Shelters Must Be Prepared to Help Surrendered Animals Even When Forms Aren’t Completed in Triplicate

Animal advocates have been hearing for years from people who kill animals at shelters that the public is irresponsible, that pet owners are animal dumpers and that death is better for many pets than being adopted out to a home.  We know all those things to be false, obviously.  But among too many shelter workers, there persists a judgmental attitude toward anyone surrendering a pet.  The notion that the surrendering party is trying to do right by the animal by taking him to a place with the words ANIMAL SHELTER on the sign is lost on those who insist on branding these people as trash.

The truth is, no one at an animal shelter knows for sure why a pet is being surrendered.  The surrendering party may relate circumstances regarding the pet that are fabricated, for example.  This might be attributable to the person’s unwillingness to explain his personal circumstances (terminal illness, eviction, domestic abuse, etc.) to a stranger.  The surrendering party may be unable to relate the true circumstances regarding the pet due to mental illness  (e.g. someone who suffers from delusions).  Sometimes people surrendering pets make up stories that they believe will prevent the staff from immediately killing the animal (e.g. claiming an owned pet to be a stray and therefore subject to a mandatory holding period).  The bottom line is that pets can not speak and the person speaking for them may or may not be relating the full and complete history associated with the animal.  Shelter staff absolutely must take this into account when accepting animals.

Beyond this, and regardless of any shelter worker’s personal feelings, staff members must do their jobs.  That is, when you hang out a shingle that says ANIMAL SHELTER and someone brings you an animal in need of shelter, do it.  It would be ideal if every surrendering party complied with all your requests such as scheduling an appointment, completing a surrender form and providing the pet’s vet records.  But in real life, that’s not always going to happen.  Be prepared for it.  Expect it.  Handle it.  Above all, take the animal that is in front of your face.  That animal may be lost, stolen, abused, sick or simply homeless – you don’t know for certain.  The only thing that is 100% verifiable is that someone has brought you the pet and told you there is no one to provide care for him.  Do your job.  Take that animal and shelter him while things get sorted.

Tragically, too many shelters stand on ceremony when it comes to accepting pets being surrendered.  If the surrendering party does not comply with one or more of the required protocols, the shelter attempts to refuse service – a service the staff is being paid by the public to provide.  This leaves the animal completely unprotected, which is the opposite of what the shelter is there to do.

Dog chasing vehicle after failed surrender at Denver Animal Shelter, as shown on
Dog chasing vehicle after failed surrender at Denver Animal Shelter, as shown on

Last week, a man tried to surrender a dog at the Denver Animal Shelter in CO.  He declined to complete the surrender form and presumably some sort of confrontation occurred, resulting in the man running from the lobby to his vehicle.  He tried to leave the dog in the lobby but the dog got outside and chased after the man’s car.  Witnesses say the man ran over the dog before picking him up.  When the man returned later that day and again attempted to surrender the dog, the shelter staff apparently insisted on the completion of the surrender form which caused a problem and resulted in the man running to his vehicle and the dog chasing after him.  Again.

The Denver Animal Shelter staff appears to have been unprepared to help the dog the first time the man attempted to surrender him.  That’s failure number one.  But for the staff to intentionally initiate a repeat of the failure when the man brought the dog back is positively outrageous.  At that point, the staff knew the dog was in need and knew the man did not want to fill out the form.  Failing to protect the dog a second time after witnessing the disastrous results of their first failure is unacceptable.

It is currently unknown whether the dog is alive.  The man told a local news reporter that he drove to Los Angeles and abandoned the dog on the street.  That’s one of his stories anyway.  Who knows what really happened to the dog?  The only thing we know for sure is that the staff at the Denver Animal Shelter did not help the pet when he was in need – which was their job – twice.  But staff did do one thing – they issued a citation to the man for cruelty and neglect.  He is due in court on July 2.  Yay animal “shelter”.

(Thanks Davyd for the link.)


