Early in my career, I worked out a deal with the local newspaper to accept my photographs of animals that I had in the shelter. It was not uncommon for me to run the same animals week after week in hopes of finding a home for that animal.
I was approached by the Police Chief claiming that one of the City Council had noted that he was seeing animals listed week after week; he saw that as evidence that I was not “cleaning house.” The Chief ordered that I euthanize any animal that had been in the shelter over two weeks.
Today, people get upset if your are thinking of euthanizing an animal that has been in the shelter months or years. Clearly things have changed. The decision to hold an animal depends of many things: your holding space, the chances of adoption for that animal, the mental and physical condition of the animal, the ability to provide diversions for the animal (long walks, socializing, etc.). Just as it is inhumane to kill an animal prematurely, it is just as inhumane to keep an animal caged its entire life.
Stray holding time is the length of time required by law for an animal shelter to legally hold a stray animal for the animal’s owner. That length of time is usually between 3 to 10 days.
Most believe that a responsible pet owner will discover that their pet is missing and go to the animal shelter within 24 hours. The truth is that even with lengthy hold times, many pet owners do not go to the shelter within the hold period. It is extremely frustrating for staff to deal with people who show up after the hold period; to deal with pet owners whose pet has been adopted or euthanized. The frustration is further exasperated by the owners failing to recognize their role in the incident, blaming shelter staff for the failure of the owner to timely find their lost pet.
With crowded animal shelters, lengthy stray hold times burden the shelter into keeping an animal from adoption. The fact that many people surrender their pets as stray further compounds the overcrowding of the shelter while the animal is needlessly held.
Many shelters offer a two tiered holding period: one for animals with obvious signs of ownership (tag, collar, fresh grooming) and one for animals that have no indication of ownership. The most reoccurring problem that animal shelters face is owners failing to keep identification on their pets.
Many of the animal shelters, in which I worked, provided a free ID tag for animals upon reclaim. But, providing that identification appeared useless for some pet owners; we had to adopt a policy that if animal was impounded three times without identification, we would require the microchipping of the animal. We realized that the faster that we can alert an owner as to the location of their pet would help us reduce the time in which an animal is kept at the shelter and to provide additional time of other strays needing sheltering. It is tragic that even though we provided free identification for a pet, the owner seemed to remove the identification when allowing their pet to run loose.
In one shelter, we had a three prong holding period:
- 3 days for an animal without evidence of ownership.
- 5 days for an animal with evidence of ownership.
- 7 days for an animal wearing a current license (actually we would hold an animal beyond the 7 days until we make contact with the owner). Additionally, an animal with a current license would be guaranteed medical treatment, if hit by a car while running loose. With this three tiered system, we could boast that a current license was an insurance policy for the animal.