I have had the opportunity to participate in the evaluation of animal sheltering over the past 30 years. We migrated from index card record keeping to computer systems that post photos of lost pets on the Internet. I have always encouraged my staff to go the extra mile in getting a pet back to his or her owner.
The evolution of the pet owner has evolved to recognizing the importance of spaying and neutering (in most of the country); but pet owners have not become better a vaccinating their pets or taking the initiative to look for their lost pets.
Animal Shelters are receiving less annual intakes due to spay/neutering efforts. Shelters are not less crowded because animals are being held longer in hopes of finding them a new home. Pit bull dogs are the greatest problematic breed because the breed occupies 50 percent of the kennel space in shelters.
When I first got into the business of animal welfare, a university veterinary professor told me the best way to control disease in an animal shelter is to not overcrowd the shelter. Overcrowding causes stress to the animals and the maintaining a large number of animals will likely introduce disease. As a result of the no kill movement, shelters are maintained in a state of overcrowding and as such shelters are frequently battling disease outbreaks. If pet owners had previously vaccinated their pets, we would see fewer disease outbreaks.
The most notable issue that we see in animal shelters is the failure of pet owners to look for their lost pets. The usual excuse is that, “He is always getting out and eventually comes home.” The most important factor in being a pet owners is that the own should be smarter than their pet. Pet owners should be able to create an escape proof yard. I suspect that many pet owners are just too lazy to go looking for their lost pet, in many cases pet owners report they learned about their dog being in the shelter through a friend or social media.
In most of the country, animal shelters maintain a three day holding period. Most reasonable people would realize that their pet is missing in three days and go to the shelter. The three day period is sufficiently short that the animal is unlikely to breakout with a disease by coming into the shelter unvaccinated. The owner can deal with the symptoms when they get home.
In an effort to cater to local communities, some shelters extend the holding periods up to 10 days. Even with the longer holding periods, many pet owners find the time too short. The problem with longer holding periods is that an unvaccinated pet may start showing symptoms of disease during day 5 or 6. The animal shelter is then faced with treating the animal’s disease and becomes a risk to other animals.
Nothing is more upsetting than to have an animal owner reclaiming their sick lost dog on day nine and blame shelter staff for the animal’s illness. It is easier to announce how dirt the shelter is with disease infested animals, than to admit that the owner didn’t see the importance of vaccinating their pet.
Due to the nature of animal shelters, there will ALWAYS be animals with diseases in them. If you are not going to vaccinated your pet, then you should make sure that your pet never ends up in an animal shelter. The only way to keep disease out of an animal shelter is to shut its doors to incoming animals.
Most animal shelters recognized the deficiency of pet owners in vaccinating their pets, so they vaccinate the pets on intake. The problem with vaccinations is that they don’t begin to take effect for six to seven days and it is minimal affect at that. So why do we bother vaccinating? It is all part of going the extra mile for the animal.
Now it is time for pet owners to start going the extra mile for their pets. They can begin by placing identification on their pets and begin looking for their lost pet within the first 24 hours. The shorter the time an animal spends in an anima shelter the safer the animal will be from disease.