Bella was a 14 year old Belgian Shepherd who never normally strayed from her owners property.  During a big storm she became frightened and panicked, she ran frantically to hide and became disorientated and lost.  She was picked up by animal control officers.  Because she did not have any identification or registration tag and did not have a microchip (she was born after it was compulsory), she was taken to a local animal shelter which had a contract with the council.

The information provided by the council to owners of lost animals was to contact the shelter.  However, the elderly owner had no transport and when she contacted the shelter they told her they did not have a dog like hers (they did not recognise the dog as being a Belgian Shepherd).

14 days later the owner recognised Bella advertised for adoption on the website of the shelter and called them. She was informed that because she was impounded for 14 days, the impoundment fee and daily housing costs were $540. In addition, she had arthritis and a skin condition and the owner had to sign a letter agreeing that she would spend up to $2000 on veterinary fees for Bella.

Sadly and tearfully she said she just didn’t have that money and had to leave Bella there.  Unfortunately no one wanted a 14 old arthritic dog and eventually Bella was euthanased.  It was likely that with the confinement in a cage, her arthritis was much worse and with some gentle movement and medication for arthritis and some inexpensive therapy for her skin, she would have been fine.

What could have been done differently…Even if one of the many possibilities had been done differently, it would have saved her life –  if the pound and shelter had implemented best practice or if the owner had one piece of accurate ID on her dog (even though she “never” strayed).

Many lost animals are animals that are indoor only or “never leave the property”. It is vitally important owners have their animals identified, especially with a microchip with accurate contact details.

Council pounds with high live release rates have high reclaim rates and they door knock most of their constituency to ensure that animals are registered and identified. Innovative ones provide collars and tags with owners phone numbers.

If the council had put a photo of the dog on their website as soon as they found her – they all have smart phones and use them for taking photos of infringements.  If the council had immediately provided a photo of the dog to the shelter, the owner could have claimed her the day she was found – often photos are not put up of lost dogs for fear that they will be stolen by someone claiming to be the owner (but this is not a rational argument for 99% of the dogs entering shelters. 92% are cross bred and the 8% of pure bred dogs are mostly Staffordshire terriers, kelpies, border collies – common breeds that are being given away free on websites such as GumTree).

If the shelter had made the best choices for the dog and were solution orientated, they would have returned her as soon as possible to the owner and assisted the owner with providing appropriate health care for Bella, which was likely less than $100 for arthritis medication, flea treatment and appropriate shampoos.

Keeping the dog while looking for someone to adopt her was not in Bella’s best welfare interests. Her owner loved her and provided her with a good home –perhaps not a perfect home. Bella has been with her owner since she was a puppy. Trying to place her in a “perfect” home at that age when she already had a loving home was not solution-orientated. In the shelter pen her arthritis was aggravated by lack of movement and she was scared and disorientated at being away from the owner. The shelter would have not have got any of the money they said the owner needed to pay if they had found someone to adopt her – usually old dogs with medical problems are given to adopters to make it attractive to take them.  The shelter would have spent more money keeping her and euthanasing her than the health care costs, so their action was not in their best financial interest.

We can help…Emeritus Professor Jacquie Rand speaks at conferences attended by council animal management officers and animal welfare agencies and share information on science-based strategies to save pets lives. APWF meets one on one with council animal management officers, councillors, and animal welfare agencies, issues press releases and social media stories which all helps to create knowledge of how doing things differently can save many lives.