The AZ Humane Society killed my friend's dog... basically.
August 17, 2013 5:54 PM   Subscribe

My friend and her roommate found a wounded stray dog, turned him over to the humane society in hopes that his family would find him, and discovered that he had been send to the pound a day later and then euthanized last night while all week she was desperately trying to find his family AND get someone at the HS to tell her where he was. If she had not been lied to, she would have adopted the dog before he was killed. My friend is a highly involved volunteer worker in our community and she wants to take this public and do something to improve the situation... help us figure out what we can do!

So... Last Sunday my friend found a beautiful stray German Shepherd, whom she nicknamed Hans, wandering the street with a bad limp. She kept him overnight, then took him to the vet, explaining that she wanted to find his original owners if possible, and if not, she and her roommate were prepared to adopt him. The vet assured her this was fine and that the dog would be going to the humane society. The dog disappeared; friend called vet who assured her he was at the Humane Society. My friend and her roommate spend hours searching for the dog's family, and calling the Humane Society frequently to check on Hans and receiving the runaround that his information was "confidential." My friend became extremely frustrated. Last night, she found Hans' picture on a pound website stating the pic was "one hour old." She panicked, prepared her house and bought dog food, and this morning was at the pound when it opened... only to find Hans had already been euthanized.

My friend is massively enraged and heartbroken... And we want to know: who is in charge of this fuckup and where can we go for recourse in fixing this "glitch" (nicely put) in the system? (For reference, my friend is a professional and extremely involved volunteer worker who has been highly effective at things like this in different venues in our city - assume for the purpose of the question that she is as competent as anyone to navigate any media or red tape necessary). Naturally she is spreading the word vis-a-vis spay and neuter your animals, don't breed, don't overpopulate the system in the first place etc etc but ... anything else we can do? This is in Phoenix Arizona.
posted by celtalitha to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does she have any information why the dog was euthanized?

Two potential reasons, off the top of my head, maybe he bit a person at the Humane Society, or his limp was discovered to be cancer or some other horrific medical condition. Beyond the limp, maybe he was in kidney failure or had some other fatal and not reversible health problem.

A third reason may be that the owners were identified, the dog had a documented history of biting people, and the previous owners abandoned him instead of dealing with the reality of a dangerous dog. This information likely really is private and would not be shared with your friend by the shelter.

In short, your friend should have all of the actual facts before storming the social or traditional media with her emotional story. The emotions, while they make a good sound bite, do not change policy. If the actual facts are not available, people like me will be asking for them.

Additionally, there are surely thousands of other dogs who have been checked out and deemed adoptable. I would suggest your friend adopt a dog that is ready, and publicize that happy event.
posted by bilabial at 6:13 PM on August 17, 2013 [30 favorites]

Did they tell you *why* they decided to euthanize him? Is it possible that the dog was carrying a communicable disease (or otherwise unhealthy) and/or bit someone at the shelter?

There are some animals that shelters will not allow to be adopted (and therefore must euthanize them) because they've judged them to be a public health risk.

I urge you to get all the information about the dog and the reasons for the shelter's decision before stirring up drama.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:16 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is very common. If you read the Yelp reviews for most shelters you'll find someone complaining about the exact same thing. I don't think it'll cause the PR firestorm that your friend is expecting.
posted by acidic at 6:18 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry that this happened and understand how upset your friend must be.

However, I don't think the shelter or pound is to be blamed. Shelters are unfortunately overcrowded, some more than others, and it is unreasonable to expect a shelter to essentially take in a dog and "hold" it for you in case you later decide to adopt. I think it is admirable that your friend was trying to find the dog's family -- however, I think she was expecting the shelter to fill a role that it simply cannot fill.

