One of the issues our admissions staff and operations supervisors struggle with at least once each week, is the request from an owner who surrendered their animal to know what happened to that animal. This request is normally prompted by the individual or family needing closure, and seems reasonable from the surface, but the EHS has adopted a policy of non-disclosure of animal outcomes for a variety of reasons. Today, guest blogger Stephanie Walsh, our Operations/HR Manager shares her perspective on one of those reasons…
When people meet my dog, invariably their first comment is about his handsome looks and his good behavior. After I explain he was surrendered by his family to the shelter that remark is generally followed by a gasp and then, “Oh my, how could someone give up such a wonderful dog?”
I don’t have the answer to that question. Doing the work that I do every day, I don’t believe it’s my place to wonder why or to judge that decision. It’s my job to ensure that when someone makes that painful choice we honour whatever led them to our door and then do our job – take over where they could not continue.
I couldn’t begin to list all the reasons why people decide to relinquish their pets – they run the continuum from sad and unfortunate to ridiculous and truly unbelievable. The reasons are as varied as the animals that come into our care. When the person is standing before us the reason truly doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is they have a safe place to turn in their time of need.
We understand the gravity of the decision to surrender a family pet. We know it is agonizing and difficult. We know because we witness that painful choice 20 or 30 or 40 times every single day. We know because we see the tears, we comfort the families and we watch them walk away broken hearted. We know because we care for their pets every day. This year when more than 4,000 owners who have come to surrender their pets arrive at our doors, we will be there for them.
Anyone who has experienced a loss can attest to the overpowering strength of grief. Most people are overwhelmed by their sadness and the decision they have made about their pets. They try not to think about what might happen to their beloved pet once they let go of that leash.
To ease their sorrow, people cling to the hope that their dog or cat will not be traumatized by the experience of being admitted to an animal shelter. They need to believe their pet will be quickly matched with a wonderful home where they will be appreciated and loved and cherished as much as they deserve. For many people, that belief is what gets them through this process. For others, the pain of their decision weighs on them and their grief eats away at them. How they handle the emotional roller coaster is as unique as each individual.
I am confident there is not one person who walks away from a humane society believing they may have just condemned their beloved pet to death. They know it is a possibility, but they don’t want to believe it. They want to believe in a happy ending and absolve some of their guilt for giving up their animal.
Often they don’t want to hear what we have to say about what may happen next. That’s why we go to great lengths to ensure each person is told what our limited options are and ask them to read and sign documents to confirm they understand. Make no mistake, we want you to be sure.
So, why doesn’t EHS release information about the outcomes of animals that are surrendered to us? Why not give closure to families who are struggling with their decision?
Let me answer those questions with another question. How can we possibly begin to determine each admitter’s emotional capacity to cope with their decision or gauge how they will feel about their decision in a few days?
When you admit your animal, you have come to us and asked for our help. We have accepted the responsibility and in return, all we ask is for you to respect our policies. We have entered into this agreement at your request, not ours.
We have to trust you took the time you needed before you arrived at our doors to weigh the consequences. We have to trust that you will accept the responsibility for your decision and work through your emotional angst because now our focus must turn to the animals in our care.
With 13,000 animals admitted annually, policies and sound screening programs are what allow us to make decisions in a relatively short period of time and keep animals moving through our shelter in a responsible and reasonable way. We rely on this system of checks and balances to make good decisions for each individual animal.
Of the thousands of animals surrendered each year, a handful of people do come back and demand information they no longer have a right to know. They did not keep their end of the bargain. They are angry and they are lashing out. Now, somehow, it is our fault they don’t have closure.
I can assure you that closure doesn’t come from pushing an organization to disrespect its own policies. Closure doesn’t come from publically threatening a charity and potentially jeopardizing the help it will provide for 13,000 animals this year. And it certainly doesn’t come about because one individual is angry and regrets a personal decision they freely made.
Closure only comes from within and we cannot be held responsible for that.