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.