Let me tell you. Every thing I thought I knew about animal shelters was completely and utterly wrong. As someone who is an avid dog lover and advocate--I seriously thought I was informed.
After spending the last year volunteering weekly at my local animal shelter, I can tell you my mind and opinion about shelters is so very different than before.
My purpose here is to share some insight I've gained in the hopes that it will inspire you to consider getting involved with your local shelter via adopting, volunteering, fostering, and/or donations.
Below I've included several statements I've heard first hand while at the shelter or in general conversation and intend to debunk the misconceptions with reality behind those statements.
(Before we dive in, I want to add a disclaimer that I do volunteer at a shelter that has more funding than some, which means more programs to provide enrichment and well being for the animals. Other shelters in more rural or low income areas are not so fortunate and could desperately use any help you can provide. Consider that as an option first before deciding to volunteer, foster, or donate to your local rescues, who may be more well funded.)
1. “All the dogs are pit bulls.”
That's only partially true. Across America, many shelters house a majority percentage of bully breeds. Why is that do you ask? The highest percentage of a specific breed in a shelter is the representation of the majority population. This means that we have an overpopulation issue of bully breeds. Pit bulls are not a breed rather a combination of several different breeds including, but not limited to, American Staffordshire Terriers, American Bull Dogs, English Bull Terriers, and the like. This is why so many of these dogs look so similar. It does happen, too, that dogs get mislabeled if they look anything like a pit bull mix, because it can be difficult to distinguish during a ten second intake at a shelter.
2. “Don't support them; they are a kill shelter.”
I know this is a hot button issue, but let me start off by saying that the fact that we have kill shelters in the first place is not any shelter's fault. Kill shelters are a symptom of deeper societal issues (overcrowding, over breeding, under funding, lack of spay/neuter, disposable mentality, etc). The animals don't deserve it and neither do the shelters.
Shelters euthanize for lack of space, when owner requested, and for animals that pose a threat to public safety (i.e. bite dogs that are unable to be reformed or rehabilitated). Most frequently it's for lack of space, because people adopt animals then dump them (literally) at the shelter anonymously, surrender them when they don't want them anymore or when they become too old, and the list goes on and on.
Shelters were designed for worst case scenarios--owner death, stray holds, as well as abuse, neglect, and hoarding cases. We wouldn't have the issue of high kill shelters if individuals would take responsibility to try to re-home animals themselves or before adopting, make sure they can make the life long commitment to the animal. But, that's another conversation for another day.
In my experience, the shelter I volunteer at takes great measures to euthanize as little as possible, though, it does happen unfortunately. Since 2013, they've reduced the amount of euthanasia more than 25%. Obviously, that number fluctuates during high intake seasons, such as Summertime when surrenders and euthanasia tends to be highest for all shelters and rescues.
What matters is that we continue to take strides to hopefully some day have low kill shelters; only euthanizing in extreme cases when it's absolutely necessary. It is unfortunate and heart breaking that many wonderful animals do not make it out of the shelters, but that's why we continue to encourage adopting versus shopping.
3. “Rescues are no-kill.”
Any organization that has under a 9% euthanasia rate can be considered no-kill, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Rescues do not have 100% intake like shelters do, thus, the much lower euthanasia rate. Indeed, we are grateful that rescues pull from shelters, but truly, they are able to pull the dogs they deem easiest to adopt, which means animals with medical conditions, behavioral issues, or what some might deem less than desirable breeds are what stay at the shelter; however, that doesn't mean the dogs that stay at the shelter are any less adoptable or deserving of a home.
4. “It's all old dogs.”
If by old you mean, two years old and older, then rightly so. Puppies and little dogs are the first to go. Non bully breed type dogs, ones without medical conditions, and dogs that are behaviorally sound are the next to go (and by that, I mean, are good with dogs, kids, cats, etc.). Last, you'll find the middle age dogs and seniors who are some of the last to go as that is a very specific type of adopter looking for them.
5. “They look like that because they've been a fighting dog.”
Right out of the mouth of people and most often that's just not true. Many animals are picked up as strays and have been living on the streets for awhile, meaning they had to struggle and scrounge to survive. Who knows where some of their bumps and bruises come from. On the other hand, we have a dog in foster right now who has a scarred up face. He simply got into a fight with a chain link fence when escaping his backyard. Unfortunately, he was never reclaimed. All in all, don't judge the book by it's cover; that dog you skip right over because of how s/he looks could be your most perfect companion.
6. “Shelter dogs are dirty.”
Yes, sometimes the dogs do come in dirty. Through time, though, they will get medical treatment for any skin conditions, have their nails trimmed, baths for their coat, and so much more. In the same mind as Myth #5 above, don't judge an animal solely on appearances. Usually if an animal looks dirty or dingy, it's likely they just came on to the adoption floor and haven't been given a bath yet by the staff or volunteers.
7. “There is something wrong with shelter animals.” *insert eye roll here*
There has never been a more untrue statement. Just like people, all animals have their quirks and uniqueness, but that's what we love about them, right? You may adopt an animal that doesn't like other dogs at all or one that is nervous around tall, loud men, but those behaviors may have already been there even before they ended up at the shelter. Even dogs get to make choices about their environment and what they like and don't like. It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with then.
You also have to understand that behaviors you see in the shelter--a very high stress, chaotic environment--aren't necessarily representative of the animal in the kennel. Many jump, bark, and lunge when they otherwise wouldn't do so just to get attention from you. We always recommend asking a volunteer to take a dog outside of their kennel for you, so you can truly meet them. It gives you a better idea of the animal's energy level and personality.
8. “I love purebred animals, but I can't find them at a shelter.”
Because of many circumstances listed in Myth #2, purebred animals do end up at shelters. You name it, we see it. They are usually the first to be adopted, so when looking for your next pet, check your local shelters first (yes, more than one!), then rescues, and lastly, breed specific rescue. Through all that, you are very likely to find the type of breed you've been looking to adopt (and at a much cheaper cost!).
9. Oh, I could never do what you do. Animal shelters break my heart.
It's definitely tough seeing dozens of animals looking up at you with their adorable eyes begging to go home, but the way I look at it is, if I don't show up for them, they otherwise wouldn't get enrichment, a snuggle, some treats, and a walk. The enrichment keeps them mentally and physically happy and healthy making them more adoptable.
The other way I think about it is this: the staff at the animal shelter work so hard to care for, love on, and re-home these sweet dogs, cats, little critters, etc. At least in the shelter, they are cared for, loved, and appreciated. They receive medical treatment, food, water, comfortable shelter, playtime, walks, treats, toys, blankets, love, and a community of people championing for them. The only thing that beats that is a forever home.