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ShelterSpeak: Public Inquiries about Animal Disposition

ShelterSpeak: How does your organization handle inquiries from the public about animal disposition? Do you reveal whether an animal has been adopted or euthanized? Why or why not?

ShelterSpeak: How does your organization handle inquiries from the public about animal disposition? Do you reveal whether an animal has been adopted or euthanized? Why or why not?

Belinda Lewis, director,
Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control,
Fort Wayne, Indiana

We do release the disposition, but our adoption record is sealed. We are very up front about making no promises at the time an animal is turned in. Animal numbers are provided, and a customer turning one in may call back and check. The clerk will then notify them if the animal is still here, euthanized, or adopted. If adopted, no information is released. We are mandated by access to public information laws to release the disposition, but the adopter is protected. We could make it hard for the individual to get the information, i.e., tell them to come into the shelter and fill out a request for release of public record. But at this time we balance the PR issue of making ourselves difficult to work with versus the delivery of potentially bad news.

Jane McCall, executive director,
Dubuque Humane Society,
Dubuque, Iowa

We tell relinquishers when they bring the animal in that they can call and check on her, but we don’t tell them who adopted her or if she was euthanized—just whether the animal is here or not here. Many times people say, “Call us before you euthanize.” We don’t do that either—they are mad if we can’t place an animal, so we just quit calling. They can call us and we will tell them whether the animal is here any longer.

Don Jordan, manager,
Seattle Animal Control,
Seattle, Washington

At Seattle Animal Control, we are always up front with folks about the final disposition of animals, since our records are subject to public disclosure. There have been times when the staff has lied about an animal to save the feelings of the citizen, but it has sometimes backfired on us, even though the intent was good.

Bob Rohde, president,
Dumb Friends League,
Denver, Colorado

Our relinquishment agreement specifies that we will not release information regarding final disposition, and we have signs up in the area for incoming animals that say the same thing. We ask people to consider us their last resort and exhaust all other avenues for finding a lifelong home for their pet. When people surrender an animal to us, we tell them up front that the animal will either be found a new home or euthanized. The reason we don’t release specific information is because it’s a no-win situation; if you tell people that their animal was put down, then you’re a no-good you-know-what. If you tell them it was placed, then they want to know who adopted it and speak to the adopter. That can put our staff into a defensive position, which is just not fair to them.

Some shelter directors say that revealing the disposition of animals to anyone who inquires is the only way to maintain trust in the community, while others believe it places too much of a burden on staff.

Nicky Ratliff, executive director,
Humane Society of Carroll County,
Westminster, Maryland

My staff is not allowed to give out that information to the public. When people bring animals to us, they are told that the animals either become our property immediately (in the case of an owner turnover) or that they will become our property if not claimed within the 96 hours we must hold strays. Either way, they are told that when the animal becomes our property, decisions about his disposition are entirely up to us. If that doesn’t meet with their approval, then they should not turn the animal over to us. Virtually everyone leaves the animal with us, and few have a problem with our policy. Now all that being said, I have on occasion told some people that their animal was euthanized or adopted if the situation was really unusual. The reason we don’t tell them is that I don’t want my staff having to justify, explain, or defend themselves at every turn. We never tell people where an animal went if it was adopted. They would never get the identity of the new owner. I would only do that if I was made to by a judge.

Bill Garrett, executive director,
Atlanta Humane Society,
Atlanta, Georgia

We do not give out information about the final disposition of our animals. Everyone is informed of our policy up front when they bring an animal in. If someone calls and they have an invoice number for the animal they surrendered, we can tell them whether the animal is still here or not, but we don’t tell them the details.

Don Rieck, director,
Sioux Falls Animal Control,
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

In Sioux Falls animal dispositions are not given out. People who surrender animals are given no guarantees but are told the animal may or may not be put up for adoption if they choose to leave him. If disposition information was given out it would take up staff time, which none of us have enough of; the current policy helps us avoid any misunderstandings.

Christie Smith, executive director,
Potter League for Animals,
Newport, Rhode Island

We do release information about the animal’s disposition. The Potter League sees it as part of our commitment to honest and truthful communication. Establishing personal relationships with the community is important to us, and if there is a wall of secrecy between the shelter and the public, everything we do becomes suspect. If we regularly ask people to openly discuss an animal’s background with us, then we should be prepared to do the same.

The Potter League keeps detailed notes in the computer about an animal’s temperament, health, and reasons for euthanasia, and this information becomes very helpful when we tell someone that an animal was euthanized. The staff is trained to be compassionate when delivering news about euthanasia, but they also take the opportunity to educate about the animal’s specific problems and reasons for our decision. We are also able to tell those most responsible what the results of their actions/inactions were.

But the vast majority of the time we are able to provide good news about an adoption (though we don’t release the name of the adopter), and we have made a new friend. If the dog or cat needed a lot of obedience training or medical care to get adopted, we make sure that information is also provided. It becomes an easy way to educate about our programs, all that we do, and all that animals need. Those surrendering an animal can become our best and most educated supporters.

The Potter League’s commitment to openness can be time-consuming, but I would guess that most people do not call to check on the disposition of the animal they surrendered. Our approach might not work in a larger city or larger shelter, but it works for us as we try to provide personalized service for both the two- and four-legged clients. For too many years, our industry didn’t even release the most general information about the total number of animals that were adopted or euthanized for fear of offending someone or having our statistics reflect badly on our organizations. It may now be time to stop hiding the details about specific animals. If we ask the community to be part of the solution to the problems, they need as much information as we can provide.


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