A large contributing factor in overcrowding in an open admission shelter such as the Animal Rescue League is stray pets. We take in a huge number. By lessening the number of strays that come into the shelter, we can better focus on caring for and finding homes for the animals who really are homeless. Controlling the stray population and effectively reconnecting lost pets with their owners is just one part of attaining the ARL’s goal of reducing the numbers of animals coming in our shelter and reducing the numbers that needs to be euthanized due to lack of space.
Lost pets require a great deal of staff time. We need to check the animal for ID – on the collar or microchip – and if the pet has an ID, we must try to track down the owner. If we cannot connect with the owner, our animal control officers take over and try to find them. We also call other shelters if the animal is microchipped to that shelter. And, of course, we check the lost pet reports that come into the shelter. All of this takes a lot of time.
Some of the stray pets who come into the ARL have health issues and behavior problems. These animals must be treated and attended to, and that costs money and takes up space in the kennels. If we cannot find their owners (or, quite often, we do find the owners but they don’t come for the pet), we are required by law to hold dogs for 48 hours. These dogs may not be adoptable due to the health or behavior issues yet we still must do what we can for them. The sad reality is that if we are full, we cannot euthanize a stray before the 48 hours, therefore, a nice, adoptable dog must be sacrificed. I have seen all too often an obviously aggressive and dangerous dog being held because we could not find the owner and we are under obligation by law to hold the dog. Sitting in the kennel right next to this dog is a really, really nice dog – maybe an older dog or a Pit Bull or a large black dog – who has been at the shelter for a while and nobody has shown interest in the dog. That nice dog needs to be killed because of space issues – mainly due to so many strays.
We need, as a community, to make better strides to ensure that pets are not allowed to run loose and are licensed and wearing identification. Fewer strays means less animals coming into the shelter which means fewer animals that need to be sacrificed. And if lost pets are wearing IDs or are microchipped, we can get them back to their owners much quicker.
Other things that you can do to ensure your pet does not get lost:
- Ensure that your dog’s collar is fitted properly. Many dogs get lost because they slipped out of their collars.
- If you have a fence, be sure that there are no places that your dog can escape. And be sure that the gate is locked securely whenever your dog is outside.
- If you have an electric fence, check the batteries in your dog’s collar frequently. Some dogs will cross the invisible line if they do not get the warning tone or shock.
- If your dog has been known to flee out the door, set up a system whereby your dog cannot get close to the door when it’s opened. Use baby gates or other barricades to ensure your dog can’t escape.
Shelters are often told that they should be giving animals away for free or to charge a very low adoption fee just to get the animals out of the shelters due to overcrowding. But is this a good idea? While on the surface, it may sound appealing. After all, who doesn’t like something for free? However, experience and studies have shown that it’s not in the pets’ best interest to give them away for free or to charge a very low adoption fee.
First and most importantly, we live in a very value-driven society. People are naturally attracted to a bargain and impulse acquisitions are more likely to occur. When we pay money for something, we tend to value it and take better care of it. A free or low-cost pet is more likely to be a disposable pet. In reality, if someone cannot afford to pay an adoption fee, then they will not be able to afford the everyday expenses that come with a pet: Food, toys, grooming, vaccinations, and veterinary care. And of course, there are emergency health issues that cannot be anticipated. Free or low-cost pets are less likely to receive adequate care when health issues occur. The pet gets destroyed or returned to the shelter if care cannot be afforded. The value of the pet often mirrors the price paid for it.
Adoption fees also discourage people who acquire free/low-cost pets and then sell them to laboratories for research (yes, this happens a lot). Some of them “bunch” dogs, that is, they collect them then sell them as a group to the labs or dealers. An adoption fee of at least $25 is recommended because labs typically don’t pay more than $20 per dog.
People who “collect” animals, also known as hoarders, can be deterred from adopting if a fee is charged to adopt a pet. Free/low-cost animals are more likely to play on the sympathies of hoarders who have the compulsion to save as many animals as possible. If they have to spend money for them, hoarders are often not able to pay to adopt the animals.
The sport of dog fighting thrives on dogs used as bait dogs to train the fighting dogs. Free/low-cost dogs are a good target for people involved in this illegal sport. These animals have little value and no investment so they can easily be destroyed in this hideous practice.
And finally, shelters simply cannot afford to give away pets. They have invested money in the care of the pets and adoption fees are necessary to help cover some of the expenses. The Animal Rescue League only receives a small fee for the animal control contract, not nearly enough to cover our expenses. Adoption fees help.
