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September 18, 2013

Animal rescues criticize OC shelter’s ‘up to 30 days’ policy

Shelter director defends procedures and policy

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Local animal rescue groups and officials at the Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center in Auburn Hills are at odds over a hold policy.

OAKLAND COUNTY — Several animal rescues have recently come forward with concerns about Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center (OPAC). Their main concern is a policy limiting when rescues can pull certain dogs from the shelter, and at what price.

The rescues claim certain dogs are in danger of illness or behavioral change, since they’re being held at the shelter for an extended period of time — up to 30 days beyond the state-mandated stray hold period — as the shelter tries to adopt them out.

They also say the fee for rescues to pull the dogs early is prohibitively expensive.

The shelter argues that the fee is fiscally responsible and helps defray some of the enormous expense that comes with operating an open-admission shelter with an intake of more than 5,500 animals a year. They also claim that most dogs find homes before the 30 days pass, that they take measures to keep them healthy, and that there are hard-to-place dogs and cats available for rescues to pull for free at any time.

Policy breakdown
The shelter asks rescues to pay a fee of $136.50 — what the public pays — in order to pull select dogs in the first 30 days they’re available to the public. This applies to dogs the shelter says are “easy” to adopt out — typically smaller, popular breeds. As with all animals from the shelter, they come fully vetted, vaccinated and spayed/neutered.

If a dog is still there after 30 days, it can be pulled by rescues for free from now through the rest of September. In October, this offer will be reassessed. If discontinued, the dogs will cost $27.50 for rescues to pull after the 30-day period.

As for larger dogs and bully breeds, which are harder to place in homes, the shelter allows rescues to pull them anytime, at no cost this month. Cats and kittens, meanwhile, will always be free for rescues to pull, and can be pulled at any time.

The 30-day hold policy begins after the state-mandated stray hold period of seven business days for dogs with ID, and four business days for dogs without. Prior to this summer, there was no way for rescues to pull certain dogs during the first 30 days after the stray hold period in Oakland County.

The price factor
The option for rescues to pay $136.50 to pull the “easily adoptable” dogs early was added in recent months to reduce overflow at the shelter.

An open-admission shelter serving Oakland County alongside 10 other shelters, OPAC must accept every animal brought to them, no matter its condition.

The Oakland County Board of Commissioners is responsible for setting the prices. The revenue raised is less than $100,000 annually, which defrays little of the shelter’s $3 million in operating expenses. But every bit helps, according to Animal Control Division Manager Robert Gatt.

“If they (the rescues) want to adopt a dog in the 30-day period, they will still be charged the same as a citizen because we are good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollar, and we have to do what’s right for everyone concerned,” Gatt said. “We still lose money on every transaction, but the fee helps abate some of the cost.”

The $136.50 price tag only keeps rescues from pulling more animals, said Courtney Protz-Sanders, executive director at Paws for Life Animal Rescue in Troy and spokesperson for Oakland Pet Advocates, Michigan’s lone statewide political action committee backing candidates who support pro-animal legislation.

“The bottom line is quality shelters, ones operating using best practices, just want to move animals out of their shelters, so if a rescue comes along and wants an animal, they hand it over,” Protz-Sanders said. “At the most, they charge a licensing fee. The goal is not to make money; the goal is animal welfare, to help these pets.”

She said that no other shelter she knows of has such restrictions on timing or price.

Macomb County Animal Control has no 30-day hold period, and charges a $27 spay-or-neuter deposit, which is returned once the rescue has the animal fixed. If the animal is already fixed, there’s no fee. Livingston County Animal Control also does not have a 30-day hold period, and charges $55 for dogs and $40 for cats, fully vetted.

“The faster I can get the animals out of here, the more I can take in. If the rescues weren’t there, I’d be in big trouble for cage space,” said Debbie Oberle, director of Livingston County Animal Control. “I want to save as many as I can, so if another rescue can take an animal, fine, let them take it.”

Gatt said the shelter actively works to adopt out animals during the 30-day period, with social media outreach, direct contact with visitors at the facility and discounts for those who mention a volunteer’s name. He noted they have plenty of cats and large dogs the rescues can pull for free, but he suspects the rescues only want popular breeds that are easy to sell.

But Susan Edwards, president of the Animal Welfare Society of Southeastern Michigan, in Madison Heights, insisted this is not the case.

“They always say, ‘Rescues just want the cutesy dogs,’ but that’s not true,” Edwards said.

She said her group has tried to pull large dogs before, but the free ones were limited to pits, pit mixes and dogs who were aggressive or severely injured.

