I won’t lie… it wasn’t until recently that I started to give this a lot of thought, thanks to my friend Susan Taney, Director of Lost Dogs IL.
In the last 10 years, I have adopted 6 dogs. Buddy came directly from a couple who could no longer keep him. Sadie came from a rescue organization who saved her from euthanasia at a city pound. She was found stray. We adopted Digger from a city pound. I don’t think I even know his story. Thorp and Penelope I, physically, rescued from a puppy-mill auction. Lastly, Jack. Jack was hit by a car in the city of Chicago and left. A police officer brought Jack to Chicago Animal Control where he was assessed to have multiple injuries and in need of a rescue to pull him. I pulled him and got him to the vet. Needless to say, after 3 months of post-care, he officially became our dog.
Everyday I look at Jack and I can’t help but wonder what his story really is. Was he a stray, roaming the city streets looking for food? Was he like Tramp in the movie scurrying from garbage can to garbage can barely making it, until one day he slips up and gets hit by a car? Or, is he like Lassie, who has a little boy named Timmy who loves him, and is still wondering months later if they will ever find him, and if he is ok?
It is super easy to make judgements about the families who lose dogs. It isn’t uncommon to think they were bad people. “Good people don’t lose dogs,” if only it were that black and white.
We lost Digger. One day he ran off the boat as we were docking and we couldn’t find him for 18 hours. And, tragically, when we did, he had been hit and killed by a car. Maybe that makes me a horrible person. I have spent 15 years rescuing dogs and advocating for animals and I can tell you that, that day will haunt me forever. I would like to believe that I am a good owner and that what happened was a horrific accident.
Maybe Jack’s owners could say the same?
Unfortunately for Jack, he did not have a collar or ID tag or a microchip which brought his chances of being returned to his owners to nearly zero. But, maybe he had just gotten a bath or they bought a new collar and didn’t put it on yet. There have been times when all of my dogs have been without collars at one point or another for many different reasons.
Jack had fleas when I got him. He had had fleas for quite some time. It would be easy to make assumptions about his care, but if he had been gone for more than 30 days and his flea and tick medicine was no longer active, it would make sense that he would get fleas. I will never know how long Jack was missing or if he was missing at all.
Jack was not neutered and while, to me, that shows irresponsible ownership, it does not mean he wasn’t loved or cared for. Spay and neuter operations can be costly and many people don’t fully understand all of the benefits to performing them. Jack’s owners could have loved him but had neither the resources or the understanding to get him neutered.
Part of me wants to assume Jack’s life, “before Becky,” was awful. I want to believe that he didn’t know love until he found us, but that is quite possibly untrue.
My big saying these days is, “Dogs don’t fall from the sky,” because they don’t. And while stray dogs can be an issue in some areas, in general, that is not the case in IL. The likelihood that Jack was living life like a stray Disney dog is just not that likely, though it would make his life with us more romantic.
I will never know Jack’s story and for me, that is sad. I worry that the dog I love so much is a dog someone else loves so much and is still looking for.
So, what’s my point… My point is returning dogs to their rightful owners isn’t something a lot of shelters or rescues are making a priority and that is scary. Especially, if you already own a dog and find it missing one day. Shelters like CACC have just reduced their stray-hold period to 3 days meaning that after 3 days any rescue can come in and take the dog. So, while the city says it won’t euthanize the dog sooner, the dog will leave the shelter sooner- giving owners much less time to find it.
My rescue operates out of Minnesota. Lucky for Minnesota, their city shelters aren’t overcrowded, so our rescue goes to places like Chicago to offer help. A dog that comes into CACC with no tags and no microchip can end up in Minnesota for adoption in 4 days. Think about that. What Chicago resident is going to scour the state of Minnesota looking for their dog?
Until recently, I would have “assumed” that the city shelter goes above and beyond to find the dog’s owner, but I know that is not the case. And, after reading about the MANY places a stray can end up in the Chicago animal control system, I know it would be practically impossible to find a dog without tags or a chip in less than 3 days.
So, now I am pondering if my rescue or ANY rescue should begin to feel some level of responsibility for return to owner rates. I think it would be ignorant of us to continue to assume the city shelter has done their due diligence.
The irony is that it has been said that it was rescues who promoted the shortened stray hold. Rescues wanted to get their hands on the dogs quicker. I understand, in theory, why. The longer the dogs are in the shelter, the more stressed they become, the more likely they will get urinary tract infections and kennel cough.
No one, especially in rescue, wants to see a dog sit in a city shelter longer than he has to, but shouldn’t we, as rescue people, be cheering for the dog’s family, too? Isn’t the best scenario the one where the dog doesn’t enter the world of rescue at all and is, instead, returned home to the family it already had?