Sonoma Co Shelter Decides to Stop Blaming Owners, Start Reuniting Families

Cat ID #309183 at Sonoma Co Animal Services, as shown on PetHarbor.  (Click link to read the fabulous bio.)
Cat ID #309183 at Sonoma Co Animal Services in CA, as shown on PetHarbor. (Click link to read the fabulous bio.)

Instead of shelter directors and staff continually spewing the tired old mantra that the public is irresponsible and if their lost pet got loose, they don’t deserve to have him anyway so let’s not bother doing our jobs, how about this?

“It’s moving away from that old-school thinking that owners are irresponsible,” [Sonoma Co Animal Services director Brigid] Wasson said. “Every grieving pet owner who is looking for a lost pet deserves the same level of high customer service.”

*sits up straight, pays attention*

“Why would we want to find a new home for an animal that already has a good home?” Wasson said.

Hey, yeah… that.

Sonoma Co reportedly returned 55% of its stray dogs and 20% of its stray cats to their owners in the 2013-14 fiscal year which is not too shabby.  And Wasson wants to do even better.  She has instructed her ACOs to spend more time scanning for microchips, making phone calls and knocking on doors around the neighborhood when they find a stray pet.

In addition to doing their jobs to return lost pets to their owners, Sonoma Co ACOs are re-examining their own biases against the public which typically lead to unnecessary impounds:

[ACO Shirley] Zindler said officers tended to assume the worst about people who didn’t make an effort to find their missing pets, which in turn often resulted in the animal being whisked away to the shelter. But she said that attitude is changing.

“Some people don’t realize their animal’s gone yet,” Zindler said. “They’ve been at work, the animal dug out. Certainly every effort would be made to return the animal in the field.”

More, please.

(Thank you Daniela for the link.)


21 thoughts on “Sonoma Co Shelter Decides to Stop Blaming Owners, Start Reuniting Families

  1. As the Director of Lost Dogs Illinois, I applaud Wasson of her way of thinking. These animals that end up in stray holding/animal control facilities DO NOT need a new home; they need to go home!!! Keep up the good work!

  2. awesome to hear some GOOD news… a shelter that’s doing the job they get paid for… sheltering animals, helping lost pets get home again. Thanks! I needed a bright spot in my day today…

  3. It is excellent to hear this!

    One of the reasons people don’t know that their pets are at the shelter – we had one cat come in apparently dumped in a vet’s office parking lot. This cat was an extremely fat brown tabby and white female. The vet checked all of the “lost cat” reports, found nothing matching the description, and tried to make her an office cat. She was very sassy with the other two office cats, so she instead came to our shelter.

    When her photo was posted, we immediately got a “THAT’S MY CAT!” message – and an owner who absolutely could not understand why all of her reports of a missing “slightly heavy” calico went unanswered. This cat had not a bit of orange on her, but the owner was certain that she was a calico…and the cat was apparently dumped by an annoyed neighbor.

    People need photos – GOOD photos of pets to recognize their animals. And just because a description doesn’t match, it doesn’t mean that this pet isn’t being searched for. You MUST assume that any animal you find is missed and loved. To do anything less is a betrayal to both the animal and the owner.

    Shelters always say that lost cats are hardly ever reclaimed. That cat owners don’t care about their lost pets because cats are disposable. And they like to say that because it takes all of the responsibility off of them for not doing their job.

    Hopefully, Sonoma Co. is a glimpse of the future for EVERY shelter in this regard.

  4. Good for these people……finally someone in the shelter business that truly cares! Thank you for all the the pet owners you have helped reunite with their beloved pets. I applaud you and your work!!!!!

  5. Just wanted to give you a tip that the infamous director, Matt Pepper was just forced to resign from Bernalillo county Animal Care Services. He reportedly is taking a job somewhere back east. He was forced to resign on account of multiple federal EEOC complaints and lawsuits involving numerous charges of discrimination, retaliation, and whistleblower accusations. I’d be wary of any other municipalities that give this idiot a job. Sent from my iPad


    1. How does this pertain to the current subject? Hardly a fair post since it is unknown who you are and you sound like a pure basher.

  6. Finally, someone who really gets it and is doing the right things. Maybe we can clone her?
    As far as Matt Pepper, let’s keep an eye out for where he might be headed. We are in Michigan and our county is looking for a new AC Director. We don’t need this man! (Actually, no one needs this man)

  7. I quote the great Davyd Smith from Rescue One Dog in Colorado: “Nobody, and I mean nobody, writes about the shelter system like YesBiscuit!” I rest my case, your honor.

  8. Good for them! The high-kill animal shelter in New Braunfels TX hides pets from the public “to protect them.” I ran across this gem trying to justify all the secrecy regarding the pets being held at the New Braunfels TX shelter:

    “I also hear a lot of commotion about them [New Braunfels Humane Society] not posting enough pictures on their site. I want to explain the reasoning behind this. They have gorgeous, strong pits, beautiful full bred pups, posting them can actually be dangerous. If someone sees them and wants that dog for a dog fight, breeding, or just wants to steal it before the owner can find it, then the pictures make it so much easier. I know of a situation like that, it can happen unfortunately.”

    You have to watch out for the big, scary, irresponsible public.

    1. Oh, of course. Because verifying ownership and screening potential adopters is too hard, and those beautiful pit bulls are better off definitely dead than risking the small chance of possibly being adopted by a dog fighter?

  9. This is so great, I wish Vickie Brown could’ve seen this. She worked so tirellessly with No Kill Sonoma county to make changes and was a sweet lady. I am sure she is smiling down on this. RIP Vickie.

      1. She died a couple of months ago from what sounds like the flu. I was devastated, I met her at the No Kill conference last year and we corresponded regularly about the shelters and programs in her area. I did most of my No Kill shelter management work in Petaluma but wanted to see the other shelters. She was setting a tour of the various Sonoma facilities and when we finally had a date in late Spring she postponed because she wasn’t feeling well. Then…no answers to emails. Life is short. Do what you love.

  10. Dogs get out without you knowing! This statement is so, so true! Our dog got out of the yard and wandered off. My husband thought I let her in, I thought he let her in, she wasn’t by the back door. When we looked and saw that she’d JUMPED THE FENCE we searched and searched. She finally came when I called again, trotting up the sidewalk, happy as can be. It’s sad to think that if someone got her they might not have taken the extra time to contact us.

  11. Speaking from a breeders point of view, I would wish all shelters scanned owner surrender animals – I have all my puppies microchipped with me as a second contact just in case the owners are embarrassed to return it to me, as our agreement states, as I will take full responsibility for any puppy I breed.

  12. Finally, some thinking in the right direction! I hope that we can continue to make a difference in the thinking of all shelters! We continue to kill animals because it’s easier that trying to reunite pets with their owners! They need to understand the horrible heartbreak an owner suffers over a lost pet! I’m glad they’re trying to reunite lost pets with their owners! Killing is not the answer and won’t be tolerated!

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