28 thoughts on “Shelters Must Be Prepared to Help Surrendered Animals Even When Forms Aren’t Completed in Triplicate

  1. Agree on many counts — but please, please, too often good shelters practicing efforts to resolve problems and keep animals in their home vs. being a “no questions asked” dumping ground are being mistaken for the scenarios described above. Some shelters use paperwork and “process” to avoid intake — but there are good shelters who are genuinely trying to help with pet retention who are getting a bad rap.

    GREAT 2nd paragraph … so tired of rescuers ranting about a pet surrendered for “moving” and not considering all those possibilities … especially when the form only has a half-dozen check-boxes for “reason for surrender” – hello! Life is complicated, try boiling your problems down to a checkbox choice! :)

    1. Good shelters trying to help with pet retention: great. But when the surrendering party refuses to the point of running away, help the dog.

    2. Seems to me that when it’s made very clear that the dropper-offer has no intention of keeping the animal, then let it go and help that animal. This dog likely is dead or sick or starving (or worse now) because of a wacko man and an insensitive “shelter”. Stupid people and once again, the animal pays the price. Poor pup, just imagining him running to catch up with his “owner” makes me want to cry. I hope the consciences of all of those individuals involved keep them up at night.

  2. It would seem the shelter workers need more training in dealing with the highly stressed, mentally unbalanced humans that they encounter. And I’m sure there must be a large number of those.

  3. If the guy said he was the dog’s owner but refused to sign the surrender form, then the shelter may not have been able to legally accept the dog. Unfortunately animals are still property in the eyes of the law.

    1. No, then you accept the dog as stray and post it as found, in case he wasn’t the real owner.

      1. According to the story, the shelter adopted the dog out to the guy last October, so they would have had evidence that he was the owner. In that case, I believe they need a signed surrender form in order to assume ownership of the animal.

      2. No. You can still accept the dog as stray and post as found. The man is clearly not mentally well, so you deal with the situation as it comes. For you know, one of his multiple personalities is surrendering the dog and one of the other personalities may want him back…

      3. Accepting him as a stray would have been a great solution to the problem, but I think both times the owner left the shelter, when the dog ran after him he put the dog in his van and drove off. So it wasn’t a stray. Someone called for a cruelty investigation, and if that was the shelter then they were probably doing all they could — owned dog being abused, call the authorities. What would be good would be if every shelter had someone present at all times who was deputized to be able to confiscate animals that are being treated cruelly.

      4. “…when the dog ran after him he put the dog in his van and drove off. So it wasn’t a stray.”

        That doesn’t even make sense. If I put a dog in my car and drive off, that doesn’t make the dog mine.

        This guy wanted to surrender this dog. The shelter wanted their forms filled out. This guy was not capable (or willing) to do that. Then he ran out of the building. The dog ran after him, got hit by the car, got picked up. Then the guy COMES BACK the same day to surrender the dog. At this point, even the dullest of the dull should be thinking, “this guy is not playing with a full deck, I’d better do what I can to protect this dog” and taken him. If they can’t get the forms signed, then you take him as stray. It’s really quite simple. But no, they HAD TO HAVE those forms filled out. That was apparently more important than the dog’s safety.

        “What would be good would be if every shelter had someone present at all times who was deputized to be able to confiscate animals that are being treated cruelly.”

        Right, because what animals in danger really need is a deterrent from people trying to surrender them to the shelter? Again, that does not make sense. You get what information you can from people, but you make the animal’s safety your priority.

      5. The dog was his — not because he drove away with it but because the shelter adopted it out to him 8 months ago. If he wasn’t willing to sign the form turning the dog over to the shelter, then the dog remained his, at least until he abandoned it (but we apparently have no evidence yet where or if he abandoned it). As far as his mental competence, in this country, shelter workers are not allowed to assess a person’s mental competence and then take their property away from them based on their conclusion that the person must be crazy. That’s for the proper authorities to decide. Do you really want shelter workers to have the power to take people’s animals whenever they decide the person is crazy? However, deputized officers do have the power to take animals being subjected to cruelty, so I’m not sure why you think a deputized agent on site would be a bad thing. I think it’s the only way (in most places) to legally get an animal away from an owner who refuses to sign over the animal but is mistreating it. The shelter was willing to take the dog, and when the guy refused to sign it over and then said he had dumped the dog they instigated the filing of a cruelty charge against him. What more could they have done without violating the law? It’s a horrible case, it’s awful to see that poor dog running after his owner, but this is one case where, based on the facts we have before us (and we may not have all the facts), this one appears to be on the owner and not on the shelter. I hope the dog is OK.

