Animals At Large

Leash = Safe = Happy!

How do pets with homes end up at Stafford Animal Shelter? Any loose pet is at risk of being in an accident – or causing one – and being a nuisance in the community. For this reason dogs are not allowed off leash except in designated dog park areas in the City of Livingston and fines may be levied for failure to restrain.

However, contrary to common belief, animal control officers do not pick up any loose dog or cat they come across. They don’t have the resources to “catch” or “arrest” the many pets at large and their role is limited to responding to citizens’ complaints or removing pets from harm’s way. Their function is to protect public health and safety, minimize human/animal conflicts, promote responsible pet ownership and humane animal treatment, and respond to animals in danger.

While reclaiming pets brought to the Shelter may be inconvenient, surely it’s preferable to them being injured or killed while at large. Every time a pet is unrestrained the life and death roulette begins: is this the time they are in – or cause – an accident? For instance, statistically ‘outdoor’ cats live half as long as cats kept indoors (and they are at risk not just from accidents, but from diseases and other animals.) Local animal control officers pick up an average of three dead pets a week from Livingston streets and there are even more in Park County. While it’s tragic when an animal is hurt, many don’t consider the greater tragedy of people killed avoiding hitting roaming pets.

Another factor that few acknowledge is that, while our pets may behave well at home, we neither know nor see what they do when they roam – whether getting into garbage cans, defecating on public walkways and private property, conflict with other pets or wildlife, creating traffic hazards, or threatening a person – pets’ behavior away from home is often quite different, and problematic, compared to their behavior at home. Unfortunately, people are often embarrassed that their animals are at large or a nuisance and automatically deflect the blame onto someone else. 

A majority of pets are brought into the Shelter not by animal control officers but citizens – sanctioned by law to do so – concerned about an at-large animal’s safety or as a last resort with nuisance or abandoned animals. If the animal has a collar, current identification chip or tags then the owners can be immediately notified. If not, the Shelter has to rely on owners contacting the Shelter and identify their pet. Tragically, few look for their missing cats; 10% of the cats brought in as strays were reclaimed last year compared to 80% of the stray dogs being reclaimed.

Another misconception about reclaiming a pet is that Stafford Animal Shelter sets the fees. Reclaim fees are set by the City and County and the Shelter only receives a percentage of these fees. The sooner a pet is reclaimed, the less the boarding fee will be. If an animal is brought in from the City of Livingston, it is $15 to pick up a pet plus $10 per day and the Park County fees are $16.50 per day plus boarding fees.

By law, an animal becomes the property of the Shelter within five days so they can be adopted rather than housed indefinitely. If a stray isn’t reclaimed early on, it can be readopted but the Shelter has to comply with minimum legal requirements including the owner getting the pet’s rabies shot from a veterinarian, landlord permission if renting, and any regional laws capping the number of pets per household. The only reason a pet would be euthanized is if they are a definite danger to the community or suffering from an untreatable illness. Stafford Animal Shelter does not euthanize for length of stay; breed; disability; age; expensive medical needs; dog, cat or livestock aggression; or even overcrowded conditions.

Did you know that the dog and cat licensing fees in the City of Livingston are crucial in funding an Animal Control Officer position as well as supporting the volunteer-based low-income spay/neuter and immunization clinics and vouchers in Livingston? The primary reason for licensing is the ability to notify owners as soon as possible of lost pets and secondarily as documented proof of current rabies shots (if the animal is in a confrontation it avoids expensive isolation as well as an untreatable disease.) Additionally, having a cap on the number of pets per household and higher fees for unspayed or neutered pets (equivalent to a business license since the person is in the business of breeding pets) gives the City the ability to respond to nuisance and abandoned animal complaints and hoarding situations.

Unfortunately, there are no such pet laws in the County which leads to a number of unresolved – and increasing – problems. Allowed to have unlimited pets, hoarders frequently move to the County and create expensive, inhumane public health and safety problems. Without basic pet laws, incidents of nuisance animals, breeding cat colonies and animals suffering in inhumane conditions or abandoned escalate unchecked. Problematically, without an animal-related income stream from licensing, the County has no budget to fund a dedicated Animal Control Officer to respond to these problems.

If you live in Park or Sweetgrass County, please talk to your commissioners about the importance of basic licensing requirements and the ensuing benefits of a funded Animal Control Officer able to enforce nuisance, breeding colony, and inhumane animal situations. 

To prevent pets from being brought to the Shelter: neuter or spay, assure they always have identification tags or chips, and keep them safely contained so that their – and the public’s – wellbeing is not compromised.

To report lost or found pets, call 222-2111 and leave a detailed message or email staffordshelter@imt.net. Messages are checked frequently. Come in to identify or pick up a lost pet during business hours Tuesday – Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. at 3 Business Park Road East of Livingston. Lost pet photos are posted for five days on the Lost/Found Pets Page and when animals are up for adoption, they will be posted on the Adopt Me! page. Call City of Livingston Animal Control dispatch at 222-1142 or in Park County 222-4172