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« The long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina for pit bulls - Part 4 | Main | Edgerton Kansas repeals breed-specific law »

January 18, 2016



interesting statistics on high percentage of owned dogs reclaimed within 4 days. But that's still a lot of dogs reclaimed AFTER 4 days My concern of course is that an owner re-uniting with a dog is more than a statistic -- we have lots of anecdotes about people trying to reclaim a dog from a shelter (or more often a "rescue) when it's already been adopted out.

Do you know of any ... or would you support... laws that give owners of dogs the ability/right to reclaim a dog after it's been adopted out?

Dawn Stathus

This bill was initially intended to fix the broken laws regarding animals taken into custody as a result of a crime, where dogs sat for YEARS as "evidence" when they could been moved to adoptable homes before they suffered illness or developed behavior problems or depression. Suddenly, MADAAC and WHS decided to expand the bill for their purposes. While I agree for the most part with the Emily S. but am very disappointed in the efforts most Wisconsin shelters make to try to locate owners of stray pets. Wisconsin is fortunate to have 2 volunteer organizations like Lost Dogs of Wisconsin (LDW) where owners can get assistance in trying to locate their lost pet. The shelters do not really cooperate or assist in posting dogs on their Facebook pages or work with LDW. If they are a no-kill shelter, if it is a good dog, it is more of an income potential for them to adopt it out vs. a stray reclaiming fee of approx. $50. Some of the shelters post stray pictures on hard-to-find pages within their website (most with poorly lit pictures}, some shelters even naming them "assuming they will be putting them up for adoption". I haven't seen a single Wisconsin shelter actively post new strays on their FB or work actively with LDW. While tax-payer supported shelters do seem to microchip all outgoing animals, that is not necessarily the case with rescue groups. while I understand the statistics, I am of the belief that you can slant stats to support whatever cause you are pushing. Until you have experienced the fear of losing your dog and not being able to find it right away do you think about all the ramifications of this bill. I would be more supportive of this bill IF we instituted required micro-chipping for all shelters and RESCUES and begin offering a low-cost micro-chipping program for other animals. After that, requiring all shelters that receive strays to actively scan for micro-chips and post at least one notification on social media a picture of the stray, description (size/weight/coloring) date and location of where it was found.

I just don't think all of the consequences of this change has been considered. It feels like it was slapped together for the benefit of the shelters,in order to reduce costs, maybe save more lives (at no-kill shelters only), but at the expense of owners finding their stray dogs.

Perhaps given the stats, the stray hold should be different for cats (shorter) vs. dogs (longer 6-7 days).

Volunteer and student

I agree with you about reasonable efforts to decrease Length of stay. All shelters should be reporting that data. I would support the two-tiered approach with minimum four day stray-hold. It would be preferable to mandate life saving programs and policies too.

Valuing life of each animal is essential to demonstrate by example they are not disposable. If we all want pets in forever homes, I'd like to see more emphasis on reuniting lost ones with families to help celebrate and value of that that bond. This is definitely a great way to get positive publicity, but not all shelters and rescues share happy reunions.

Statistics don't tell the whole story but can identify things to investigate and improve. It's simplistic and not necessarily true to imply those who don't claim their stray pets within the stray-hold don't want them. It might be worth addressing barriers that exist to increasing the RTO rate. There are MANY common and some really surprising ones. I'd like to know about as many as possible and ways to try to overcome them.

Kat Albrecht of Missing Pet Partnership had a great video presentation on this but I no longer see it on line. It dealt with many issues, including human factors, erroneous assumptions, fear of visiting a pound that kills for space, giving up too soon, lack of help to find their pet, and more.

Imagine the extra difficulty of finding the info you need if you're under stress because your pet is missing and you're new to the area or just visiting. I find it's commonly difficult or impossible to go online and find out about stray shelter animals in most of the municipalities I've surveyed. When there ARE profiles and pictures, they might not even be in a shareable format or include location found.

There is also much more that can be done to increase RTO and proactively return stays to their homes, and home territories for feral cats. Links to that info and volunteer groups who help could be made available. Using one centralized lost/found site, like Lost Dogs of Wisconsin & others use, can really help and organize volunteers. I've seen the ads kept online for months, and using printable posters in corner stores work, especially for cats. No reason printing can't be sponsored. Ideally the proastive RTO stats should be available to help demonstrate how it helps keep pets out of shelters.

Decreasing length of stay with reasonable policies is great. Each pet returned home also frees up room in shelters and rescues for one who is truly homeless. A happy reunion is what we'd want if our pet was lost.

Reasons I've seen for not taking animals to shelters include not knowing the shelter doesn't kill for space, and for having arbitrary euthanasia policies.

