WEST HAVEN — Avenues are available for those looking to find a new home for their pets, but animal welfare experts say the thrust these days is on finding resources to help owners keep an animal home.
This could be for a cat that avoids using a litter box, the inability to buy food because of a job or other financial loss, or even the kind of behaviors that can be fixed with training, among other reasons.
Gordon G. Willard, executive director of Connecticut Humane Society, said people often give superficial reasons for why they want to give up a pet, but the truth usually is much deeper and the humans are in emotional pain.
What folks should never do, those in the rescue field say, is just let an animal loose in hopes it will be found and cared for, leave it or tie it outside an animal shelter, release it into an unpopulated area or tie it to any object.
Those acts are considered animal cruelty and are against the law.
“There are 100 reasons for abandonment and none of them are good,” said Karen Lombardi, director of District Animal Control in Woodbridge.
“It’s the equivalent of taking a 2-year-old child out and driving away,” Lombardi said.
In a recent case in West Haven, a dog was found tied by a necktie to a pole at an apartment complex on Campbell Avenue during hot, humid weather.
In a press release, animal control officials implied it was an attempted “rehoming” case in which someone was trying to get rid of the animal.
But to properly rehome an animal takes planning through a private animal rescue group, an organization such as the Humane Society or Petfinder.com and some municipal animal shelters, depending on their policy.
Experts say it’s even a good idea to call veterinarians to inquire whether they know of anyone looking for a pet.
Willard said most who try to give up a pet have a major underlying problem such as loss of a job, loss of a house, family upheaval because of divorce, a sick family member or issue with aging or an elderly family member.
Area animal control officers say they always hear excuses such as: “I have to move in three days,” “I don’t like the color change in the fur,” “I didn’t know I had to walk it in the snow,” “I bought a dog at the store and my landlord won’t let me keep it.”
Willard said there’s more to it than what’s told at intake sessions.
“This is a very, very complicated area. We’re dealing with human behavior,” he said.
The big picture also is in a different place than it was 30 years ago, Willard said.
“We have all in the shelter industry tried to understand, ‘Why do people give up their animals?”
He said the wondering is predicated on the fact that animals now are considered part of the family in 88-92 percent of the cases. Willard said that percent was much lower in the 1960s.
“We can’t assume people give up their animals because they don’t love them,” he said.
He said the thrust now is figuring out what really is going on and how the human can be helped, with the goal of keeping the pet out of a shelter.
Surveys show that before moving to give up a pet , they think about it for six months, he said.
He said the reasons usually are personal, deep and painful, and animal control and rescue workers should be compassionate, rather than judgmental.
“We don’t know the reasons behind it,” he said, noting the person may be embarrassed.
“Who wants to go to a stranger and say they failed? You can’t paint everyone with a broad brush,” he said.
Resources and referrals for training, medical care and other problems pet owners may face are available through the Connecticut Humane Society, animal control offices, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and veterinary offices. Pet food banks also have become common.
Most municipal shelters are not able to take pets whose owners don’t want them anymore – although some do – as their main function is protection of animals and the facilities have limited kennels.
Kristin Rickman of PETA said abandoning animals is a “huge issue.” She said PETA is in favor of open admission shelters because people wait until the last minute to take their pets out of their homes and it puts them in bind.
Rickman said people who show up at the shelter with an animal can be at the end of their rope and maybe it is because of other stressors in life, and can become violent, angry, sometimes hurting the animal.
One of the most common ways of dumping an animal is for people to drive to a rural area and that is “arguably worse” than leaving an animal where there are people, she said.
That cat that shows up on your doorstep came from somewhere, Rickman said.
PETA’s thrust is on resources, as well, and a PETA volunteer will troubleshoot with pet owners and provide contacts. The number is 757-622-PETA.
For instance, they may talk about why a cat isn’t using the litter box. Could it possibly be too close to the washing machine? They can also give referrals or pet friendly housing.
“Every situation is different,” she said. “Folks need to know there are resources,” noting Connecticut Humane Society is a good one.
Willard said statistics show Connecticut shelters are doing a great job overall.
He said 43 percent to 48 percent of the dogs in shelters are returned to their owners and that owner return rate is 10 percent above the national average.
Last year in Connecticut there were 13,000 roaming animals picked up by animal control and 20 years ago it was about 27 percent returned, showing the system is improving, Willard said. Of last year’s total, 971 were euthanized.
“It reflects a positive picture, which should not be negated by a person tying a dog to a fence,” he said.
Denice Ford, one of West Haven’s four animal control officers, said she doesn’t like the most common “I’m moving in two days and can’t take my dog” calls.
“You don’t just find out that you’re moving,” she said, noting people usually have at least 30 days’ notice.
“People need to take some personal responsibility,” Ford said.
Ford said while they don’t have enough kennels to take dogs for rehoming – there are only 20 kennels in the facility and West Haven has 60,000 residents – they are happy to provide resources to pet owners.
“But ultimately it’s up to them to provide rehoming,” she said.
Lombardi, of District Animal Control in Woodbridge, said they decide on a case-by-case basis whether to take unwanted animals.
“The important thing is to plan it,” she said, noting you wouldn’t drop your child off anywhere without planning.
For instance, they have a local man moving to Florida in September and he needs to rehome two cats. Since she knows ahead of time, she can bring them in for adoption at a good time.
“The reason we take owner surrenders is to prevent that animal from being left out to fend for itself,” Lombardi said.
Laura Burban, director of the animal shelter and animal control at the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in Branford, said they will take an animal if there’s space, but those bringing the animal go through an intake and may have to pay a fee.
“It’s about getting the animal to safety — we’re limited in kennel space” she said, noting people should remember that many animals are an 18-year responsibility.
She said they’ve had all kinds of animals left outside the shelter when it is closed – which is not the way to do it – including sugar gliders, canaries and parakeets.
“It’s not like dropping a piece of furniture off at Goodwill,” she said of abandoning animals.