Old School

People get a certain satisfaction from adopting their pet from a “kill shelter.” It congers up some notion of a last-minute reprieve from death. It gives the person something to feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, it also gives in the impression that animals are safe in a no-kill shelter. That is not the case. Many shelters are understaffed and overcrowded. Many modern-day shelters are little more than hoarding facilities. The lives of animals border on inhumane. Shelter managers are faced with a hard decision about whether it is better to house animals in inhumane conditions or euthanize them. Either decision will bring public criticism.

I was once referred to as being old school. I suspect that meant that I adhered to the notion that public safety was our first priority in providing animal sheltering. I suppose that is true, I always believed that humans had to come first, but not at the expense of our treatment of animals.

During the no-kill movement, public safety has and still does take second place. Animal Control programs have geared themselves toward saving the lives of animals ahead of providing public safety. This is manifested in shelters closing their doors to public animal intakes and encouraging officers to stop picking up stray animals on the streets. Communities are less safe now.

In Virginia, the notion of saving all animals caused animal shelters and rescue groups to start lying about the behavior of their animals so as to overcome any potential objection that an adopter might have in obtaining a potentially dangerous dog. The problem got so large that the Commonwealth of Virginia had to legislate laws that prohibited shelter personnel from lying about an animal’s previous history. In Fairfax Virginia, shelter personnel were put at risk because they were forced to care for dangerous animals that the shelter refused to euthanize. From an “old school” perspective, the no-kill movement turned us all stupid.

After all of these years in the “business,” it looks like they haven’t taken the old school out of me. As I watch news coverage of shelters being investigated for animal abuse, I think it is time that the animal welfare profession begins to put some old school back into their policies. We need to do everything that we can to save as many pets as possible, but not at the expense of the animal’s welfare or public safety.

Animal shelters are committing animal cruelty and neglect, believing that they are doing it for the good of the animal. If we are going to save an animal, we need to provide that animal with a humane life. Animals need to stop being statistics and start being cared for.

My personal philosophy was to treat each animal as if it were my own pet.  As a shelter manager, you need to decide that if you cannot do that, then you are probably overcrowded and should look to methods of controlling your current shelter population.  Find the number of animals that you can care for and do everything you can to maintain that number.  Prepare contingency plans for the day that your animal control officers uncover an animal hoarder and need to find room for an additional fifty animals.

Mission Conflicts

Many organizations create a mission statement.  Some reduce the mission statement down to a few-word motto.  Like the police, “to protect and serve.”  In the animal welfare business, I used the motto, “protecting pets and people.”  Over the years, that motto has taken on different meanings.

Early in my career, our mission was clearly weighted towards protecting people from the dangers of animals and protecting animals from cruelty.  In that mission balance, people were given first priority.  Our primary mission was to remove stray animals from our streets.  It was a common practice to euthanize animals when the shelters became overcrowded.  We accepted that as necessary.

Our mission began to change during the no-kill movement.  Animals started becoming our first priority and, in an effort to become a no-kill shelter, many shelters stopped patrolling the streets for stray animals and eventually began refusing to accept animals at their shelter, just so that no animals were killed.

Once animal shelters had met the definition of no-kill, by reducing their euthanasia death to 10%, the shelters were pressured to go beyond 10%.  Animal shelters were pressured to keep alive animals that were clearly not adoptable.  Shelters began keeping animals for much longer periods of time.  Animal shelters were no longer able to provide their animals quality care.

Then the pandemic struck.  People started abandoning animals at a higher rate, and shelter staffing hit an all-time low.  Overcrowding became commonplace and the quality of care dropped further.

Anyone who has ever seen the layout of an animal shelter will realize that shelters were never constructed for long-term care.  The cages are too small to preserve the spacing needed to keep an animal sane.  I recently saw an animal shelter come under fire for failing to put dog beds out for their animals.  Pictures of the kennels clearly show that a dog bed would take up the entire floor space of the kennel.  Shelters were constructed back in the time when animals were kept only for days, not months.  Now with overcrowding, many animals have to be doubled up in those small kennels.  It is surprising that more shelter managers are not charged with animal cruelty.

