Humane Society of Yuma Turns Away Lost Dog’s Owner Then Oops-Kills Dog

The Humane Society of Yuma (HSOY) in Arizona holds animal control contracts with multiple municipalities.  The pound promises on its website that every dog will get a toy, a bed and at least 45 minutes of outdoor time every day.  And:

In the event that an animal is suffering and at the end of its life, HSOY will  provide the most humane death possible to that animal.

One family’s beloved lost pet did not get a toy and a bed on September 14 – he got an injection of Fatal Plus.  One day earlier, the family visited HSOY to ID their dog and take him home but the Humane Society of Yuma refused to release the dog, who had already been there for several days.  Although the shelter has not disclosed the reason for this, I would guess it may have had to do with the owner’s inability to pay the reclaim fees since this is a common reason some so-called shelters refuse to send pets home with their rightful owners.  The family made an agreement to return for the dog and when they did, HSOY told them the dog has been oops-killed.  There is no evidence the dog was “suffering and at the end of its life”.  In a post on Facebook, the pound stated:

Unbeknownst to the kennel staff that this pet had an owner, this animal had been chosen for euthanasia because it was ill.

Ill?  Or “suffering and at the end of its life”?  In fact, the dog had a cough according to the official statement from HSOY:


To my mind, the closing sentence of this official statement seems not only unfair but cruel.  Unfair because the owners did come to look for their lost pet, even if they didn’t arrive at the pound as quickly as HSOY thinks they should have.  Cruel because it shifts the blame for the killing from HSOY, who actually did the killing, to the owners, who tried to redeem the dog but were turned away.  This is not a tragic reminder of the perceived failures of pet owners.  It’s a tragic reminder that the organization calling itself a “humane society”, promising to give your lost pet a bed and a toy and to only perform euthanasia if your lost pet is medically hopeless and suffering is actually failing to do its job and blaming the public for its failures.

Nowhere in the official statements from HSOY do I see any reference to this dog’s name, gender, age or breed.  This beloved pet is referred to only by “it”, as if he was a lost piece of luggage.  This comes across to me as an attempt to devalue the dog and thus, lessen the impact of the killing.  It does not give me any sense that HSOY is staffed by compassionate people who want to get pets out of the shelter alive.  I hope these official statements have given me a wrong impression and that the staff and volunteers there truly do care about pets.  I realize the statements may have been crafted by a PR consultant and that the staff/vols may have had no input.  If that is indeed the case, I think the staff/vols should be angry to have been represented so callously in these statements.

On a hopeful note, I contacted the director of HSOY, Shawn Smith, in order to authenticate the shelter’s official statement (above).  Mr. Smith conveyed what seemed to me to be a sincere desire to “stop the killing”.  I like his word choice.  That phrase speaks to me as I imagine it does to others pet lovers.  And it would have been a powerful sentiment, along with paying tribute to the individual value of the life of the dog who was oops-killed, to include in the official statement about the incident.

While the killing can’t be undone and the cruel statements can’t be taken back, it’s not too late for HSOY to deliver a true public apology to the owners and to its donors, supporters and community.  It’s not too late for HSOY to publicly commit that no owners, save for animal cruelty cases, will be turned away when attempting to reclaim pets in future.  It’s not too late to say that an incident like this could never happen again because in future, the only animals euthanized at HSOY will be those who are medically hopeless and suffering or dogs deemed aggressive by the courts where no sanctuary options exist.

Blaming the public has created zero no kill communities in this country.  Why not try implementing a proven model aimed at saving pets’ lives, partnering with the community and preventing the need to craft statements to an outraged public about oops-killings?

22 thoughts on “Humane Society of Yuma Turns Away Lost Dog’s Owner Then Oops-Kills Dog

  1. Likely caught something there. and likely aggression was from fear of being in horrible frightening place. AND this dog had owners who wanted him back… Can’t these places see that their fees are sometimes outrageous? Does it really take $10-$20 to house, and feed an animal – especially in a place like a shelter? If so, then an average month for one dog at a home would be $300-600 (I don’t buy into this amount of fees at all, even if you fed some huge amount of high priced dog foods, how do you get these fees – routinely at home, you just would not spend the exorbant amounts that shelters charge on a daily basis – maybe if you had an emergency or something or the animal is on medicines but not routinely) -AND how much stuff is donated to them that they don’t have to buy- I just don’t get these fees. They seem to be created to keep people from getting beloved family members back home. If the dog had kennel cough, then treat it for goodness sakes! why is kennel cough a death sentence – especially in a place like a shelter, where there are so manhy animals shoved together. Killing a dog for kennel cough would be likened to killing a human child for coming down with a cold after they start to school in the fall….

