Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lost Souls

One of the biggest challenges our staff faces are calls about stray dogs.

In Massachusetts, each town is required to employ an animal control officer (in some cases this is known as the "dog officer"). This person is required to hold stray dogs for a minimum of 10 days in an attempt to find the dog's original caretaker. After 10 days, the officer may find a new home for the dog, deliver him to an adoption agency like DPVHS, or euthanize him.

Because each town in the Commonwealth acts independently when it comes to animal control, one town may have a responsive and professional officer (like Amherst's Carol Hepburn or Northampton's Nancy Graham) while neighboring towns may have officers who never even return phone calls.

So when you find a dog in a town with one of those absentee animal control officers, what do you do? We recommend that you next call your town's police department. Unfortunately, several callers have told our staff that they have been instructed by the police department to turn the dog loose. In fact, one town's department told the caller to take the dog to a neighboring town and turn him loose because that town has a working animal control officer!

DPVHS will accept adoptable stray dogs from town officers after the 10 day impoundment. Unfortunately, we are not able to take the dogs for that impoundment period, partly because a person who loses her dog in, say, Southampton, may never think to look in Greenfield for her dog. But also because it is the town's legal responsibility to provide the public safety function of caring for stray dogs (as an aside, few towns are legally obligated to help stray cats, meaning that the burden of caring for our community's thousands of stray cats falls on non-profit organizations like DPVHS).

What to do if you've found a dog? First, call your local animal control officer. Failing that, call your police department. Still no luck? Visit the good folks at The Missing Pet Partnership for great tips on finding the dog's original family.

Be sure to contact all area animal shelters to file a found dog report. An animal shelter or your veterinarian can also scan the dog for microchip identification.

If you want to hold the dog for 10 days while you try to find his family, you can call DPVHS for a pre-admission screening to be sure the dog will be successful in the kennel environment and suitable for adoption. If he is admitted to the DPVHS adoption program, we'll find him a new home.

If we believe the dog will not be successful in a noisy, active kennel, we'll give you some tips on placing the dog on your own.

In the end, petitioning your town to employ an effective animal control officer may be the best longterm solution. Learn more about legislation pending to update our state's outdated animal control laws.

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