Tails: Let’s focus on getting them back home, not adopted.

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?


23 thoughts on “Tails: Let’s focus on getting them back home, not adopted.

  1. Pingback: The Top 15 Blog Posts of 2015 | No Dog About It Blog

  2. Pingback: Top 15 Blog Posts of 2015 | No Dog About It Blog

  3. Jean Regenwether

    I would just like to say the shelter I worked at were diligent about getting the animals back home to the rightful owners. That was the first thing that staff did when a dog or cat came to the shelter. The adoption only was after all and I mean all avenues were explored and exhausted. I cannot say what other shelters do, but ours was excellent about this.

  4. kathy

    My dogs are microchipped – However, I was recently informed that since they were “chipped” out of my local area, the SPCA and local vets scanners may not pick up the information. This article is a reminder that I need to get them to local scanners to see if the work – If not they will need new chips…..

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  6. Janice

    thank you not only for your very informative article but also to the comments from everyone. My families lab mix has been missing a year and half now. I hold on to hope that we will see out sweet boy again because of his microchip. We are fairly sure he was picked up purposely by someone unfortunately. Since then I started a Lost and Found Facebook page for our city and surrounding area. I am currently at 1126 “likes” which gives close to that many people on the look out for someone’s pet. It has been very rewarding and some of the staff at our local Humane Society keeps track of my page when they need it. I just hope one day my family can be as lucky as some to get our Shadow back home where he was happy and spoiled. I rescued a terrier one cold wet day from the street. He was soaked, hair matted with ants in his fur. It took me 2 hours to finally rescue him. I wasn’t giving up on him and finally was able to capture him. He had no I.D. He has been adopted from the shelter and being spoiled rotten. I tried finding his owners. We also rescued a chihuahua from some dumpsters near our house (took about a week) and of course no microchip or tags. (I think I’m a magnet at this point) We fostered her and tried finding owners but nothing. We have had her for almost a year now. She is a sweetheart and you can’t help but make your mind wonder thinking what and why. Our lab had a collar with rabies tag and chip but…… What would I do different with shadow? A few things for sure. Having been through this it makes you more conscious of what could happen. Example… Being out of town with your pet and take it out for a potty break or just walking around. Hold the leash tighter, keep your eye on them every second. Do your best to protect them. Overly protective? Yes I probably am but I don’t want to ever go through this empty, no closure feeling I feel with our boy missing. It hurts so much. Sorry I have been long winded. Thank you again so much <3

    1. Terry

      Janice my heart goes out to you. I do wish that a lot more people had their pups chipped. All of mine are chipped now, however the last one I lost over the Rainbow Bridge… at 14.5 yrs old. was never chipped, I cannot deal with her death still today and it will be two years in April. I cannot imagine her being out there somewhere lost and missing her family. We will share the heck out of your page and hopefully someday we will find your pup. You should share your FB page on her from your missing pup. I also volunteer for a Rescue. However, our rescues are from a high kill shelter in the mountains. They use to euthanize 98% and are now down to less than 5%. We pull twice a month and more if needed and transport them for hundreds of miles. We take the pups that are there the longest if possible, but it all depends on the Fosters that agree to take them into their home. some are harder to place in Foster homes due to disposition, breed, etc. We have even Senior dogs in Foster Status sometimes until they pass with a friendly hand on their head… to help them pass knowing they were loved till the end. If your pup was unable to make it back to you, I pray he ended up with a loving Rescue like Starfish Animal Rescue..

  7. Nancy Despeaux

    Think Lost, Not Stray! This article is, essentially, about that message. I encourage people to share the blog article with an inclusion of that short & sweet bottom line.