Following the pandemic, we were hit with inflation.  With the rising costs of caring for an animal, we are witnessing an ever more increase in shelter overcrowding as people abandon their pets because of an unsure future.  All the while, the shelter mindset is still to preserve the life of every animal even while the quality of care continues to further erode.  It is a time in which we have lost our ability to protect either pets or people.

As a profession, we have given up on the notion of managing our shelter population.  We are in the era of managing our shelter overcrowding.

It is necessary that animal shelter management make difficult decisions and stop being afraid to do the right thing for the animals in our care.  The bullying that shelters take to save all of the animals is putting those same animals at risk.  You have to ask yourself; can you save them all?  If you said, “Yes”, then you need to ask yourself, at what cost?

Dangerous Dog Laws

Recently, I was confronted with two issues concerning dangerous dog laws; the first was President Biden claiming that the Secret Service is lying about his dogs biting them and the other was an article that I ran across claiming that animals are not adequately represented in current dangerous dog legislation.

Having worked in the animal control business for most of my life, Biden is like every other pet owner who thinks the victims are to blame for getting bit.  It is owners who fail to take responsibility are the ones that necessitate the need for dangerous dog laws.

Concerning the article: DANGEROUS DOG LAWS: FAILING TO GIVE MAN’S BEST FRIEND A FAIR SHAKE AT JUSTICE .  The writers are correct, dogs don’t get a fair shake when accused of presenting harmful behavior toward people.  They can’t tell their story, so we have to act on their behavior.   Behavior that a responsible pet owner would keep in check.

Most dangerous dog laws seem to fall on the notion of one free bite.  After that bite, the owner has full knowledge of the propensity of the dog to be potentially dangerous.  Unfortunately, like the parents of an unruly child, people fail to recognize the behavior long after it is too late.

Dangerous dog laws are like other laws that remove potential hazards from society.  That’s what we have jails for.  But there are no long-term facilities for dogs.  In the old days, judges used to run dogs out of town.  Some probably still do.  So that they can become a problem for another jurisdiction to deal with.  I am guilty of warning the animal control officers of the jurisdiction in which one of my dogs was vanquished to them.

Dogs are considered personal property.  As such, the dog owner must be afforded due process.  However, this particular piece of property has its’ own mind and may act against the owner’s desires.  The purpose of dangerous dog laws is to protect society.   When an owner cannot control the behavior of his pet, the animal may be headed down the path of euthanasia.  Is it fair, of course not, but it is the only mechanism that we have to deal with the problem; because responsible pet owners are in such short supply.

The bottom line is that dogs have to live in our world.  That is why they have owners.  When owners fail, dog laws begin.



A Great Misperception

One of the greatest misperceptions in the world of animal welfare is that one size fits all. The No-Kill Movement is the best example of this. A community decides that ending the killing of animals in their local animal shelter is a good idea. It just feels good.

They look to no-kill animal shelters and decide to mimic them. So many people believed that the easiest way to end the killing of animals is to just stop killing them. It is this philosophy that caused the current overcrowding crisis in animal shelters today. It was easy for humane societies to become no-kill; they just closed their doors to animals coming in and let the local public shelter take the strain of the pet overpopulation. The humane society could be the good guys while the public animal shelter takes the grief for killing animals.

So? Why can’t a shelter just stop killing animals? The simple answer is space. Once you have filled up all of your kennels and foster homes, space becomes an issue. That seems simple enough; so, why not adopt them? Again, the issue comes down to space; you run out of potential homes or you find that many people don’t want to adopt a pitbull. Pitbulls or their mixes make up the largest percentage of animals in the shelter.

You can say what you will that pitbull dogs are like any other breed, but they are not. In a world of irresponsible pet owners, pitbulls demand the most responsible of owners. Most people cannot live up to that responsibility. The fact that seventy percent of any animal shelter is filled with pitbulls is a testament to the irresponsibility of their owners.

