Pound Pooch

diary of a shelter worker.



An Unofficial List in No Particular Order of Over Used Names Frequently Seen in Shelters


Big Boy
Kitty (Little Kitty, Big Kitty)



I have an inside dog. I grew up in an age where inside dogs were the norm. I grew up in a city, in a nice area, where people kept their dogs inside. People didn't have the perception that they had "space" for their dogs to run. They were concerned about their neighbors hearing their dogs bark, and they were concerned about their dogs getting hit by the city traffic.

I now live in a more rural area. Shelter strays often come to us due to lack of proper confinement. I have lost track of how many times I have heard people tell me "we don't have a fence, but [insert dog's name here] has never left before." Many dogs come in with electric fence collars on, as if this will stop them from chasing a particularly juicy squirrel, or as if the collar works with dead batteries. At least half of the strays and owner surrenders that I get history on are "outdoor dogs." They sleep in the backyard, they live in the backyard, they never get walked out of the backyard. When their owners get barking complaints, the dogs get surrendered to us. The owners do not want to hear that boredom, frustration, and just plain bad habits might be at the root of some of this backyard barking. Keeping a dog in the yard is "the way that it is done."

We get calls daily of roaming dogs that kill chickens, chase cats, attack leashed dogs, wander into schools, are in the middle of the road. When we go to send them home, we find out that their confinement is a 10 foot chain connected to a tree, or a shed, or a doghouse, if the dog is lucky. We encourage them to build a runner, so that the dog is safe from tangling himself up. While this is safe confinement, it still seems sad to me. A dog living its life on the end of a metal clothesline. Hopefully the owner puts up shelter for days like yesterday- thunder, lightening, hail.

Not every dog is going to sleep in the bed, like mine. Many people still believe dogs have to work to earn their keep. But I think the majority of folks are caught somewhere in between- they believe their animal should be a loyal family pet, that their children can grow up with (and never be bitten by). On the other hand, they don't want to or know how to put the work into training, socializing, sheltering, and managing this dog so that he is prepared to do his job: staying close by, and behaving appropriately as a loyal family pet.



RTO's (return to owner) should be a good thing. I should be pleased that an animal (usually a dog) was located in the shelter and reclaimed. Usually I am. But sometimes, I'm disturbed- something isn't quite right, or I feel like the dog would have been better off with us.

We have a spay/neuter ordinance in this county. All animals are required to be speutered unless they have applied for permission to have them intact. On first impound, we offer to waive some fees and get the animal fixed by our shelter vet at a substantial discount. Many people take us up on this offer. The deal is sweetened by the fact that on an animal's second visit, the impound fees go up, and the speuter is now required- owners have to pay for everything. I am always disappointed when people turn us down for the offer to speuter on first impound- we get many repeat offenders, often within a couple months of the first impound.

This week we got a little poodle impounded- an officer picked him up after he was seen at large for a few days, mating with other intact females. (The owners of the intact females were issued citations for not spaying their dogs.) The dog was in horrid shape- matts and mud all over is body. I am not sure if he has ever seen the inside of a house. I was instructed to tell the owners they could not reclaim the animal without a s/n ticket, or without neutering the dog with us first. I had this conversation first on the phone with the owners, and then they came in, complete with crying pre-teens. I had a hard time feeling sorry for this family- how could they miss their dog so terribly when they hadn't seen it for days, and when the only confinement they had for him was a two foot chain in the back yard? The family waffled about taking the dog with a ticket and paying for neuter, at one point telling me that he was a beautiful dog, and so he should have puppies. The only thing that convinced them to have the dog neutered was that they couldn't reclaim him till Tuesday either way, since there was no officer on hand to issue a s/n citation. He will go home on Tuesday with a grooming agreement and neutered, but I have a feeling we'll be seeing him again.


humane traps

We "rent" out traps to help people catch stray and feral cats that are in there area. People borrow these traps with a deposit and get their money back when they bring back the trap. The traps vary in size and shape, but are designed to humanely catch cats.

When we rent out these traps, we explain to peole that we do NOT want them to catch wildlife. We explain how to best avoid catching wildlife (trapping when it's light out, etc.), and we tell them that if they do catch skunks, possums, raccoons- they need to release these animals. Most people are very understanding about this.

Two days ago, I received two calls that were a little unclear on the concept. One elderly lady wanted to catch a ferret. She believed that the ferret had been living in her apartment since October, though she had only sighted it twice. I explained that I did not think that the trap would actually work for a ferret. She informed me that I just didn't want to help her, just like the exterminators. I suggested that perhaps the exterminators were a good way to go- that, or pest control. She became quite annoyed at me with me: she did NOT want the ferret exterminated. I explained to her that ferrets are illegal where we live, and that if she trapped the ferret and brought it to us, we would be legally bound to "exterminate" it, as well. At this point, the woman was convinced that I was out to get her, and told me that she needed to go wax her car, and she would just move out of her apartment.

Later that day, a man called and told me he wanted to trap some animals. Apparantly he has a cat he needs to catch (fine), and some pigeons (not so fine). I explained to him the usual- we don't trap wildlife. The pigeons, he told me, through a heavy accent, are in his house. It is dirty, like on the pier. I explained that I could not rent a trap out to him if he was going to trap pigeons. I told him that the trap probably wouldn't work for pigeons (or ferrets, but he wasn't interested) and that he needed to leave the birds alone. He told me he'd think about it.

These calls made kitten season seem a little more... sane.


day of the dead

The other day, nothing quite seemed to be going right. In the same way that Dia de los Muertos has a macabre, almost comical feeling, this day had just that kind of odd, through-a-distorted-mirrors, not quite funny, but too strange to be real aura.

