What brought this on was a loose dog, perhaps a poodle mix, running around the Newman Fall Festival, across the streets and eventually back to the festival again. No one could catch it, although multiple people tried. It was unkempt — OK, filthy and matted. And, of course, it was Sunday, so getting it to Animal Control was going to be difficult or impossible.
Why were people trying to catch it? I asked a few people for their reasons. The answers indicated a concern for its welfare; no one wanted to see an animal hurt, so neglected or homeless.
Working in the field of rescue and adoption, however, gives me an insight into the other side of the stray pet problem. I asked one of the would-be rescuers what he was going to do with it. He looked at me as if I had asked him to fly to the moon. While many people who pick up dogs and cats end up keeping them, this particular man just shrugged when I posed the question. Obviously, he had not thought through the answer.
Why did I ask the question? I know what the “pipeline” looks like — that is, pets being taken into shelters but never making it back out.
If a stray or unwanted pet is taken to an already-overbooked shelter and there isn’t the same rate of adoptions flowing out the other end, then those pets stuck in the middle will die. Euthanized as surplus.
What I also know is that most strays never go back to their owners; they carry no identification, and many owners don’t actively look for their missing pets. Additionally, there is a growing concern in the rescue community that people are picking up pets running at large, not complying with local laws regarding finding lost property and, thus, legally stealing them, sometimes for profit.
If unwanted pets are going to die in shelters, is the answer then to leave stray dogs and cats where you find them? Or not?
Here is what I see as the two major conflicting solutions for observant, concerned citizens.
One, assume the animal has a home and is just running around on its daily rounds. Therefore, leave it be; it has a home. You can hope that the local animal services will contact the owner soon and cite him or her for letting the dog run at large.
Or, two, if you believe the animal is truly lost or is at risk of becoming hurt, being abused or not surviving, pick it up, take it to a shelter or try to find the owner per local laws.
Do I advocate one solution over the other? No. I’ve responded both ways. I close my eyes and curse irresponsible pet owners in the first case, and stop and pick up the pet in the second and wish for a happy outcome.
Every time I have to tell someone that our private, nonprofit shelter has no room for the dog or cat they picked up, I hear disbelief that there is no easy solution, anger or resignation.
None of us are winners, neither people nor the stray pets, until each dog and cat is loved, wanted and properly cared for.
Augusta Farley raises, trains and competes with Belgian Malinois dogs and runs Best Friends Pet Resort & Canine Academy in Patterson. She also hosts a Patterson-based nonprofit dog shelter, Westside Animals for Adoption, on her property.