    1. Maybe a complete change of the “fee” to get your own dog back. How about giving the dog back to the owner (having provided proof of ownership), and having a “donations” jar on the counter? Some people just don’t have the money to reclaim their beloved pet, but others would gladly fork out $100 or more just to get their pet back. Wouldn’t that even out the “fee” schedule? Also, prior to ANY euthanization, there should be a minimum of 3 signitures required on the “death form”, and if there is a “mistake”, then those who sighed would beheld accountable.

      1. You are so right. Donation would be much better. They would do better that way. I have seen people give twice the amount of the fees due to gratitude for finding the pet. how can the shelter in the incident we discuss even have stuff on their web site about finding pets, when the people who lost the pet did what they said, but were turned away. It sickens me. I recently had a dog get out of my yard accidently. Thankfully, the shelter here is good! i had no worries about her should she end up there, as I know how well they treat dogs – but in many places, I would be more scared of the animal control getting her than of the public picking her up! (thankfully she is home)

    2. The fees have nothing to do with the shelter. I’ve worked for two different shelters so far and both of them can drop the shelter fees [usually $10-$17/day for boarding/care] but cannot drop the city/county/state fees that are associated with the dog for “running at large”, especially if the animal was picked up by ACO / police. In the town I currently live the owner can choose not to pay the shelter and still get their dog back, but they’ll get a summons to court in addition to a bill being sent to their house.

  2. a little correction: the pet in question wasn’t referred to as “it”. “it” was used in “IT’S A TRAGIC REMINDER TO COME LOOK FOR YOUR PET AS SOON AS IT GOES MISSING.”, referring to future pets.

    1. Sorry, but living beings (pets) as in future pets are still male or female, not “it”. Let’s use proper terminology – much easier to disregard an “it” rather than “he” or “she”.

  3. It’s not too late, but I wouldn’t hold my breath, for a real apology from HSOY. If Mr. Smith is serious, let’s see some actions. Until then it looks like business as usual. Kill, kill and kill some more. This particular case is embarrassing to them, how many innocent animals do they kill every single day. I am so sorry for the poor dog and family. If this is humane I would sure hate to see inhumane. It’s always the public’s fault, never theirs. Enough is enough. We need No Kill Nation, stop the killing and get on board. Have they no shame.

  4. Wow. There is so much wrong with this story that it’s hard to know where to begin. I will just go with three big issues.

    #1- Reclaim fees- Is that common for shelters? When I had a dog (she has passed away), we were able to reclaim her if she got lost in the neighborhood, and any animal shelter or animal control service was at least 30 minutes away, so I’ve never had to deal with shelters in these ways, so I don’t know how common it is. It seems to me very unfair, considering that people will either have to take the time out to get the money for this (and in a bad economy, this may not be easy) and it seems like its something to put in place so that poorer people wont be able to reclaim their dog. Poor people are just as likely to lose their dogs as rich people are, and it doesn’t mean they love their pet any less. I just think it’s a bit ridiculous.

    #2- Killing the dog- Pretty obvious why I wrote this down. Not only is it cruel to kill the animal in question when they knew the owner was coming back for them, but it shows just how unorganized this place is (which is also bad) if they are “oops killing”. I would be so pissed if I were one of the owners.

    #3- “Look for your pet as soon as it goes missing”- That statement is pretty ridiculous. What if you go on vacation, are in the hospital, or you are facing some other sort of problem with why you can’t just jump up and look right away? And I think most people are under the assumption that a humane society is more likely to keep the pets around for longer than a pound would, so they may not think it’s extremely vital. I know I thought that way until I started reading this website LOL. That is not the owner’s problem. It’s just another way to shift blame, of course.

  5. One of the most frustrating things that I have found out is there are absolutely no consequences to these horrible happenings. These places have no oversight, which is why they can get away with blatently blaming the pet’s owner. Her’s to hoping someday that will change.

  6. Its so sad that its come to this !!!!! Whats going on with the humane race.May be this shelter should be closed .The killing has to stop.

  7. Shirley,

    I reviewed the yesbiscuit site. I’ve been the Executive Director for nearly six years. When I first came aboard we euthanized nearly 70% of the dogs that came to the shelter. Now we save 70%. That’s quite a change, but obviously not good enough for the innocent pets in this community. My goal is to reduce our euthanasia rate by 10% per year until we stop killing these innocent victims.

