There area a lot of rules in animal shelters. Over the decades, laws and rules have been put in place by communities, and shelters. Some were created with good intentions. Many were put in place with an eye toward "punishing" the "irresponsible" people whose pets came to the shelter.
And many times, those rules inhibit saving animal lives.
One of the great things about the animal sheltering movement as it has evolved (and improved) in recent years is that many are now focusing on challenging and changing those rules -- with a goal and impact of saving more lives, and killing fewer animals.
In New Mexico, the Rio Rancho Animal Control Shelter is one of those that is making changes for the better.
In October of last year, the shelter changed the city policy on owner-reclaimed animals. The law used to dictate a flat fee of $125 to reclaim a pet from the shelter -- but they changed the law which resulted in cutting the reclaim fees in 1/2 for most people.
The net result through the first 6 months of 2015 -- a 39% increase in animals returned to owners and a 5% decrease in number of animals euthanized.
Rio Rancho Police Captain Paul Rogers said that he thinks the decrease in Owner Reclaim fees has helped spur in the increase in animals reclaimed by owners. And while, he acknowledges that the city now has less income from reclaim fees, it also has fewer expenses from having to take care of those animals -- and so "it appears to be a wash in the end".
He also notes that with more reclaims, fewer animals have to be euthanized -- "So the humanity is higher".
For those of you who know me, you know that I am passionate that shelters need to be in the role of helping lost pets, homeless pets and abused pets -- and need to NOT be in the business of caring for animals that already have loving homes.
This is why I strongly promote outreach programs, such as HSUS"s Pets for Life Program or local programs like Families Better Together at Spay & Neuter Kansas City, Downtown Dog Rescue in LA & Ruff Riders in Brooklyn and many more.
It's is why I also why I oppose laws such as Mandatory Spay/Neuter, and arbitrary pet limit laws, that often lead to animals in loving homes being seized and removed from those homes.
I also think that high fines, and high reclaim fees can also impact whether or not a LOST pet gets back into a loving home. And yet, because laws were often designed to punish "irresponsible" pet owners, they often get in the way of caring owners from being able to reclaim their pets.
It is not terribly uncommon in shelters across the country for a pet to end up lost, and for the owner to find their pet in the shelter, and then not be able to come up with the $200, $300 or more to reclaim their pet. And this reclaim fee is often followed by tickets from animal control that are $200, $500 etc for having a dog running at large, not being licensed, etc. The fees ad up -- particularly for people who are low income or on fixed income.
And to make matters worse, often these fines take money away from things (like fence repair) that might help prevent the problem from happening again.
So even though there is a pet in the shelter, and a loving owner that wants their pet back, too often, the pet ends up NOT going back to the owner because of the high cost of making it happen. It's bad for the owner, it's bad for the pet, and it's bad for the shelter. And the bond between human and animal is broken.
And the pet, with a home, has become a part of the already over-crowded shelter system -- and his life is in jeopardy.
But changing the mindset, and the rules, can help bridge that gap and lead to more families reclaiming their pets. Keeping more families together, and keeping fewer animals off the euthanasia list. And this is what we should all be striving for.