August 17, 2017

The Two Ways Animals are Abandoned

Fluffy is just one of 2,000 pets surrendered to the OHS every year.

August 19 is International Homeless Animals Day. It was created to educate people about pet abandonment, feral animals and the benefits or neutering domestic animals.

I have written a lot about spaying and neutering, especially in light of the OHS’s major initiative to reduce cat over population: our mobile spay neuter vehicle. Feral cats, I have written less about, but some. Animal abandonment is not an issue I have tackled here. And it’s a big one.

Essentially, there are two kinds of abandonment: cruel or responsible.

Cruel abandonment takes many forms. Moving out of an apartment and simply leaving a cat behind, or dropping her in the laneway of a dairy farm are all too common. Sometimes, dogs are simply let go to be picked up as a stray and never claimed. At its worst, kittens are left in dumpsters, dogs left to die.

Responsible abandonment is surrendering a pet to the OHS or another humane society. The OHS cares for more than 2,000 animals every year surrendered by their owners. I believe that everyone who works for a humane society has mixed feelings about this. We encourage people to surrender their animals to us as an alternative to cruel abandonment. We know that there are legitimate reasons why people give up a pet. We know that many, if not most, of owners try to rehome their pet on their own. We know that every community needs an open admission shelter to prevent cruel abandonment. But we are troubled by the idea of people giving up their pets. We see pets as family members. And you don’t abandon a family member — period.

These feelings can give way to judgements, and we know that we are not an effective caregiver for our community if we lapse into judgement. One day, just a year or so after I started working at the OHS, a man surrendered two borzois. Stunning dogs, both relatively young and in good health. This was a pretty unique thing and word spread around the shelter pretty fast. Many of our staff and volunteers were outraged, so much so, it was causing morale issues. So I looked at the file for insights that might help. The man who surrendered his lovely dogs was in the advanced stages of cancer. He was going to die soon. And he trusted us at the OHS to care for his beloved dogs. I use this story often when I feel some of us may slip into judgement. In this line of work, there can be no judgement. Otherwise, we risk driving the otherwise responsible to cruel abandonment. And we know that whatever the reason for abandonment, unwanted animals are better off in our care.

We all hope for a day that there is no cruel abandonment and that, for everyone, animals are elevated to family members, making responsible abandonment necessary in only the most exceptional circumstances. Until then, the OHS is here to help the abandoned.

Bruce Roney
Executive Director