MI Shelter Records Appear Falsified to Hide the Killing of Healthy Pets

Nancy Hornberger, a pet owner in Michigan, had a multiple cat household with one cat who kept fighting with the others and spraying urine.  Aside from this, Spitz was a loving pet and Ms. Hornberger felt he might enjoy life more in a single cat home.  She called the Oakland Co Animal Shelter and asked about having the shelter rehome Spitz.  Ms. Hornberger says she was told that as long as the cat was healthy and adoptable, they would put him on the adoption floor.  She packed up Spitz’s favorite food and toys and wrote a two page letter about him to be given to whoever adopted the cat.  Ms. Hornberger then surrendered Spitz, his belongings and the letter to the Oakland Co shelter so he could find his perfect home.

But Oakland Co killed Spitz minutes after the former owner hit the door.  Ms. Hornberger found out later, after animal advocates filed FOIA requests and received records for animals who were killed and categorized as “owner requested euthanasia” by the shelter.  When informed of Spitz’s killing, Ms. Hornberger collapsed.  She could not understand why her lovable pet would be killed instead of being offered for adoption by the shelter.  And she says she absolutely did not ask the shelter staff to kill him:

We never, in any way, requested that.

The Oakland Co shelter’s website indicates they are limited admission for cats:

Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center will operate as an open admission shelter for cats based on available capacity starting January 2, 2015. That means we will not accept cats when we do not have room to house them. After consulting with veterinary staff and other experts in animal shelter operations, we will implement the industry’s best practices.  By limiting the number of cats we house, we will be able to offer the very best care to our existing cat population.

It would seem to follow that the facility had adequate space to house Spitz at the time he was accepted.  Also, for those trying to re-read that last paragraph:  open admission=limited admission in Oakland Co, apparently.

(Photo by Casey Post)
(Photo by Casey Post)

WXYZ asked Oakland County Director of Public Services Mark Newman why Spitz was killed. He says that the cat was deemed unadoptable due to the urine spraying and too bad so sad the owner failed to understand that at the time she surrendered Spitz. Ms. Hornberger says if she would have known Spitz would be killed, she would never have left him at the shelter.

So what exactly makes an animal “unadoptable” at Oakland Co?

As for the shelters written policy on what makes an animal adoptable, it won’t be posted at the shelter or its website.

“It is not something we disseminate to the public, but it is our information,” said Newman.

It’s classified. But WXYZ got a copy of the document detailing the excuses used by Oakland Co to kill animals, which the shelter titled “CARES” because aw. Among the excuses:

  • Animals designated “treatable/manageable” may be given one week before being recategorized as “untreatable/unhealthy” – not because these animals actually are either untreatable or unhealthy, just because it’s been a week and hey, we’re not running a doggie hotel here people.
  • Examples of treatable/manageable conditions include: cough, cold, arthritis, fleas, worms, cherry eye, missing eye/limb or other physical disability, and having the audacity to be born while being cared for by a mother. One week to get over that lost eye or that being born thing.
  • Examples of untreatable/unhealthy conditions include: healthy feral cats, dental disease, ringworm, and skin mites. I love that healthy feral cats are included in the definition of unhealthy because that just makes sense. Healthy=unhealthy, what’s the problem – you stupid or something?
(Photo by Casey Post)
(Photo by Casey Post)

One thing I didn’t see on the list was spraying, which is supposedly a capital offense in Oakland Co. The closest thing I could find:

Have a behavioral, temperamental or medical characteristic that would pose a danger to other animals, themselves or the public.

Does Oakland Co think cat urine is a public health threat?

Lest anyone think that Spitz’s killing represents an isolated incident at Oakland Co, the shelter’s own records seem to reveal it is a regular occurrence. Records appear to be falsified as “owner requested euthanasia” on numerous animals, including strays killed upon impound instead of being held for the legally mandated holding period and pets who are given nail trims and vaccines prior to being killed, supposedly by owner request.

Why the shell game? Oakland Co boasts on its website that it “currently has the best save rate in Michigan among public open-admission shelters whose intakes are greater than 5,000 animals”. But that save rate specifically excludes animals categorized as being killed by owner request, such as Spitz. (There is also an exclusion for animals killed and categorized as “contracted” which I don’t recall coming across before and don’t know what it refers to.)

Oakland Co taxpayers are getting the shaft with regard to their public shelter.  The shelter is limiting admission of cats while claiming to be open admission, arbitrarily designating healthy animals as unhealthy, and falsifying records to blame the needless killing of pets on “owner request” where no such request ever existed.  It is up to local residents to demand better.  As for Oakland Co workers, if you can’t own it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.

(Thanks Clarice for the links.)

5 thoughts on “MI Shelter Records Appear Falsified to Hide the Killing of Healthy Pets

  1. Why am I not even surprised? This is well known in the animal loving rescue community in the Detroit/Oakland County area and beyond. Their numbers are good because “owner requested” killing doesn’t count. Ingham County Animal Control, also in Michigan, uses the same strategies to make their numbers look better. It’s a shell game and animals pay for it daily with their lives. And the facilities only look for ways to make them look better to the “irresponsible public” rather than do something different to, um, actually get more out alive. BUT, OCAC has accomplished something big because they have Michigan Humane Society to challenge them. They are masters at deciding who is “adoptable” and killing the rest for some reason or another. My guess is that this happens much more often than people realize, They only hear the “we don’t kill (euthanize) for space”. RIP Spitz! You should be in a brand new forever home now rather than dead. (Who would give OCAC a two page letter about the cat if she had authorized them to kill him?) There are so many wholes in this that you could drain spaghetti!!!

  2. Damn. So, a three legged healthy dog has a week to grow a new leg or be deemed “unadoptable”? And if you’re missing an eye, well, sucks to be you.

    If you’re going to kill for convenience, just say so. Just own it. It’s what you’re doing, lay it out there and let folks know. If it’s not a shameful thing, you’ve got nothing to worry about, right?

  3. I’ll probably get flamed for this, but I do not understand why the owner was surprised. I feel bad for her, but I don’t understand why she was surprised. When you turn your pet over to a shelter, you are giving up complete control. Owner surrenders with behavioral problems, especially a jet-black animal, are very unlikely to get adopted. Why did she not find the cat a home herself? Or hire a behavioral professional?

    Public shelters are underfunded, especially after 35 years of austerity politics, and cannot function like, say, Best Friends. I agree with the shelter, who ethically has to reveal to new owners the behavior problems, that the cat was unlikely to ever be adopted. Why make it suffer in a cage in a noisy kennel?

    Before you flame me, consider that my perspective is based on 40 years of experience in rescuing animals. I fought hard to pass local animal rights legislation. I’ve personally fostered 48 dogs. and lived with as many as 12 at a time. Most of the animals I fostered had behavioral or severe medical problems and required hours and hours of work to become adoptable. When a new rescue dog arrived and was not immediately compatible with my other pets, I worked hard with that dog, in a separate part of my house, It was a lot of work and time to keep both sets of dogs healthy and happy and socially engaged but it worked out in the end. I’ve taken dog that required months of intense nursing care (body 40% covered in staph infection from pemphigus–that mean and hour a day of treatment for 3 months to clear up the pemphigus, starving dogs, dogs who needed multiple surgeries over several months to remove all their foxtails–this included t 6 months of twice daily surgical drain care. Like many rescuers I’ve spent thousands of dollars of my own money to get dogs healthy enough.

    Flaming of people on the internet provides an emotional release for the flamer, but harms the long term dialogue needed to move our society to solving problems.

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