Broward Co Shelter Strikes Again

I’m going to pretend that I run an animal shelter for a county in FL.  The area of primary focus for my shelter would be getting pets out alive – by adopting them out or returning lost pets to their owners or TNR for feral cats.   To facilitate this, one of my priorities for the shelter would be making sure we have SOPs and that all staff are trained on them.  But for the sake of argument, let’s say I don’t have those SOPs for whatever reason.  Let’s say I just start each day with a team meeting in which I announce, “Go out there and do whatever you think is right”.

If you work for me, what would you think is the right thing to say to a person who calls the shelter and inquires about a dog she saw listed on the shelter’s website in the LOST section?

I’ll give you a minute to think about your response.  Remember, you are an animal shelter employee and, like any animal shelter, our shelter’s goal is to get pets out alive.  And this person is calling to inquire about a dog who we’ve got up on our website as LOST.

OK, time’s up.

Here are some good possible answers:

  • Do you think this might be your dog?
  • How soon would you be able to come to the shelter to see the dog in person?
  • We normally only hold strays for 3 days before we kill them but if you are definitely coming, I could place a hold on the dog for you.

When a dog escaped a family home in Broward Co last month, the owner searched online to see if the dog might have been brought to a local shelter.  To her relief, she found her dog on Broward County’s website under the LOST PETS section.  She immediately called the shelter and guess what happened?  (Hint:  None of the above)

First she was given misinformation about the dog’s location.  Thankfully she questioned it enough to call back and ask again.  She was then told the correct location of the dog.  That shelter was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (she was calling on a Monday) so she wouldn’t be able to get into the shelter until Wednesday.  She shared the good news with her four kids and everyone was eager for their pet to come home.  Wednesday morning, the owner called the shelter to let them know she would be coming to redeem her dog.  Oops, they already killed him.

Again, what would you think is the right thing to do at this point if you work at this shelter?  My thoughts:

  • Offer a sincere apology to the owner.
  • Explain the circumstances that led to the dog being killed to the best of your knowledge and promise to look into the matter further to ensure it never happens again.
  • Emphasize your commitment to reuniting lost pets with their owners and reassure the woman that this has never happened before.
  • Apologize again and ask if there is anything you can do to assist the family at this time.
  • Give her your card and tell her to call on you personally if ever she ever has pet related concern or need.
  • Offer to waive the adoption fee for any available shelter pet of her choosing should she decide to get another pet in future.

What actually happened?

A Broward Co spokeswoman blamed the owner saying she “should have identified herself as the dog’s owner and made it clear she wanted the dog kept alive until she could pick him up”.

But what about the staffer who took the owner’s call – shouldn’t he have asked if she was the owner and if she wanted the dog – you know, not dead?

Animal Control said, their employees are not obligated to ask the person on the other line if they are the owners of any animal, and are not obligated to inform owners they have three days to pick up the animal, and if they do not, that animal will be euthanized.

I don’t know if Broward Co has any SOPs for their shelter staff but hopefully they do.  Presumably they contain guidelines on how to reunite lost pets with owners.  Even if Broward doesn’t have SOPs, isn’t it just all kinds of sensible to think that someone calling you about a lost dog that you’ve got on your website might be that dog’s owner?  How likely is it she was not connected to the dog but just calling to see if the dog was there because she was curious?  (Does the shelter get many drunk-dials from college kids inquiring about lost pets for giggles?)  Isn’t your primary goal to get pets out of your shelter alive?  Wouldn’t you do any reasonable thing within your power to achieve that goal?

Sure, maybe you’re not obligated to ask callers a simple question that would mean the difference between life and death for a dog in your care but if you work at a shelter, wouldn’t you just want to do that, like automatically, even though it would mean speaking an extra sentence?  I mean, you would in fact be paid for the time it took you to say those extra words – paid by the taxpayers of the community you serve.

To my mind, this is yet another sad case where a tragic mistake is made worse by the handling of the event afterward.