I don't think much good will come of your friend starting a campaign against the shelter or pound. Instead, she should consider adopting a shelter dog that might otherwise run out of time, allowing the shelter to house another dog for a while longer until it, too, has the chance to find a family.
posted by mingodingo at 6:20 PM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

If anyone should be blamed, it sounds like it's the veterinarian, who should have indicated to the HS with great clarity that your friend was ready and willing to adopt the dog, or who should have told your friend to bring the dog to the HS in person for that very reason.
posted by shivohum at 6:44 PM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Clarification: My friend is considering adopting another dog. She did ask why he was transferred to the pound, and they told her it was confidential, so she think it was most likely due to him not being considered adoptable (due to breed and injury). She understands the overcrowding situation and is more annoyed that when she DID call the Humane Society, where the dog was, and express that this was a dog she had turned in and was willing to adopt if nobody else was, they told her they could not give her information about him and that it was "confidential" when in actuality they had sent him to the pound. We assume this was to gloss the truth and save feelings, but she would have gone to the pound and adopted him had she been told. So we are aware of the politics and overcrowding issue, but the problem is the lack of honest communication and false information that was given to my friend by the people at the humane society itself.
posted by celtalitha at 6:49 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, I believe it is the job of a shelter to hold the dog to see of an owner shows up. When I have rescued dogs, I always bring them to the shelter to check for microchips and allow their owner to find them. If, after the hold time is up, the owner has not claimed the dog, then I pull it and find a home for it.

Each city has its own policy for holding times, as I understand it. (If their hold time is something ridiculously short like 24 hours, the animals are best served by changing that policy to something longer.)

It does sound like either a mistake (horrible!), or the dog had some sort of a health issue. I'd try to find out which, then go from there. Ask volunteers at the shelter, they can usually give some insight. Also, if your friend has been doing rescue there for awhile, she probably knows some employees better than others. They might be good to go to for info.
posted by Vaike at 7:08 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

To be more clear, go in in person and talk to the people there directly. I think it will be much more helpful than trying to get answers over the phone.
posted by Vaike at 7:10 PM on August 17, 2013

So many things could have happened here, from a newbie dealing with the phones as best they could to more than one GSD coming in at the same time and the paperwork getting mixed up to the vet just never passing along the word about your friend's willingness to adopt.

If I was your friend, I would be angry too, but I would blame the process, not the particular people involved. Maybe your friend could get a social media campaign going to remind people to chip their pets and to encourage low-cost chipping options, so this kind of thing doesn't happen again.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:33 PM on August 17, 2013

I'm sorry this happened, but it's kind of all there in the FAQs (PDF) - she surrendered Hans to them, they don't give updates, they decide the animal's disposition, and they provide the names of no-kill shelters. In retrospect, your friend should have offered to foster the dog instead of surrendering him, but that's a pretty useless observation after the fact.
posted by gingerest at 7:40 PM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

In Tucson, strays are kept at animal control for 3 days and then evaluated for adoptability. If healthy, they go on the adoption line. If injured or they have other problems, they go on the rescue line. Tucson's county shelter is doing great work in trying to work with local rescues to find homes for animals that would've formerly been euthanized due to illness or lack of space.

Maricopa county is a different story. It's a mess up there and the kill rate is super-high. They don't give any shits about working with rescues or making space for ill dogs. I'm not sure how far your friend will get since established animal rescues haven't been able to make any headway with the county bureaucracy.

Anyone reading this in Phoenix, it's a lesson. Don't take an animal you like to the Humane Society or the pound. Move fast if your pet gets lost too, because they're notorious for euthanizing family pets even when the families have called and said they're on their way.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:46 PM on August 17, 2013 [15 favorites]

Oh yeah, meant to say, the Maricopa county shelter doesn't see this as a glitch. It's the way they intentionally do business.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:47 PM on August 17, 2013

Once you surrender an animal you have no more control over it. It sucks that your friend learned this the hard way but at that point the dog "belonged" to the system, and yeah the system does what it does and there's nothing you can do about it just because you found the stray and turned him in. Think LONG and hard before turning an apparently stray animal over to the system! It may just be lost, it may be allowed to roam freely by its owners.... and it will be judged as negatively as possible by the system.

As a long time animal rescuer I've learned to basically never surrender an animal and expect a thing, particularly to groups like the Humane Society, which are private and not bound by the rules of a public shelter. It's entirely possible they asked the pound to euthanize the dog, some no-kill places have arrangements with shelter to do just that since they are prevented by charter from euthanizing animals. They just turn un-adoptable animals over to another shelter.

