Animal shelters across the country do their best to care for the millions of pets that come through their doors every year, but prevailing misconceptions are interfering with their life-saving efforts. Shelters are part of every community, but not everyone understands exactly what they do and what they’re all about. These issues of confusion are hurting adoptable animals, and it’s time to set the record straight.
Here are a few myths about animal shelters that simply aren’t true.
1. Shelters are sad and depressing places.
It’s not hard to find heartbreak in a rescue shelter. Dogs are left by their previous owners and struggle to cope with the emotional distress of their abandonment. At the same time, however, animal shelters are often settings of great joy.
They’re where dedicated staff and volunteers gradually change a nervous dog’s perspective about people. They’re where dogs experience their first taste of kindness and friendship. And every day, it’s where lives are saved and new family bonds are formed. There are no shortages of smiles or tail wags.
2. Shelters are dirty and so are the animals.
Shelters are often non-profit organizations and rely on the hard work of regular volunteers to keep the facilities up and running. Whenever you have a large group of dogs in the same area, messes are bound to happen. But even with limited resources, shelters make sure the dogs have clean, safe areas to call their temporary home.
Many of the dogs start off looking dirty and tattered, but with a bath and much-needed attention, they’re transformed into good-looking pets. If you know of a local shelter that looks dirty or lacks building maintenance, it’s probably because they’re struggling to keep volunteers. Volunteering yourself to clean things up will make a big difference.
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3. Shelters only take in dogs with aggressive behavioral problems.
According to a re-homing survey conducted by the ASPCA, 28% of owner surrendered animals were given up because of family problems that had nothing to do with the pet itself. Reasons include families that move and can’t/don’t want to bring their animals, family members that develop allergies, and other situations out of anyone’s control.
Another 18% of people re-homed pets because they could no longer afford to keep them. None of these reasons have to do with aggressive behavior, and most shelters screen their animals to ensure they’re ready to safely enter a home environment.
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4. Rescue dogs are more likely to become sick and cost more in vet bills.
During a dog’s stay at the shelter, they undergo a physical exam and are treated for any medical condition they might have. Once they’re deemed ready to be adopted, potential adopters are always informed of the animal’s known medical history.
In cases where dogs are adopted healthy and end up getting sick later in life, there is no statistical data to represnt their time at the shelter had anything to do with their illness. President and Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Rescue Alliance wrote in an article with Huffington Post,
“When animals develop a medical condition the chances are good that singular genetic or environmental factors — or a combination of the two — are at play. This is true for dogs who are purebred, and those who are mutts. It is true for those who come from professional breeders, casual breeders, and shelters. There are no guarantees of long-term health for any animal.”
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5. You can only find mixed breed dogs at shelters, not purebreds.
Mixed breed dogs make great family pets, but some families are interested in owning a specific breed. They think the only way to make that happen is by purchasing a dog from a breeder. This simply isn’t true. Found Animals reports 25% of pets found in U.S. shelters are purebreds. They’re in high demand and usually don’t stay homeless for long, but they’re there.
There’s also the option of adopting through a breed-specific rescue. There are rescue organizations out there dedicated to every breed, and they focus on finding new homes for rescued purebreds.
6. There are no young dogs or puppies.
Animal shelters are often responsible for taking in entire litters of abandoned puppies. They’re found as strays or dropped off by surprised owners who didn’t realize their intact dog was pregnant.
Puppies are usually sent to foster homes to keep them out of the shelter environment and give them somewhere comfortable to grow up. Shelter staff often encourage hopeful adopters to consider older dogs, but that doesn’t mean puppies aren’t available as well.
7. Shelters don’t allow adopters time to get to know the animal.
The last thing an animal shelter wants is for an adopter to make an impulsive decision. It’s easy to fall in love with a cute face, but people who work at shelters want to help rescue dogs find the perfect families. They want to match dogs and people based on compatibility, and that means taking time to get to know each other.
Most shelters require adopters to spend a certain amount of time with the animal prior to adopting. They have areas designated for this purpose where dogs and people can spend time together off-leash. Some shelters even have a “foster to adopt” program where families can take dogs home for trial adoptions to make sure they’re a good fit.
Peebles is making her home in Barnwell with her new pet dad. Happy Tails!!!
8. Shelter workers are untrained and unprofessional.
Shelter workers often work long hours for minimal pay all for the sake of animals. Being an animal lover is a requirement for the job, and shelters hire individuals with past experiences with animals and a desire to promote animal welfare.
There are veterinarians on staff, vet techs, former vet techs, trainers, and people with general experience working with animals. They might not know everything, but they’re dedicated to doing what’s best for both the animals and the people who potentially adopt them.
9. Adoption fees are too expensive.
Many people think that because the dog is a rescue, the shelter is willing to just give them away. Adoption fees, however, have an important purpose. Not only do they stop people involved in dog fighting and dog flipping from harming animals, they also help keep the shelter open.
Adoption fees cover the veterinary checkup the dog received, any treatment they needed, all their vaccinations, microchip, flea and tick preventative, and their spay or neuter surgery among countless other expenses. When you buy from a breeder, you spend thousands of dollars, and that doesn’t always include the vaccinations, sterilization, or microchip. In comparison, a couple hundred dollars to a non-profit shelter is well worth it.
"My name is Maggie. Are you my Mom? The nice officers at ACS found me out in the cold and brought me to the shelter so…
10. Shelters only have dogs with something wrong with them.
No two dogs are the same, but what makes them different by no means makes them broken or undesirable. Some dogs pull on the leash, and some don’t. Dogs that come from abusive backgrounds sometimes develop behavioral problems, and sometimes all they need is a little love and attention.
Regardless of why they ended up at the shelter, it’s never because there’s something “wrong” with them. It’s because somewhere down the line, a person failed them. Even buying a dog from a breeder doesn’t guarantee a “perfect” dog. Shelters have all kinds of dogs, and with millions available for adoption, all you need to do is look to find the right new family member.
Rescue dogs are suffering from abuse and neglect every day, and there aren’t enough shelters to go around. The only way to improve their lives is to promote adoption. All it takes is one person to stand up for rescue dogs to make a huge difference in animal welfare.
Feature image via Flickr/Leo Rodman
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