It’s Friday, August 24th and the Aiken County Animal Shelter is full. I make my way to Intake to check out the new arrivals. There are so many in all shapes and sizes: fluffy, shiny, furless, battered, blonde, red and black. They are scared and anxious. It breaks my heart.
Near the back in #28, a beautiful female Shepherd picked up as a stray cowers in the back of her kennel. I sit by the door and talk softly to her, offer her treats. Eventually she crawls forward and licks my hand. That’s a good sign. It means she will probably be a highly-adoptable dog.
Seven days later, however, that same Shepherd is jumping, barking, spinning in circles in her kennel. She is anxious, frantic. That’s not a good sign. She is showing signs of extreme kennel stress already, and yet she cannot be moved to the adoption floor for at least six more days.
Why? Because county regulations currently require stray dogs to be held for five business days (the day of arrival, weekends and holidays don’t count) before they can be released for adoption.
I do the math: my girl in kennel #28 came in on Friday; day 1 will be Monday. Technically her five-day hold will be up at closing-time on Friday, August 31st, but it’s a holiday weekend, so she can’t be spayed until Tuesday, September 4th. If she does well, the earliest she could be moved to the adoption floor is Wednesday the 5th.
That’s 13 days before she even gets the chance to be adopted. During that time, experienced volunteers will walk her and evaluate her behavior, give her some much-needed love and attention, but she is only one of hundreds of dogs who need attention at the shelter. I watch her spin and bark and pace in her kennel, and I pray she can stay sane that long.
The five-day rule is intended to allow owners the chance to claim their lost dogs, however, it just doesn’t happen that way. Here are the facts: only 8% of stray dogs are claimed by their owners, and that 8% are almost always claimed within three days of pickup.
Only 8%. Three days.
In the meantime, our girl in kennel #28 is suffering. No matter how good the facility, the shelter is an unknown, noisy, busy place full of barking dogs and strangers. It is particularly hard for the dogs, who are social animals by nature. They must be housed separately for their own safety, but that separation, coupled with the noise and activity levels, wears on them, and like people, their ability to adapt varies widely from animal to animal. We’ll try to give the pretty Shepherd more time in the play yards and additional walks, but the shelter is full. There are so many animals and only so many volunteers.
I am happy to report that our pretty Shepherd persevered with a little help from her human friends at the shelter: she has a new home and humans to love her every day. It’s a shame she had to suffer all those extra days needlessly. Fortunately, last Tuesday, Aiken County took steps to change the stray-hold requirements to five calendar days. We applaud the County Council and Administration for their efforts.
Their lives are in our hands.
— by Kathy Jacobs, FOTAS Program Director
Nine out of 10 stray animals received by the shelter are never claimed by owners.
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