“They have rescues begging to pull animals, and they won’t comply. I don’t understand their policy.”

Animal welfare
Edwards and other rescues said the real reason they want to see the 30-day policy and $136.50 price for pulling animals dropped is so they can get animals out of the shelter before they become ill or undergo behavioral change due to confinement-related stress.

They point to the UC-Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, which on its website says that “length of stay (LOS) is increasingly recognized as a critical factor in shelter management, with implications for animal health, well-being, sheltering costs and ultimately a shelter’s capacity to save lives.”

The program cites multiple studies, such as a 2004 study in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, which indicate that LOS is “the most significant risk factor for illness in U.S. shelter dogs and cats.”

Jaime Wolfe, of NBS Animal Rescue in Madison Heights, said she tried to pull an animal being held for adoption Aug. 17, but couldn’t due to the price and 30-day hold policy. She alleged that the dog wound up being euthanized without warning by the shelter.

“I’m concerned about the lack of communication,” Wolfe said. “They say they want to build relations with rescues, but their actions don’t speak to it.”

Gatt said people should rest assured the animals are in good hands at the shelter.

“People should note it’s very rare that an animal is at the shelter for the full 30 days. Instead, they are adopted by families who provide permanent, loving homes,” Gatt said. “And every single day, every dog except those isolated for some reason — court order, sickness, etc. — every dog is taken outside and walked and exercised, every single day, seven days a week, rain or shine, hot or cold.”

As proof of his shelter’s good work, Gatt points to OPAC passing a surprise inspection conducted by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Aug. 14. Gatt also says his shelter has the best save rate among open-admission shelters in the state with an intake volume of more than 5,000. 

Deborah Schutt, board chair of the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, an all-volunteer nonprofit dedicated to saving healthy and treatable homeless dogs and cats, said the save rate claim doesn’t match up to her group’s findings. Each year, she takes the data that shelters report to MDARD and calculates save rates by looking at the shelter’s intake that year and determining the percentage of animals adopted out or returned to their owners.

Schutt said that among the few open-admission shelters of comparable intake in 2012, the best save rate goes to the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which serves all of Washtenaw County and its partner city of Canton. OPAC would be No. 2. Schutt also noted that OPAC is No. 24 out of the state’s 58 open-admission shelters when intake volume is not a consideration. She asserted this is a fair assessment, due to economy of scale, but Gatt disagreed, claiming it’s an apples-and-oranges situation to compare OPAC with a shelter out in the country caring for the pets of a few locals. 

In sharing concerns about dogs being held at the shelter, some of the rescues also allege they have witnessed poor conditions there before. Edwards obtained photos she alleged were taken Aug. 26 and Aug. 31, after the state inspection, apparently showing animals lying in their own feces, sick and without water, in what were allegedly sweltering temperatures.

When The Madison-Park News visited OPAC unannounced Sept. 6, all of the animals had water, the cages were clean and the fans were keeping the room cool, albeit it was a cooler day in the first place. Gatt claimed that in addition to the fans being used and the portable AC units that were donated after rescues raised concerns about temperatures at the shelter, his staff works to keep the water fresh and cool, and they even take the dogs across the street to cool off in a pool.

Gatt claimed the pictures and allegations are out of context.

“I praise my staff, every one of them, for doing such a great job under such circumstances,” Gatt said. “When it’s hot for the animals, it’s hot for the staff. When we have 400 cages, it’s hard to keep the animals watered and fed, and keep their cages clean, but they do it on a daily basis, and they do it way above the norm.

“Everyone here — from me at the top to our newest employee — is an animal lover,” Gatt said. “There’s no one who has more compassion for animals than the people who work here.”

Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center is located at 1700 Brown Road in Auburn Hills and can be reached at (248) 391-4100.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.

Shelter manager quote in the article:

“People should note it’s very rare that an animal is at the shelter for the full 30 days. Instead, they are adopted by families who provide permanent, loving homes,” Gatt said.

Meanwhile at the shelter 80+ animals who have been there in excess of 60-90 days were posted on their Facebook page, September 12th.

Either the shelter manager is “stretching the truth” or he doesn’t know what is going on in his own backyard. Both are very scary.

Column States “Everyone here — from me at the top to our newest employee — is an animal lover,” Gatt said. “There’s no one who has more compassion for animals than the people who work here.” If this true then I pity any animal that they own.

The trustees not the front staff tend to animals feeding, cleaning and water. However they can only do what they are allowed to do. When a request from one of the trustees goes unanswered 5x as a dog lay dying of bloat in his cage, that is not an animal lover, or compassionate-that is medical neglect/abuse.