What about common policies that discourage owners from reclaiming pets? I've repeatedly seen pounds demand hundreds of dollars upfront to reclaim, telling owhere if they don't pay their pet will go up for adoption tomorrow for $35, $50 or whatever. Seems more like ransom. I agree with Mitchell Schneider that this parking model of enforcement doesn't work for pets.

Yes, getting more ID on/ in more pets helps. Let's address those barriers too. If we do, there are positive incentive programs that help even more. I'd love to see communities compared with one doing positive incentive rewards program but no mandatory ID requirement.

I believe shelters who've reformed should be celebrated and share their success. Still have to be mindful of identifying barriers while they continue to work hard with the public to overcome negative image from issues they or other area shelters have had.


Hm, my question is what is the actual percentage of no-kill shelters in WI. And what percentage of shelters actually properly advertise their stray dogs so that owners have a chance of finding them?

The 2nd being the most important IMO. If the shelters (no kill or not) aren't using software and websites effectively to share dogs picked up as strays then I want owners to have as long a period as possible to find their dogs TYVM. I don't care what the national average is for owners finding dogs. If they're going to reduce the stray hold period then there also needs to be a mandate to advertise the strays properly.


Ruth, I agree that shelters SHOULD be using the software and tools to help increase RTOs -- but the flip side is, if they're not, it is even LESS likely that a pet will make it home with a longer stray hold and that the pets in these shelters would most benefit from being placed up for adoption or transfer sooner.


Volunteer & Student,

I completely agree with your post. And I've seen Kat present, and she is great. There are a lot of opportunities for many shelters to increase RTOs by making it easier to find lost pets (including many things you mentioned, as well as public-friendly hours) and also removing the barriers to reclaim which often involve punitive fines and fees. I think we absolutely should continue moving forward with pushing more shelters to implement these programs. But those who have them are usually able to get pets home relatively quickly. And those that don't, are not going to be very successful in reuniting owners with lost pets regardless of the hold time.



I highly doubt the bill was slapped together without a lot of thought or consideration. Conversations about best practices for stray holds have been going on for several years. And I think the shortened stray hold will help animals in no kill and high kill shelters -- as after 4 days, RTO is the LEAST likely way the pet will have a positive outcome. So opening up more opportunities for more positive outcomes faster will help all of the animals. Wisconsin is an extreme outlier when it comes to stray hold times and every other state in the country has a shorter time period. If Wisconsin had an over-abundance of no kill communities it might be able to hang its hat on this as a reason for the success - -but the reality is that other states have had far more success with shorter stray hold times including Texas (3 days), Colorado (5 days) and Virginia (5 days).



Keep in mind that some of the higher numbers of RTOs after 4 days are special cases: dogs coming off of a 10 day bite quarantine, dogs/owners awaiting court hearings, people with seized dogs working to pass re-inspections, etc.

That said, I definitely understand the challenge of owners finding their lost pet and the frantic nature of that -- and that it is even harder in communities with multiple potential places of intake. And yes, we've have had anecdotal stories of people coming after their pet had been adopted out from our shelter as well. Although they are minimal compared to the volume of animals we handle, it is extremely important to those families.

I'm not aware of an existing law like this, but I would support a law that required a rescue group that a pet was transferred to to complete an RTO after the stray hold (most would already). I struggle with the idea of removing a pet from a family that just recently adopted it. It's particularly harsh for that family also (although, I know there are special cases where this has happened voluntarily).

I know it's not a perfect situation. There is nothing about the shelter system that is. But I do think there is a balance between trying to reunite with owners but also giving shelters (and pets) a fair chance to find new placement.

Susan Taney

As a person who has worked/volunteered in the animal welfare sector for over 25+years, I understand the "theory" BUT as being the cofounder of Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, Lost Dogs of America and founder of Lost Dogs Illinois, I have a different point of view. The reason why we started these organizations was to give the general public the tools and resources on what to do if they lose their loved family pet or if they find someone's pet. People really don't know what to do. We hear this all the time in our testimonials: "I didn't know what to do"; "I didn't know where our animal control facility was located", They are charging me $400 to get my dog out. I can't afford it. They will not negotiate." Same person: "Now I saw my dog up for adoption for $50. I don't understand why they were charging me $400 but yet they are adopting the dog out for less money." "I can't get off work and the county's AC facility does not post pictures so I can't confirm that my dog is there." "I didn't realize that someone would take my dog to another county AC facility" The list goes go on and on. The county I live is has the 7 day stray hold but they have an over 60% RTO for dogs and 9% RTO for cats. The Director is very proactive is getting "Owned" family pets homes. They do field redemptions; negotiate fees, post immediately strays photos on their website, etc. They work their butts off to get these pets home. I just don't understand the national organizations anymore At one time it was discussed in the animal welfare sector about compassion to humans as well as animals. It is always brought up about how we should provide customer service to the public. Should't we be discussing how the lost pet recovery system should be fixed and how we can increase return to owner rates before reducing the stray hold to offer help to the general public especially their taxes are paying for these services.



