There’s an interesting discussion going on within the animal shelter director’s chat group about what policies each agency has in place to deal with this situation: A person comes in and surrenders an elderly pet and immediately wants to adopt a puppy. What do you think the shelter should do?
If you’re honest, most people’s first response (I believe, having only done an informal survey of a handful of friends) would be to refuse the adoption and to judge the person harshly for walking away from his old companion. In fact, part of what sparked this discussion is a rather opinionated story that appeared in the Orange County Register newspaper (https://www.ocregister.com/2018/01/26/why-do-people-abandon-their-old-pets/). It gives two examples of people giving up on their older dogs, one where the person literally abandoned the dog in a crate in a store parking lot, is clearly illegal and cruel. The other is where the owner surrendered his dog to the shelter for what seemed to be a frivolous reason. The old dog “doesn’t do anything anymore.” I’m sure you would agree that is not the most valid reason to give up on an old friend.
The truth is, in the scenario I gave at the beginning of this article, we don’t have enough information to make a decision. Was the dog being surrendered incurably ill? Were vet expenses beyond the reach of the owner? Does that mean they couldn’t afford to have a puppy? Or just that they couldn’t afford, or chose not to, put thousands of dollars into an old animal that was clearly on his way out? Had they given the dog 10+ quality years of care? Anyone who’s had a pet knows there comes a time when you have to make a decision. Are we to be judged about our pet owning ability strictly on this end-of-life decision?
The comments back and forth in the chat room were both interesting and enlightening. We all have our personal biases; we are after all, first human beings and second shelter directors. We try to be impartial and fair, but it can be hard. And also, very hard when our decisions are scrutinized by volunteers who also come with their biases and are very protective of the animals in our care. You often hear things like “they don’t deserve another dog” or “they shouldn’t be allowed to own a pet.” But if they took good care of the animal for his whole life and they are both financially and physically capable of caring for another younger animal, why wouldn’t we want them to adopt? While we are judging them, there are animals in shelters dying for lack of a home. You have to step back sometimes and look at the whole picture.
We try to not make people feel judged or embarrassed about bringing their pet in for surrender. It sure beats having them abandoned in a crate in a parking lot! At least this way we can get some important history and information on the animal to help us make an informed decision about their care. We will, however, have a discussion about other options to see if they have been fully explored and then counsel people appropriately about adopting a new pet. One thing I like to point out to those with children is to be aware of the example you are setting about how we care for the elderly in our society. Those children will one day be making decisions about your care when you are old!
The important part is to take each animal as a unique situation and not to jump to conclusions when we don’t have all the information. So, the answer to the first question about whether we would adopt a puppy to someone who had just surrendered a senior pet is….it depends! Upcoming Events:
No More Lost Pets – free microchips and pet ID tags for residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. Stop by the shelter during our open hours with your pet to get one! The shelter is open Wed 1-6:30 p.m., Thurs.-Fri-Sat 1-5:30 p.m. and Sun 1-4:30 p.m.Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org