Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Shelters and Pet Rescues
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Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Shelters and Pet Rescues

FAQs about animal shelters and pet rescues. The most common questions asked about animal shelters. Learn more about how pet shelters work. What is an animal shelter? How do animal shelters work? What do animal shelters do with pets they cannot find homes for? Learn more about animal shelters and pet rescue.

The most commonly asked questions about animal shelters and pet rescues.

Why do we have Animal Shelters and Pet Rescues?

Animal Shelters are not everywhere.  In the places where they do not exist there are many homeless pets, often starving and in poor condition.  People in those areas often deal with the overpopulation in cruel ways (poison, throwing them into pits, shooting them).  The over population comes from the fact that many people allow their pets to reproduce without being certain their are permanent homes for the offspring.  So basically we have animal shelters and pet rescues because there are more pets born every year than there are homes for.

What do Animal Shelters do?

Every shelter is slightly different, some take in all pets included stray (lost) pets, other animal shelters only take in owner surrendered pets.  The goal of every shelter is to find the animals a home.  Animal shelters also try to work with the public to educate them regards to pet care.  As such people often phone animal shelters with pet questions or to report cruelty (some shelters investigate cruelty others pass this along to the local authorities).  Some shelters also offer low cost spay/neuter clinics.

Is it True that Animal Shelters Kill Pets after 72 Hours?

NO!  Animal shelters legally must hold stray pets at least 72 hours, and in most areas must hold animals that have identification (tattoo or microchip) for 10 days.  After this period passes the shelter is legally considered the owner of the pet, and if the pet is suffering, or unsafe, they have the legal right to euthanize it after this time period. 

If shelters were to euthanize pets after 72 hours the veterinarian would be required daily, however most shelters only have the vet perform euthanasias once a week. Prior to this the staff determines if a pet is adoptable in which case the veterinarian would check them, deworm them, and vaccinate them.  This means the shelter has invested time, and money, in the pet, and as such euthanasia is never a desired outcome.

What Happens to Pets that Shelters Cannot find Homes for?

Animal shelters euthanize pets if they have been in the shelter and not been adopted after a certain period of time (usually 2 months).  Some shelters are called "no-kill" shelters, and they keep pets alive until they doing so would not be humane (the animal is old, ill, or in pain).  Euthanasia is most often done by letal injection (a veterinarian will do this).  Some shelters use gas chambers but these are frowned on by many people.  The length of time a shelter keeps its pets is different depending on spaces.

What do Shelters do with the Bodies?

Every shelter is different.  Some have a place to cremate them, others put them in strong plastic bags and they are taken to the city landfill, some shelters sell them to veterinarian schools.  In the past some shelters have sold them to pet food companies, even now this is legal in most countries although less common after it got media attention that pet food can contain euthanized pets.  Read more about what shelters do with the bodies of dead pets, here.

What is the Difference Between Adoption, Selling, and Fostering?

Adoption is a permanent home for the pet, fostering is a short term home, selling is done by stores, and private individuals.  Adoption involves a contract that the pet is to be kept in the care of the new owner.  Some "sales" also involve contracts but is done by a store, or private individual rather than a shelter.  Some private sellers often misuse the term "adoption".

How Much do Shelters Charge for Adoption?

Every shelter is different.  In most cases they have a flat fee for a specific type of animal.  For example all female cats would be one fee, all male dogs would be one fee, and so forth.  Other shelters assign each animal a fee based on the care it has had in the shelter.

Most, but not all, shelters are non-profit, as such the adoption fee is often less than what a person might pay if they were to take a pet they found to a veterinarian and have all the medical needs done to it.

Why Can't All Animal Shelters and Pet Rescues be "No-Kill"?

In theory it would be great if all animal shelters and pet rescues could be no-kill, but every year there are more pets born than there are homes for.  No-Kill shelters deal with this by turning pets away when they have no space.  This forces other shelters to deal with the problem, and to euthanize animals. 

If more pet owners spayed, or neutered, their pet, only then can all shelters become "no-kill".

Shelters Encourage People to Spay or Neuter their Pet, but won't this mean we won't have Cats and Dogs?

Animal shelters encourage people to spay or neuter most pets; some pets are "cute" but are otherwise not breeding quality.  Pet stores, for example, sell "pet quality" animals - not "breeding quality".  A Breeding Quality pet is a registered purebred who has attended shows to prove their worth as a breeding animal, and been tested by a veterinarian against genetic health concerns.  A reputable breeder will only breed when they have homes for the animals they produce, and will take back any unwanted pets.

Shelters realize that there will always be some animals that slip through the cracks, but if more pet owners would spay, or neuter, then it would stop the over 4 million euthanasias that occur in shelters every year in the USA alone.

black and white cat

Do Pets from Shelters have more Mental Problems?

No!  While some shelters specialize in problem animals most shelters have perfectly "normal" pets.  In many cases the pets are there for no fault of their own, often their owner was moving and could not take the pet with them, or the owner passed away, or ran into financial problems and could not keep the pet.  Some dogs are there because the owner selected the wrong breed of dog, or because the owner did not have time for the dog.  Very few shelter pets are there due to abuse or neglect.

People may think their pet was abused due to the fact it may be scared, but this is common in all pets that are brough into new homes. 

Where to Shelters get their Money?

Most shelters are non-profit registered as charities and accept donations.  Some also get funding from the government. 

Related Links

Facts on Volunteering at an Animal Shelter

How to Start a Dog Rescue

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Comments (11)

Very worthwhile information, Brenda. Is this information from personal experience, or do you have reference material? Also, are you referring to the US, Canada, or both?

Excellent article, Very important information about shelters and animal adoption and the reality in certain situations of having to utilize euthanasia. Really good.

James, I worked in a shelter for 5 years and have visited others. The number of animals euthanized every year in the USA is quoted on many sites, it use to be a much higher figure but has gone down as more people are spaying/neutering. I usually said "most" shelters - rather than "all". Pretty much this is standard for Canada, USA, and UK. I have watched a TV show about an SPCA in South Africa - that was pretty amazing, very sad due to the poverty too though as people kept even horses in their garages and back yards. But as well they preached for spaying/neutering and such. I could have made a much longer Q & A but just took some questions I have often been asked.

here is a terrific link which states 4 million cats and dogs are put to death every year in the USA. I want to stress shelters are NOT to blame for this, but rather the blame lies with people who allow their pets to breed without having homes for the off spring. PLUS if you do find homes for your pets off spring - it means one shelter pet will NOT find a home.

Thanks for the insight and info, Brenda. I thought it best to ask rather than assume.

good info that we all need to know

Good information. All of my pets over the years have been adopted from shelters, and every one has been a wonderful loving companion. Adopting from a shelter is a double reward because you get a loving animal, and the sense of having saved it from potential euthanasia - unless it's lucky enough to have been placed in a no-kill shelter - and even then you get to know you got it out of that little cage and gave it a real home.

Interesting facts to consider about animal shelters.

Pets and animal rescue here just recently recovered a small truck pull of street dogs on its way for butchering. Shelters accommodate plenty of lost animals. Thank you Brenda.

I think most shelters and rescues do an excellent job. I did fostering for a couple of rabbits I later adopted. I must say I was a little shocked at some of the rules. Despite having a heated garage I was required to keep the rabbits in the house "at all times" these were huge rabbits and I did fudge and give them time outside in a much larger cage where they could munch on grass for a couple of hours a day as the inside cages were much too small for permanent confinement.

Very important information