    I took over in October 2006, and in November 2007 we held our first low/no -cost spay/neuter event. That was working out of a very small mobile clinic. In March of 2010, we opened an off-site clinic for low-cost surgeries, and in July of this year, we hired a second vet to expand those services. In addition, in the last four years we’ve sent nearly 5000 pets to out of area rescues.

    We open a new shelter in November of this year, replacing a 50 year old facility. We took on $1.6 million in debt to make this happen. We couldn’t afford to open the shelter without taking on debt, even though we raised nearly $2 million for the project. We decided we could no longer wait to open a safe and healthy shelter to welcome the many homeless pets we take in. Obviously you’re familiar with animal sheltering, and you know many shelters, like our current shelter take in healthy animals, only to make them sick in an unhealthy kenneling environment. How terrible is that! Take in a healthy animal, make it ill, and then euthanize that animal. Not very humane in my opinion. So, with the new shelter we know we can save more lives.

    But, a new shelter is not the “end all save al”l for these pets. We need to educate the public on becoming responsible pet owners by neutering their pets, and placing collars and identification on their pets, and going to the shelter immediately in the event your pet goes missing..

    I know we failed this pet we euthanized, but we fail every single pet we cant find a home for. I’m a retired Marine, having spent 24 years serving our country and ready to go to war when called upon. I spent nine months in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the first Gulf war. War is terrible as we all know, but there’s a war going on every single day when it comes to saving the lives of innocent pets. My time in the Corps pales in comparison to my time serving in animal welfare! We’re doing what we know to fix the situation, with low/no-cost spay/neuter, rescue, foster parents, and personally adopting what we can. I started with three dogs when I joined the Humane Society, now I have eight beautiful dogs, two cats, and too many ferrets. I guess I’m a hoarder in training. My dogs are my life, and the animals at our shelter are all of our lives.

    If you can help us learn and get better, I’m open to anything you have to offer. It’s not about you, me, or anyone else, it’s about the need to stop killing animals. I say that because I have no pride in saying I know everything or have all the answers, because I know I don’t. But, I only know what I know, and I must continue to learn better ways to save more animals. Help me, help us, help them.

    If you have any input please let me know ASAP! They count on all of us!


    Shawn Smith
    Executive Director
    Humane Society of Yuma

  8. Shirley,

    Thanks for the “drive by shooting” on your web-site about my organization the Humane Society of Yuma. Your story was so one-sided it only creates divisiveness among animal welfare groups in the trenches wanting to get better and save lives. To read some of those comments on your site by people who are unwilling to help and only want to condemn does not serve animal welfare. I do plan to address those who responded and ask for their help. Do they know since 2007 we’ve performed over 10,000 low/no-cost spay/neuter surgeries? Do they know since 2007 we’ve sent over 5000 dogs and cats to rescue? Do they know that we’re on the border of Mexico and a small forgotten town in California, and two Indian reservations, with an annual intake of 8500 animals for a town with 200,000 people. When I took over in 2006, the average annual intake was approximately 11,500 per year.. I invite you or any others to put away your keyboard and come down and help someone asking for your help!!

    And, as to the note at the end of our official statement, there is a reality to that warning and had no inference to deflect the blame on the owners! It means, as soon as your dog is discovered missing. don’t trust anyone to take your pet into their care…not even a humane society’s care! Look for your pet immediately to save their life!!!

    I have 120 dog kennels and 25 foster homes. My kennel is FULL as we speak. With overpopulation going unchecked for decades, our overpopulation of pets is at critical mass. If I found 100 foster homes, I would fill them up in 10 days and be back to square one. When you and your supporters go on the warpath and attack humane groups, all it does is make them turn you off and give then an unwillingness to listen to your ideas. I read the link you sent, and we’re doing all of those things. I want to get better and will! With or without you! What matters is the lives we need to save…and not the finger pointing you appear to relish! If you want to help animals, change your approach! We made a terrible mistake, and owned up to it. We didn’t hide it, but made it public at our risk, because it’s not about saving our butt or image, but saving more animals!

    Feel free to respond, and again, I extend an invite to you or those making comments to actually come to my shelter, witness what we do, and get your hands dirty in making us better. Lord knows we can use the help. As I said, we’re still failing 30% of the pets coming through our doors.

    One last note, as a 24 year career Marine, I know battle, and animal welfare is a real battle where we need to unite in order to win! I have no problem taking my lumps, as long as we save more animals.