Let me start by saying that I have the utmost respect for all of the work being done by LDW, LDA and LDI. It is important. And I agree that educating people on what to do when they lose a pet, and pushing shelters to quit regressive practices (such as high fees) that prevent RTOs.

No one is saying that increasing RTO rates is not important.

But if we are to end the killing of shelter pets in this country, we need multi-pronged approach -- including keeping animals out of the shelter, and then, once they are there, focus on the three positive ways to get them out -- RTO, adoption and transfers.

While RTO is the first and preferred option, at some point (after about 4 days) the statistics dramatically flip and an animal becomes significantly less likely to be RTO'd and the other options become more viable in order to counter the very real challenges shelters face of time and space.

It's not about not having compassion for humans and animals, it's about trying to find the balance of the two to ensure that animals have the opportunity for safe outcomes.

Susan Taney

I understand what you are saying but reducing the stray hold before RTO systems are implemented, the implementation will fall to the bottom of the priority list and won't get done. That is what happened in Chicago. We approached the management staff with free and low cost suggestions on how to increase RTO and offered free training for staff and volunteers. Never heard back.


I don't live in Wisconsin and am left to consider what this bill would do in my own state which has it's own challenges and culture. Other than for the most progressive shelters, it would likely accelerate the speed with which animals are destroyed rather than accelerate the speed with which they are placed. I think I would be okay with the language if there was something added to the end related to past performance on placing animals.

For example: A political subdivision or person contracting under s. 173.15 (1) may treat any animal taken into custody under s. 173.13 (1) (a) 1., as an unclaimed animal subject to s. 173.23 (1m) if, within 4 days after custody is taken of the animal, it is not claimed by and returned to its owner under s. 173.23 (1), provided that the political subdivision or person contracting under s. 173.15 (1) has a demonstrated history covering at least a period of one year that it does not destroy healthy and treatable animals and that it has operational plans in place which assure that healthy and treatable animals are kept alive through rescue release, adoption or foster placement.

I am a bit concerned that the bill is not plain on its face in terms of what 4 days means. Are those business days? Is day 1 the day the animal enters the system or is that day the start day and the count begins the next day? This may sound like nit picking but in my job where we do statutory interpretation, my experience is that the bill language must be clear to all so everyone reads it and has the same takeaway. If a dog enters a shelter on a Thursday, we should all be able to agree on what constitutes day 4 just to avoid risk.

In the end, I am left to wonder why the bill tries to include a reduction in the hold period which applies to all animals and not just animals taken into custody as a result of some crime. It would seem to be better suited to some other legislation related to animal sheltering overall which applies regardless of the circumstances which led the animal to be in the shelter in the first place.

I am a self-professed keyboard advocate but perhaps I don't see that in the same light as some. I'd like to think that all that keyboarding, combined with a basic knowledge of the legal system, knowledge of how municipalities function in my state (since they are clients) and lots of political advocacy have done some good.

I will be curious to learn how this all turns out.

Eileen McFall

The white paper you refer to out of California is on a par with a Koch Brothers think-tank piece; it's lobbying disguised as analysis, and its claims and evidence are both suspect. You don't cite the source of the statistics on which you base your claim that longer holding periods had minimal impact on returns to owners in California. I am very familiar with California animal control agency statistics, and I am also very familiar with the errors in record-keeping and reporting and manipulations of statistics to suit an agenda. Even IF your claim is true, there are several compounding variables: first, many California pounds never followed the longer holding periods and there has never been oversight except when people use the courts to try to get accountability; second, longer holding periods by themselves accomplish nothing if the pound does not allow the public access to strays (as many California pounds STILL do not, having vast locked areas of the facilities and marking animals "unavailable" on Petharbor so they are never seen); and third, when pounds are open from 12-4 Tuesday through Saturday, for example, if an animal is impounded on a Monday morning, that animal's 72 hour hold can be over and s/he can be killed or transferred before the owner is able to get to the pound to redeem their pet. It's happening now in Stockton, California: a couple in their 70s were out of town visiting family and their son was housesitting. Their dog got out of the yard on Dec. 6. The owner returned home Dec. 7 and started looking for their pet. Animal Services tells her they impounded the dog on Dec. 5 and they transferred the dog on Dec. 8. The receiving "shelter" adopted her out and will not do anything to help facilitate her return to her owners. Incidentally, Stockton shortened its hold periods about a year ago, ostensibly to facilitate lifesaving. The effect is to allow transfers of "cute and fluffies" from less to more affluent communities, including the San Francisco SPCA, which still leaves dogs to die at SF Animal Control while importing those cute and fluffies from the central valley.

