The Problem with Oops at Kill Shelters

Anyone can make a mistake.  Some people exercise more care in their work to avoid mistakes than others but even so, mistakes happen.  Your doctor’s office might bill your old insurance instead of your new insurance; the furniture store may advertise a couch at one price but have it marked as a different price in the store; etc.  These kinds of things can be frustrating, especially when you suspect incompetence and/or a general uncaring attitude led to the error.

Fortunately, nobody is going to die as a result of the wrong price being advertised on a piece of furniture.  But when your business is killing pets – as is the case in most public animal shelters – your mistakes result in the death of beloved family pets.  And these mistakes happen far too often:

  • In Putnam Co WV, the local shelter insisted on seizing a man’s cat for quarantine after it bit him.  When the man attempted to reclaim his pet at the end of the quarantine period, he learned the shelter had accidentally killed his cat after the pet got “mixed up” with some feral cats at the shelter.
  • A lady in Sugar Land, TX had been feeding two homeless kittens.  She brought them to the local shelter whose policy is to hold for at least 72 hours then, should the kittens remain unadopted, contact the surrendering party to give her an opportunity to reclaim.  Instead, the shelter killed the kittens upon intake then contacted the woman to issue an official oops.
  • You might remember the story of a NC man whose dogs got out of his fenced yard through a hole and were picked up by animal control.  He fixed the fence and tried to redeem the dogs but animal control had “mistakenly” killed them.  They could not explain why.  Adding insult to injury, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control then sent the owner a bill for $100.
  • At Matthew Pepper’s old shelter in Caddo parish LA, a puppy who had been adopted by a family was accidentally killed by the shelter after he got “lost in the system”.
  • In NC, a family desperately wanted to adopt a very friendly dog they found but the shelter mistakenly killed the dog despite the family’s efforts to make sure that didn’t happen.

This week, a dog who had saved the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan and was adopted by one of them, was killed by mistake at an AZ shelter.  The dog had slipped out an open gate at Sgt. Terry Young’s home and he checked the local pound’s website for found dogs.  He saw his dog’s photo and thought, “She’s in the pound. At least she’s safe”.  When he went to the shelter to redeem his dog, he learned of the killing and had to explain what happened to his wife and kids:

“The 4-year-old is really taking it hard right now,” Young said. “She’s saying we need to get the poison out of her so she can come home. She can’t grasp the idea that she’s gone.”
I wish it could work like that kid, I really do.
Thank you Clarice and Sheenagh for the link to this story.

29 thoughts on “The Problem with Oops at Kill Shelters

  1. Stories like these are the reason why I drove an hour home from a dog show while having a heart attack. I had to make sure my dog got to safety.

    Thank you for educating people.

  2. And what about the woman in Virginia whose indoor cat accidentally got out and was taken by somebody else to the pound? She tracked him down there and an employee over the phone, late in the day, said, Yes, we have your cat, here’s the ID#, come on down first thing tomorrow and get the cat. Who was killed half an hour after the phone call took place, because the employee hadn’t thought to go to the shelter’s kill list and make sure the cat was not on it. The woman arrived first thing in the morning to find her pet dead after all the employee’s assurances. Obviously, if there hadn’t been a kill list in the first place, it wouldn’t have happened.

  3. I read that New York City shelters will not make any effort to return lost dogs to owners because of cuts in funding. How to blackmail the public.

  4. In my opinion kill shelters and everyone who works at one are scum, some of the workers may even have a sadistic pleasure in killing and watching animals die, why else would they want to kill so many animals everyday. Not like they are being paid lots of money

    1. wow. harsh much. most people that work at private, non-profit shelters that practice euthanasia actually work there because they love animals. pretty sure no one WANTS to kill animals. Well, i guess i can’t speak to every single person in the world that works at the shelter.
      But apparently you can.

