By Elisa Black-Taylor
On July 25th, 2013, a beautiful 6-year-old calico named Bella (shelter ID-HCAS #1556521) was surrendered unlawfully to Hillsborough County (Florida) Animal Services by the daughter of the actual owners without their knowledge. The owner’s name is being withheld for privacy reasons. Many animal lovers now go so far as to issue death threats against people who harm animals.
Bella was surrendered to the shelter and the person turning her in lied. The daughter of Bella’s owner told the shelter staff that she was the owner, and Bella is dead in part because of this. The owner had no knowledge her daughter was a traitor until it was too late. In 43 hours, less than two days, Bella was euthanized.
Bella was killed in less than two days, even though there were empty cages at the shelter. Bella was a much-loved cat whose life was unexpectedly ended due to shelter policy and a lie. She’s dead because of a deceitful relative, as well as bad shelter politics.
A lot of people are misinformed, and believe their precious cat has a good chance of being adopted when turned into the shelter as an owner surrender. Doesn’t turning in your cat and telling the truth about it being yours make a better impression than saying you “found” it? Wrong!
What’s ironic is that strays are given anywhere from 3-5 days for an owner to show up and claim their lost cat. An owner turn-in may be euthanized at any time, because turning a cat in to a shelter forfeits your rights as the owner.
Unfortunately, the kill rate for cats is as high as 70% at the Hillsborough shelter between owner surrenders and stray cats. Young cats are killed, as are old cats, beautiful cats and well mannered cats. There’s no discrimination when time is up for a cat, either from a lack of space or because time has simply run out.
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One topic that needs to be addressed is how the rightful owner of a pet is determined by a shelter, and to be sure the person surrendering a pet is indeed the legal owner. Although this happened at Hillsborough, it could happen anywhere with a cat or a dog. Pet owners are afraid of what would happen, should their pet wander and be turned in as a stray. There’s something much worse than being an unwanted pet, and that’s being turned in under the guise of ownership.
A petition has been set up here, where cat lovers are determined to have new policies put in place to prevent this from ever happening again. This would, of course affect dogs as well, should these changes ever go into effect. The petition addresses Hillsborough Animal Care Services and County Commissioners in Tampa, Florida.
1. Demand verification: Owner Surrenders are not to be accepted until the surrendering individual(s) shows proof of ownership of the cat(s) by receipts of county tag registration, micro-chip proof or copies of veterinarian invoices for treatment/care of said animal in their name.
2. Give them a fair chance at life: Owner Surrenders and strays should receive the same MINIMUM five-day holding period, and no animals should be killed when empty cages are available. Owner Surrenders as well as strays must take turns in the cages at the front of the building, where they can be seen and adopted. No empty cages in the front adoption areas when there are animals that need homes in back, out of view of potential adopters.
3. Remove counterproductive policies that cost lives: Restore after-hours holds for rescues–this helped prevent unnecessary euthanasia. Eliminate the two cat adoption limits. It is not the prerogative of HCAS to dictate how many animals an individual may adopt. That issue is handled by the city or county in which the adopting person resides.
HCAS, if you truly wish to achieve your target of 70% live outcomes instead of the current 70% kill rate for cats, we are confident that you agree and will implement these changes immediately. County Commissioners, please assist HCAS with adequate support for the shelter.
A Facebook group has been set up to honor Bella for those of you who wish to learn more about her story.
What do you think should have to be shown as proof of ownership when turning in a pet as an owner surrender? I’ve recently come across a few cases of rightful owner disputes over stray pets being found and kept, and I’m also getting feedback from friends who have heard of this happening in their area. Have any of the readers here heard of similar cases?