      6. I’m sorry, but he sure as heck tried to abandon the dog. And no one is “taking the dog away from him” when he’s at the shelter TRYING TO SURRENDER. Suppose he’s illiterate and can’t read the forms? Suppose he’s got some kind of macular degeneration or whatever where he can’t read them properly? But he doesn’t want to tell them the reason, just refuses to fill them out…

        And they have no idea if he’s actually the same guy they adopted out to eight months ago unless he showed ID.

        Bottom line, they should have taken the dog the first time, they DEFINITELY should have taken the dog the second time and they should have listed the dog as “stray” until things got sorted out (or the mandatory hold period was up, whichever comes first).

        And the situation you describe where someone needs their animal taken away from them for cruelty generally doesn’t happen in the lobby of a shelter. And that’s what we have humane officers for. Having someone there in a uniform with a badge is going to turn some people off and if they think that the animal they’re trying to surrender is going to get them in trouble (mange, injury, whatever), then they’re just going to dump it on the side of the road.

      7. One more thing about this situation. As I understand it, in the Denver metro area — which has a metro-wide LRR of over 90% (the only reason I don’t list them on my blog is because of their BSL) — DAS isn’t responsible for taking in owner surrenders. That’s the job of Dumb Friends. Lots of No Kill communities have this type of arrangement and it works really well with dividing the workload. So (assuming the facts in the article were correct) DAS was going above and beyond the call of duty in the first place by trying to get this guy to surrender the dog. As far as having an officer with a badge possibly intimidating people, we can’t have it both ways. Either a deputized person is there with the power to confiscate, or not, in which case the owner has to voluntarily surrender the animal, which means signing a surrender form.

      8. Even in cases where LE takes animals due to abuse, there has to be at least one court hearing before ownership is taken away. Just confiscating the animal doesn’t do that. So there would be no point for an officer to hang around just for that.

        And at any rate, it would do far more harm to animals than good. If people think they there is a chance they will be arrested when they bring animals in, they won’t do it. They will give them away free to the first person who responds to a CL ad. They will dump them out somewhere not next to their homes (or any others really, they will go where they won’t be seen). And you also have the people who will just kill them and be done with it. Each and every time a new law is made to punish a group of animal owners, it is the animals that suffer most of all. They same applies here.

        And they did *not* go “above and beyond” here. The dog is missing and God knows if he is even alive now. They had *two* chances to save this dog but they refused. That is doing a p**s poor job. I somehow doubt they are the only animal facility in the world that doesn’t have animals left at the door during the night. If they really went “above and beyond” they would have treated the dog like one of those and kept him the first time, much less the second.

        And how does anyone know if he really was the owner? Because he said so? Even if he was the one who got the dog there before, he could have given the dog to someone else then taken him back to do this. That has happened before. He is clearly mentally unstable, so nothing he said should be taken as fact regarding this dog. The fact he claims to have made a 30 hour round trip to get rid of him should be proof of that, even without what happened before.

    2. Sounds like some excuse MAS would dream up. Surrendered animals don’t always come with a signed form. They still need shelter. No excuses.

  4. OMG, I just listened to part of the interview at the link – this guy is NUTS and the “shelter” workers should have just kept the dog the first time. UNBELIEVABLE!! And, when shown the photo of his dog, he accused the reporter of being “cold and evil”? That poor, poor dog. I can only hope that a kind, animal loving person in LA has rescued him.

    1. It seems reasonable to me to believe the man came across to the shelter workers the same as he does in the TV interview. The fact that they dropped the ball with this dog twice is unbelievable.

