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7 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Animal Shelters

by Louise Louis

1. "No-Kill" Shelters Aren't Totally

In the website words of one of the first no-kill shelters, The San Francisco SPCA:
"(We) guarantee to find a home for all San Francisco's adoptable cats and dogs - animals that are healthy and free of serious behavior problems. Animals are euthanatized only if they are too sick to be rehabilitated, or too aggressive to be safely placed in a home."

2. Tax Supported Shelters Can't Turn Down Anyone

No-kill shelters have been criticized for skimming the cream of abandoned pets and letting public, tax-supported shelters deal with all the sick, aggressive and elderly animals.

There is truth to this. If you take Fido to a no-kill shelter, you may be required to have a clean bill of health from a Vet before the shelter will accept him. People who won't or can't afford this wind up leaving Fido at the county shelter.

3. Some Adoptions Don't Take

With the pressure from animal rightists to avoid euthanizing animals, some shelters allow dogs to be adopted that shouldn't be. The dogs have a history of biting or have chronic health problems. Typically, these problems may not be disclosed or mentioned so casually, a new dog owner doesn't understand the gravity of the situation.

Some shelters claim they don't take puppy mill dogs, but how could they possibly know the dog's background! You most certainly can teach an old dog new tricks, but only an experienced person can train an aggressive dog.

If you ever decide to get a dog from a shelter, be sure to ask the if the dog has ever been adopted and then returned.

4. Personnel Is Biggest Problem at Any Shelter

Do you enjoy cleaning up after Fido? Imagine having to do it for a 100 strange dogs and for Cujo as well as Lassie. Salaries are low and even with government benefits, employee turnover is high.

At private shelters, the problem is worse because so much depends on volunteers as I know from my volunteer days. How much time and attention a pet receives is dependent totally on the number and quality of the volunteers who participate.

5. Your Dog May Bark in Chinese

Thanks to the publicity campaigns to get people to spray or neuter dogs, some shelters are running low on popular small dogs and puppies. They ensure a sufficient supply of adoptable dogs by importing them from foreign countries.

Visit the website of the Taipei Abandoned Animal Rescue Foundation to see how happy they are to have placed so many dogs in the United States including at the Humane Society of Snohomish County, WA and Pets Alive, a no-kill shelter in Middletown, NY.

They're not alone. A Tufts University 2000 study identified 6,000 dogs that had been brought into the U.S. from foreign counties including Puerto Rico and Taiwan.

The impact of so many dogs from unknown breeders and from countries with limited veterinary medicine is completely unknown.

6. Shelters Are Not Dens

Many dogs do not do well at shelters. Some dogs can adjust to kennel life but many others become fearful, frustrated,and overactive which makes them even less likely to be adopted.

Many shelters simply do not have sufficient staff to exercise and play with each dog to the degree the dog needs to become socialized.

It's also extremely difficult to prevent the spread of illnesses when you have so many pets in one location. There's a reason the term "kennel cough" conjures up an image of sickly dogs.

7. Owners May Not Have Told the Truth

The most common reason given for turning in a pet is that the owner is moving and can't take Fido with him. The moving may be true but begs the question of why didn't the owner try to place the dog himself? If you paid $500 for a purebred, it's very likely you'd try to find a good home for him (if not resell him).

The dogs that wind up at shelters tend to be dogs that aren't socialized or trained. They may be capable of becoming gentlemen and ladies or they may be neurotic, puppy mill (domestic or foreign) offspring who don't belong in any dog owner's home.

At shelters as well as used-car lots, caveat emptor.

About the author:
Former dog breeder and all-round dog person, Louise Louis now runs a website, dedicated to helping people match the best small dog breed to their lifestyle.