What Do Animal Shelters Do?

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What do animal shelters do? A lot.

Animal shelters are buildings or areas devoted to the temporary care and shelter of homeless or unwanted animals. Nearly every city in the United States has at least one animal shelter. Shelters require numerous employees and volunteers, and must follow various state and local laws and regulations.

Uncontrolled breeding and irresponsible pet owners have resulted in a serious pet overpopulation problem, and drastic measures are needed to curb the ever-increasing number of stray homeless dogs and cats. Shelters are necessary to deal with the repercussions of pet overpopulation. And although they do not treat or stop the problem of unwanted pets, they do help to decrease the spread of disease as well as the risk of injuries such as bites or scratches from these stray animals, living on the edge of survival.

Since many shelters function as non-profit entities, they rely on donations and gifts, as well as adoption fees, to function. Any donation, whether food, newspapers or even your time, would be greatly appreciated. Contact your local animal shelter if you would like to make a donation or volunteer.

What Do Animal Shelters Do?

It is estimated that there are currently over 62 million dogs and over 64 million cats in the United States. In addition to these fortunate pets, there are millions more that do their best to survive as homeless stray animals.

Throughout the United States, there are about 4,000 to 6,000 shelters. These shelters are responsible for temporarily caring for the 8 to 10 million dogs and cats that enter shelters every year. These animals are brought to the shelter when found as strays or turned over by owners who no longer want them. Of these, about 4 to 6 million are euthanized annually, due to a lack of available homes or people willing to adopt them.

The cause of most of this overpopulation is irresponsible pet ownership and uncontrolled breeding. One female dog can produce about 2 litters of puppies a year. Each litter averages 6 to 10 puppies. If allowed to continue, over a 6-year period, one female dog and her offspring have the potential to produce around 67,000 puppies. Cat statistics are even more startling. One female cat has the potential to give birth to 3 litters per year with an average of 4-6 kittens per litter. Over a 7-year period, one cat and her offspring have the potential to produce 420,000 kittens!

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.

A good animal shelter will:

  • Work diligently to place as many animals as possible into responsible, loving homes.
  • Distribute a variety of educational materials on proper pet care, animal behavior issues and overpopulation. These references will be disseminated not only to those people adopting or giving up pets, but also to the general public also through community education and outreach programs.
  • Be well maintained and have a cheerful, bright appearance.
  • Have hours that are convenient to the most people possible.
  • Have a comprehensive health care program that includes both treatment of sick animals and preventive inoculations and medication.
  • Ensure that the animals in its care are clean, dry, and as comfortable as possible.
  • Aim to reduce stress for the animals in its care through grooming, exercise, behavioral enrichment, separation of species, and general tender loving care.
  • Have a friendly, inviting staff that is willing and able to assist the public.

The People Behind the Pets

Humane societies around the world depend on animal shelter volunteers, and becoming a shelter volunteer is not for the faint-of-heart. Taking care of hundreds of dogs and cats is possibly one of the easier aspects of the job, but the hardest part is the knowledge that many animals will have to be put down after a certain amount of time, or if they pose a threat to other animals or people.

That’s why shelters normally don’t allow volunteers to adopt any animal for the first 6 months; without that rule, the temptation to fill one’s home with otherwise hard-luck pets would be just too great. There’s always that one special kitten or puppy.

But while they can’t take every animal home, animal shelter volunteers perform a plethora of services. They help feed the animals, clean the cages and, of course, help people find lifetime companions. Volunteers also help transport animals between shelters and clinics to perform veterinary services. Some volunteers help educate children in the importance of responsible pet ownership. A few volunteers will “foster” animals that need special care and cannot be housed with the general pet population.

Volunteering is a good way to encourage a lifetime of community service. Shelters accept volunteers at different ages, but usually a person must be at least 14 or 15. Teenagers can also earn community service credits by volunteering at shelters. Finally, volunteering at a shelter is an excellent family activity. Each member learns the importance of kindness, responsibility and how even one person can make a difference.

Where to Find Your Next Pet

Shelters either allow healthy animals to live out their lives there (no-kill) or they keep animals for a predetermined time after which they euthanize them. No-kill shelters are usually run by private, non-profit organizations, while municipal shelters operated with tax dollars typically euthanize animals.

No-kill shelters generally vaccinate and spay or neuter dogs prior to adoption. These shelters have more time to work with individual animals to solve behavior problems. Staff members usually know the history and personality of the animals and can tell you about those that interest you. The space in no-kill shelters is limited, so you may see many of the same animals week after week.

Shelters that euthanize have a greater turnover of animals so the selection is better. Some may provide animals with veterinary care, so ask before adopting.

All shelters ask for an adoption fee to help offset their costs and to determine whether you are making a serious commitment.

Rescue organizations generally place animals without operating a facility to house them. Organization members will provide foster care in their homes to animals until they can be permanently placed.

The amount of veterinary care given to an animal can vary according to the means of the foster parent. The advantages to adopting from a rescue group are that animals will be accustomed to living with people, and the foster parent will be knowledgeable about the animal.

Avoiding Scams

Sadly, not all “rescues” you might see on the Internet or advertised in magazines are legitimate. After interacting with scam “rescues” some potential adopters have found themselves left with misrepresented or sick animals, or sometimes no animal at all. With a few helpful tips, you can protect yourself by recognizing legitimate rescues and avoiding suspicious ones.

What qualifies a rescue as “legitimate”?

First and foremost, the highest priority for reputable rescue and adoption groups is the health and proper care of the animals. Animals placed in rescue should be given adequate food, water, and veterinary care. Trustworthy rescues understand that it is important for the family and the pet to be a good match. They will only re-home animals to households that they deem to be suitable for that particular animal. They will disclose any known health or behavioral issues with potential adopters before the pet goes to their new home. Should issues arise, a reputable rescue will request that the pet be surrendered back to the organization rather than sold or given to someone else. At all times the emphasis is placed on the happiness and safety of the pets. Such is not the case with scammers impersonating a rescue. Their focus is on money, and it is often gained at the cost of the animals.

In recent years use of the Internet for rescue groups has boomed. It’s a great way to get information about rescue groups, view adoptable pets, and even fill out adoption applications. However, it can also be an easy way for people posing as rescues to publicize their name and attract unsuspecting adopters. At first glance it can be difficult to tell if a rescue is the real thing. With pictures of adorable animals and declarations of compassion on every page, it’s not always easy to spot the signs of a scam waiting to happen. However, learning to recognize the red flags can help protect you and your family from fraud.

Knowledge is the strongest defense against scammers posing as rescues. It pays to know what to expect when working with a shelter or other rescue organization. Many rescues will request references, including your veterinarian’s name and phone number, as well as information about your current living situation and experience with pets. If you are a renter, this might include contacting your landlord to verify that pets are allowed in your building. Some rescues require a home visit (a practice common in breed-specific rescues) to ensure that the animal’s needs will be met. You should expect to pay an adoption fee, which can vary depending on several factors including pet type, age, and medical history. Some rescue groups offer transportation of adoptable pets to their new home. This service often involves a separate cost in addition to the adoption fee. Most adoption contracts include a clause requiring that the animal be spayed or neutered if they have not already been sterilized. Reputable groups also reserve the right to take the pet back if you can no longer care for him or her, or to regain custody of the animal if living conditions prove unsuitable.

Resources for Animal Shelters

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