      1. @anne- Agreed. Also the people i know and love at the shelter do it b/c they love animals. Half of them cant quit b/c they need the money and cant find another job. Another one is close to retiring and wants the bonuses and the other didnt know what it would be like. It is not the worker’s fault it is the supervisor and managers fault. They pick the dogs that die on their own personal choice.

    2. I know a WONDERFUL woman who runs a private rescue and works at a shelter that isn’t no kill. She is an animal lover, down to her bones, and does all she can to get those animals into homes. She is kind and smart and absolutely DOES NOT enjoy killing animals. She is there because she loves animals and we need more people like her in shelters to help the animals as much as possible.

      This comment is an insult to her and all the others like her out there having their hearts broken every day in our broken shelter system. Shame on you.

      1. I’m going with Erv Server on this one. @Anne. Naive much? He said kill shelters. If these private-run rescues aren’t kill shelters then Erv isn’t labeling them. As for people needing money? We all need money, especially in the current economy. I’ve been laid off since 11/09. At no point have I EVER in my life thought killing animals would be anything I would do for ANY amount of money. It’s called morals, ethics, and compassion. How long before these people are turning tricks? I mean c’mon, not a far jump if you’re capable of murder for money. MY situation actually led me to VOLUNTEERING with my free time at a no-kill rescue. I’m with Erv. ANYONE that can murder, let’s call it what it is, it’s M-U-R-D-E-R, an innocent, healthy animal has issues somewhere and Anne, you’re pretty naive to think otherwise. Ever hear about the KFC workers that were physically abusing chickens up to the last second before these poor souls were about to die? We live among some sick, warped monsters.

  5. Well, it sounds like the shelter worker responsible for the “mistake” was in tears upon finding out what she had done. Doesn’t sound like a heartless killer or sadist to me.

    Many (most?) of people who kill animals in shelters honestly believe that there is no other option, that what they’re doing is necessary and the lesser of evils. THAT’S what needs to change. The more no kill communities we get, the faster they’ll multiply.

    Some day, mistakes like accidentally killing hero dogs from Afghanistan won’t happen.

    1. OTOH, and I have no knowledge either way, the person could have been crying when he/she found out he/she was being suspended and might lose his/her job over the killing of a dumb dog.

      I don’t think MOST people who needlessly kill pets in shelters are sadists but there do seem to be some, shall we say, deviant individuals in sheltering.

      1. There’s a reason why the phrase “They couldn’t even get elected as Dogcatcher” exists. Because it’s been known for decades that standards (both for operation and hiring) at public pounds are the rock-bottom of the barrel, and it shows in the kinds of people that are often employed there.

        Not to claim that there are no good people working in the system, but there are sure no incentives or frameworks in place at most of these pounds to do more than ‘warehouse and kill’ animals mindlessly like an assembly-line.

  6. I have to strongly disagree with Erv Server, who says, “In my opinion kill shelters and everyone who works at one are scum, some of the workers may even have a sadistic pleasure in killing and watching animals die. . .” I doubt that more than 1% of shelter workers derive any sense of pleasure or empowerment over performing euthanasia. Every field has some kooks in it (hence the 1%), but please do not impune the reputation of dedicated and low-paid–I agree with you there)shelter workers who probably suffer more from compassion fatique than from a power trip. For the real power trip, you must look higher up in the organization. Those are the people–the president, executive director, shelter director, or ACO or whatever the title of the top manager–who set the standards, supervise the staff (or not), and should be held accountable for every animal killed on their watch. “Mistakes” happen when they are allowed to happen without fear of consequences or public exposure. I remain hopeful that “Target” will not have died in vain.

