Animal Shelters – What They Are and Why We Need Them

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Dr Donna Spector

Most people are aware that animal shelters exist but many people don’t know exactly what a shelter is or why we need them. 

What is an animal shelter?

An animal shelter is a facility devoted to the temporary housing and care of homeless and unwanted pets.  Not all shelters are alike.  Some are actually part of local government and supported by tax dollars, whereas others are independent and rely on donations.  Some are actually part of large well-supported national organizations.  Regardless, animal shelters must follow various state and local laws and regulations. 

Depending on their budget, shelters vary widely in the adoptive and educational services they provide to their communities.  Shelters require many employees and volunteers and at every shelter you will find staff who dedicate their work to helping animals find loving lifelong homes.

Why do we need animal shelters?

Animal shelters are necessary in the United States largely because of irresponsible pet ownership and uncontrolled breeding.  People often obtain pets without a full understanding of the time, space and money that they require.  Unfortunately, that frequently results in pets being abandoned or relinquished by these owners.  Apart from responsible breeders, owners should spay or neuter their pets to curb the serious overpopulation problem in the United States. 

Shelters do not treat or stop the problem of unwanted pets but without them the stray pet population would be astronomical.  There would be more problems with disease spread and an increased incidence of stray animal-induced injuries (bites and scratches). 

Limitations of animal shelters

Unfortunately, many shelters have limited resources—space and food particularly—and as such must decide which pets are most likely to be adopted and euthanize others in order to care for the increasing numbers of stray animals.  Although it would be preferred that all shelters function as "no-kill" shelters—shelters where animals are cared for until they are adopted or die of natural causes—this is just not realistic with the current overpopulation problem and demand for space in shelters. 

What can you do?

Adopt a pet!—save a life and support a shelter with your adoption fee.  If you are unable to adopt, shelters also rely on generous donations, gifts and volunteers to function.  While donations of money and food are always needed, even donations of toys, blankets, bedding, newspapers or even your time are greatly appreciated.  Contact your local animal shelter to find out what you can do today.  Spread the word about spaying and neutering and responsible pet ownership. 

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