Part 2: We explore the Cedar City and Iron County pet adoption systems and how unclaimed, un-adopted cats and dogs are funneled into the fuzzy world of pet networks connected to small rescues, mom-and-pop foster homes, and the multi-million dollar (non-profits) that function mostly without question.
By Dawn Aerts
For Iron County Today
At the Iron County and Cedar City shelters, dozens of dogs arrive each month hoping to be claimed or adopted and the public can still drop by to visit, or provide a good home to a needy pet. In Iron County, you best look to the Internet, and online photos, then call ahead to reach a volunteer or someone who can assist with a ‘visit.’
But one might ask, where do the ‘un-adopted’ or transferred animals go?
According to one Utah Rescue director, “Dogs can go through a system like Best Friends without ever going to any Best Friends facility, or go to the Salt Lake City Adoption Center, or to Los Angeles or to other sites if there are exchanges.” In short, adoption sites often network (with contract arrangements) for animals ‘caught in the system.’
It’s a puzzle at best.
Davis County Animal Shelter officer Tracy Roddom says that local shelters can (and do) turn to ‘out-of-state’ rescues as the need arises. “Typically, those out-state rescues are breed-specific and we would only be sending one animal at a time to those rescues,” said Roddom of her experience.
Likewise, a Best Friends ‘Pet Adoption’ director in Mission Hills, Calif., explains that their agency also sends un-adopted house cats and kittens to other California locations.
In short, dogs and cats transferred to secondary locations are rarely traced any further.
In fact, pet adoption sites often operate in a national network of ‘advertised’ rescue or adoption centers with marketing teams and donation campaigns that feature weekend pet adoptions at selected venues. In Utah, one of the best known multi-million dollar organizations are Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (Society) in Kanab.
Previously known as a church-based, non-profit founded in the 1970’s (Process Church; Church of the Foundation; Foundation Church of the Millennium, Foundation Faith of God) members later formed Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (Society) in 1991. According to their reports, the site may host up to 1,700 animals (domestic and farm animals) on any given day — citing 32,000 visitors and 3,600 tours offered in 2016.
Unlike most non-profit (animal-welfare) organizations, Best Friends reported $ 44 million in assets (2009) and $ 51 million in contributions (2014); with 1,100 animals adopted out in 2016. As a high-volume national network, their home page lists a coalition of 58 adoption/rescue site partners – with sister operations in Los Angeles and Mission Hills, Calif.; New York City, and Atlanta, Ga.
According to Barbara Williamson, (Media Manager, Best Friends) animals are admitted from more than 1,800 partnering rescue groups-shelters across the country. The organization reports that they received two dogs from the Iron County Animal Control Shelter (as a Network Partner) and two dogs from Cedar City municipal shelter in 2016. Overall, Best Friends (Kanab) received a total of 1,311 animals and adopted-out a total of 1,108 from throughout the country. *see Charitynavigator.org
But if you want to discern where un-adopted dogs or cats go, it won’t be an easy matter.
While municipal shelters keep a register of some transfer points, transit numbers are not readily available without a public request for government records (GRAMA) submitted to the city or county. And while Utah-based animal welfare laws require that animals be ‘preserved’ for claim for at least five days, there are few safeguards or accountability beyond that.
That said, animal advocates (in general) suggest it’s best to adopt pets at a local animal shelter where you can view, visit, or adopt a pet on site with modest adoption fees for shots and health care. If you opt to adopt a pet through an online site or at a public venue, adopters can expect to face a few more hurdles with more costly fees attached.
For many, the once routine application process (used to safeguard a dog or cat) has since morphed into a complex adoption package sometimes too cumbersome or expensive to complete.
“There is a process to ensure it’s a good fit for the adopter and the animal,” says Barbara Williamson, Best Friends Media Manager. “On our website you would scroll down to ‘How to Adopt a Dog’ and fill out the survey. Then a counselor would contact the person adopting and (if this is a Sanctuary adoption) that person would make an appointment (to visit). (Then) with the adoption counselor, they can come to the Sanctuary to meet a few dogs and see if it is a love match.”
A dog or cat adoption at Best Friends would require a potential adopter to travel to the Kanab site; (pay additional lodging expense), mileage costs, or airfare expense in order to complete an adoption match. Out-of-state Internet-based adoptions can likewise mean obtaining a dog or cat from unknown locations using uncertain transfer or transport systems.
So what agencies actually oversee animal adoption, transfer or placements?
Outside of reports released by the U.S. Commerce Department, who oversee 501c3 Non-Profits; and the U.S. Health Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which oversees animal care requirements at animal research facilities; there are no safeguards for animals entangled ‘in the system.’
According to David Sacks, an official with the USDA (small animal inspection) there is little tracking of animals inside Utah or for those dogs and cats sent out-of-state. Animals transferred from Utah into States like California are generally registered through the State Veterinarian of the receiving state. “We know that every year animal research facilities must acquire a wide-cross section of dogs (and other species) so there appears to be some unknowns in that system.”
So the public is left with big questions about the pet adoption puzzle.
Where do all of the un-adopted or unclaimed animals go when they are sent to out-of-state locations? Are the estimated 7,500 animal research labs part of that puzzle? And should there be more accounting for animals caught in the system?
Here are a few suggestions when adopting a dog or cat:
- Visit your local animal shelter where you can physically view and handle the adoptable animal. Ask questions about the adoption process, and don’t settle for an online photo or application connected to an unknown location – with no address.
- At rescues, ask questions about the transfer of animals — “Where will this dog or cat go if not adopted out?” If they can’t answer questions about placements, there is reason to be concerned. Animals not adopted will likely be transferred somewhere – and you should know where.
- Complete an application in person at the site that cares for the animal. If the application seems too complex, extensive, or difficult, it’s probably worth questioning the guidelines. *Ask for references from other families who have successfully adopted an animal at the location. All organizations should be open to references too.
- Not all non-profits are equal. It is always good to see how animals are being cared for on site. Check the history of a rescue or shelter if possible. Does it list a physical address or just a post office box or email? Do they return your calls promptly? Do they offer more contact than a photograph? See Charitynavigator.org which provides an evaluation, status of revenue, assets, funding and donation programs.