In short: if you're really concerned about an animal, keep it yourself until you can find a good home. And trust private rescue organizations not at all, they are not bound by any real rules and once an animal is surrendered to them they own it and can do whatever with that animal. Breed based rescues are the way to go imho, unless you happen to have a great local pound or shelter. I once got a dog from our local pound that had bitten someone there but they trusted it was an isolated incident and I could handle the dog and 7 years later she's never done it again. Most pounds are not that way.
posted by fshgrl at 7:55 PM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

The humane society in Phoenix is notorious for this, and has been for at least two decades.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:01 PM on August 17, 2013

Yes, this is Maricopa County. Thanks to the people who have specific comments about that part. Apparently my friend was working with a group called 1st Emergency Pet Care, who referred her to this particular vet and told her the dog would be taken to the humane society afterwards to see if his family was looking for him; he was indeed held at the Humane Society for one day, but was then sent to the Maricopa County Animal Shelter, held for 3 days while my friend attempted in vain to get an accurate status update from the Humane Society. He was placed for adoption/rescue (?) on the pound's web site the evening of the 16th, where my friend saw it, and then euthanized between closing on the 16th and this morning (with obviously zero time for anyone to adopt him). This is all documented, and the ridiculously crappy organization referred to by squeek attack and a couple others are real, not in my friend's emotionally-addled head.

I happen to be more of a cynic and agree with those saying these things are aspects of The System you just have to deal with as-is... but my friend likes taking on challenges like this (and is good at it) so it's good to know it's a known issue, if depressing.
posted by celtalitha at 8:15 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It would be wonderful if conditions at Maricopa county animal control could be improved. I wish your friend luck if she takes up this cause!

Side note: I volunteer in Tucson with an all-breed rescue. I know people on Metafilter seem to think breed specific rescues are more legit, but Tucson is full of mixed breed animals who desperately need help and we don't have an overabundance of purebreds going unloved.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:21 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about contacting news agencies? Is that a bad idea?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:56 PM on August 17, 2013

Just -- these people deal with horrible, intensely emotional situations all the time. Adding more pressure will just encourage the more sensitive, less desperate employees to leave. I don't know what they need, but good luck.
posted by amtho at 11:31 PM on August 17, 2013

One thing to add. I've worked in veterinary medicine for a long time, and it is extremely common for people to take their own injured pets to the vet, and claim that they are a stray. The pet's medical care is then paid for by a charity or shelter, and then those same people can re-adopt their own pet once it is healed and ready to be adopted. This is one of the reasons that all of the vet hospitals I have worked at have strict rules about surrendering strays. Basically, if you surrender a stray, we will not provide you further information about it's care or destination, unless you are going to pay for the treatment. It sucks for genuine good samaritans (like your friend) that might really want to adopt the animal, but it is not fair to the vets or to the shelters to allow dishonest people to shift their vet bills on to well-meaning charities. This may be why it was hard for them to get information out of the vet/Humane Society/shelter, if they thought your friend might be trying to pull this kind of scam. Again, I'm not saying at all that this is what your friend was doing, but it is something vets and shelters are on the lookout for.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:43 PM on August 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

If your friend has worked to advocate for change in the community on various topics, she probably already knows how such things go down, but just in case, here are my general thoughts about how she could work effectively:

- Methodically make the rounds of all the interested organizations in the county who would have an interest in changing the policies & procedures, find out what they've done in the past, what the history is, what they'd like to see changed.

- Offer to head up (or work behind the scenes to support whoever they want to officially head up the campaign, if that is going to be a better approach) a campaign to coordinate among all the various interested organizations, put together a campaign plan, and follow through with a campaign over the next 1-2 years (minimum) to address this problem. You're probably looking at 5-10 hours/week minimum to put into this over the next 1-2 years (minimum) if you really want to see some change.

- Then spend the next few years working with the affected organizations (create and run a campaign committee with reps from all these organizations), county staff, elected leaders, the media, etc etc etc etc to develop some consensus and make changes. Hold regular events to publicize the cause, testify regularly at county council meetings, any public meetings the pound has, as well has holding numerous private meetings with staff & elected officials. Develop good working relationships with all involved parties. And generally do all the things that make grass roots campaigns work.

- And of course expect that even with all that, a few entrenched staff (or elected) people could stop almost all progress on the topic. But if you're going to have any success, almost certainly it will be via a well organized, well thought out, long term campaign of this sort. If she does this she's pretty much guaranteed to make at least some reasonable progress towards the campaign goals.
posted by flug at 1:58 PM on August 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

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