Animal shelters play a necessary part in state and local animal control policies. They provide animals with the opportunity for a second chance at a home, and most accept both strays and animals relinquished voluntarily by their owners. Despite the benefits provided by their services, animal shelters are not without their critics. Animal rights activists cite overcrowding, euthanizing policies and staffing as reasons for concern.
Pro: Adoption Process
Animal shelters provide incentives to make adopting their animals easy for any potential new owner. While fees vary from shelter to shelter, the shelter's cost to allow adoptions is much lower than the cost of resources required to house and feed the animal. Funded by tax dollars, city and county shelters offer prices that are particularly low. Another advantage of adopting through animal shelters is the wide availability of animals. Due to the high number of animals accepted, potential owners will likely find a match that suits their preferences.
Pro: Animal Control
Local animal shelters provide a place to house stray dogs and cats that wander a neighborhood unguarded. Sheltering lowers the instance of animal attacks that would otherwise happen if all strays roamed free, while providing the animals with food and shelter. To help cut down on the number of unwanted strays, animal shelters have strict policies on spaying and neutering pets for any potential owners.
Pro: Temperament and Socialization
Most animals surrendered to animal shelters are adults. Adopting an adult animal generally comes with fewer surprises about the animal's temperament and behavior, compared with adopting a puppy or kitten. Many animal shelters provide extensive behavioral tests on animals before putting them up for adoption and generally have strict policies to inform potential owners about any destructive behavior.
Con: Administration and Staffing
Local shelters are often independently run, and their policies vary depending upon the location of the shelter, as opposed to a state or national standard. Additionally, shelters are staffed primarily by volunteers. While these workers generally have the animals' best interests in mind, the need for shelter workers outnumbers the people willing to volunteer, in some cases.
Every year, animal shelters euthanize approximately 3 million to 4 million dogs and cats, according to the Humane Society of the United States. The decision to euthanize the animal is left to the discretion of each individual shelter and depends upon the animal's temperament and health and the shelter's space and resources. Many shelters set a holding period in which strays are not eligible for euthanizing, giving their owners a chance to rescue them. Not all animal shelters euthanize, and those that don't distinguish themselves from the others by calling themselves no-kill animal shelters.
According to the Humane Society of America, 150 animal shelters operate in the United States. These shelters take in an estimated 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats every year. In some of these animal shelters, overcrowding results from taking in too many strays. Overcrowding in animal shelters leads to stressed animals, the spread of disease and animals fighting each other. The much lower adoption rates at no-kill animal shelters make overcrowding a particular problem.
- The Humane Society of the United States: Common Questions About Animal Shelters
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Since 1994 Carrie Glossmanz has been writing freelance articles for publications such as "Animal Fair," "Delicious Living" and "Diabetes Health." Glossmanz is a Registered Dietitian and earned her Master of Science in nutritional sciences with an emphasis on clinical nutrition from the University of Kentucky.