This community has been overwhelmingly supportive of our organization and the work we are doing to save lives. That includes our appointment system for owned animals. We take owned animals in by appointment so we can ensure that no animal will be euthanized because we don’t have space. We are providing a service that helps make certain their pet will be safe here until it finds a new home.
But interestingly a few other animal organizations criticize this program. Fear is the reason.
The fears include:
- People will abandon/dump their pets and animals will suffer if we make them wait.
- Other pounds in the area will be inundated with pets from our area because we are making people wait.
- We have to take them in right away because the public is irresponsible.
So let us address the fears so our community will have the right answers and perhaps some of their fears can be alleviated.
1. People will abandon/dump their pets: People do dump animals. We have taken in a few in those types of circumstances but not many. People dumping animals are not proof that it is because of an appointment policy. People dumped animals before our appointment system.
In fact, another humane organization nearby, which is open admissions, takes anything in anytime no questions asked, has animals dumped there all the time. We see the stories on TV and in the media as much as anyone with rewards looking for information.
Dumping happens but it is not as a result of our appointment system, it is a result of the person who did the dumping. They don’t care and don’t want to take the time to deal with any shelter. There has been no evidence that more animals were dumped after our appointment system was implemented than before we started the new procedure.
But the important part of this is that we take pets in right away if we feel the person will not act responsibly or if their circumstances make it impossible for them to wait or the animal is at risk of harm. In 2013, 291 owned animals come into our shelter right away without waiting.
2. Other pounds in the area will be inundated with pets from our area because we are making people wait: The other groups are likely getting more phone calls from the public saying we won’t take their animal and can they assist them. I am sure that is annoying. We can’t control people and have asked the other pounds to direct those people back to us. And on very few occasions when the other shelters find someone with an animal from Lynchburg standing at their intake counter, we ask the other pounds to send them back to us so we can talk to them or take in their animal. There were more of these cases in the first year or two but now this is a rare happening.
From the beginning we communicated with the other shelters that if they take in an animal from Lynchburg to call us and we will come get it. We might get one or two calls a year.
The stats don’t support this fear.
If people were just turning their pets out then the Lynchburg Humane Society would see more stray animals or abandoned cases coming in each year. But our number of stray animals have declined not gone up.
We began the appointment program in the fall of 2009, but the first full year was in 2010. In 2009 the stray count for Lynchburg, Campbell County, Amherst, Bedford and Appomattox was: 5,733. One year later in 2010 the stray intake went down to 4,939. And in 2013 the stray intake was: 3,592. And interestingly owner surrender intake numbers have dropped as well for all the communities. Perhaps this shows that we are changing the public’s level of responsibility and placing value on pets.
If the public was so irresponsible then the stray intake would go up or even spike but it didn’t.
We also track what happens to animals on our waiting list. Our staff checks in with them periodically and of those waiting only 14 people took their animals to another organization. But the note here is that we take in animals from other counties by appointment as well. So if they don’t want to take it to their local pound they can get on our waiting list and we will bring it in when we have space.
3. Shelters have to take the pet in right away because the public is irresponsible: We find just the opposite to be true. In 2013, we had a total of 316 people on our waiting list for the year. Of those 190 owners re-homed their pets and 68 kept the pet. A total of 423 pets did not come into our shelter as a result.
Most people will do the right thing and most people want what is best for their pets. When you explain to people that in order for us to ensure their pet is safe we bring animals in by appointment so we don’t euthanize for space. They get it and they wait.
But stats don’t tell the entire story. Let me tell you a story about a dog named Sparky. This terrier mix was adopted from our shelter in October of 2012, he was 8 months old. Sparky had a rough start to his life running around the streets of Lynchburg for a month before animal control caught him and brought him to us. After the adoption the owners had minor issues with him at first figuring it was due to his time on the streets but they were doing well with managing the minor problems. Sparky had quickly become a member of the family and would go to work with the owner, sleep with their 6 year old son and loved to cuddle on the sofa with them each night watching TV. They loved this dog very much. Then in the spring of 2013 the owners moved to a new city and a new living environment and Sparky freaked out. He began showing aggression towards the kids when they played outside, jumping and biting at their legs as they ran around and would chew on furniture and toys. He was not the same dog. The owners were very upset and sad because they didn’t understand the new behavior. Then one day after Sparky went after one of the kid’s friends aggressively scaring him, they had had enough and decided it was time to re-home him. With a crying son upset about giving up his dog, they called us heartbroken and frustrated and we asked them to wait.
While they waited they did some research and began working on some of the behavior problems. Thankfully the dog seemed to settle with time and was getting adjusted to the new home. So they decided to wait on finding a home.
They then moved again to a more permanent home. Sparky once again had new behavior problems come out. He would bolt out of the house run and around the neighborhood terrorizing anyone walking their dog, causing havoc. Once again he began chewing and having house breaking issues and again they felt frustrated and done with the dog.
But this time they didn’t call us, they got past that “moment” and found a solution and now Sparky is happy and has adjusted just great to the new home and new routine and is not at any risk of being re-homed or turned into a shelter ever.
Now, this family about ½ dozen times found themselves in circumstances that they wanted to get rid of that dog immediately. They were done. In our old system the dog would have ended up at the shelter. But instead they waited and once past that initial emotional response they found other solutions.
That is what the appointment system does: 423 animals were either kept or re-homed by their owners in 2013. We slow down the process and help the owner’s past the reaction stage and then they either can deal with the behavior or they continue down the path to find a new home.
My mother always said, “Never make a decision when you are angry.” This process allows them to vent to us and process through it, allow us to provide assistance so when they are no longer mad they can make a better decision.
The last thing I want to address is that organizations against appointment systems suggest that because we have an appointment system that we only take in adoptable pets and we get to pick and choose them.
We don’t pick and choose and because we are the contracted pound for the city we take in lost animals, neglect cases, dangerous dogs and anything that animal control needs to be sheltered, we take. As for owned animals we take in diabetic cats, 14 year old mean dogs, cats that the owner ran over but couldn’t afford to treat. We do not turn them away.
The other groups like to call us a limited admissions shelter suggesting that open admissions is better and that it is a negative term to be limited. Honestly, we don’t care that they use that because we are slowing down our intake so it is manageable and we can help owners re-home their pets themselves and be a resource rather than a dumping ground. As the contracted pound for the city we are saving more lives than any other pound around us, so we call ourselves a no kill facility.
We are here to help owners with their problems. We decided back in 2009 that we would stop perpetuating the idea that pets are disposable and easy to get rid, so owners have to wait and work with us so we can help them by helping their pets.
92% of the cats and dogs left our facility to new or existing homes. We couldn’t have done this great work without YOU, our community. It only works because of your help and because people waited and worked with us and because of this support not a single healthy or treatable pet lost their life in our shelter.
Thank you to everyone who waited patiently to bring in their pet, you made a difference in the lives of the many animals in need who don’t have owners to look over them.