  5. According to Google Maps, Los Angeles is 15 hours away from Denver (without traffic). I highly, highly doubt he took the dog there to dump him.

    Personally, I am of the mind that *all* animals brought into ACs should be regarded as strays. Because there is no proof that the person saying that they are the owner really is. I’ve seen several cases recently where that has happened, and the real owner has never gotten their animal back. Even when they have a police report that clearly shows an investigation showing a theft did happen, and a signed confession from the person who turned in the animal.

    1. I have to correct myself a bit. In the most recent case I know of, the owner did get her dog back.

      But that was only because the media was going to air it, and the rescue and new adopters (who had the dog all of two days, yet was too attached to consider giving her back) were local to the owner and AC. That means everyone around them was going to find out about it. Somehow, that knowledge did wonders in their capabilities of seeing things from the owner’s perspective.

    2. “Personally, I am of the mind that *all* animals brought into ACs should be regarded as strays.”


  6. I am pleased that they fired the director, but I was saddened to see that one of the comments was from a feral-cat-hating jerk.

  7. I just got done watching the entire interview ( . The best thing he could have done was just to fill out the form. I agree that the 2nd time, if the same people were working and recognized him, they should have just taken the dog, quickly, no questions asked. I do wonder if the 2nd time if he even came back in or push his dog in the door and ran, though, since it was what he did the first time after he refused to sign the paperwork.

    He clearly didn’t want the dog but from the way he was all over the place in his explanation, who knows what happened. After all, the dog was hit by a car in January. Then he attempts to abandon the dog at the shelter (he states that the lady was begging him to just let her get the leash on, which I hope is true) as he was “leaving” the first time.

    He states that he has this close connection with the dog but the story keeps changing on where the dog is, first a park in LA, then a residential neighborhood in Beverly Hills. Thankfully, he should be microchipped so someday, if the dog is still alive, we may find out where it ended up. It is clear that he is not very responsible and, well, lies. He lied to his dad about the dog. He then tells his dad that the car is stolen (which he well may have thought it was at the time), when it has, in fact been impounded.

    There are only two reasons I can imagine for him not to want to fill out the owner surrender form: 1. It states that the pet may be euthanized. 2. He didn’t want some perceived black mark on his record with them. I understand those reasons I guess. The point is, there is a risk that the dog may be killed anyway, whether by being dumped or by surrendering. If he was concerned with a black mark on his record by filling out paperwork, it’s nothing compared to going viral as the guy who dumped his dog twice and then made it “disappear”.

  8. Excellent writing, I totally agree with you on every aspect. Shelters must be prepared to do ,their job. If they can’t do that then why we need it. Spending money for shelters when it’s no use?

  9. I’m so sick of these cruel, irresponsible people i.e., Shelters and owners! The dog is caught in the middle and nothing is done to help! What’s happening to our contributions and why are Shelter staff so ignorant and unwilling to help the animal? We need to demand a total and complete Shelter investigation to determine why this keeps happening! If they don’t want to do their job, fire them and hire someone responsible! There is no excuse for this!

  10. I watched the entire interview- what a slice.
    What I took away is that the shelter staff was trying to get a leash on the dog – which indicates to me they would have taken him regardless of paperwork- and that the guy bolted before the dog was secured and the dog bolted after him- the shelter worker was seen running out the door trying to secure the dog. Had the guy stayed out until the leash was secured we may have an entirely different outcome.
    Only those there know what happened the second time as it sounds like the guy drove up and down several streets before he opened his car door and took him susposedly to Beverly Hills.
    So unless shelter staff could obtain a vehicle and pursue the dog I highly doubt they could catch up to the car on foot.
    Before I would slam this shelter I would have to have more facts- but just from The interview I would say they were trying to deal with this wackadoodle from a position of shock and disbelief – totally unexpected behavior from the owner- and couldn’t process fast enough his actions.
    The fact that this guy is barely hanging by a thread and walking the streets is also a concern.

  11. Why do Shelters seem to follow rules selectively! They kill without following correct hold times, but when it comes to extra work, they decide to follow that rule!

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