Broward Co, by the way, is the same shelter that let a cat with a microchip named O’Malley suffer in a cage for 5 days without care and then killed him, only contacting the owners when it was too late.

6 thoughts on “Broward Co Shelter Strikes Again

  1. maybe only breeders and trainers should be allowed to work at shelters.. they seem to be the only ones who really have empathy for a person frantically searching for a lost pet.
    Shelter workers often BLAME the owner for “allowing” the pet to get out in the first place.. HSUS and other AR groups ( as you pointed out in your last post about the boilerplate “consult” they did) perpetuate this myth..that shelter workers are understaffed.. underpaid.. and suffer.. of course they do get a paycheck and don;t end up dead their charges.

    what would i do.. I would say
    WOW I am THRILLED that we have your pet safe and sound.. give me your name and address and if I am close enough I will drop him/her off to you on my way home.. if not then I will place a large neon sheet of paper on his/her run saying who you are .. how to contact you and when you will be coming in.. oh by the way.. we stay open until nine o’clock so you can come after work..then i would ask them how their dog came to be at the shelter.. loose fence?? kids opened gate.. and take or give them some referral to fence guys.. or containment guys.. or try to prevent it happening again.. offer a free microchip.. and NO BLAME..
    I would like to think I would never be jaded.. and if i were I would want someone to slap me silly..I ran a medical facility that performed medical procedures that were controversial.. some people came back more than once.. the staff blamed them mightily until we discussed that if that person did not have the right to return.. no matter how often.. then the person who was coming in only once could lose that right.. we were not there to judge.. but to HELP.. and that is what shelters should do..

  2. What is in the water down there?

    Nice writing (per usual).

    At a conference I went to a year or so ago, there was a session entitled “Think lost, not stray.” The title says it all.

    I’m amazed at how often people just assume that a dog that enters their shelter is there because of an “irresponsible owner” or “Someone who just doesn’t care”. They assume the dog is a stray, and not that there is a frantic owner trying to do anything they can to find their family pet.

    I just can’t help but think about how different things would be if shelter workers worked to help every dog as if they were assuming there was an owner like them frantically looking for that dog….

  3. “Not _obligated_”???? That word slapped me upside the head even before I saw your reference to it. “Obligated”?!?!? I dont give a s%$t whether its in your job description or not to be obligated. How about as a paid employee at an animal shelter you act like you might possibly, potentially give a rats ass about people and these animals. Also known as DOING THE RIGHT thing, which is nothing more than to simply make an effort. Absolutely mind blowing.

    Maybe this story is especially atrocious and insulting to me as I have a dog who is/was/”formerly known as” a runner. We got him from the pound and I’d be willing to bet serious money that’s why he ended up there. Not only have I spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy training this dog to not run off, but he is also chipped, licensed and tagged within an inch of his life. And yet it will forever be still remotely possible he could escape. If I was the owner of a properly identified animal that ended up in a situation like this, my fury would know NO bounds. My blood boils just thinking about it…

  4. Maybe I’m missing something–hey, it’s been a long, hot day, but did the dog in question have tags identifying the owner, address, phone #? The shelter behavior is inexcusable, but owners have an obligation to keep tags on the dog except when he’s in the bath tub.

    My only experience with shelters is when they called me within a frantic hour to say that my miscreant was in their custody.

    1. Jan, sometimes collars come off, or the tags come loose. Stop looking for ways to blame the grieving owners for the fact that the shelter killed a dog after a “three day hold period” in which they were closed for at least two days, even though they’d had a call about that particular dog.

    2. If I recall correctly from the article, the owners only put the collar on when they took the dog out for a walk, otherwise he was a primarily indoor dog. He escaped accidentally, not because they simply allowed him to roam loose. Some people, myself included, have concerns about leaving collars/tags on dogs 24/7 due to the potential for them to get caught on things. A dog whose collar gets snagged on something can die in a very short amount of time. Since I can’t watch my dogs every second, I choose to leave collars off while they are at home.

Leave a Reply