Just as the light bulbs are turning on, CNN provides us with further reason to mistrust the municipal shelter system. In its article, Dogs Killed Over Unpaid Fines, CNN reports on a family and how their dog was killed at a shelter because they didn’t have $180 to get him back. The family located him at the shelter less than a week after he went missing. Sadly, in just a few days, the daily fines exceeded what they were able to afford. With no other recourse, their dog, a loved family member, was killed.
This is happening all over the United States. It happened in the county shelter I worked at. At some shelters, just one day’s fine can exceed $100, making it impossible for many people to afford to get their pets back.
Such tragedy taking place, while city shelters scream they are running out of space and don’t have the resources to care for so many dogs and cats. It would appear it is idiocy adding to the overcrowded shelters.
City shelters don’t operate for free, but our tax dollars fund them, not necessarily the fines. Yes, of course, there is reason to fine people for repeated behaviors. However, why not make the first time a warning? Surely, the faster the dog or cat gets home and out of the shelter is better for everyone, right? One less animal to care for in an already overcrowded shelter system. One less animal to adopt or even to euthanize.
And, why not make fines payable in other ways… There should be payment options. The obvious is a payment plan, but what about getting creative… Why not forego the actual money and offer people the chance to pay it back by volunteering at the shelter? There are no prerequisites for working at a shelter. Anyone can brush cats, clean kennels, and walk dogs. And, isn’t that what shelters say they don’t have enough of…staff to help maintain the facility and care for the animals?
I really cannot think of a better way for people to “pay back” a shelter for caring for their dog or cat, than to offer the same services in return. Not only does it provide more manpower for the shelter, but it educates citizens on animal control and raises awareness on the homeless animal population. Win-win.
According to Lost Dogs America‘s statistics, 10 state Lost Dog organizations reported over 21,000 dogs were reunited with their owners last year. If we average that data and extrapolate to include all 50 states, we are looking at over 105,000 dogs who went missing and had owners looking for them. I believe that number is extremely conservative based on two factors: one, my math is overly averaged, neither CA nor NY have Lost Dog organizations (Perhaps someone would like to get one started.) both states would contribute large numbers to these statistics and two, while Lost Dogs is growing in its numbers, still not every dog lost is reported to them.
There is an entire population of lost dogs adding to the numbers in city shelters. It is a population that should be acknowledged and better protocol should be put in place to deal more effectively with it. If we could eliminate the lost dog population in city shelters by returning these animals to their owners more quickly, I would be willing to guarantee that city shelters would see nothing but positive impact.
I would be so bold as to state that a quarter million of the dogs who enter shelters in the United States have homes and have owners actively looking for them. General statistics state that 1.2 million dogs are euthanized each year, meaning that potentially over 20% of the dogs euthanized could be lost pets who already have homes. Certainly that statistic is enough to make lost dogs (and cats) an issue to take seriously.