BROOKSVILLE — The small cardboard box with a few tiny air holes came with a note attached: "This is Sammy. Please take good care of him."
But when workers at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast looked inside, they found only a handful of dry cat food.
The 1-year-old gray tabby cat never made it to the safe confines of the no-kill shelter. Instead, shelter workers believe that somehow over the weekend, when the shelter was closed, he clawed his way out of the confining box.
His freedom was short-lived. A cat believed to be Sammy was found dead Monday morning on Wiscon Road, after he was apparently struck by a vehicle.
Such abandonment of pets at the shelter continues to trouble Humane Society executive director Joanne Schoch, who viewed the sad case of Sammy as a teachable moment.
She said she wishes people intent on dropping off their unwanted pets would show more consideration to the animals and to the shelter's staff.
"It was totally inhumane," Schoch said. "We're in the business of saving animals. We really can't do that if people just dump them off with no concern for their welfare."
Such occurrences have been growing recently as more and more people struggle to feed and care for their pets during the ongoing recession. But instead of following long-established adoption procedures, people simply drop off their pets when the shelter is closed, Schoch said.
The shelter is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and closed Sunday.
Some of the animals are left in crates or boxes, others are crudely tied to a post or tree. A year ago, shelter workers discovered a litter of malnourished puppies that had been tossed over the 6-foot-high fence.
"I'd say we find between 120 and 150 abandoned animals every year," Schoch said. "They think we're their only hope, but they don't realize how hard it is for us to deal with it."
Schoch said the shelter has long-established procedures to evaluate incoming animals to determine their adoptability. Animals are screened for health issues, and are evaluated for potential aggressiveness. Pets dropped off without notice puts a strain on the shelter's staff and resources, she said.
The shelter presently has room for 17 dogs and about 50 cats. In addition, there are also volunteers who provide foster homes to animals waiting to be adopted.
But there are limits.
"The number of animals we can take in is proportionate to the ones that we can find permanent homes for," Schoch said.
She suggested owners looking to give up their animals should contact the shelter as soon as possible. There is no fee for dropping an animal off; however, dogs and cats whose vaccinations are up to date often find permanent homes more quickly.
"We're here to help, but we can only do so much," Shoch said. "It's ultimately up to the public to do what's right for their pets."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.