Length of stay and holding periods are not the same. You can have a legal holding period that protects animals and their owners and have a short length of stay. You can start networking an animal on impound in case no owner comes forward, while also engaging in proactive redemption and efforts to return animals to their owners. A humane and just holding period is not incompatible with short length of stay.

And as for "keyboard activists," no one who takes the time to educate him or herself and advocate for shelter reform got there from behind a keyboard. Advocacy ALWAYS comes from painful experience. You call yourself an "unofficial watchdog" but you have a problem with anyone who is not a shelter "official" having an opinion or engaging in advocacy? I am very sorry to see you joining the ranks of the conventional pounds and their apologists, but your insider experience doesn't make you right.


Sorry Brent, but I'm with Susan. Without proper work on the RTO side FIRST, or at least in conjunction to the reduced stray hold, all this is going to do is result in more people finding out after the fact that their pet was adopted out (or worse, killed) before they could get down to pick it up. The theory of "but this'll get them into homes faster" only works if everything else is done right first.


Ruth, while I am a strong supporter of good RTO programs, I would err on the side of saving lives first. In this country, a shelter is the most dangerous place for an animal to be -- so getting them out of a shelter quickly should be a priority if overall lifesaving is important. RTO is a part of that. But just one part of that.


Eileen, I did cite the source for the California number -- it was the Whitepaper -- which, while not perfect, is far more better than a Koch industries paper. But not only did I cite that source for California, I cited another source of a high kill shelter in Milwaukee, and a no kill shelter in Kansas City. All had similar stories.

I'm certainly not going to defend shelters who are open 4 hours a day, or ones that make no effort on RTOs at all. And I am sad for any owner who loses their pet and is unable to find it in time.

And I completely support a "Humane and just" hold period. I'm certainly not supporting the elimination of hold periods. But I would argue that a "humane and just hold period is closer to 4-5 days than the 7 that they have in Wisconsin. The data tends to support that.

I'll also note that there are a lot of people who are very good and necessary advocates. On the flip side, there are supposed advocates out there that simply promote their own agenda and really don't do anything productive other than sit behind a keyboard - -and couple have been very vocal (and hateful) during this debate. And I find it very frustrating that people and organizations that are being successful in creating no kill communities are portrayed as ignorant, not thoughtful, and as supporting of quick shelter killing.

Eileen McFall

I just re-read the white paper from California ( and realized the one I referred to was not the final draft, so I withdraw my analogy to the Koch brothers. I also note upon re-reading the white paper that the authors specifically reject a shorter hold period that would allow earlier killing. They only call for shorter holds when those facilitate live release, and if a bifurcated hold was rejected in Wisconsin, the only ones who can possibly benefit are those who would kill animals sooner--more reason to reject the shortened hold periods.

I should have been more precise in my wording--Brent, you do not cite the source of the statistics used in that California white paper. It turns out the data on timing of return to owners comes from a survey of seven shelters, none of which are identified and none of whose practices concerning owner redemption are described.

As someone who has questioned and opposed the misuse of data for the purpose of promoting breed specific legislation, I would think you would be more careful about using questionable data to make your own claims.

Finally, I do not see any hateful comments in this comment thread. I see comments that disagree with you and that use a variety of experiences to support the position that in the absence of policies, practices and programs to facilitate owner redemption, shortened hold periods are likely to be used to kill animals more quickly. If you are feeling persecuted, perhaps it is because we see you betraying what we thought was a shared cause--acting and advocating for saving EVERY healthy and treatable animal.



I acknowledge that the bifurcated hold would be preferred, but also have to yield to those on the ground in Wisconsin when they say there wasn't political support for it.

And yes, while the California White paper sample size is only 7 shelters, I then combined with our own shelter experience, and numbers from a few other shelters, and have also talked to other shelter directors who have anecdotal evidence -- all makes the data is pretty compelling. This is especially true when the trend lines are all very similar and no one has produced any contrary evidence in the matter. I'd think that with the hundreds of shelters in Wisconsin someone supporting keeping the hold times at 7 days would be able to produce some data showing that significant numbers of animals are being RTO'd on days 5-7 and so far that's not been the case.

