Humane Society or "County Pound" - You make the call.
Recently, in Maricopa County, Arizona, two dogs were beaten to death. Perhaps the worst aspect of this case was that the person alleged to have committed such cruelty was a Maricopa County Rabies/Animal Control officer. As a result of the incident, the head of the County Health Department and the Director of Animal Control were fired. Another result was that pet lovers began angrily calling the Arizona Humane Society demanding an explanation. The concerned citizens didn't realize that they "had the wrong guys." In Maricopa County, the Humane Society has nothing to do with the "county pound."
Many pet owners face the maze of unfamiliar policies and practices of animal welfare agencies. Few people research how their local animal care and welfare groups handle animals or who is responsible for what. Each community has a slightly different set of rules that effect the way animals are treated in that particular area. Because our population is so mobile, many people are convinced that they way it was done back home is the way it is done in their new home. This assumption is often wrong.
As with many areas, Maricopa County is responsible for offering animal control services. Though several of the surrounding cities pay the county to capture their stray animals, one city, Mesa, does not. The basic services of animal control include licensing, capturing lost or stray animals, holding those animals so that they may be reclaimed, issuing citations for various violations and investigating dog bites. These functions may be controlled by city ordinance, county or state statutes. In each case, the organization is a government agency, casually known as "the pound." In Mesa, it is possible to receive a citation for a leash law violation from a city animal control officer and receive another citation for failing to license the dog from a county officer as you are reclaiming your dog from a county shelter. Sorting out "who did what to whom" can cause a major headache.
To further complicate things, within this same geographical area there are several private organizations that offer a variety of additional animal services. The Arizona Humane Society operates ambulance services for injured animals, investigates charges of animal cruelty and provides shelter and adoption services – but they don't do animal control. The Humane Society is a private, non-profit organization. Another private non-profit group, the Animal Welfare League, has a "no-kill" shelter but does not offer organized ambulance services, or investigate cruelty complaints. There are at least seven more organizations who offer similar services. Each of the groups has a different focus, a different name and initials, and a different agenda. On the street, these people are likely to be lumped into the two major categories -- "the pound" or the "humane society/SPCA" or simply identified by the first name that pops up. When complaints and kudos are passed out, mistaken identity is common.
For the pet-owning public, this collage of animal welfare groups can be difficult to sift through. It is not uncommon for people to mistakenly contact an agency based on a name recognition from another area. For instance, in many eastern cities, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is the common name for animal protection organizations. Many eastern transplants assume that if they have an animal problem they should automatically call the SPCA. In the Phoenix area, calling the SPCA may not directly help you find a stray pet – that task is supposed to be handled by Rabies/Animal Control.
Another aspect of this confusion comes when a local organization is mistaken for a national one. The Humane Society of the United States is a national organization that is involved with animal welfare and animal rights issues. Many other "Humane Societies", such as the Arizona Humane Society are assumed to be "chapters" of the national association – which they are not. If the national organization takes a stand on a particular issue, the local, unrelated organization often takes the heat. Again, it is a matter of "you got the wrong guys."
While many of the problems associated with this "mistaken identity" are harmless nuisances, sometimes it can be a matter of life and death. Miscommunication over whether a found dog or cat is at the "humane society" or the "county pound" can cause an owner to spend many wasted hours looking in the wrong shelter. Investigations of animal cruelty can be delayed because a citizen reported to the wrong agency, and then assumed that the problem would be solved. When these types of problems arise, the citizen is often justifiable frustrated by the process and the animal may lost in the confusion.
With the proliferation of humane groups over the last 20 years, it is obviously difficult to keep track of them all. Knowing that "back home" the SPCA handled all animal problems, or that a "dog catcher" took an injured dog to the "county pound" may not help you solve an animal problem. The only way to find out about which organization is responsible for animal protection in your community, and how that information may effect your animal, is to ask. The best time to ask is before you have to.