This past weekend in Texas, as well as in many states across the country, municipal facilities and animal shelters joined forces to rehome over 45,000 animals in the 3rd annual “Clear the Shelter” adoption event. All adoption fees are waived and the challenge is laid at the feet of the public to empty out each and every building, which at this point in the year is usually at capacity or already overcrowded with unwanted and stray animals. Every year the participation grows; what started in 2014 as a local initiative in Dallas/Ft Worth Texas has gone national, with over 700 agencies participating this year. We collectively celebrate our success with photographs of empty kennels and cleared cat rooms, thanking the public for stepping forward and adopting instead of shopping.
There are always handfuls of critics however, usually self-proclaimed animal advocates, humane society volunteers, and rescuers shunning municipal facilities any time they offer incentives for adoption. Obviously the prerequisite for being a compassionate, caring, and life long pet owner is based solely on how much money you shell out to aquire the animal (which may explain why most rescues charge hundreds of dollars for their dogs, I think in part they take comfort in the idea they’ve weeded out the bad ones by keeping prices high). Reduced and waived adoption fees are a common tactic we use when our facilities fill up and adoptions slow down. We still require state IDs, sign contracts, and abide by any restrictions and special needs for the animal: this is not a free for all so to speak, where anyone can take home anything, rules still apply, just not fees. We still say nope not a good fit if thats the case. And of course, as expected, the same Rescuers and Advocates are also quick to ostracize and scrutinize these same facilities, the ones they like to refer to as “high kill shelters” when they describe the circumstances of the lucky animal they decided to ‘save’ from one, when we are forced to euthanize due to illness, behavior and space. To most of us that are waist-deep in the tragedy of animal overpopulation and human irresponsibility on a daily basis, this naive thought process illustrates how little people know about whats really happening on the front lines of animal control and rescue.
People will always return, rehome, give away, dump, or surrender unwanted animals. ALWAYS. The price someone pays for the animal is not relevant to the quality of care received nor the likelihood it will be kept for life. Working intake at a facility that houses hundreds of animals on any given day has demonstrated that sufficiently. People pay $1,000 for a puppy from a breeder and surrender it 2 days later because it has gotten sick and they cant afford/dont want to do the treatment. Someone else pays $300 for a dog from a rescue, spends an additional $400 at the vet who does house calls and another $100 buying Blue Donkey-grain-free-and-if-you-feed-anything-less-you’re-a-bad-owner-food and Burt’s Bees shampoo then surrender to me because they ‘cant afford the dog’. Numerous pay thousands of dollars for a purebred German Shepherd or Mastiff, leave it in their backyard for 16 months with no socialization and no training and no vet care, then one day an officer asks for rabies and proof of registration so they surrender their scared amd usually aggressive 90-120lb mistake to our facility because they don’t want to pay the $15 registration fee. And I won’t even go into how many welfare calls we go out on that start with us waiting at a guard shack for the gated entry to open.
I also believe there is no statistical evidence that adoption returns and owner surrenders increase after these types of events. Lets be honest; regardless of how someone aquires an animal, if they are the type to get rid of or mistreat it, they will.
People naturally acquire animals for free all the time. You found a box of kittens next to a dumpster? Took them home and raised them, gave them a great life they never would have had otherwise? Well done, an act of kindness and generosity admired by others. Yet you paid nothing for those animals, you got them for free.
Found a dog roaming the streets, matted with bloody paws from being on hot asphalt, lost and hungry? Took it to the vet, nursed it back to health, it loved a long and happy life with you. You love to tell people how you rescued it, the savior of the misfortunate and tossed aside, people call you a saint. The fact is, that animal was free. A dog with the same story is sitting right now in your local shelter, waiting to be taken to the vet, nursed back to health, loved for life. If the shelter offers it for free, even after giving basic vet care like vaccines and alterations, how is that any different?
Saw someone trying to rehome some animals on Facebook? Didn’t want them to go to the wrong people so you stepped up and took them in yourself? Congratulations, you just acquired an animal for free. Does that make you a bad owner? Does that make you less capable of providing vet care and exercise and love? Of course not.
For those involved in rescue that have never had to euthanize unwanted animals on a regular basis, i can see how the fear of moving animals out of a facility free of charge can be frightening. But without drawing attention to our plight and getting people in the front door, animals dont go out and end up euthanized. It’s as simple as that. And criticizing anyone who is trying desperately to keep that from happening is counterproductive and shameful to be honest.
If you are that uncomfortable seeing the ones charged with the brunt of fixing our homeless pet problem going above and beyond to encourage adoptions and get animals out of shelters and into homes, I would highly recommend spending some time in high-volume facilities that deal first hand with the true tragedy of our overpopulation problem and the throw away society that has created it. Go spend a Saturday in the owner surrender area of your local high volume shelter. Just bring a book, have a seat and sit back to listen to the stories of each person that walks in with a pet hoping they can walk out without it. It will change your life as an advocate and rescuer.
Just a different perpective from someone in the trenches.