Tips for Evaluating Animal Shelters

When the time comes to adopt a pet, potential pet parents must not only consider what type of kitten, puppy, cat or dog is most appropriate for their home, but they should also carefully consider where to go to adopt the pet. To ease the process, The American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals® (ASPCA®) offers advice regarding what to look for in an animal shelter.

"The first indication of a good animal shelter is mandatory sterilization of all animals. No responsible shelter will adopt animals out without making provisions for their sterilization," said Edwin Sayres, president and CEO of the ASPCA. "This includes males and females as well as purebred animals. The revolving door syndrome of adopting out one animal only to get six of its offspring back at a later date is patently self-defeating."

Additionally, a good animal shelter will:

"A good shelter is not merely content to deal with animal problems after the fact, but should aim to educate people about all aspects of animal care and pet ownership," added Sayres. "In short, a shelter's job is to get people to see the consequences of their actions so that animal suffering is prevented, not merely soothed."

Potential pet parents must also realize that it is very easy to misinterpret animal shelters from the outside. The following are some common complaints that can be easily misinterpreted:

NO WATER: Many dogs and cats tip over their water bowls on a regular basis and if their water were continuously filled they would be soaking wet. Therefore, some animals are watered on a regular basis and not provided with water 'round-the clock.

NO FOOD: Animals fed on a free feed basis often overeat and get diarrhea. Shelter animals are generally fed twice a day (more for sick, younger or special needs animals) so you won't necessarily see food in their cages.

EUTHANASIA: Yes, animal shelters need to euthanize animals. It is not possible to build a shelter large enough to house all animals in need. Most shelters have formulated guidelines on euthanasia decision-making.

DIRTY CAGES: No matter how often or how well a shelter cleans there will be some dirty cages at any one time. Cages are often at their worst first thing in the morning before the shelter staff has had a chance to thoroughly clean and disinfect all the animal runs and cages.

SICK ANIMALS: No matter how comprehensive the health program a shelter conducts there will always be some sick animals. Most animals arrive unvaccinated and many harbor contagious diseases. A good shelter isolates and treats sick animals as soon as possible.

ADOPTION REFUSALS: No shelter has a crystal ball; they will sometimes refuse an adoption to a potentially good owner or worse, adopt animals to an individual that turns out to be an unsatisfactory owner. Good shelters try hard to match the right pet with the right owner and give the new owner realistic expectations about their new companion.


Founded in 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was the first humane organization established in the Western Hemisphere and today has one million supporters. The ASPCA's mission is to provide an effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. The ASPCA provides national leadership in humane education, government affairs and public policy, shelter support, and animal poison control. The NYC headquarters houses a full-service animal hospital, animal behavior center, and adoption facility. The Humane Law Enforcement department enforces New York's animal cruelty laws and is featured on the reality television series Animal Precinct on Animal Planet. Visit for more information.