Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pinellas Animal Control Should Probably Change More Than Just Their Website

A woman in Pinellas County, Florida needed to find a safe haven for her dog, Sunny. The dog was not allowed where his guardian lived. Now I firmly believe the woman should have contacted boarding facilities in the area and paid for a 2-day stay in lieu of what she did - took him to Pinellas Animal Services.

However, what she was told and what was stated on the organization's website led the woman to believe Sunny would be safe at the shelter for seven days.

""Surrendered or lost animals will be held for seven days for animal with ID, four days without ID, to give owners a chance to claim their animal. After the holding period of seven days, the animal will be evaluated for temperament and adoptability."

Instead, Sunny was killed within hours of arrival at the shelter because the dog was deemed aggressive. Nevermind that Sunny was in an extremely new and scary environment, and nevermind that most trainers worth their salt would NEVER try to ascertain the temperament of a dog who JUST arrived at a shelter. Yes, shelter workers should take safety precautions, but I know of too many shelters who have to handle aggressive court-case dogs and somehow manage to do so without killing the dog or getting themselves killed. A week of care to see how the dog adjusts is not asking much.

The woman, understandably, is upset that her dog was killed, as she had arrived 24-hours later to pick the dog back up and rehome him.

And yes, there is a fair argument that the woman should not have used the shelter as a boarding facility without finding out if that was even an option. But I think it is important to remind ourselves that human failures should not result in the potentially needless death of a living, feeling being. Sunny, through no fault of his own, had a right to live, and it is HIS life that was taken because of human failure (and I include both guardian and shelter in this regard). It is unfortunate he was not only failed by his current guardian but by an institution that is supposed to be the saving grace of unwanted animals. A shelter should be a place where animals go to find new homes, not a place to die.

The shelter decided to change the language on their website:

"There is no guaranteed holding period for an animal that is surrendered by its owner, or surrendered by the owner's designated agent. Animal Services Veterinary staff will thoroughly examine the animal(s) as soon as deemed possible for two very important things; health and temperament."

Which does not negate that there WAS a guaranteed holding period when Sunny was taken in and that the shelter did violate their own rule in this regard.

Pinellas Animal Services could do better. Sunny is merely a symptom of a broken system. This particular animal shelter has been unable to reduce its kill rate since 1996. In 2010, they killed 61% of the animals who entered their shelter system. They have not succeeded in increasing their redemption rates, either. In fact, owners reclaimed fewer animals in 2010 than in 1996. At the very least, their adoption rate has increased to a piddly 27%.

I hope Pinellas Animal Services does more than just change the language on their website. I hope they find creative ways to improve their adoption rate and, more importantly, STOP animals from entering their shelter system to begin with - starting by trying to convince current dog owners to keep dogs they may want to drop off at the shelter. A smidgen of effort can go a long way and prevent needless tragedies, like Sunny's death.

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