An Animal Shelter’s Responsibility to the Community

By Elisa-Black Taylor

Animal shelter cat in a cageToday I’d like to talk about an animal shelter’s responsibility to the community it serves. This is different from the shelters legal responsibility. All shelters are bound by law to hold strays for a certain period of time. Owner turn-in’s may be euthanized at any time, and it is so stated in writing when an owner signs over a dog or cat to a shelter.

But what about things that go on in a shelter that the public never becomes aware of? The deep, dark secrets that can be found in almost every shelter across America. Should shelter directors be required by law to notify those who have faith in a local shelter, and instead choose to preserve their reputation.

Should shelter directors be held responsible, absolutely-without-fail to provide proof that both dogs and cats are given core vaccines immediately on intake and not just to those who may be adopted? Should a shelter be required to test for common diseases like FIV/FeLV upon intake? To learn a cat is FeLV+ after being at the shelter for several weeks, and only tested when chosen for adoption or rescue, seems a bit risky.

Allow me to give a few examples that I’ve run across while working with different rescue groups. The shelter where my daughter and I did rescue has recently been closed after one case of canine influenza. They weren’t open to the public, and only personnel were allowed in for 10 days, with dogs being quarantined for a week. Even volunteers were kept out, as the illnesses being treated could be transferred on shoe soles.

It takes a lot of faith in the community to announce a problem is there, and steps being made to correct it. For these examples keep in mind a lot of people also look without adopting. Petting a cat or dog with a contagious illness may mean the germ is taken home to the pets that person already has.

Example #1

A shelter has a low cost adoption event for cats and kittens. Many shelters offer cats over a certain age discounted rates. A particular shelter has an outstanding week, where more that 400 cats are adopted out to the community. On the last day of the event, it’s learned that a dozen cats are infected with panleuk, and have to be euthanized.

Keep in mind volunteers and staff have moved freely between cat rooms and cross contaminated every cat they’ve come in contact for the past week. Now most of the cats have been adopted to new families, and new cats are coming in. Should those who adopted cats and kittens be notified of the exposure to panleuk? What if those adopters have other cats at home? Hopefully they’ve been vaccinated, and won’t be at risk.

Should the shelter go public, or remain quiet? If they go public, a lot of cats now in new homes are at risk of being returned to the shelter. If the shelter goes public, will this hurt or help how the public looks at them? Just how many cases need to occur before the public is contacted? The reputation of that shelter is at stake either way.

Personally, I’d rather be told about the exposure. A single round of Tamiflu before symptoms are present can stop panleuk in its tracks. Cats are transported to different states by various rescues, so the potential is there for this to become an interstate problem.

Example #2

A shelter is overwhelmed at the number of dogs they have, and decide to have a low cost adoption event. As with the cats, several hundred dogs are adopted or rescued. Many are sent to other states to new homes. A few days after leaving the shelter, conditions such as parvo, canine distemper and kennel cough are found in dogs still remaining at the shelter. The same conditions are reported in the dogs shortly after they arrive at their destination, with several dying.

Should the shelter notify adopters and rescues immediately after diagnosing the dogs at the shelter who became sick? Should the news media be notified, so everyone is aware of the problem. Or should the shelter keep quiet, and hope none of the dogs who left the shelter become ill. Again, we have a situation where anti-viral medication could be lifesaving, if treated immediately.

What’s your opinion?

What do the readers here think? As pet owners, would you rather be sent information on a particular illness being found at a shelter that may infect your new cat or dog?

Would you want the information being made by local news media, to warn anyone who may have been in contact while looking for a new pet?

What do the shelter personnel think of this scenario? Is it best to inform the public there’s a problem, should information only be sent to those at risk, or should everything be kept “hush hush” and hope the media doesn’t get their hands on the information. Who should have to pay for treatment? Will giving out too much information cause an unnecessary panic? Any of these options can damage the reputation of the shelter.


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An Animal Shelter’s Responsibility to the Community — 11 Comments

  1. This is a good topic. Am I correct in assuming that some shelters keep quiet when there is an outbreak of a contagious virus. If so, is it to protect their reputation? You may have already said that.

    The obvious answer is animal shelters must notify when there is a health problem that might have affected cats and dogs already adopted.

    That must be the right thing to do for all concerned.

    We should go back one step and say that outbtreaks of nasty contagious diseases should not occur in shelters. That would solve the problem.

    Is it possible, through meticulous attention to vaccinations and health to prevent these health problems occurring at shelters.

    If shelters are breeding grounds for diseases it must seriously undermine the reason for their existence when you include the fact that lots of them kill lots of health but unadopted cats.

  2. Shelters are supported through taxpayer money.

    Ideally and ethically all animals should have health screenings and vaccinations by qualified persons upon intake. THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

    Yes, shelters have a responsibility to inform adopters if their pets were exposed to contagious diseases. And, ideally and ethically the adoptees should be vaccinated and treated at the shelters’ expense. THIS, TOO, WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

    The excuse will be lack of money. But, as a taxpayer that supports them, I would rather see my money used in that way instead of euthanization. I strongly resent that I am paying for animals to be killed!

    • Good point. I think running a shelter to the highest standard should save money in the long term. It is a complicated economic equation but botching things just leads to waste and half-baked solutions.

      What I am saying is that perhaps (a) shelters should use available resources to a maximum efficiency and (b) more money be made available.

      How efficient are animal shelters? Are there any criteria or standards or check ups by inspectors etc.?

  3. Here is another question, Elisa ;). Why aren’t animal shelters under a legal duty to provide full data on euthanasia, rehoming, deaths by infectious diseases, declawed cats brought, prevalence of diseases such as FIV and FeLV etc. etc.? As far as I know all these things can be kept secret.

    If improvements are to be made there has to be sufficient information on the current situation to be able to understand where the improvements are required and the type of problems that exist.

    • The Greenville shelter is pretty good at keeping everyone up to date. They have a daily email of urgent cats and also one of urgent dogs. This email tells whether any were adopted, rescued, gone into foster or whether euthanized and what the reason was. This page also tells who’s been euthanized. The trouble with this list before a lot of animals never got on any list because there were simply too many. Now they’re trying to network all the animals. They have urgent and super urgents lists. The list of the dead is here

      My biggest concern is how many deaths of a disease should make it considered an epidemic? A dozen, one? That seems to be up to the shelter director.

      • Sounds good by why don’t all shelters have to publish essential information? After all they are accountable to the taxpayer through local government. The people deserve to know how their money is being spent.

      • My biggest concern is how many deaths of a disease should make it considered an epidemic?

        Perhaps there should be some nationwide standards on this sort of topic. Perhaps there should be a “quango” (semi-governmental body) that oversees animal shelters to raise standards, provide guidance and collate and publish data. 🙂 I think I am dreaming…..

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