  8. Elena

    I totally agree with the author. I went through a horrible experience last summer – my dog was stolen; thank God he was found 8 weeks later! While searching for him I met very wonderful, dedicated people, however also had several negative experiences where rescues had dogs that resembled mine (as my dog is one of those fluffy mixed breeds that are so popular these days) – each time I contacted these rescues inquiring about these dogs, I had an extremely hard time getting them to respond. It seemed to me that once those rescues had a dog, their primary focus was to have it adopted out (with the underlying assumption that wherever they came home must not be so good, so why expand the effort tracking the original owner?). You cannot even imagine the heartache I went through, thinking that my dog could be found and then simply given to someone else. And – in a place as big as the metropolitan NY area, there are literally hundreds of various rescue groups, so a person looking for their lost pet has very little chance of getting a hold of every which one of them! I feel especially sad for people who may not have the resources or are not so connected to the internet and are therefore at a great disadvantage when trying to find their missing pets

  9. Kitty

    In NC, after 72 hours, dogs or cats in pounds can be killed…and often are. I have rescued a couple cats from a county shelter that is closed on Wednesdays. Why? Because very Wednesday they kill all the animals that have been there 72 hours or more so they can start Thursday morning with clean, empty kennels and cages.
    I wish there were many, many more rescues that could pull animals after 3 days, it would sure better than all the beautiful animals that wind up in the landfill.
    And yes, I am a huge fan of microchips. But not all pounds have scanners, if a pet goes missing you need to go look for them immediately!

  10. Anja Heibloem Stroud

    Tomorrow I go pick up a shepherd I bred and chipped and sold. The dog ended up in the pound who contacted me. We contacted person I sold him too, but was informed he had sold the dog and didn’t remember to who. Dog is on stray hold but will be released to me as the chip was implanted by me. Thank you Alameda AC. Where is his last owner? Not looking for his dog. Luckily my name is on all chips as a back up.

  11. Pat

    A friend of mine had a 14 year old deaf dog who loved to spend time with her husband. Husband was working under his car in the garage last fall with the dog keeping him company. The dog wandered off while he was under the car, so he went looking for him with no luck. The dog was not likely to go far, so he was worried. An hour later, he learned from a new neighbor who had just moved to the neighborhood a few weeks earlier that she had called animal control because a big dog was in her garage. AC picked up the dog. So my friend’s husband went to animal control immediately and was told the dog had already been put to sleep. The dog had been missing for 2 hours, and the hold time is supposed to be 5 days. The county charged him impoundment fees of $40. What sort of nonsense is that?

  12. Mary

    As a rescue, I totally agree. We adopted out a couple chis and, for some reason, the adopter no longer wanted them and placed them with someone hundreds of miles away. Fortunately, the shelter scanned for a chip and we were contacted. We wanted our dogs back and would have taken them back if the adopter had contacted us. In another instance, someone dropped off a dog outside my front gate. The dog had been hit by a car. She was chipped, but the chip wasn’t registered. In another instance, we took an owner surrender, but it just didn’t feel right to me. We paid the owner $75 for a purebred dog that should have sold for $400 or more. I told the president of the rescue and she told me to run with it. I was able to track the breeder down via a vet’s tag that belonged to the female dog, not the male dog who we had. She didn’t want the dog back, but directed me to the purchaser who in fact had sold the dog and couldn’t remember who he sold him to. Tags get lost; collars are left off because of skin allergies. Get the dog chipped and register the chip. But rescues need to do the right thing and return the dog to the rightful owner too. It’s not a rescue’s place to decide that someone shouldn’t be entitled to get their dog back because the dog escaped the yard. That dog doesn’t need rescue; why take up a spot when there are truly needy dogs out there.

    1. JenniferT

      Thank you, Mary, for being the kind of rescuer that ALL rescues *used* to be run by. When I started in rescue 25 years ago, it was SO different than today. Then, if we had a dog in Florida that was surrendered by an owner, and we found the breeder was in New York, the breeder got the option to take the dog back. Most would, and most also gave a donation when they picked the dog up. If we had a dog in New Jersey that would fit perfectly into a home in Ohio, we arranged a transport to get the dog there.

      Now? Phhhffft!! I’ve been trying to find a sheltie for a lady who needs a smaller one because she can’t lift over 20 lbs or so due to a traffic accident. I’ve been looking for a YEAR!! The ones in rescue that would be prefect for her are considered ‘too far away’, at a 3 hour drive, even though another long time rescue affiliate offered to transfer the dog into her rescue and facilitate the adoption, and in spite of the fact that I personally offered to transport. Some of the dogs she looked at in rescues who said, “Nope. Too far” are STILL THERE. And don’t get me started on the importation of dogs.