A man brought in a kitten that couldn't move its legs. It had a horrible eye infection, and was essentially dying in the cardboard box he was sitting in. It was one of the most pitiful things I had ever seen. He was put to sleep as most humane.

A woman carried in a pigeon. We don't normally deal with wildlife, but this pigeon wasn't exactly alive. She said she had seen a hawk knock the smaller bird out of the sky. It was moving when she picked it up and rushed it in. He was dead when we received him, stiff, with his head still upright.

At the end of the day, a woman brought in a cat that had drowned in her pool, still sopping wet. She said she had heard a cat fight the night before and feared this might be an abandoned cat she had been feeding for a year. Her children won't get within 10 feet of the pool. I untied the bag and tried to figure out what kind of cat it was, for identification purposes. The cat was on its back, legs straight in the air. Dripping chlorinated water.

Each of these isolated deaths had their own small tragedy, like a small Mexican skeleton with a violin, and were, in their own small way, memorialized like a little sugar skull.


2 days, 5 dead

It was a rough two days for pit bulls in our shelter.

Friday morning, a white dog with brown spots was euthanized. He was an owner surrender in the field- the officer explained that they were going to press neglect charges. The owner surrendered him. The vet hospital where we picked him up said that he was animal aggressive. We didn't see much of that- he was generally good natured for the first 4 days in his kennel. He made odd squeaky, piggy noises when people walked by, and sought out attention. I gave him a stuffed kong, and he rearranged his blankets so that he was half in, half out of his kennel, and barked at the kong till it was dead to his satisfaction, then licked the yummy peanut butter out. He had wounds on his butt and went kennel crazy by the time his legal "due out" came. He was euthanized first thing in the morning, instead of late afternoon, because we were full to overflowing, and his kennel was needed.

Friday afternoon, we euthanized a wonderful girl that I worked to get rescue for. This girl was wonderful, and I know I say that a lot. This girl was cute as a button and had the personality to match. She loved toys, and people, and to curl on the bed up at the front desk and to just hang out with us. A devoted group of people worked to get her out in time, and my manager was willing to give her a few extra days to get her out. In the end, we couldn't spring her. I came in on my day off to hold this girl, and I have never seen a sadder, or sweeter ending. She passed in the arms of me and my roommate, after eating a giant bowl of wet food, and as many treats as she could stuff in her mouth. She licked the faces of everyone in the room, as her breath was leaving her.

Saturday was another rough day. A man came in and asked me if I could help him place his 7 year old pit bull. The dog, as he described it, was extremely animal aggressive- from flies, to cats, dogs, livestock, etc. I knew that we weren't going to be able to put the dog up for adoption, and told the man so. He signed a realize for euthanasia, and we walked straight into the back room. Conan had been found as a stray, at about a year old, and the man's friend gave Conan to him. He was a beautiful little black and white boy, with little cropped ears, and flea allergies all over his rear end and back legs. He was so happy to be scratched that we didn't have to restrain him. He just leaned into us, and slept inside, for the first time in 6 years.

I didn't see George pass. George was a sharpei/pit mix, a devil of a combination. He was also someone's pet. He came to us neutered, and with long toenails. We also couldn't touch him. We couldn't scan him for a microchip. We held on to him for an extra day so that we could befriend him enough to scan him. He didn't have a chip, but he wasn't stable enough to go up for adoption. We had taken to calling him George after a coworkers friends' sharpei with a tendency to bite people.

The last pit bull to die on Saturday was the most frustrating for me. We got a call about an aggressive pit bull that was foaming at the mouth and "trapping people in their cars." We get a lot of calls like that, with the nation-wide pit bull hysteria. These are usually tail wagging, tongue-lolling pit bulls, who want to be petted, but their big heads and the media hype scare people. This call was the real thing. The pit bull was very aggressive. The officer required police back up, and in the tumble to catch the dog, he lost a tooth. He came into the shelter very upset, and very bloody. Fortunately, the officer had found the dog's owner, and gotten a release for euthanasia. This dog did not go as peacefully. He had to be sedated first, clearly.

Please, consider what you are getting into when you buy or adopt a pet. These guys are yours for life. You are responsible for them. How they live, if they breed, if they hurt people, how they die. Please, spay and neuter your pets. Please, please, please, do not breed your dog. Please. Your "just one litter" and "perfect homes"? I think I watched them die. Five of them, in two days. This little memorial is all that's left of them.


Stormy Weather

One of the first weeks that I worked at this shelter, we had a random summer storm, complete with thunder and lightening, which are unusual in this area. Dogs were running lose everywhere, and our shelter was quickly overflowing with strays. We literally had strays in crates in the front office and in the recieving area. Most of these dogs were just frightened dogs who were hanging outside on their porches for the afternoon, and the large majority were returned to their owners within 24 hours.

For the last few weeks, we have been having normal winter weather. Lots and lots and lots of rain. Wind, and rain, and cold. It's not freezing here, but it's not warm, either. Last night was the worst of the weather- lots of fallen trees, and power outages. Which meant lots of fences blown over, and lots of outside dogs running the streets, and ending up in the shelter.

People were caling all day today, not sure exactly when their dog got out, because the dogs that got out because of fallen fences are always outside. They get fed once or twice a day, and their owners are not particularly aware of where they are, when. A woman came in not sure when her english bulldog got out, maybe last night, maybe today. It was 4pm when she came looking. Another family reclaimed their 14 year old dog, who never comes inside. The poor dog could barely walk, and had spent the last few hours cuddled in a bed in the shelter. At home, he sleeps outside, with a "shed" over his head. One dog was chased back to her house by an animal control officer- she jumped into her fence and then back out of her gate.

Not all pet owners are the same. I returned the dogs back to their owners. But it wasn't easy to let the old limpy dog back to his house, in the rain. I didn't harp on bringing the dogs back inside. But I'm not going to sleep easily tonight, either.