And the California committee didn't recommend shortening the hold period from FOUR days...and I wouldn't support that either, again, based on the current evidence.

Yes, fortunately everyone here has been very cordial and it's been good discussion. Unfortunately, that's not been the case elsewhere.


Very interesting blog. The only thing bothering me is there have been a couple of high-profile cases where dogs got loose, the owners were on vacation, and the dogs got adopted or otherwise rescued by people that refused to return the dogs to their owners. Cases such as these are arguably statistically negligible, I'm sure, and offer an argument as to why all shelters and rescues should be regulated and subjected to some form of oversight.


Yes. While these incidents definitely occur, and I feel bad for those families, they are statistically negligible. And I'm a fan of basing policies on the majority of the situations (and adjusting for anomalies) vs trying to make laws to account for anomalies.

Eileen McFall

Brent, you said, "I acknowledge that the bifurcated hold would be preferred, but also have to yield to those on the ground in Wisconsin when they say there wasn't political support for it." The opposition to a bifurcated hold period--that is, one that would shorten the holding requirements for animals released alive but maintain the hold period before they can be killed--can only come from those who want to be able to kill them earlier, so your support based on the politics appears to me a willingness to throw away the lives of the animals who would be killed in order to transfer an unknown number of others earlier. I continue to oppose shortened hold periods anywhere that would allow pounds to kill animals sooner.

You also said, "I'd think that with the hundreds of shelters in Wisconsin someone supporting keeping the hold times at 7 days would be able to produce some data showing that significant numbers of animals are being RTO'd on days 5-7 and so far that's not been the case." And as someone with considerable experience trying to obtain and analyze data from animal control pounds, it is not at all surprising to me that no one has been able to produce quality data at that level. I don't know Wisconsin's open records laws or how well pounds follow them, but in California, which has a public records act, we regularly see obstructions, delays, outright refusal to provide data, and provision of garbage data rather than that requested. And there aren't that many people who know what to ask for and how to analyze it if they get it. I don't find surprising or indicative of reality that no one has produced good numbers for how many animals are redeemed on days 5-7, given what I have experienced about who controls the data and what their agendas are. Apparently it's been a while since you were in the shelter watchdog role.

You said, "while the California White paper sample size is only 7 shelters, I then combined with our own shelter experience, and numbers from a few other shelters, and have also talked to other shelter directors who have anecdotal evidence -- all makes the data is pretty compelling. This is especially true when the trend lines are all very similar and no one has produced any contrary evidence in the matter." It's not just that the California white paper sample size is only 7, it's that the findings reported for those 7 are presented with no explanation whatsoever about anything those pounds do to re-unite animals and owners, and those pounds are not even identified so that someone can check. As someone with a background in research and evaluation, I find those claims unconvincing, and adding them together with cherry-picked results and anecdotes from those who support shortening hold periods does nothing to make the argument stronger.

Thank you for replying to my previous comments. You haven't convinced me, but thinking through and arguing the issues and evidence is always a good thing.


Eileen -- I think good, civil conversation is good and I think this is a great topic for discussion.

My experience with politics, particularly on the state level, is that animal laws are usually secondary on legislator's lists. Most states are dealing with a LOT of tough issues right now: finances, schools, crime, taxes, gun control, taxes etc. Right or wrong, animal laws are not usually a top priority. So when laws come up for change, they seldom get the attention they deserve, which means that if they are overly complicated, they'll fail. Simplicity usually makes things an easier sell. So my assumption based on my conversations and experience, is that a simple lowering of hold times is on the agenda because its simpler than a two tiered hold system and that the more complicated system would be impossible to gain support for.

I know there isn't a lot of data out there on this, and I know it's tough to get (heck, it was a challenge even to pull for my own organization). But based on the limited data set, its not like its a balanced issue - it is universally leaning toward a shorter hold period. For dogs, shelters that are trying to save lives get RTOs out quickly and can save animals faster (and more effectively) with shorter hold times. Shelters that have very low save rates often have very low RTO numbers so even there animals are MUCH more likely to get out via adoption or transfer than RTO. So in no kill shelters, and high kill shelters, the data seems to support shorter hold periods as a more effective solution to immediate lifesaving. And the numbers are overwhelmingly supportive of lower hold times for cats as very few shelters, even ones with very good RTO programs, RTO a large percentage of cats.

So while I'm open to more data on this, the current data, and my experience and the experience of other shelter leaders that I respect, overwhelmingly supports 3-5 working days as a good hold window for dogs (and possibly shorter for cats). My only agenda on this is to create a situation where fewer animals die in shelters and I promise to remain open to new data that supports that mission....but for now, the data pushes me toward 7 days being much too long a hold time.

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