For anyone who has ever dropped off a pet at a local shelter, it’s mostly a passing hell.
There’s some paperwork. Probably some tears. Occasionally, people from a local animal welfare group will camp out front, hoping to change your mind.
No shelter, of course, can refuse an animal. But they can euthanize them — and often do, in a matter of days. Those days can be some of the most stressful, confusing and sad days of a dog’s life.
Do people who drop their pets off at high-intake shelters really know what they are doing? If they knew just what happens to dogs after their owners walk out the door, shelters might be a lot more empty.
If you can no longer keep your pet and want to find him a good home, dumping him at a shelter may not be your best option. Every year, around 1.2 million dogs are put down at shelters across the U.S.
Public shelters take in way more dogs than they adopt out
There are about 13,600 community animal shelters across the U.S. managing an intake of about 7.6 million pets ever year. And how many animals actually leave the system in that span? Around 2.7 million.
To be sure, there are a handful of heroic shelters that manage to uphold a no-kill policy. Best Friends, for example, has shelter facilities Utah and California that don’t put a single animal down. North Shore Animal League America follows a similarly humane mantra. But a shelter is only as good as its volunteers are plentiful. Some shelters simply become inundated.
A shelter dog is a scared dog — which makes him even less adoptable
For a dog, the shelter is an immediate sensory overload. A dizzying diversity of scents, sounds and strangers.
“What you can expect is your dog to be put in a very loud, very sensory-overloaded environment that will, no doubt, have a dog out of its element and experiencing various levels of fear. And what does fear do to a dog? Well, at the very least, it ensures a first impression with shelter staff is not a true one.
A scared dog won’t behave like himself. He may not get along with other dogs. He may cower. Or resist human touch. It all rings up a less-than-stellar first impression with animal control staff — people who only want to see a dog find his way out of there, but haven’t the time to wait.
If your dog has any sort of behavioral problems where they don’t react well to a shelter environment, your dog has very little chance of survival. They can’t adopt out dogs that don’t show well.
Know someone planning to drop off their pet at a shelter?
You might want to share this with them. Although it’s easy to vilify someone who surrenders a former companion to a shelter, we know it’s not so black and white. There are a host of reasons why people do it. Frequently, it’s the harsh reality of an economic situation. Or an unexpected health issue. But there are alternatives. The American Humane Society offers a wealth of options on its website worth checking out — before you check in at the shelter. And Craigslist, as we’ve seen over and over again, should never be an option.
What you can do
As grim as the reality of shelters is, there is hope. You’ll see it in tails wagging, even at the busiest shelters. And you’ll see it in the army of animal lovers and organizations who dive into shelters, looking to give even the oldest, saddest, least desired dogs a second chance.
If the steady stream of unwanted dogs into shelters makes you angry and sad, you can help the people working to slow it. Here are a few organizations doing great work:
The Frosted Faces Foundation, a California-based nonprofit, will help cover an older dog’s medical costs for the rest of his life if that dog finds a foster home. And there’s Bark Avenue Foundation, an organization that offers free spaying and neutering in inner city areas like Compton and East L.A.
There’s Shelter Me, where dogs from shelters throughout the U.S. are listed — and staff try to take pictures of the dogs in a more natural state. And, of course, there’s you. Have you visited a shelter lately?
Just about every animal shelter in the world is looking for a few good hands. In fact, as we’ve so painfully seen, the quality of a shelter dog’s life is directly proportional to the number of volunteers at a shelter.
So reach out to your local shelter through its website.
You can also, of course, give an incarcerated dog the greatest gift of all: Freedom.
Take one home. And, for an overall joyful feeling that washes over both dog and human nicely, never underestimate the transformative power of foster care.
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