Why Do Animals End Up In Shelters? A guest post by Cyn Demers, Canine Care Team member, Saving Grace
Why Animals End Up in Shelters
Working in Animal Welfare we constantly hear people say things along the lines of...“How could someone just dump their animal at the shelter?” or “Once I have an animal it is there forever home and nothing would ever change that.” The world of Animal Welfare and Animal Shelters is a complex place, where every person and animal is an individual with their own story to tell. It is not our job to pass judgement on any of these situations, but to lend a kind ear and a helping hand when reached out to. The ability to take in, care for, and often rehabilitate so many companion animals is no small feat, but as compassionate human beings we have a duty to protect and save as many lives as possible. There are a multitude of reasons why an animal may end up in a shelter, starting with lack of basic resources, the shortfalls in animal care education, and people’s ever-changing personal lives. I believe we need to address these issues and make changes in these areas first and foremost to be able to lower intake into animal shelters, helping both pets and their humans alike.
The number one reason animals end up in shelters is because of a lack of community resources and underfunded shelter program opportunities. Many shelters have their sights set high in terms of what they would like to do and provide for the communities around them. With most having to find creative ways of funding these endeavors, they find themselves in a pickle with increased intakes being the primary consequence. If communities had more programs available to them such as low-cost, high volume spay and neuter, regular vaccine clinics for low income families, food banks, and emergency veterinary funds, this would allow them to lean on the shelter for help when they need and keep animals from being surrendered who otherwise wouldn’t. Everyone deserves the love of a pet and when an unexpected situation or cost pops up, shelters should be able to lend a helping hand.
The second reason for increased shelter intake is a lack of general animal education. People’s views of animals have rapidly changed over the years from primarily something you kept around to aid your household work, to companion animals who are now treated akin to children. Older views and ways of thinking about pets and how to treat them now differ, but as a society overall, we still have a lack of basic animal care education. There is no handbook when you become a pet owner of how to care for, and train your animal or what basic body language looks like to different species and how it differs from our own. Just like a child, animals do not learn how to be “good” all on their own. They need positive guidance and to be taught how to be a well-mannered member of a family. If more people had access to training classes or basics on the pet they were getting, it would lead to more cohesive households and less animals being surrendered due to their innate nature as a different species. Finally, life happens. Many intakes into animal shelters are because life is complex and throws things at you when you least expect. When most people get a pet, they understand the commitment but many times unforeseen circumstances arise and surrendering their animal is the only option. We are seeing a record number of evictions in our society and people are having to make big changes and hard decisions for their families. Personal health, family illness, among other human “problems” are all reasons people may need to surrender their animals. This doesn’t mean that they are unloved or “dumped” at a shelter, it just means that when someone has to make that difficult decision, sometimes the most gracious thing they can think of is to find their animal a better home even if it hurts them to do so.
In short, animals do not end up in animal shelters because people don’t love them. Sometimes the greatest gift of love people can give is admitting that they can no longer care for an animal and try to find them a better home. Whatever the situation is, we should give people grace and know that they alone, know their situation best and can choose what they think is the appropriate outcome for their family and animals. From lack of resources to unforeseen circumstances, most people are just looking for empathy and help. Even if it does come down to an animal being surrendered, there is more to everyone’s story than meets the eye, and if we are not so quick to judge, we will be better equipped to reach out a helping hand when called upon.