You can call and or go in and get different answers to the exact same question regarding Vetting, availability on any specific animal. So sad these animals suffer because people do not want to change, breaks my heart.

I guess I am a bit confused on the meaning of what a rescue is. I always thought rescues were there for the hard to place dogs. The dogs and cats that might be put to sleep by a shelter if it were not for a rescue to pull it. Why do they care if there is a 30 day hold on adoptable animals when there are hard to place animals probably currently sitting at the shelter? One has to wonder what the agenda is of some of these rescues is if they put aside a hard to place or bully breed dog in favor of one that is more adoptable. Having said that, regarding the fee's, I don't understand what the big deal with a shelter charging a fee, do you rescues not charge a fee to adopt? Do you not normally charge a higher price then the shelter to adopt out? They are asking that you pay a $7.50 licensing fee, and you find fault in that??? I've been following the goings on with Oakland Pet Adoption Center and this group. I see nothing more than a group that has an agenda to tear down a shelter that is making improvements monthly. Where I do find fault is a group that does nothing more than slings mud. When it comes down to it, you really don't do what a rescue should be doing, which is saving dogs...because if this were the case you wouldn't be having a fit over "adoptable dogs" but would instead be pulling the dogs that have been there over the 30 days or are bully breeds or are hard to place dogs.

Happy to help you understand how rescues and shelters function, Jill. Hats off to you for admitting to what you don't know.

Rescues are not there just for "the hard to place dogs." The only difference between a rescue and a shelter is that a shelter has a physical location with hours of operation in which they're open to the public. A rescue does not. Both shelters and rescues share the same goal: to place homeless pets with adoptive families. Rescues often obtain animals from local animal shelters. Most rescue organizations work to prevent abuse and to treat its results. Homelessness, especially through reckless breeding, is a major cause of animal neglect, so rescue organizations work actively to advocate spay and neuter, often through community education programs and 'spay days'."

So, although rescues exist to save homeless animals, they can only pull in the ones they have the matching households for. So a rescue may have an opening for a puppy or for only a dog under 30 lbs. Since shelters and rescues are duty-bound to operate in the animals' best interest, it goes without saying that a good shelter would move that animal to that rescue as soon as possible to prevent illness and to increase its quality of life. If the choice is to be in a home awaiting an adopter or in a cage 24/7 awaiting an adopter, the choice is pretty clear. To deny that animal that opportunity under the guise of fiscal responsibility is simply blowing smoke and a pile of BS, since we already know that length of stay costs far outweigh the adoption fee income, especially when you then consider the shelter manager's own statement that "We still lose money on every transaction, but the fee helps abate some of the cost." SOLUTION: Bring your costs down by letting animals leave the shelter whenever they have a safe place to go.

Our rescue has pulled 15 pit bulls from this shelter, at least two of them had been there for almost one year. The reason they were there so long isn't because they're hard to place, as the shelter would like people to believe, but because they were never put up for adoption at all. Put them up for adoption and you'll eliminate costs. The fact that they won't for no reason shows that fiscal responsibility has nothing to do with any of this.

The reason why rescues and the general public care about the 30-day hold policy is because length of stay dramatically affects the risk of disease spread. In other words, the longer an animal is there, the more likely they are to get sick. And, since this particular shelter euthanizes animals that get sick, even the common cold is a reason to die within those shelter walls, it's in the animals' best interest to move out of the shelter as quickly as possible.

I don't think anyone is complaining about the $7.50 license fee, but that isn't the same thing as "free." Honesty and transparency are important when you're charged with the life and death of animals and the fiscal responsibility to taxpayers.

Lastly, we are so glad to hear you've been following the plight of the animals at Oakland County's animal shelter. That's great news! What you should know is that Oakland Pet Advocates (OPA) isn't a rescue and never claimed to be. It is a PAC, which organizes voters into voting blocs to elect and re-elect officials who vote in favor of animal protection legislation and shelter reform. Thank you for the opportunity to clear up your confusion. We are always in favor of education and you don't know what you should know until you ask. So, again, hats off to you!

Thanks for dumbing it down for us simpletons. Just to cover my tracks I also googled dog rescues, to see what the Google Gods would say. They define Dog Rescues as follows-

An animal rescue group or animal rescue organization is dedicated to pet adoption. These groups take unwanted, abandoned, abused, or stray pets and attempt to find suitable homes for them

So, to say the least, I wasn't that far off with my definition.

Also, if health as you made reference to was an issue, wouldn't it make sense to take an animal that had been there the longest than one that was only recently dropped off there?

