2006-08-02 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
Unfortunately, the media has focused on a recent story where a West Islip man allegedly signed a neighbor's sick cat in at a Town shelter as his own to be put to sleep. Cases like this are nothing new - my 7/13 "Pets, Pets, Pets" detailed why the dishonesty is such a problem at animal shelters. The devious can also dispose of pets without involving any shelter. Yes, Towns may want to implement some measures to try to prevent similar situations. However, Suffolk County Legislature intervened hastily with a resolution (#1525) that, if passed, will not address the honesty/ owner issue but instead will be detrimental to the welfare and adoption possibilities of all impounded cats and dogs. At first glance the County ideas sound reasonable, but there's much more to the big picture at the pound:
Background on the cat/dog dichotomy: Shelter dogs are either "owner surrenders" or "strays". Taking cats into Town shelters is so much more complicated because NYS law rightfully calls cats "free roaming animals". Inherent in that feline description is protection of their "wild" nature, yet ambiguity when they are brought to municipal shelters. Town shelters do not patrol for cats. In fact, they do not even have to accept cats, especially stray cats. Because so many cats exist outdoors, legal feline ownership is harder to establish. A '94 Sonoma, California statute proclaimed a cat "owned" by a person who has fed it 15 consecutive days or more.
A "stray" cat has many more variations than a "stray" dog. Most dogs have had an owner at some point in their lives. Dog redemptions are common at shelters. In 25 years of volunteering, I've only seen 2 people reunited with their lost cat at a shelter. If a dog steps off its owner's property, it is a "stray". Very simple. Shelter trucks pick them up and Good Samaritans bring them in; whereas a roaming or trapped cat may be owned and out for a stroll, lost, abandoned or feral as either a loner, or as a member of a managed TNR colony or part of an uncontrolled, possibly nuisance, breeding population. Kittens born outdoors usually belong to no one. Cat Catch 22: kind folks bring cats or kittens that seem homeless to a shelter, and they may be either turned away or forced to lie. Some shelters will not take them unless you say you are the owner. This is a problem. More about that later.
Problems with Suffolk Co. Resolution #1525: A simple equation determines an animal's chances of leaving a pound alive: SPACE=TIME =LIFE.
Both provisions of this County proposal tamper with that equation and will undo decades of progress made at LI municipal shelters. First #1525 stipulates that only veterinarians will be able to perform euthanasia at shelters. That rule will do nothing to prevent people from falsifying forms. Since '93 shelters have had a choice of vets or staff because the NYS Dept. of Health (via the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement) has trained and licensed shelter personnel as euthanasia technicians (ETs). Performing euthanasia in house allows greater flexibility in scheduling and in extending healthy animals' stays when space permits. Requiring vets or transporting animals to hospitals to die is extremely costly to taxpayers. Plus it's difficult to find doctors who want to fit this task into their busy schedules. Quotas make the vets' shelter visits worth their while so adoptable animals may be added last minute to the destruction list. Babylon hasn't even been able to find a vet willing to come in to give rabies shots. Equally importanthaving ETs also insures that someone able to put a suffering animal to sleep is always on the premises.
The disposition of owner surrenders was always up to the shelter's discretion. Many factors are considered. The second part of #1525 creates a space/ logistics nightmare, requiring a 1 week holding period for all animals which is too long and too restrictive. The resolution states that "no animal will be euthanized within 7 days of the animal being taken into the animal shelter and the animal will be placed in the general population of the animal shelter and made available for return to its rightful owner or for adoption in lieu of euthanasia." Will the County be building bigger Town shelters? Feral cats are too stressed when on display. Islip handled 3,700 cats last year. Actually owners are more likely to lie that their pet is a stray to avoid fees than the reverse statement that sparked the media, so most of the hypothetical owners are not returning. For financial reasons some people opt to bring senior pets to shelters rather than veterinary clinics to be put to sleep. Would these beloved pets have to languish in the kennel now? Again the County says only a vet can decide that the time may be shortened due to illness or temperament. Pets held, only to comply with this law, will take up cages needed by the adoptable population. By the way, vets never assess behavior in pounds.
Reunion reality checkPresently by law stray dogs have to be held a certain amount of days for an owner to reclaim them before they go up for adoption. Many shelters give them a week, but the mandated time can be less. As a general observation, it seems that if the owner doesn't show in 48 hours, he "ain't comin'" (unless there are extenuating circumstances). Previously owned dogs can be adopted immediately. On the other hand, outdoor pet cats can disappear for days at a time. Owners need to know that they shouldn't wait to look. They must check the shelter right away, and keep checking in person.
Some Suggestions: First please call your Suffolk Legislator and the sponsor Leg. Cameron Alden (854-0940) and ask them to rescind this resolution before it comes up again on Aug. 8. If this becomes law, there will be a lot more problems than 1 dead cat. Worse case scenario: Towns could decide to stop sheltering cats. The results would be tragic. Intake policies can be refined at the Town level to protect the public and their pets. Here's how at shelters
Despite their legal differences, divide both dogs and cats into "owned" and "stray". Verify ownership whenever possible by making the forfeiting person show proof such as a vet reference, photo, or tag. Charge slightly higher surrender fees as a deterrent to pets being used as pawns in domestic disputes. Let compassionate people stay honest and sign a form (like Oyster Bay does) that says the cat is being turned in as a "stray" for humane reasons. Yes, have a holding period, but shorterpossibly 2-3 business days. Be suspicious of all fishy tales; make sure the story told to the office matches the story told at the back door. The way a person hands a pet over to a kennel attendant speaks volumes. Give the animal the benefit of the doubt.
Collars and tags don't stay on cats. Look into low cost microchip clinics for owned cats. Right now the ball park $60 registered chip is too high. Start scanning incoming cats too. Educate the public about all aspects of responsible pet ownership. Remind owners that cats are much safer as indoor, neutered pets. Keep reminding them.
Space is at a premium right now at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W.Babylon because adoptions have been slow. Cat adoptions are at a stand still during the height of kitten season. "Ivy", a declawed spayed tortie in C-5, would make a purrfect pet. There's also "Cindy"a shaded silver Persian in C-7.There are plenty of tiny dogs available too, including "Fluffy" is a 3 yr. spayed longhair Chihuahua in the Puppy Room turned in because of her owner's health.
Female: "Brandy" - a senior chocolate Lab in Cage 57; a Min Pin in Cage 59.
Male: a gorgeous purebred German shepherd in Cage 41; an amiable Akita in Cage 43; "Billy" - the shy Collie mix in Cage 47; "Sinatra" - a white Husky puppy in Cage 17.