  7. The Pinal County Animal Control Director is Ruth Stalter, (, 1150 S Eleven Mile Corner Rd., Casa Grande, AZ 85122). If you contact her, also copy her ultimate bosses, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors [Pete Rios (; Bryan Martyn (; and David Snider (…; P.O. Box 827, Florence, AZ 85132.]
    Ask them to immediately implement the No-Kill Equation ( as a corrective action to the tragedy that occured on their watch yesterday. If you’re on Facebook, click “Like” on Justice for Target for updates:

  8. Like I’ve said before regarding this story… These actions are unforgivable. Each time there is such a story there are always promises to change policy to make sure the mistakes never happen again. All well and good… If such changes were actually put into effect, but it seems they never are.

  9. Honestly this makes me sick to read this kind of acts happening. There is no reason to have a stupid kill list. The animals aren’t in a prison or didn’t commit a crime most of the time. To punish the animals because they haven’t been adopted yet is stupid and uncalled for. It’s not their fault that it happened. And that is just wrong on all level to not try to make sure pets that are found get return to their owner… But most of all, it’s wrong that this happens at all. Do these people even check to make sure there is not mistake before they put the animal down? They should have to double and triple check before they kill them.

  10. This newest story just makes me sick. All of them do. Clerical errors happen but this is life that we are talking about. There should be more than one person involved and id’s should be checked and checked again. This isn’t an “oooops”. This is unqualified people doing a job that they are unfit for. All the stories above are just crazy. Yes everyone makes mistakes. They have special ways to id hospital patients going into surgery because of situations of mistaken identity. Why are our shelter animals not properly id too?

  11. Just a reminder to people that for a shelter to achieve no-kill status, the whole community has to pitch in and support methods of reducing the numbers of animals turned in to shelters. Spay and neuter any animal not part of a very responsible breeding program. Shut down puppy mills. Implement mass TNR for feral cats, and stop calling animal control on your neighbors’ pets unless there is imminent danger. Make sure all your pets have easy to find ID.

    The shelter where I work gets over 10,000 animals turned in each year. We have space for about 400 on site. We do off-site adoptions weekly, have a foster program that is really gaining momentum, are proactive in contacting rescue whenever we have even a shot at getting them to take an animal – at no charge – and we have just absorbed the local TNR group and started adopting out “bully” breeds. And we still have to euthanize for space every day, or stop accepting surrenders and animal control pickups. All of our offices have kennels in them, we usually have dogs kenneled in the bathrooms as well, and most of us who work there are in double digits with fosters and personal pets at home. Until a greater number of people in the community stop thinking of homeless animals as someone else’s problem, we can’t get close to no-kill (or compassionate euthanization only, we will euthanize upon the owner’s request if the animal is terminal/suffering).

    1. Yes, getting to no-kill is going to take a lot of people working together and a lot of education of the public. Keep at it and ask others to join you in helping lower the kill numbers. Remember there is always room for improvement, keep at it with an open mind that more people and ideas are flowing in and you will start to see more and more ways to save more.

  12. Thank you so much for helping get the word out about this horrible problem. Another thing that freaks me out, beyond the “oops”, is the fact that there is no enforceable holding period in many states including California. Even though there is a very short holding period on the books (I think it’s down to 48 hours these days), it cannot be enforced by law so it’s pretty much zero. Meaning there is no law to protect a healthy and friendly lost animal from being killed on the truck right after being picked up. Thankfully many shelters have their own “rules” in place, but still there’s no enforceable law.

    I hope that more people will become aware of these laws – that the second your animal is lost you don’t have any rights, and are also subject to the “oops”.

      1. Not anymore – Hayden has been radically changed since it was originally passed, due to funds and changing priorities. Holding hours is one of those changes, and last I heard in April they are not enforceable by law. In the kill shelter where I used to volunteer, they noted this and how kind they were to up it to five days despite not “having to”. See Winograd’s comment in this article:

  13. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure-If the “shelters” were NO KILL SHELTERS, they wouldnt have placed themselves in the dumba$$ position of erroneously murdering a pet. Throw the f*ck*ng poison and needles away, and POOF! No more accidental killings.Become NO KILL and experience NO MORE KILLINGS OF HEALTHY /TREATABLE PETS!

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