DECEPTION- And to quote you...
The reason why rescues and the general public care about the 30-day hold policy is because length of stay dramatically affects the risk of disease spread. In other words, the longer an animal is there, the more likely they are to get sick. And, since this particular shelter euthanizes animals that get sick, even the common cold is a reason to die within those shelter walls, it's in the animals' best interest to move out of the shelter as quickly as possible.

So if what you are saying is true, again wouldn't it make sense to take animals that have been there the longest?

Lastly, I read....books, newspapers and what not. So please, do not act like you are educating me on this matter when in fact you are not. The so called "facts" that you are posting are anything but.

jillwebber, You are a self proclaimed reader of books, newpapers and "what not" getting your facts from the internet (a.k.a. the Google Gods) questioning the facts of someone with a much greater knowledge of the animal welfare industry. Do you really want to look like the one with the agenda?

We don't mind educating you Jill. It's part of what we do. You said you were confused and asked a couple of questions, so we tried to clear it up for you. We're just sorry you still don't get it, but it sounds more like a refusal to get it than anything else. We'll try again and use smaller words this time. Rescues don't have kennels, so they can't just take any animal in need, such as your suggestion to pull only those who have been in shelter the longest. Rescues have to match available foster care space with available homeless pets. There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. It's what best-practices shelters do for their foster care homes and adopters too. It's called matching. For example, if a rescue only has one open space for a dog, but there are cats in the home and the only dogs available at the shelter cannot go to a home with cats, than that rescue can't pull any of those dogs. But the dog who has been there 22 days would be a great fit. And that dog is forced to stay and wait another 8 days before the rescue can pull it and by then that space may be no longer available and/or that dog may contract an illness. Hope that clears up your continued confusion. You may want to consider donating some time to animal welfare or working in a best-practices shelter, you'll learn a lot. But if that isn't possible and you still don't get it, keep trying to read and don't give up. You'll get it one day.

Rescues are foster based, meaning the animals are housed in people's homes and treated like members of their families. Not only are rescues limited by the number of foster homes they have but need to place animals responsibly in these homes. Foster families have restrictions; size limits, what they can deal with medically/behaviorally, breeds restrictions to name a few. Sadly, many of the animals in the shelter a long time, just don't fit into available foster homes. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians has documented in their guidelines for the Standards of Care in Animal Shelters that length of stay is clearly defined as a risk factor for animals in shelters. It is documented that the chances of an animal developing a medical or behavorial problem increases 3% every day the animal is there. Housing or lareger populations increases these risks. So actually, getting the "easily adoptable" animals out is a benefit to ALL animals in the shelter.

A good shelter, using best practices, marketing their animals, with good customer services and a robust adoption process can and should be adopting out animals without relying on rescues to do it for them.

I would be interested in seeing any reputable research or documentation that would contradict what has been posted that you disagree with. So far, I have only read your opinion.

“I praise my staff, every one of them, for doing such a great job under such circumstances,” Gatt said. “When it’s hot for the animals, it’s hot for the staff. When we have 400 cages, it’s hard to keep the animals watered and fed, and keep their cages clean, but they do it on a daily basis, and they do it way above the norm.

“Everyone here — from me at the top to our newest employee — is an animal lover,” Gatt said. “There’s no one who has more compassion for animals than the people who work here.”

REALLY MR. GATT, THEN YOU HAVE NOT OBVIOUSLY MET SGT JERRY MCNAIR. HE HAS HAD NUMEROUS COMPLAINTS BROUGHT TO THE SHELTERS ATTENTION AND YET HE STILL HAS A JOB AND IS EARNING HIS SALARY FROM THE TAXPAYERS. THIS IS DISPICABLE! ALSO, WHAT DOES THE MAYOR OF NOVI KNOW ABOUT RUNNING AN ANIMAL SHELTER? THERE WERE OTHERS INSIDE AND OUT, THAT WERE BETTER QUALIFIED FOR YOUR POSITION. THIS IS A WELL KNOWN FACT SIR. ARE YOU AT THE SHELTER 40 HOURS A WEEK OR PART TIME? SOMEONE OBVIOUSLY OWED YOU A FAVOR AS THEY DID WITH THE PAST DIRECTOR. SAD FOR THE ANIMALS, THEY DESERVE MUCH, MUCH BETTER.

“I praise my staff, every one of them, for doing such a great job under such circumstances,” Gatt said. “When it’s hot for the animals, it’s hot for the staff. When we have 400 cages, it’s hard to keep the animals watered and fed, and keep their cages clean, but they do it on a daily basis, and they do it way above the norm.

