Does Padlocking Your Shelter Make the Staff More Approachable?

There are several reasons why people might bring their pets to a shelter after-hours.  They may not be able to get to the shelter during regular hours due to work or transportation issues.  They may not want to deal with whatever guilt trip the shelter puts on surrendering parties (e.g. “We’re going to kill your pet if you leave her here so are you really sure you want to do this?”).  And of course there are some people in the world who are scoundrels – too lazy, dishonest, and/or pathetic to do right by their pets.

Shelters can do something about the first two reasons.  The last one is a main reason we need – and always will need – shelters.  Just as we will always need child protective services and laws to regulate polluters, we will always need animal shelters.  Most people are trying to do the right thing but some are either unable or unwilling to do so and that’s where the safety net becomes invaluable.

The Halifax Humane Society in Daytona Beach, FL recently announced plans to remove its overnight drop-off cages and put up a gate in front of the parking lot to prevent people from accessing the shelter after-hours:

“The initial intent (of the drop-off cages) was to provide a safe haven for injured and stray animals found after hours,” [Executive Director Miguel] Abi-hassan said. Instead, he said they are seeing owners, not wanting to face shelter staff or hear about sterilization programs, waiting until after the shelter is closed to bring in unwanted animals.

Since the shelter is open 7 days a week (although there are no evening hours), chances are that the director is correct is his assessment as to why so many people are utilizing the drop-off cages:  they don’t want to deal with shelter staff.  That is the issue I would like to see addressed here.  The removal of the cages does nothing to make people feel more welcome to bring pets in need to the shelter during the day.  To my mind, all it does is put pets at further risk.  After all, no reasonable person would expect that putting up a gate at night is going to suddenly change how the public views the shelter staff.  And those pets are going to end up somewhere.

You know what happens at shelters that don’t have drop-off cages at night?  In MS, a woman was seen on surveillance video tying 11 puppies to the Southern Pines Animal Shelter’s fence after-hours with zip ties and baling wire.  (Warning:  the surveillance video at the link may be too disturbing for sensitive viewers.)

Shelter employee Elizabeth Swann said one of the puppies hanged itself during the night, and the other 10 had to be euthanized because of the injuries sustained from being tied to the fence.

“(They) had their collars embedded so far into their necks that they weren’t savable,” she said.

The woman was convicted last week of 11 counts of animal cruelty.  Her 11 month jail sentence was suspended but she was ordered to pay $1100 to the shelter and to have her remaining pets neutered.

At the Walker Co Humane Society in AL, the director reported that people left pets at the shelter after-hours almost daily.  And yet the shelter did nothing to address the issue.  (The Walker Co HS has apparently closed recently.)

The bottom line:  If people either can’t get to your shelter because of your hours of operation or don’t want to deal with your staff’s standard guilt tripping of anyone surrendering a pet, you will find your after-hours cages heavily utilized.  The way to change that is not by removing the cages.  What will people in Daytona Beach who would have utilized the overnight drop-off cages at the Halifax shelter do with their pets in need now?  Will they leave them loose near the shelter’s locked gate, tie them to the gate with baling wire, drop them off in a wooded area and drive away or perhaps something even worse?  If the Halifax shelter won’t take responsibility for the community’s pets in need, who do they expect will?

13 thoughts on “Does Padlocking Your Shelter Make the Staff More Approachable?

  1. Maybe they should have worked out what is making people come after hours in the first place?

    Guilt? Fear? Address the issues, whatever they are.

    I also wonder how many animals get dropped off that don’t actually belong to the person doing the dropping? Are people more prone to be underhanded if they think they can get away with it? Neighbor’s dog barks all night? Dump him at the shelter after hours, no one is the wiser. Cat in your flowerbeds? Trap and dump.

    Ideally, you would make your shelter welcoming enough that the people who have an honest need for it will use it and those who are not quite on the up and up have a witness to their actions. I also worry about those drop off things because some people aren’t smart enough to know that a litter of little kittens or puppies may not survive the night in one. Or that they’re not for injured animals.