  9. Shawn, you sound like a very decent person and your heart is clearly in the right place. What you need is more tools to help get animals out of your shelter alive, I think?

    You wrote – “If I found 100 foster homes, I would fill them up in 10 days and be back to square one. ” Ah. Foster homes are supposed to be a short term situation (in most cases). The goal is to move them through, not have them fill up and sit there. Foster homes are not only good for the animals, they’re good to help involve the members of the community that want to help, but can’t adopt. Train your fosters to work with dogs to walk on a leash, to get a sense of what a cat’s personality is in a home environment, to help you MARKET your pets to the community and you’ll move them through and out to homes.

    Marketing your animals, marketing your shelter, getting the community involved – these are skills that a forward-thinking shelter director needs to develop. Can we help you with that?

    1. Hi Mikken, I’m encouraged to get a response from you. I’m disappointed Shirley who was so willing to “out” us and then shied away from my response. We’re moving into a brand new shelter with an isolation wing, and will have at least 12 air exchanges per hour. This will help with the health of our animals.

      I do agree and I like your approach of training fosters to really work with our pets. I know we can get better in working with and training our foster parents. I’m going to formalize our program and ensure these wonderful volunteers are working with these pets to make them HIGHLY adoptable. Another thing we’re going to do is get every single pet on our web, with current and accurate updates.

      When you mentioned that I sound like a decent person, all I can say is thanks. When I left the Marine Corps, I started a grad program to become a therapist. Once I started working with animals, I knew my calling wasn’t helping people; rather it was working with pets. My life’s work transformed into helping voiceless, innocent victims.

      I tell my staff, I’m not asking to fix a 50 year old problem in just a few years, but we have to get a little better every single day to help these pets.

      One thing is truly disheartening, and that is some of the folks on this site are so critical of so many shelters. Of course some deserve it, but I’ve been to many shelters since I’ve started running ours, and by and large shelter staff are there because they have a love for animals. These shelter folks are doing what they can with what they have, and most need help. Some of the the computer cowboys and cowgirls need to visit some of the shelters they criticize and offer them help. If they refuse, then do what you have to do. Some of the comments on the blog posted about us only know a portion of the story, and we are truly sorry for this tragedy.

      Enough said, you hit on something we can work on, and that’s engage our foster teams. I will do that. Thank you again for your constructive input.


      1. Shawn,

        I sent you my phone number privately in response to your request that we speak by phone. I suggested a couple of times to schedule the call. In response, I received your “drive by shooting” e-mail, which you then posted here. My interpretation was that you at least needed to vent and have some time to cool down or at worst, did not plan on ever speaking to me again. I have respectfully not responded here in order to allow you to vent and take whatever time you need. My offer still stands on the phone call, whenever it suits you.

  10. Shawn,
    I know every community has it’s own set of challenges and it’s good to see that you are willing to make changes to help stop the killing. If you haven’t already read the book “Redemption” by Nathan Winograd, it’s an excellent and educational read. Researching the top 5 No-Kill organizations and following their work is a great way to get some new ideas that have proven results. I try to take bits and pieces from other successful groups and apply it to my own work. Another thing I’ve been strongly implementing is public education. I talk to whoever will listen and when I go to events, I talk non-stop and end up losing my voice at the end of the day! People just don’t know how to help make a difference and once they know, they are generally willing to do what they can either financially, by volunteering, by adopting or by helping with networking efforts. Even if they don’t do anything that moment, it’s possible that they will down the road. I try to make an advocate out of everyone I run into. Most importantly, I think you need to be very visible and transparent. I don’t mean HSOY, I mean YOU. Getting out in the public with your message and people hearing it directly from you will make a huge impact. When I read the press release, without a signature line, I was very disappointed. All I could think was where is the Director? Where is the Board? Why aren’t they coming out to talk to the public? What are the new procedures that will keep this from happening again? I think the public would be more supportive had they seen an interview on the news with you stepping up to the plate and talking about exactly how you will keep this from happening again (there may have been such an interview but I didn’t see it). I’m not in your shoes (I have my own shoes to deal with, lol) but these are just thoughts of mine and I hope they are helpful in some small way.

  11. How could u hurt a dog even when it is I’ll.THEY CANT TAKE CARE OF THERE would u like to be that dog,its animal cruelty.Even if there ill GIVE THEM MEDICATION, how dum of a person are u.There is such thing as common sense.And yes the dog “just got kennel cough” BECAUSE IT DIDNT HAVE A BED A TOY ANYTHING BUT THIS CHEAP FOOD AND WATER.How dum can I person be

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