Editor’s note: With the permission of Dinah Chao, the Kauai Humane Society was given a copy of her guest commentary so it could write a response and both could be published on the same day.
Finding a stray animal presents a complex set of questions to the individual who finds the animal: What do I do with this animal? Should I keep him? Is he sick, does he need medical attention? Do I take him to the humane society? What is going to happen to this animal after that? The concerned and compassionate staff at the Kauai Humane Society appreciates that often there are no easy answers to these questions. We deal with stray and unwanted animals each day and understand how difficult it can be for someone to surrender a stray animal to us. Bringing the animal to us is always the right choice, even if the outcome is not clear or known at the time; this is particularly true for an emaciated and weak animal who may require medical attention. Daily, we deal with a high set of expectations that each animal surrendered will find a new, loving home or be returned to one.
We do want to mention that KHS has a set of legal mandates that we have to follow. All stray animals without identification surrendered to the Kauai Humane Society are required by state law and county ordinance to be held for 48 hours for the owner to identify and claim them. If the animal has identification we are required to hold the animal for nine days. Only animals that are suffering or those whose injuries cannot be stabilized will be euthanized prior to the completion of their stray holding period.
When we receive a stray animal we do not include the day of arrival as part of their stray holding period. These two dogs were received at the shelter on a Wednesday. By law, we held the two dogs for the required 48-hour holding period and they were available to the finders on the following Saturday; the day that the dogs were adopted.
At the time of surrender, every person is verbally advised of our stray holding policy. They are advised that adoption for any specific animal is not guaranteed and sign a statement acknowledging that information. A Stray Animal Policy Statement sheet is stapled to their incoming animal receipt. Finders are advised verbally and in writing that if they are interested in adopting the animal; then they must contact us during the stray holding period and advise us of their intent. This is standard operating procedure for every animal received. Effectively, communicating these polices to a person leaving an animal with us is crucial and KHS staff adhere to this policy. We were advised that the family was interested in these two dogs and we kept them apprised of their situation.
A finder is able to visit an animal that they have left with us while the animal is in the 48-hour holding period. This family was offered the opportunity to visit with the animals; however, they were informed that the dogs could not leave the shelter for socialization, or training, or to meet a potential adopter. Animals that are in their holding period do not belong to KHS and cannot leave the shelter or be adopted prior to the end of their legal mandated holding period. The animals must be present at the shelter for viewing should someone come to look for them or claim them. While we may believe that an owner won’t come forward for an animal because of the animal’s poor condition or his set of circumstances; we never know. Animals have been reunited with their family after being missing for weeks, months, and in one case, years. It happens; when it does, it is cause for celebration.
Unfortunately, KHS receives thousands of stray and abandoned animals a year. They are lost, abandoned, sick, injured, old, aggressive, feral or simply unwanted. However, many of the animals are happy, healthy and well-adjusted. These are easy to place into our adoption program; they do well here and thrive. Sadly though, many are not happy or healthy or well-adjusted. There are those who are scared, traumatized by being in a strange environment; a loud kennel with strangers going by all the time. These animals don’t thrive in a shelter environment. Sitting in the back of the kennel day after day, scared and nervous isn’t easy on an animal that has not been socialized. Subjecting that animal to constant anxiety, stress and fear is what is inhumane.
We have limited space and resources to place animals for adoption. Animals are evaluated for adoption based upon their age, health, temperament, physical condition and available space. Receiving thousands of animals a year means we have to continually make hard, tough decisions about which animals will be placed into the adoption program. A dog that is scared being here, hiding in the back of his kennel is not one that will do well in the adoption kennels. This is the very sad reality of an animal shelter. These are the animals that break our hearts. We can’t alleviate their fears. We were thrilled that this family wanted to adopt these two dogs. They were willing to provide the immediate hands-on care in a quiet, nurturing environment that both dogs needed to thrive and recuperate.
The decision to alter the dogs was not made lightly. Their overall physical condition was taken into consideration. They were eating well. Both had gained weight; the male’s treating veterinarian confirmed that he had continued to gain weight when she examined him days later. He did have an increased white blood cell count which indicated an infection. The treating veterinarian was unsure of the source of his infection and a definitive diagnosis was not made. However, the infection was determined not to be a result of his neutering surgery.
Was the dog too weak to have had the surgery? We don’t know for sure. We are evaluating protocols. We have reached out to other shelter veterinarians regarding their protocols. We are determining body weight scores and percentages. We are taking this incident seriously. This was a heartbreaking situation and one we don’t want to have happen again. We are terribly sorry for any pain this has caused the family. It has caused us pain, too.
We are the Kauai Humane Society; the staff and volunteers are kind, compassionate individuals who work tirelessly every day to provide comfort and care to each and every animal here.
Penny Cistaro is executive director of the Kauai Humane Society.