But, let us get back to our original misperceptions. Every community wants to be no-kill, so why can’t ours? The City of Austin Texas is a good example. They were able to reach no-kill status (which is a euthanasia rate lower than ten percent) by throwing money at the problem. It worked for a short time but failed when they ran out of money and people in neighboring communities began dumping their animals on them. Eventually, all of their money went to waste and Austin just found that the pet overpopulation just grew to fill their increased shelter space. Most communities don’t have the funding that Austin dished out to solve their problem and, in the end, to keep their no-kill status, they had to start restricting intakes.

So, it comes down to this: if the community animal shelter is a public service to provide protection from stray animals running in the streets; does closing your doors to accept those strays end the public protection that was your original mandate? It does. The No-Kill Movement is not a public safety protection program. Not only does it put the public at risk, but it places sheltered animals at risk. Each community has to judge for itself as to how humane it is for an animal to be caged waiting for an adoption that never comes.

Is there a solution? You bet, but it demands a mandate to force every pet owner to spay or neuter their pets. Breeding pets are the cause of shelter overcrowding. Breeding pets is the result of irresponsible pet ownership. The first step is to demand that all pitbull and pitbull mix dogs are sterilized, since they are the predominant problem of shelter overcrowded. Let’s face it if we could get the pitbull problem under control, it would be a big step in a community becoming no-kill. If the percentage of pitbulls in an animal shelter would drop below ten percent, then animal shelters would experience a tremendous boost toward ending the needless killing of animals.

Is that even possible? Not likely. Pet owners cannot be legislated into sterilizing their pets. Even if it is for the good of the community. To many pet owners, having a fertile pet is right up there with 2nd Amendment Rights. It is funny to see men come into the shelters to explain that their virility is linked to their dog’s testicles. But there are workaround solutions. A community can make it infeasible to allow a fertile dog to run loose. In Alachua County (Florida) owners of fertile animals were charged a higher impound fee if their pet was picked up. After all, it is these fertile pets running loose that are the problem. We would give the owner two choices, to pay the higher fee or to pay no impound fee if we were allowed to sterilize the animal. The problem is those pet owners found an alternate solution and abandoned their pet at the shelter. At least, in our hands, the pet could hopefully find a new home and not contribute to the pet overpopulation problem.

Too many people, including the No-Kill folks, blame shelter euthanasia on shelter staff. The killing starts at home; with the reckless breeding of unwanted animals. It is like blaming the sanitation workers for filling up your landfill.

Tips to Helping Pets That Could Do With a Helping Hand

The following was submitted to me by Tyler Evans (info@dogzasters.com):

Image via Pexels

There are a multitude of pets out there that are in exceptionally distressing and disturbing situations. Because these innocent creatures are unable to extricate themselves from their unfortunate situations, we should all endeavor to do more to help out in this area. Joining a local or national animal welfare organization could be the start of your journey to help make a difference in the lives of those animals that require just the basics – food, shelter, and love so that they are fit to be rehomed later on.

Start a non-profit company

If you are in the position to start a non-profit company to help animals on a larger scale, then you need to follow a set of standard regulations to do so.

Donations are always welcome

If starting a business is not up your alley, the next best thing you could probably do is generate as many donations as possible.

  • Enquire around. You might find that local businesses are willing to accommodate a donation spot at their premises for the collection of donations.
  • Start a fundraising drive. GoFundMe is an excellent platform to get your message out there quickly and adequately.
  • Look for items that are pet essentials. When enlisting the public’s help for donations, be sure to cover the basics such as harnesses, pet crates, muzzles, playpens, etc.

Volunteer in your spare time

If you have lots of spare time on your hands, you can put this resource to good use by volunteering.

  • You can volunteer at your local SPCA if you’re looking for a convenient option that is close by.
  • If you want to volunteer from home, then there is an option for this, too, through Zooniverse.
  • You can also give up your time by educating others, especially the youth, on how to properly take care of the animals within their care.

