When officers at the Rutland City Police Department find a stray animal in the evening, outside the hours of the animal control officer, they have two choices. They can either drop the dog or cat off at the humane society to stay overnight, or they can keep it at the station and hope the owner comes to claim it.
According to Patrol Commander Greg Sheldon, the officers often opt to keep the animals, usually dogs, around the station rather than impound them.
“Most of the officers are animal lovers. They wouldn’t want their dog overnight in a shelter,” Sheldon said, explaining that the officers will care for the dogs overnight and then drop them off at the shelter if the owner is not found by morning.
To help find the owners, the department uses its Facebook page, posting pictures of the pets and information about where they were found. Sheldon said that Facebook helps police successfully locate the owners nearly every time.
“I would say it works well over 95% of the time, because most people who are concerned pet owners either call here or go on Facebook to look for them,” he said. “It’s very effective. I mean, you’re reaching thousands of people.”
According to Sheldon, before Facebook was an option, the officers would still keep dogs at the station but their ability to reach out to owners was limited. He said police would rely on information from an animal’s collar and search the records of licensed pets to try and contact the owner — two methods they still use in addition to the online search.
Sheldon recommends pet owners register their animals to make it easier for police to return them if they escape. Animal Control Officer Tim Jones said that he also relies on the license records to contact pet owners during the day.
“We try to make every effort to find the owner as soon as possible,” he said. “If the dog is registered, then we have an easy way of getting it back to the owner.”
Jones also explained that police can fine owners for breaking city ordinances about loose animals if their pets escape frequently. The fines are progressive and range from $50 to $500.
“If it’s a licensed dog inside the city, generally speaking, we have the tags and we can return it to the owners, so usually that does not present much of an issue,” Jones said. “If it’s a frequent occurrence, where the dog is continually getting loose, we have a system of fines in place.”
Jones said that the department catches somewhere between 50 and 75 strays a year, usually capturing around one-third of the animals they receive calls about. His normal process involves attempting to reconnect the pet with the owner before taking it up to the humane society to see if the dog has a tracking chip. He will then leave the animal there for the owner to pick up.
“I’m more inclined to bring them to the humane society because they’re really set up for that,” Jones said.
However, Jones said he appreciates that the officers on the night shift keep animals at the station in the hopes of seeing them returned home before morning.
“It’s a nice extra service that we’re providing at nighttime,” he said, adding that it would take time out of the officer’s schedule to drive animals to the humane society and impound them overnight.
Sheldon said officers will usually try to spare the animals the experience of being locked into the shelter until morning, though the department does not have an official policy dictating they keep animals at the station.
“It can be traumatic dropping a dog off at a shelter with other animals barking in kennels all around them. As animal lovers we don’t want that to happen,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. I don’t think you need a policy to do what’s right.”