pet shelter standards?
September 12, 2017 5:50 PM   Subscribe

Isn't it standard for an SPCA shelter to test for heartworm before advertising a dog as adoptable? Can any pet shelter call itself "SPCA" without any certification from the ASPCA?

I adopted a dog yesterday, after having met him and later introducing my 2 other pets. I noticed when I was walking him that he marked very frequently, and had diarrhea. But the attendant told me he was being treated for the diarrhea, so I paid the adoption fee (which included "medical") and then 5 days later paid the neutering fee at the vet's (total cost to adopt =$185). But on getting him home: massive diarrhea overnight, and in my yard, and back at the vet's. Turns out the shelter does not treat for heartworms, and this dog has heartworms, hookworms (extremely contagious), and exposure to tick-borne (eg Lyme) disease. Another $157 to find this out. They of course referred me to the fine print in my contract, which was very vaguely worded.

The shelter did not apologize, asserted it's my fault for not asking if he had heartworm. They kept repeating that they can't afford the test, but it seems it's really that they don't want to spend the $ and space on treating heartworm, as they'd be required to do. But doesn't the ASPCA have some kind of standards or ethics - at a minimum, giving clear notice of any known health problems, and warning adopters that they need to arrange for heartworm testing?
posted by mmiddle to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can any pet shelter call itself "SPCA" without any certification from the ASPCA?

Yes. SPCAs are all locally organized, independent non profits with their own rules and governing practices. You might even find several in the same city and county. Some are better than others - while ASPCA does participate in education of SPCAs and sharing best practices they by no means act as a certifying body.

From ASPCA's website:
There is only one ASPCA, and we are headquartered in New York City, founded in 1866 as the first animal welfare organization in the Americas. Although there are SPCAs and humane societies all over the country, we are not directly affiliated with them.
posted by Karaage at 6:15 PM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I totally get where you're coming from that you want there to be regulations and rules, but there's not. There's no requirement, whether you are an owner or a rescue group or a vet, to treat a dog that is known to be HW+ and you can't stress a dog undergoing HW treatment anyway, it's just not reasonably do-able in a shelter environment.

But these places run on an absolute shoestring in any case. All that nice testing and treatment stuff is for pets who have owners, who can maybe afford to treat them. If you're lucky they all get kennel cough and rabies shots, maybe. There are definitely reasons you wanted to make the assumptions you did, and I also wish we lived in a world where they were in the same galaxy as reasonable, but they were pretty big assumptions unfortunately.

The ASPCA is not a rescue group, they're actually pretty much a lobby organization with a side gig in some disaster organization and a little bit of municipal involvement. Many things that are laws are a result of their work, but they are not what most people assume they are. Neither, really, are municipal shelters that often fly under some kind of SPCA umbrella, they are a courtesy and kind of a thin veneer of genteel society but if city/county budgets came right down to it they'd be one of the first things to go. This stuff sucks to find out.

Hopefully you can get your pup the treatment they need, but nobody can force you and nobody's going to cover it for you unless you pursue your own fundraising.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:38 PM on September 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Your assumptions weren't inherently unreasonable, no. And it's shitty of them not to apologize. But many of these places are barely funded and functional, heartworm treatment requires extra care, and probably the alternative is putting down every animal diagnosed. So, if you can, try to consider addressing the problem an aspect of getting your new family member out of the bad and dangerous situation he was in, which did not end when he was picked up off the street.

Also, while I am definitely not downplaying the expense and difficulty for you, the costs here are within what a responsible pet owner should anticipate might come their way in any given year. I support a rescue that does full vet workups, and lately, due to an apparent increased incidence in the South, several more dogs than usual have been testing positive a few months after adoption (that is, they were tested after picking up the parasite but before the test would detect it). So even if the shelter had been more responsible, you still could have run into these issues. I hope they will not sour your attitude towards your dog, who is innocent in all this.
posted by praemunire at 7:17 PM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks. I guess it just seemed sneaky not to have it clearly stated "when your vet neuters this dog, ask her to also perform heartworm, hookworm, and tick tests." To answer "he's being treated for diarrhea" does not = "he has hookworm". I am frustrated by the costs, but mainly worried for my 2 other dogs.
posted by mmiddle at 9:42 PM on September 12, 2017

Best answer: When we adopt a dog we get a complimentary first vet visit for it from the shelter, they also microchip it for us. I'd honestly never thought of something like this happening, and it seems sloppy or careless to me too. I wouldn't go there again and I'd be sure not to recommend it. While a shelter can't catch everything, if there's something that seems like a massive obvious infection like that, assuming they have a vet check the animals over before they go out, that seems like a big red flag. Diarrhea can be indicative of other more contagious and serious illnesses too so they should have checked in my opinion. In addition, sure these are expenses a pet owner should take on but there are also really shoddy shelters out there from people who really care but just can't do right by the animals, and just because a place calls itself a shelter doesn't mean you should trust it without reading the contract thoroughly, and hopefully getting recommendations from others. Trust your instincts.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 9:59 PM on September 12, 2017

Best answer: It could have been parvo which could easily killed all your pets (if they weren't vaccinated).

They were shady about it. The shelter near me is very clear about what they will/won't treat and medical issues.

The shelter should provide you the medication for your three dogs at cost at the very least, it is cheaper for them to buy it. I'd request that.

Sorry you had a bad experience. Many shelters are run by volunteer staff, and depending on who you talk to it could be a training issue, but I don't know that shelter to know.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:04 AM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in Memphis and we have a TERRIBLE high-kill city-owned shelter. And even ours does a heart worm test before adoption and supplies that information. I can't imagine a shelter that doesn't do it and I'm shocked they exist.
posted by raisingsand at 7:42 AM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The little rescue I work with treats for these things (including HW+) and will pay for follow up tests. We're also deeply in the red and trying to raise funds. In the meantime, we've had to stop accepting dogs.
posted by PussKillian at 9:22 AM on September 13, 2017

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