At the end of the day, positive change can only come about if you’re willing to put in the work to help reduce pet abandonment. If we can combine our efforts individually and collectively, we can drive change together to make a lasting and significant change for these animals that so desperately need it.




Record Keeping During a Disaster

Only after experiencing a natural disaster do you find how prepared you were.  One of the areas most missed with animal shelters is dealing with the paperwork when the animal shelter loses electricity.   When the shelter’s database goes down, you lose access to animal records: intake dates, owner information, vaccinations, and histories.

Many databases allow for a single computer (preferably a laptop) that can replicate the database for such purposes.  Most animal shelters cannot operate with just a single laptop, so it is essential that an animal shelter create a paper backup system to deal with animal intakes during a period of power loss.

Data backup is a big issue in areas that flood.  With today’s option of Cloud services, you can send your data off to the Cloud in addition to your usual storage of data offsite.

First Adoption Rights

In rare occurrences, an animal will come into the animal shelter that becomes the battleground for first adoption rights. It is incumbent on shelters to create adoption policies that minimize adoption conflicts.


To encourage finders of a lost pet to surrender a found animal to the animal shelter, animal shelters will award first adoption rights to them. The reasoning is simple: a pet owner is more likely to find their lost pet in the animal shelter than in the home of the person who found the pet on the streets. If a finder is interested in keeping the pet, giving the finder first adoption rights might aid in the finder coming forward to report the pet found.

Shelter Staff and Volunteers

Most shelters operate on a first come first serve bases for pet adoptions. Animal shelter staff has an advantage because they work at the shelter and will know about the animal when it first comes into the shelter. You might wish to give your staff the same access to pets as other members of the community, but you must ensure that shelter staff does not take advantage of their position as employees of the animal shelter.

Animal Shelters should require their staff and volunteers to undergo the same adoption screening as any other potential adopters and place a limit on the number of pets that they can adopt from the shelter. If you require home checks prior to adoption, then your staff should be required to undergo the same check. You do not want your staff to undergo public attention when it is discovered that one of them is an animal hoarder or is selling pets out of their homes.

Other Animal Rescue Organizations

Many “rescues” will want to pick the most adoptable animals because the highly adoptable animals are the ones that draw potential adopters to their organization. It is not uncommon for people to complain that their animal shelter only has pitbull dogs available for adoption because the rescues are selecting the best animals for their organizations. If the animal shelter wants people to come to their facility to adopt, you are going to want to keep a couple of these desirable animals to draw people in. Although you want to encourage animal rescues to come to your shelter; you do not want to discourage your community from coming because the rescues have taken all of your choice animals.

If you are adopting the first come first serve adoption policy, you’ll need to decide when you will start gathering names of potential adopters. I would suggest that you begin when the animal first comes into your possession. Although the animal isn’t available for adoption, that doesn’t mean that you can’t start taking names. I worked in a shelter that wouldn’t take the names of potential adopters until when the animal became available for adoption. Due to that policy, people were sleeping in their cars at the animal shelter waiting for the doors to open when an animal came available for adoption. After getting your list of potential adopters, you need to decide how long you will give a person to adopt the animal before moving on to the next person on the list.


You might be asking yourself why I would put a section for owners. Murphy’s Law applies to pet owners. It is a common occurrence that pet owners will show up sometime during the application process for their lost pet. Even with stray hold times that exceed 10 days, an owner will begin looking for their lost pet on day eleven. In dealing in these situations, I have always allowed the owner to reclaim their pet IF the adoption process has not been completed. If I have transacted the adoption then the pet is no longer mine to decide. The pet legally belongs to the adopter.

You can make the owner’s plea to the adopter, but the decision is theirs. If the owner asks for the adopter’s contact information, you should treat the request as a Freedom of Information request and consult your local policies in processing the request. Since contact with a previous owner can be volatile, you should contact the adopter to advise that you have been required to give out that information. It is the right thing to do so that the owner just doesn’t unknowingly appear on their doorsteps demanding the dog back.

