighbor, but she believes the neighbor is unable to care for the cat. "Okay," answered the customer service staff member, as the cat tried to push open the box with her head, "let's get in touch with the owner to see if she wants to do an owner surrender."

The conversation deteriorated from there. The finder of the cat became angry and insistent that the shelter take the cat immediately. She raised her voice and tried to walk out the door, leaving the box on the counter. The manager was called, and the conversation resumed. As it turns out, the finder failed to tell the cat owner, her next door neighbor, that she had gone into her yard and taken her cat. The cat, who was friendly and the picture of health, did not need to be at the animal shelter, she needed to be returned to her owner immediately. When the manager explained this to the finder, plus the fact that she had trespassed and stolen property from her neighbor, she replied, "I'd rather you put this cat down than she starve to death outside."

If this sounds like a bizarre conversation ... it happens almost daily in animal shelters. People who claim they "mean well" and "just care about the animals" go from asking for help to wanting the animal dead in minutes. If the shelter won't take it they will shoot it or "throw it out in the street."

Why do they behave this way? We don't know. All we know is that it is a daily challenge for customer service staff in animal shelters, especially in today's world of positive change. Gone are the days of "dropping off" unchecked numbers of animals to an unknown fate. Perhaps the folks bringing them in or calling for an animal control officer believed that they would all be "adopted into a forever home" because that's what we've been telling them for decades. The reality is complicated even for shelter staff to grasp, let alone the public. Perhaps they really do mean well, but when they get an answer they can't understand, they project their feelings onto the shelter, blaming them for not being able to "solve the problem" and "find forever homes" for all these animals.

The thing is, this was never true, There are no easy solutions. There aren't unlimited numbers of "forever homes," and furthermore there is no reason to look for one if the animal already has a home. The community needs to work together as a whole to make their world a better place for animals, and they are never, ever, better off dead.