“Everyone here — from me at the top to our newest employee — is an animal lover,” Gatt said. “There’s no one who has more compassion for animals than the people who work here.”

REALLY THIS IS HOGWASH. WHAT DOES THE MAYOR OF NOVI KNOW ABOUT RUNNING AN ANIMAL SHELTER? THERE WERE SO MANY OTHERS INSIDE AND OUT THAT WERE MORE QUALIFIED FOR THIS POSITION. IT CAME DOWN TO SOMEONE OWNING SOMEONE.

Mr. Gatt states that all employee's even the newest love animals. What about Sgt. Jerry McNair. He has no business what so ever working with the animals, or any people. He has had numerous complaints against him, however, he still works at the shelter, and his salary is paid for by the tax payers. This is despicable.

"As for larger dogs and bully breeds, which are harder to place in homes, the shelter allows rescues to pull them anytime, at no cost this month."
DECEPTIVE: It should be noted that the shelter doesn't put these dogs up for adoption at all, ever. The only way for these dogs to leave the shelter alive is through rescue.

"If a dog is still there after 30 days, it can be pulled by rescues for free from now through the rest of September."
WRONG: they are not free. The shelter requires rescues to pay a licensing fee, even when the dogs are not staying in Oakland County.

"The option for rescues to pay $136.50 to pull the “easily adoptable” dogs early was added in recent months to reduce overflow at the shelter."
DECEPTIVE: "Easily adoptable?" Adoptions are never easy, regardless of the species, size or age. Easy isn't a word in rescue vocabulary. And since this is Oakland County's policy and they're forcing all of these "easily adoptable" animals to stay there for 30 days, then why is the shelter busting at the seems? Why are they continuously saying that they're full and need adopters? They have all of these "easily adoptable" dogs filling their kennels.

"An open-admission shelter serving Oakland County alongside 10 other shelters, OPAC must accept every animal brought to them, no matter its condition."
WRONG: There is no "must." It's up to the shelter to decide which animals it takes in and which ones it doesn't. That's true for all shelters. There is no state or federal mandate that they must take in everything.

"'People should note it’s very rare that an animal is at the shelter for the full 30 days. Instead, they are adopted by families who provide permanent, loving homes,' Gatt said."
DECEPTIVE: Meanwhile at the shelter, according to their own Facebook page, 80+ animals have been there in excess of 60-90 days.

"She asserted this is a fair assessment, due to economy of scale, but Gatt disagreed, claiming it’s an apples-and-oranges situation to compare OPAC with a shelter out in the country caring for the pets of a few locals."
WRONG: this is an apples to apples comparison. The rural shelter has one full-time employee who is responsible for animal control of the entire county, as well as managing the entire shelter and its animals. OPAC doesn't serve the entire county and has more than 20 times the number of employees. That's what "scale" means.

“I praise my staff, every one of them, for doing such a great job under such circumstances,” Gatt said. “When it’s hot for the animals, it’s hot for the staff. When we have 400 cages, it’s hard to keep the animals watered and fed, and keep their cages clean, but they do it on a daily basis, and they do it way above the norm.
DECEPTIVE: How would "the norm" have been established? Through decades of work at various animal shelters? Through touring and visiting other shelters? From attending animal welfare conferences? From meeting with and speaking with animal welfare experts? The answer is no to all of the above, so ...

“'Everyone here — from me at the top to our newest employee — is an animal lover,' Gatt said. 'There’s no one who has more compassion for animals than the people who work here.'”
THE TRUTH: and there it is - the number one poison amongst animal welfare employees, volunteers, rescues and shelters: "I care more than you care." Everyone who has been involved in animal welfare, who is trained or educated in animal welfare, knows that "I care more than you care" is what kills progress, kills collaboration and partnership and destroys organizations. The only ones who suffer as a result: the animals.

Gatt needs to take off his rose colored glasses, or whatever he is seeing through, open his eyes and really make an effort to learn what goes on at the shelter. His replies are very misleading and not factual. Rules appear to be structured and re-structured on a whim. The 30 day rule was not in effect until Gatt arrived on the scene with his "fiscal goal". Never been an issue before!!! Trying to make a name with the Oakland County Execs at the expense of shelter animal's health do you think? Every dog in the shelter gets walked every day....REALLY? How can that possibly happen when staff and trustees are not allowed to walk dogs? This leaves only the volunteers, sometimes only a couple very dedicated showing up every day, rain or shine. This is just one example of the misinformation provided in this article!!! Reading this is painful!!!