If you are in the position to allow the dog owner to reclaim their pet, keep in mind that you ARE Not adopting their pet back to them, you are allowing them to reclaim their pet. It is very rare that I would ever waive any of the fees, including boarding fees, in such situations.

It becomes more difficult when the animal has been handed off to a rescue organization. Keep in mind that when you completed the paperwork for the animal, the animal is no longer the property of the shelter. Most rescue groups do not share my feelings about returning a pet to the owner who has been so severely negligent. The rescue has the property rights to the animal and the decision is theirs to make. If you earnestly believe that the animal should be returned to the owner, then the only tool at your disposal is to offer a sweetheart deal for some future rescue as an incentive for the organization.

Legal Note

Under most jurisdictions, lost pets are treated as property and come under laws that govern lost property. It has always been a contentious issue as to when a person takes possession of a lost pet and when that pet becomes their own property. It is quite possible that the animal never becomes their property by law. Only animal shelters can lawfully take possession of an animal following their prescribed stray holding requirements.

The short of it is that if an owner appears years later, that only an animal obtained through an animal shelter gives the person legal status as the owner that overrides that of the previous owner. These laws are not well known but few people go to court to battle over a long-lost pet.

The Problem with Long-term Dogs

With the advent of the No Kill Movement, animal shelters began holding animals much longer so as to facilitate positive outcomes.  Animals were no longer kept for days or weeks but held for months or years.  We began to see new dynamics arise within our walls.

Animals do not respond to long-term confinement the same.  Some accepted their fate, but others did not.  We had to begin wondering if the decisions to hold an animal were in the animal’s best interest.  We called it, “cage crazy” when an animal becomes more aggressive the longer that we hold the animal.

Cage crazy comes in many varies.  In Roanoke, we witnessed several dogs acting aggressive toward our staff but were gentle toward a couple of volunteers who walked them.  The dogs were too aggressive for adoption.  The decision to euthanize the dogs created an outcry from the volunteers.  Our decision to euthanize the dogs was a good decision, but our mistake was not videotaping the dogs to support that decision.

The pressure to hold dogs, even aggressive dogs, forces animal shelters to make bad decisions.  Those bad decisions put animal shelter employees at risk when public safety should be our primary focus.  When shelter staff can no longer safely interact with an animal, the quality of care for that animal is greatly diminished and we have to ask ourselves if we are providing humane care.

The decision to hold an animal should be based on a shelter’s ability to meet the needs of that animal and insure the safety of its staff.  The decision should not be made so as to keep a couple of volunteers happy.   We need to keep reminding ourselves that the primary mission of an animal shelter is to protect the community.  When animal shelters switch their priority to insuring that every animal gets adopted, it then places its community at risk.

I have mentioned previously that in Virginia, it became so common for shelters to lie to potential adopters about an animal’s past behavior that the Commonwealth had to create a law that prohibited lying.   Shelters were willing to give up their integrity so as to claim that they were a No-Kill Organization.  The fact is, that it was actually better for potential pet owners to avoid getting their pet from an animal shelter in Virginia because you couldn’t trust what they told you.  On top of that, the adopters were criticized on social media for returning the aggressive animal back to the shelter.

The fact is, that few shelters know the past history of an animal.  The people who know are the ones that turned in their pet as a stray.  If animal shelters decide to commit to long holding times for animals, then they must be willing to share what little knowledge that they have gained about the animal.  Many jurisdictions have created Pet Lemon Laws that protect an adopter from purchasing a pet from their shelter.  We have learned that what people imagine in their minds as to what it is like to be a pet owner often doesn’t meet the reality of bringing a pet home.

In recent years, animal shelters were sued because they thought it was more important to adopt an animal than to keep the children in a family safe.  Being truthful about an animal should be an animal shelter’s only option.

Pet Identification

The primary pathway for a lost pet to return home is the identification that the pet carries. This blog is to discuss the various forms of pet identification and determine the benefit and weaknesses of each of them.

