Although they deny it, Austin Animal Center (in Texas) has been telling people to release stray dogs where they are found because they are not taking them in. When it was caught on video and made public, the pound director claimed it was a misunderstanding and issued a statement that he was “disappointed” in staff. But the staff member seen in the video telling the Good Samaritan with the young dog to “let her go where you found her” called that an “egregious lie,” saying she and other staff were specifically ordered by leadership to turn these dogs away if the finders wouldn’t keep them or find the “owner” themselves.

Indeed, an internal memo released to the public showed that the director wanted to make these changes permanent by closing the doors to all healthy strays and eliminating kennel space for them altogether even after the pandemic. When confronted by the media, he backed away from that, too.

Cats face similar hurdles.

When a local resident found a pregnant, blind cat walking in circles, she called the pound in Salt Lake County (Utah) for assistance, but Animal Services told her to release the cat: “We told them we thought the cat was pregnant, walking in circles, sick and acted like [she] couldn’t see… It was just heartbreaking… They told us to release the cat.”

When confronted, the Utah pound, like Austin, also claimed it was “mishandled” and called it a “communication” problem. It is no such thing. Not only did they promise to send an officer for the cat, but then never did so, but the same has occurred in other cities.

In Los Angeles, rescuers were being threatened with citation if they tried to feed or trap the cats abandoned in front of the pound because they are closed. In San Francisco, the pound director issued a statement saying they would no longer take in healthy stray kittens, instead telling people to leave them on the street.

Officials in San Francisco, Austin, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Broward County, FL, and elsewhere say “they’re adhering to pandemic protocols outlined by the National Animal Care and Control Association,” but NACA has a long, sordid history of defending regressive practices. Moreover, some of these practices are not just at odds with ethical duties, but legal ones. In California, for example, it is illegal for municipal shelters not to shelter stray dogs.

That is not a misunderstanding. That is not a communication problem. It is policy. They call it “community sheltering,” but applied in this manner, it has become a euphemism for no sheltering, putting the onus on others to do the job they are paid to do.

This is especially troubling in light of the many communities who are rising to the challenge as a result of the pandemic by embracing ingenuity, a “can do” attitude, and technology to save the animals, and, as a result, “placed record numbers of dogs, cats and other animals”; communities such as Rosenberg, TX, which continued operating as an essential service and found itself empty for the first time in its history: “Big dogs are leaving, behavior cases, cats with special needs… No one is being left behind by our community.”

Rescuers who do not live in these progressive communities “are worried that COVID-19 restrictions, which have placed a massive burden on a patchwork of nonprofits and volunteer-run organizations” will be made permanent, leaving animals — like the sick, pregnant, blind cat abandoned by Salt Lake County Animal Services — “out in the cold.” And in light of the internal Austin memo proposing just that, they have a right to be worried.

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