This article touches on a subject that has divided animal shelters and animal advocates for quite some time now. It’s the argument on how much the public should know about what goes on behind animal shelter walls concerning the fate of a particular dog or cat. Since this is a cat website, I’ll refer to the shelter pet as a “cat” but it covers both.
When a stray cat enters an animal shelter and held for the legal number of days per state law there are three things that can happen once that holding period is up.
#1 The cat is adopted or returned to the legal owner
#2 The cat is “pulled” by a rescue (preferably a rescue that has passed high standards as outlined by the shelter)
#3 The cat is killed or euthanized (these have different meaning, depending on whether the cat is suffering or being killed for space)
The same holds true with owner-surrendered cats, who many be killed at any time and aren’t subject to a holding period. Adopted. Rescued. Killed.
Shelters have different policies in place as to whether information on the rescue that pulls a cat is released to the public or anyone who requests that information. Several shelters who have a Facebook presence will update with the name of the rescue who saved the cat. This will bring good publicity to the rescue, and also help solicit donations to help offset the cost of vetting, which usually falls to the rescue and can run as much as $175 at the shelters I’m acquainted with. So donations are important, either before the rescue pulls or after. Especially if a medical condition is involved that requires treatment.
Two shelters I’ve dealt with who name who literally saves a cat are Cabarrus County Animal Control in Concord, North Carolina and Cobb County Animal Control in Marietta, Georgia. These two shelters also mark their cats as adopted if a forever home is found and a rescue isn’t involved.
Some animal shelters won’t name names, which infuriates cat advocates and creates a hell-storm on social media. Where is that cat? Was that cat rescued, adopted or killed. Not knowing leads to anger and doubt, with much hate directed back to the shelter who won’t name rescues. I’ve dealt with the cats listed at Greenville County Animal Care, a kill shelter in Greenville, South Carolina, for many years now. They do update with emails stating “rescued” or “adopted.” The cat involved will then find his or her photo in the album for the month it left the shelter. Sometimes the shelter will comment on whether the cat was rescued or adopted, but no rescue is named unless the rescue itself comes on the thread and tells the reader the cat is safe with them.
Rutherford County Animal Shelter in North Carolina is another who doesn’t name the rescue who saves the cat. I chatted with a representative on their Facebook page who told me some rescues have pulled out due to harassment by people wanting more information than the rescue is willing to give out. I was told this happens a good bit in court cases where abuse is involved.
I’m only using these four animal shelters as examples because they cover how most shelters in the United States operate. They either tell or they don’t tell. Greenville won’t even post a Rainbow Bridge album, so when a cat totally disappears, we must assume the worst that it’s been killed for space or euthanized for serious illness/behavioral issues.
I want to ask HOW DO RESCUES FEEL ABOUT THIS! It would seem that a rescue would be proud to have their organization attached to saving a life. It not only promotes donations to help offset the outrageous costs of vetting or emergency cat care from illness or injury, but it lets anyone who had been hoping to adopt know an individual rescue has the cat and it’s available for adoption. I would think a rescue would want to have a forever home found, as that would free up a spot so another shelter cat can be saved.
There are legal ways to obtain information, mostly in the form of FOIA requests. This stands for Freedom of Information Act. Which government agencies must permit inspection and furnish copies of records? According to the AG Open Government Booklet for North Carolina, all state agencies must permit inspection and furnish copies of public records. These agencies include all public offices, officers and officials (elected or appointed),Guide to Open Government in North Carolina staff members, institutions, boards, commissions, bureaus, councils, departments, authorities and other units of government. State, county, city and town governments and their departments, officials and employees are included, as are all other political subdivisions and special districts. Other states likely have similar policies in place.
If there’s confidential material that would compromise someone, it’s up to that agency to divide it out from the rest of the information before sending the report. Otherwise, since most animal shelters fall under city or county council rule, they’re subject to providing FOIA access.
FOIA is how many, many reporters (as well as animal advocates) obtain information on the final fate of a cat. The disposition is in the required by law to be kept by the shelter. Unless the shelter is breaking the law and NOT keeping accurate records, but that’s another issue entirely.
As for who can view the information-ANYONE can. And they don’t even have to give their name or the reason they wish to access the information. The shelter must reply within a reasonable time and may charge a small fee for any photocopying. I’ve heard of lawsuits being filed by news media when FOIA reports are requested and not delivered. Anyone denied copies of or access to public records can bring a civil action in court against the government agency or official who denied access.
Public records include both paper and electronic documents, emails, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data-processing records, artefacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics. Public records include documentary materials that government agencies are required by law to make or collect. Public records also include materials that government agencies make or collect at their discretion in carrying on government business.
Rescues, have you ever been harassed by someone who wanted to adopt a shelter cat and you got there first? Any rescues fighting over who gets which cat? Does anyone have any thoughts as to why a shelter really doesn’t want the public to know the fate of an individual cat? Please feel free to leave a comment, especially if you’re associated with an animal shelter or a cat rescue.