Pet License

Most jurisdictions require a pet to be licensed with an accompanying tag. Pet licensing helps defray the cost of animal control services in the community and provides confirmation that the pet is currently vaccinated for rabies. Most jurisdictions offer a reduced pet license fee for those pets that are spayed or neutered.

Cons: Most jurisdictions pick aluminum tags that do not stand up well to long-term use. If the license is issued for the duration of a 3-year rabies vaccination, the tag may not hold up for that period of time. Many jurisdictions don’t realize that people travel and consider the information on the tag for local use only. For example, I once got an animal in with a Jefferson County dog tag. The tag provided a telephone number to call, but fail to list an area code. There are a dozen different Jefferson Counties in the United States. The tag was practicably useless. Many pet owners will place a previous pet’s tag on their new pet.

Pros: If a current tag is placed on the correct pet, the tag indicates that the animal is currently vaccinated for rabies.

Cons: Aluminum tags do not hold up well.

Rabies Vaccination Tags

Many veterinarians provide a rabies tag when they vaccinated an animal for rabies. Like the pet tag, the rabies tag is usually made of aluminum.

Cons: Many veterinarians maintain poor records and the vaccination tag may not be traceable through the phone number on the tag.

Pros: Like with the pet tag, if the tag is current and on the correct pet, the tag is an indication of current rabies vaccination.


Microchips have become the standard in pet identification for animal shelters. Mainly because pet owners are really poor at keeping identification on their pets. Although few pets lose their microchip, it is a very poor form of identification.

Cons: Microchip companies never standardized the frequencies of microchips in the United States and as such, it is nearly impossible to find microchip scanners that will locate all of the chips offered for sale in the US. Those scanners that do scan for the various frequencies can only scan one frequency at a time and unless you are scanning the pet very slowly, you might pass over the microchip in a pet while it is scanning for the alternate frequency. Anyone working in an animal shelter knows the difficulty of scanning a factious. animal. Many domestic cats in a cat trap will appear feral to the person trapping the cats in his/her neighborhood. Microchips are implanted between the shoulder blades of the animal; however, those microchips may migrate through the animal. I found a microchip in a Great Dane that had traveled over three feet to the animal’s front left paw. Many animal shelter staff might not find a microchip that has traveled that far. Due to the high possibility of not finding a microchip in an animal, my shelter would scan an animal three times: at intake, during medical examination, and at disposition. It is surprising the number of times we found the chip while preparing the animal for euthanasia. As such, I consider the microchip as the identification of last resort. To further complicate the issue of finding a microchip, pet owners are very poor about keeping the contact information current. Many fail to register their microchip or purchase the microchip through their veterinarian, who fails to track microchip information. It is not uncommon for a pet to come in with a microchip tracked to a previous owner. The fact that there are news reports of an animal being found by its owner many years later is a testament to the weakness of microchips.

I have encountered people who believe that by having a microchip in their pet that it is unnecessary for them to have to look for their lost pet. These poor fools believe that their microchipped pet will magically return home. And that, my friend, is the main problem with microchips. We inadvertency make them available to idiots.

Pros: It is the one piece of identification that the pet can’t lose.

Personalized Pet Tag

One of the things that I found most disappointing with pet owners is having their pets arrive at the animal shelter without identification. Fortunately, some of the animals were such frequent flyers, that we started recognizing the animals on sight. In our business, we meet all of the negligent pet owners in the community. Less than 10% of the animals coming into the shelter were wearing any identification. Less than 12% of the cats coming into the shelter were ever reclaimed by their owners. So, cat owners generally do not put identification on their cats, but when the cat comes up lost, they don’t go looking for the cat either.

The problem with identification is a big problem at shelters. Animal shelters are always crowded and a pet ID allows get the animal home quickly. In several of the shelters that I worked for, we would create a personalized pet ID for every pet that is reclaimed. We preferred the animal going home, rather than coming to the shelter. I would like to report that the program was a huge success; but no, it was a waste of money. Even with the ID tags that we sent home with the owner (collar included) the animal would return to the shelter without identification. The problem was so persistent that I rewrote the ordinance to require that we microchip an animal that has been impounded three times without identification. This was a serious problem and you know how I feel about microchips. I used to say that a microchip is the next best thing to having no identification. And I was right, at least the animal now had a microchip…. now, if we can only find it.

