Opinion: Short Stays Save Animal Lives


PrintThis letter was submitted by Anne Reed, President & CEO of the Wisconsin Humane Society


Do you like quizzes? Heres one. When a stray animal enters a shelter, which law gives the animal the best chance of coming out alive: requiring the animal to stay in the shelter a longer time, or a shorter time?

If you said longer, heres a surprise. The shorter the required stay, the better the chances that animal, and every stray animal, will get all the time he or she needs to end up alive, healthy, and in a happy home. Shorter stays reduce euthanasia; long stays increase it.

Why do short stays save lives? Because long stays cause crowding and illness, which make it harder for shelters to give each animal all the time he or she needs.

It seems paradoxical, but its not. If youve ever driven on the highway, you know it from your own experience. At normal speed, the cars are far apart. If traffic slows down, the same number of cars are suddenly close together. But if only a few cars go slowly on the right, the rest cruise by with plenty of space. The slow cars can take all the time they need.

This traffic jam effect is dangerous for animals. After all, cars dont get sick. When you get past a traffic jam, your car quickly resumes full speed. Animals arent so lucky. Shelters, like human hospitals, inevitably contain germs. In human medicine, weve moved to the shortest hospital stays we can, because we understand that the hospital stay itself puts patients at risk. For animals likewise your animal, if he or she ever becomes stray — long shelter stays increase crowding and disease. Short stays create space and time for animals who need extra time.

Wisconsin has Americas longest forced holding period for stray animals. We cant start helping any animal until the ninth day in the shelter, after a seven-day hold plus the day of arrival, which doesn’t count. Its like a ten-mph speed limit on every highway every day.

Animal owners all over Wisconsin have shown they dont need all those days to reclaim their animals. If an owner is going to reclaim an animal, the odds are overwhelming it will happen by day four. Fewer than 1% of animals are reclaimed between days 5 and 7, in every community where we have data, whether urban or rural. But every animal has to wait those extra days, causing harm to them all. If shelters could help them sooner (adoption, for example, is by far the most common outcome), wed have more space and resources for animals who need more time. The legal stray hold is not a time limit; its the minimum required stay before we can start helping them.

A bill in the legislature would let us help animals on their sixth day in the shelter, after a four-day hold plus the day of admission. The Wisconsin Humane Society and many animal welfare organizations around the state strongly support the bill, because we know it will decrease euthanasia and help us save more lives. We chose this work because we love animals and want to help them; we are so excited about the incredible impact this bill could have on improving shelter outcomes in Wisconsin.

A few vocal opponents imagine scenarios where an animal might need a longer minimum hold. We have been gratified to see community members reject these what-ifs, understanding that actual data, the huge number of animals being harmed every day, and the overwhelming data that owners reclaim their animals in four days or never is what should drive wise public policy.

Final quiz: how can you keep your own animal safe? Easy. Animals wearing collars and tags rarely come into shelters. Anyone who finds them can just take them back to you.

Long holds cause crowding. Crowding causes illness. Illness causes death. This bill – SB450 in the Senate and AB487 in the Assembly – is the most important thing Wisconsin can do to save animals lives.