What do animal shelters do?

Published by Laci Schaible
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According to the ASPCA, shelters take in approximately 6.3 million animals every year across the nation. So, what do animal shelters do, exactly?

Give Animals a Temporary Home and Medical Care

Shelters take in homeless animals — such as stray cats and dogs or pets who've been removed from unsatisfactory homes — for temporary care. They give a safe, clean home to animals who need one, provide medical care for sick animals and work to connect animals with new families that can care for them permanently. Shelters are mostly nonprofit entities and rely on donations or adoption fees to continue running and providing services.

Serve the Community

Animal shelters work to reunite lost pets with their pet parents and keep stray animals off the streets, which helps control the pet population and maintain public health. Many shelters also partially fund low-cost vaccine and veterinary care clinics that are typically available to the public, even if your pet didn't come from the shelter.

Provide Volunteer Opportunities

Animal shelters provide meaningful volunteer opportunities and ways to connect people — young and old alike — through their love of animals, even if adopting a pet isn't in the cards for their households.

Can You Find Puppies and Kittens in Shelters?

Animal shelters don't have age limits and often accommodate every age range of dogs and cats available — and sometimes other furry or scaly creatures.

Adopting an adult cat or bringing home an older dog may have many benefits, such as potentially skipping the house training, having a more predictable temperament and getting a pet who may already have some basic obedience skills from the get-go. But if your heart is set on adopting a puppy or kitten, your local animal shelter should be your first stop.

Do Shelter Animals Have Behavioral Problems?

Maybe you're open to adopting an older pet but worry about their unknown past. It's a common misconception that pets at animal shelters come with a range of behavioral concerns, but rest assured that behavioral issues aren't the reason most animals end up in shelters. To set some animal shelter facts straight, the top three reasons animals are surrendered to shelters are all based on human limitations:

  1. The person surrendering has too many animals.
  2. The person has a housing issue preventing them from keeping an animal.
  3. The caretaker has passed away or is experiencing health problems, leaving them unable to care for the animal.

The myth that shelters are filled with unwanted and behavior-ridden older pets couldn't be further from the truth. Plus, pets are resilient. Those who do have behavioral issues often flourish in new loving homes with the help of an animal behaviorist or other pet professional.

Are Shelter Animals Healthy?

The overwhelming majority of pets a shelter takes in are healthy. Also, shelters typically have accredited and talented veterinary support staff and veterinarians in-house. In fact, a growing number of vets work in shelter settings, and some even pursue additional training and board certification in shelter animal medicine. Most shelter animals receive immediate access to vet care. They're screened for diseases, brought up to date on vaccines and spayed or neutered before adoption.

For the rest, their illnesses or health concerns are addressed before adoption whenever possible.. If a pet has a chronic condition or special needs, shelters extensively screen prospective pet parents and ensure this information is well communicated. Shelters want to avoid situations where a family or individual finds they aren't well suited or able to care for a pet's medical needs, as returning a cat or returning a dog to the shelter is hard on everyone involved, including the pet.

Does Buying a Pet Create a Stronger Bond Than Adopting?

You can't buy love, but many people wonder if they may bond more with a pet purchased from a breeder compared to a shelter pet. Pet parent surveys show that this is not the case. A study conducted by Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida surveyed nearly 2,000 pet adopters six to 12 months post-adoption. It found that, among respondents (approx. 57% of survey recipients), 93% of the dogs and 95% of the cats were still in the adopters' homes, living indoors and even sleeping in their beds, with 94% of respondents declaring a strong or very strong attachment to their pet.

So, a bond between a pet and their pet parent isn't dependent on pedigree. If you're considering welcoming a dog or cat of any age or breed into your life, a visit to the animal shelter is a great place to start your search.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dr. Laci Schaible is a small animal veterinarian, entrepreneur, author and speaker. A graduate of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Wake Forest University School of Law, Dr. Schaible is passionate about progressive change in the veterinary industry and serves as an advisor on a number of boards within the field.