  13. Brittany

    OMG yes! This! Thank you! 🙂 I lost a beagle…it will be 3 years in May. Copper wasn’t neutered or mirochipped, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love him still and miss him tons.

  14. melf

    So well written. You put into words what I have been thinking for some time now. I am involved with rescue and searching for lost dogs. It seriously concerns me how often people catch a lost dog and immediately search for a rescue to take it without looking to see if someone (the owner) is looking for their dog. There needs to be more of an effort made in this area. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful piece. Shared.

  15. Janice Kozak

    Thank you for what you do for dogs. And so glad you are part of the adult world. Being able to see the other side of a situation, even if only acknowledging that not all loose dogs are abandoned or abused because they ended up in a shelter or rescue is a huge step forward and a refreshing note in an increasingly immature and whiny world. I wish you continued success in your work and hope that all your future rescues have microchips and the means to locate their owners. My dog is microchipped. I have never “lost” a dog for more than a few hours and those were the worst hours of my life. I am always immensely grateful when I can help a dog get back to it’s owner and immensely grateful for those who helped me look for my lost dog.

  16. Karen

    Hoover came from a chgo rescue. He reportedly was found on the streets. He knew sit and got up on the bed like he had been there before. And he was an escape artist. This was 7 yrs ago. I I still think someone misses him. But was not as aware as I. am now about the lost dog process.

  17. Gail Storm

    In my eyes, microchips and their registration and current up to date information is the best way to get pets back to owners quickly. Quick return to owners also saves local governments a LOT of money. Educating and assisting owners in how to microchip and register that chip should be a part of every first trip to the vet. If vets would make sure all pets were chipped by just adding on a fee to their first shot, and quit trying to make a bundle on chips which we in the dog business all know are very cheap now the world of stray cats and dogs would change. If at each visit to a vet, staff scanned pets, checked the chip and it’s placement, and then verified the information was up to date, the world of strays would change immensely I think. We have an easy, safe and inexpensive tool that we can use to change the face of strays, shelters, and rescue. We just need to get busy and do it!! I personally am donating and chipping pets every chance I get. If everyone “into dogs and cats” helped with this issue, we could change the face of stray, lost and abandoned dogs and cats all for less than $10 per animal. Less than it costs to care for an animal for one day in an average shelter.

    1. Steve O

      It is ot as simple as that. I recently attended a county ordinance hearing where shelter reps were complaining that they were meeting dead ends with microchips because their one phone call was often a dead end–so they offered that microchipped animal for adoption. I then responded that a microchip is only as good as the person who finds a icrochip is actually willing to find an owner.

      You see, I received a letter at my home in Illinois from animal control in in Oklahoma letting me know that my dog had been found. I had no missing dog, so I called. I asked for the microchip number and explained that way back in 1989 I bought microchips and 2 scanners as part of a promotion from Avid for $800. A fellow dog breeder friend living in St Louis had agreed to take half the chips and one scanner. When I ran the microchip number against my records, it was from the batch of microchips that went to my friend, now retired in Florida. I asked the animal control in Missouri if they could send a photo of the dog by email, and they immediately did so. Without any question, I immediately knew who the sire of that now 13 year old lost dog was–a beloved dog owned by my friend in Florida. Of course that sire had passed away nearly a decade ago.

      So, I assured the animal control that I would locate the breeder of the dog . My 78 year old friend drove up in her RV with her husband to claim a 13 year old lost dog found in Oklahoma. Avid microchip showed me as the only source because I was the original purchaser of the microchip. My phone number at the time of purchase was long disconnected once I got rid of my landline.

      Reuniting a dog takes more than one phone call. In this case, Avid microchip gave the full contact of the original purchaser of the chips and the animal control was not about to give up. Yes it took 3 days for the letter to arrive alone and another 2 days for the the couple to drive from Florica to claim an old dog, but it happened . All because people were willing to take the time and wait rather than just put an old dog to sleep because he is old.

      Lost dogs may well not be found just a block from home. We need to remember that and ease up on arbitrary hold times. We also need shelters to answer their phones and realize that letters take time to arrive to their destination.

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