So the biggest problem with a personalized pet ID tag is putting it on your pet. If you can manage that, then the personalized tag is your best option. On that tag, you can put your home phone (with area code) and address. With that available to the person who has found your pet running loose, you are likely to get a phone call. There are two things that cause personalized ID tags to fail: the first is if your pet is always running loose and is a nuisance in the neighborhood, then the finder will want to teach you a lesson by calling animal control. Animal control will likely swing by your home, but you might expect a citation. The other problem with personalized ID tags as is the problem with all tags is making sure that the information is current. A very large percentage of the 10% of the animals coming into the animal shelter with tags is that the information is too old to follow up on or cannot be traced.

Pros: It is the best form of pet identification.

Cons: It is no good if the pet isn’t wearing it or the information is outdated. Like license tags, the tag may be aluminum and will need to be replaced every year or two. If possible, opt for a brass or stainless steel tag.


Years ago, people used to have a tattoo placed in their pet’s ear. They would tattoo either a registration number or the person’s Social Security Number. Tattooing never really caught on because no one merged as the predominant register. And there was no one that you could call to find out the owner of a Social Security Number.

Pros: Permanent.

Cons: Tattoos blur over time. Most people don’t look for ID in an animal’s ear. No solid registration method.

If you are worried about your pet getting lost and your pet is microchipped or tattooed, contact your local animal shelter and provide them with that information. Most reasonable animal shelter software programs provide the ability of shelter personnel to input multiple forms of identification for animals.

Do You Own the Pet that You Adopted?

Many rescues that adopt animals would have the new adoptor believe that the rescue has first ownership rights to the animal.  The notion is that rescues always believe that pet owners are the weak link in the adoption process.  The rescue wants you to believe that they have the right to take back the adoption in the event that they become dissatisfied with the care that the adopter is being provided.  In the minds of the rescue, the animal is just “rented out” for the period that the rescue believes that the animal is being well cared for.  The adoptor takes on all ownership responsibilities while the rescue may recall the animal at any time.

Is this legal?

In my past life, I would have said, “no.”  But the legal status of animals is now in question.  Many animal advocate organizations wish animals to rise above the notion of being “owned” and given individual rights.  However, in most States animals continue to be called property.  And in reality, the animal is actually better protected under these laws.  Pet owners are accountable for the care of their pets.

Back to the adoption.  The first question is whether the rescue organization had ownership rights in the first place.  If the animal was delivered to the organization as a stray, then under local laws the animal in their possession is owned by some unknown person in the community.  For ownership to take place, the original owner must relinquish their ownership to the rescue organization.   The ONLY exception to this is a stray animal picked up and delivered to the municipal animal shelter.  Most jurisdictions have laws that stray animals become the property of the jurisdiction after a 3 to 10 day stray holding period.  This ownership transition only occurs at the city/county animal shelter.

Since space is always an issue at public facilities, many rescues convince their jurisdiction to allow the rescue to be an alternate stray holding site, so that the rescue can be afforded the same status as the animal shelter when receiving stray animals.  Although this is a smart idea, few rescue organizations think to do this.  So any adoption of a stray animal is performed illegally by the rescue, UNLESS, it is performed using the localities found animal provisions of their laws.  The rescue, as any finder of a lost pet, may assume legal status if they follow the steps outlined in the provisions of their ordinances for the Finders of Lost Property,  Most of these laws are posted in State Statues.  So if the rescue has not performed each step towards ownership, then they cannot legally adopt the pet.

A person finding a stray has the same ability to claim ownership of a found animal, as long as they complete the tasks required of a finder.  Those tasks include contracting the local animals and reporting the found pet, posting a public notice in the local newspaper, and holding the animal for the required length of time (usually three to six months.).