In 2021, over 3,700 animals were dropped off at the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter by community members. These individuals found presumed-lost dogs and cats from all over Williamson County and brought them to our shelter with the best of intentions.
This action has been taught for years by animal welfare organizations as the best way to help lost animals to be safe. But does this particular tactic to reunite a lost animal with their family always make sense? Or, should we treat these presumably lost dogs and cats as individuals – just as we treat our adoptable dogs and cats as individuals. At the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, we now have four options for these animals and the individuals who are trying to do the best thing for them.
First, when spotting an uncontained animal, the shelter recommends stopping to assess the situation. First determine if the area is relatively safe. There is a big difference between a quiet neighborhood road and a bustling intersection. Then, see how the animal is acting. Is she hurt or healthy? Confident or spooked? A dog acting unsure of her surroundings near a busy intersection needs assistance to remove her from a potentially dangerous situation. (This is a perfect time to remind everyone to never chase a nervous dog. They can become panicked and create an even greater danger to themselves and others.) A confident cat strolling on a quiet neighborhood street most likely knows where she is going and does not need to be removed from the area – unless it is to visit a community cat spay/neuter clinic and then return to her neighborhood!
If a caring individual has helped an animal out of an unsafe situation, the next step is to determine what role that individual can play to quickly reunite the animal with her family. The Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter has several ways for the residents in their area to assist that found animal. One may choose to volunteer as a Reuniter to help the animal return home right away. The second choice is the Finder to Foster program, allowing the person who found the animal in need to foster that animal through the shelter’s foster program. The last option is to bring the animal to the shelter to stay.
Second, there are many volunteers working together with social media groups, neighborhood groups and with the shelter to help animals find their families as quickly as possible. Reuniters keep an animal for a short period of time and use techniques such as posting on social media lost/found groups, posting on websites such as PetcoLoveLost.com, having the animal scanned for a chip at a veterinary clinic or shelter, and walking the neighborhood to talk to neighbors who may be familiar with the lost animal in order to reunite her with her family. The goal of a Reuniter volunteer is to find the lost animal’s home without taking the animal to the shelter to stay. Reuniters are incredibly successful, and while it is difficult to document all the good work they do every day, scrolling through a lost/found forum and seeing the numerous animals who made it home safely is heartwarming.
Third, the Finder to Foster program links the invested individual and the shelter in a cooperative effort to help the lost animal get back home. In this program, the finder of the lost animal visits the shelter to become enrolled. The person becomes a foster through the shelter and the animal is entered into the shelter’s database. Then, the animal leaves with the newly enrolled foster to continue the search for her family in the comfort of a home and not a shelter kennel. This option has more rules for the finder to follow, but also opens up more resources to finding the animal’s home. Because national and internal studies have shown lost animals are found within miles of their home, the shelter is hopeful this new option will increase reunions and decrease the number of animals at the shelter.
The final option is removing the animal from the unsafe situation and bringing them to the shelter to stay and wait for their family to hopefully find them. This option is important for those who cannot reunite or foster because their home is not suitable for a lost animal. It is the ultimate safety net. However, it is the option that removes the animal from the neighborhood or area they live in, possibly creating more difficulty for a reunion.
Our community is filled with individuals who do so much for the animals in Williamson County. By opening up the opportunity for the swiftest reunions possible, animals are better cared for, worried families are relieved of that anxiety and stress sooner, and the shelter is less crowded and better able to serve the animals in most desperate need.
Misty Valenta is the animal services director of the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.