As with anything, there are always exceptions. Many people will adopt a free/low-cost pet and cherish it and care for it forever. However, an adoption fee is just another way that shelters can try to get the best homes for their pets.
A couple of years ago, the issue of puppy mills gained national attention and Pennsylvania enacted laws that hoped to stop the mass numbers of breeders who kept dogs in horrific conditions and sold inferior puppies to the public. While the laws have helped to shut down many breeding operations, we still have a lot of work to do. Many breeders go undetected and what’s worse, so many people still don’t know that it’s not good to buy a puppy from a pet store or at a farm. Pet stores get puppies from puppy mills and farms usually are inhuman breeding operations.
One issue that has not been legislated and remains huge – the selling of puppies over the Internet. Do a search and you’re able to find any kind of puppy imaginable, pure breeds and crosses of breeds that you could never possibly dream up. They’re there. And it’s legal. Unfortunately, I know of several people who have purchased dogs from the Internet. And they paid huge sums of money not just for the dog but for shipping the dogs to them, and the dogs had major health and behavior problems. The web sites make the breeders look very reputable, showing the parents of the pups and giving the impression that the dogs are bred in the very best of conditions. Wrong! An Internet site can hide everything. What’s often behind that slick web site and appealing imagery are puppy mills. And despite the impression that Amish do not use technology, that is also incorrect. They frequently advertise their puppies on web sites and on sites like eBay and affiliates.
For a couple of years, bills have been introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives that would give federal oversight of large breeding operations and they did not pass. Last year, PA Congressman Jim Gerlach co-sponsored a bill called the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act (PUPS Act). This act is still pending and Congressman Gerlach is working to ensure that it will pass this time. The bill proposes to close the loophole that breeders can sell puppies over the Internet as well as other issues including mandating regular exercise for dogs in breeding operations.
The Animal Rescue League is honored to have Congressman Gerlach on our BCTV show on Monday, September 19 at 7:00pm to discuss the PUPS Act and explain what all of us can do to help get the bill passed. To learn more about Congressman Gerlach and the PUPS Act, go to his web site: Gerlach reintroduces measure to protect pet owners, crack down on puppy mills
If you do not get the BCTV channel, the show will stream on the Internet live at BCTV.org or you can view it at this web site a few days later in the archives.
The dogs need us to speak up for them. Please watch this important show. Thank you!
I’ve recently heard a few people refer to cats who live outside as feral. When I asked if the cats approached people, they said that the cats would come over and rub up against their legs but didn’t want to be picked up. These are not feral cats! A feral will not come anywhere near a human, truly like a wild animal.
It’s a very sad fact that our feline friends who humans domesticated to live with us have fallen victim of irresponsibility run wild – literally. The feral and stray cat population is out of control due to people allowing unaltered cats to roam free and multiply. There are several different classifications of outside cats that bear defining:
- Owned stray – a cat who was born and raised with humans who is wandering outside with no known owner. The cat is normally healthy, is usually friendly to people and looks obviously cared for.
- Stray – a cat who lives outside but probably was raised with human contact. The cat could have been born to a previously owned stray who gave birth to kittens outside and had people feeding them. They grew up knowing people but may not have the same trust in humans as an owned cat.
- Feral – this cat was born outside and denied close human contact during the developmental phase when kittens learn to trust humans. Ferals will run from humans and can be quite difficult to catch.
The ARL receives a great many strays and ferals – a staggeringly large number. We do our best to find adoptive homes for as many as possible. But the ferals are another story… If we get an adult, it’s extremely difficult in a shelter situation to work with them to gain their trust. Many adult ferals will never get over their fear of humans. There is more hope for kittens. We are always getting feral kittens and have successfully rehabilitated many of them to be adopted. Because of their constant handling once they come to the ARL, these kittens can be the most affectionate cats you’ll ever find.
If you find a feral cat, would it be possible to turn it into a friendly pet? According to an article on the Companion Animal Rescue Alliance web site, “If you decide to take in an older kitten or cat, be prepared to be patient. One way is to confine the kittens or cat in a large cage. It should be large enough to accomodate (sic) the litter pan, food, water, and cat bed. The large "cat condos" with shelves work well. The cat or kitten slowly gets used to your presence and associates you with good things like food, a warm calming voice, and feather toys. They will shy away at first, but eventually become bold enough to come up and meekly sniff your finger through the cage. They will shy away from being petted at first, but eventually grow to like it. If you don't confine the cat, this process will take much longer.”
Working with ferals is not for everyone. If you do decide to try to make one a house pet, be sure that you get the cat to a veterinarian before exposing it to your own cats. Ferals carry diseases. And, of course, please be sure to have the cat spayed/neutered!