It is frustrating in our business that people will not have a second thought of allowing their pets to run loose, but have second thoughts when it come time to bail their pet out of the shelter. In an effort to maintain the highest live release rate, we have bent over backward to get pets back to their owners when the owners don’t want to pay impoundment fees.
Returned in the field: many shelters have a program which an animal found running at large and is wearing a current license, the animal control officer will return the pet home. If there is someone home, the animal is simply handed off. If the owner is not home, the animal control officer should not attempt to secure the animal in a fence. All you need is to return the pet and then have the pet escape again and be hit by a car. If it is observed that you returned the pet, then you will be blamed for any harm that comes to the animal later. It is important to track returning pets home, so pet owners don’t abuse this service. When I first started in this business, a Black Lab would come out and greet me and he and I would patrol his neighborhood. I would give his owners a break because he helped me capture the other dogs that were running loose (hint: it is easier to catch a dog if you have another dog with you).
Fee deferment: fee deferment is a program that works with your finance department in which pet owners are offer an opportunity to set up a fee schedule to pay back the fees that they are owed. Since many people will not honor a payment schedule, the finance department can apply it to their property taxes, whether house or auto. Don’t waste your time sending non-payments to a collection agency, they will tell you that there is no money in it for them. It is not like they are going to reprocess their pet; besides, you’ll see the animal back in your shelter in no time.
Fee waivers: a fee waiver is a partial or complete reduction in the fee. This is usually a case in which the owner can demonstrate that the impoundment was beyond his or her control or that they can show an extreme financial hardship. Like everything, you have to decide if they are telling the truth.
These waivers will have one of two outcomes: that you have coddled the owner and the owner learns nothing from the experience, except to scam the system. But, there are times that it is a educational experience and the owner learns a little more about being a responsible pet owner.