  2. The staff where I volunteer is perfectly welcoming and easy to deal with, but there is no doubt that some people are surrendering their own pets in the drop boxes at night because they’re too ashamed to come in during the day. I don’t know that there is a way around that.

    My wife and I came across a loose dog last year around 10PM. The dog was collared, but we called the guy and got no answer. We have two dogs and didn’t want to chance putting them all together for the night, so we dropped the dog in the night box at the shelter, wrote a note so the staff would know the situation, and left the guy a voice mail so he knew where he could find the dog. I don’t know what we would have done had the shelter’s drop boxes not been available.

    When the guy came in to get his dog, the staff said he was kind of peeved that we had taken his dog to the shelter (which is not one where the dog would have been at any risk of being put down). Geez Louise, no thanks necessary for getting your dog off of the streets and taking him someplace where he would be safe for the night.

  3. I agree that the solution would be to find out WHY people leave the pets after hours and do something about those issues! We humans are so stupid sometimes.

  4. I agree that the solution would be to find out WHY people leave the pets after hours and do something about those issues! We humans are so stupid sometimes.

    Daytona is in Volusia County. Volusia County has MSN. Perhaps some people are afraid of being fined for not neutering their dog or cat ?

  5. Research the problem first, yes. May be a way around it. I got a lovely cat from our local shelter who had been taped into a cardboard box with her dead kittens and left in the parking lot. A cage might not have kept the kittens alive but it would have been a tiny bit better.

  6. Look at what has happened in Florida.. 100 dogs in the ‘s on Facebook. Individuals trying to save them..

  7. About 15 years ago on a Sunday, a stray dog came where a dog event was being held in a county park. It was in a rural area where the speed limit on the road was 50 mph. I lived in another county and had other dogs so I did not want to take him home with me. My friend and I dropped him off at the county shelter about 15 miles away where they had a drop-off box since it was closed. If not for it, we would have had to leave the dog at the park and he could have been injured or killed. I called the shelter the next day and gave them information about the dog.

  8. My shelter used to have After-hours drop off, which we discontinued almost exactly a year ago.
    The reason we chose to do so was that we were making a move to being more proactive in helping people keep their pets- asking the community to partner with us by making an appointment, talking to our counseling center, staying for an evaluation, and having a conversation with us as to the best possible options for that pet. By having after hours drop off available it completely undermined our new efforts. Based on the paperwork we received with those animals most of them were dropped off by owners while the rest were strays (oh- and some wildlife- which in the summer was the most prevalent use of the cages). Only 7% of our intake ever came in through that function.
    Staff were initially concerned that animal abandonment would increase. However- even with AHDO animals were still left outside the shelter- tied to a tree, left in the parking lot, whatever. Also- the very fact that the owner/finder made it all the way to the shelter proved that they intended to do right by the animal. A small amount of people are always going to make poor decisions- offering easier solutions for them will not change those outcomes.
    Out shelter has convenient hours- open 7 days a week and open until 8pm on weekdays, so we didn’t see that as being a barrier to why customers chose to use it. Also- we have always emphasized education rather than restriction, and have ALWAYS had a firm, no judement policy in incoming. So we didn’t think that was an actual issue, though were concerned that it was the perception by the public that they MIGHT get judged that would make them choose the easier way out.
    Also- a fair amount of time animals were left without paperwork- which meant we automatically had to hold them as a stray (even though many may have been owner surrednered and could’ve gone to a new home days earlier and saving us resources and the animal stress). Also- our cages were in the- basically in a foyer so customers could access the cages but not the building and the animal was safe from the elements. The cages auotmatically locked once in use to prevent escape or theft. On many occasions people locked their purse/phone/child in the cages and the police had to be called to locate staff to unlock the building and the cage in the middle of the night.
    So- all in all we are glad for the change. We saw no increase in the amount of abandoned animals. Other options still exist for strays found after business hours (animal control, emergency vet, etc), and owners considering surrender are going to have to make the difficult decision while speaking to a person. no easy outs

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