10 Common Myths About Animal Shelters Debunked

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 14, 2013

By Jaime Lynn Smith

Animal shelters are a huge asset to the communities they serve as well as surrounding residents – and, of course, to the animals. Unfortunately, their purpose and contribution to society are often misunderstood. Here, we explore some prevalent myths about animal shelters and the precious pets inside of them. Feel free to leave your comments or questions at the end.

1. All animal shelters are directly managed by larger organizations (e.g., ASPCA, HSUS).

False. In fact, according to Ayse Dunlap, Director of Operations for the Cleveland Animal Protective League (APL), which services about 16,000 animals a year, “this is entirely false…there’s no affiliation at all.” Dunlap adds that most rescues and shelters run solely on grants and donations from the surrounding communities, unless they are government facilities (like county rescues).

2. All shelter pets available for pet adoption are old.

False. It’s possible to find pets of all ages in shelters (i.e., puppies, adults, middle-aged, etc.). Ellen Quimper, Executive Director of the smaller rescue (intake about 1,000 a year) Love-A-Stray Cat Rescue in Avon, Ohio (LAS), says she currently has over 20 kittens available for adoption and adds that, on any given day, there are at least 10 kittens available as well as senior pets and ‘regular adult’ pets. Dunlap concurs, noting that the Cleveland APL has 40-50 kittens right now as well as several puppies. “It really depends on the season,” says Dunlap. “This time of year we’re heading into slower kitten season. Winter equals fewer kittens. ” Adding that, “the APL never discriminates for age – we have a 12-year-old dog on the floor as well as a two-month-old kitten. It really just depends on the time of year.” LAS also has pets of all ages as most rescues make it a rule to not play the age discrimination game – they’re hearts are too big.

3. Shelter personnel don’t know enough about pets.

False. According to Dunlap, “…a shelter’s workers are generally quite knowledgeable and often the shelter’s greatest resource. You can find people like veterinary technicians volunteering at shelters oftentimes, as well as actual veterinarians, behaviorists, and other animal specialists.” They know the pet’s personality, temperament, likes, dislikes, even the food that the pet prefers. In fact, once you determine which pet you’d like to adopt it’s best to ask what food he/she is currently being fed. Many shelters receive food donations by pet food companies and therefore are best left on the same food until you can consult a veterinarian.

4. Animal shelters only have dogs and cats.

False. Many rescues, including Cleveland APL, have small mammal adoptions and offer rabbits, guinea pigs and other small four-leggers like gerbils. You can even rescue birds like parrots!

5. Shelters don't have any purebreds up for adoption.

False. According to Found Animals, 25% of the pets in shelters around the U.S. are purebred dogs and cats. And, of course, don’t rule out the existence of specific breed rescues as they are widespread and very reputable. For example, if you wanted a Golden Retriever you could easily find a Golden Retriever rescue group in the nearest big city as these types of shelters/rescues are abundant in numbers — even toy breed rescues.

6. Shelter pets are usually quite dirty.

False. They may come in looking like ragamuffins, but they shine with delight after they’re cleaned up and given medications, shots, and spay/neuter surgery, if needed. Some animal rescues even make it a habit to have regular grooming sessions for the pets they have.  Volunteers are tasked with brushing, clipping nails and bathing the animals at shelters. And let’s keep in mind folks, these are animals – they naturally have a smell… so cut them a break. Cleveland APL, for instance, tries hard to groom most every dog that comes in – at least with a good bath and brushing!

7. Adoption fees are too expensive.

False. This one may be a bit subjective, but you must remember all that the animal shelter/rescue has done for the pet — they spent the time and money necessary to obtain him, house him, feed him, medicate him, spay/neuter him and properly vet him otherwise. That’s easily a $500 investment. You’re getting a STEAL at $250 (or sometimes less depending on the shelter or situation). Dunlap also says that most rescues and shelters give heartworm tests, flea preventatives, plus Rabies/Bordetella/Distemper vaccinations. That’s over $500 right there. You'd be hard-pressed to find a dog or cat from a breeder or pet store for anywhere near that price (plus, the reward that you are saving a life).

8. Shelter pets usually have behavioral problems or are imperfect.

False. “People think there is something wrong with the animals, i.e. the mentality of, ‘they wouldn’t be in a shelter if there wasn’t something wrong with them,’” says Dunlap. “Most of what comes into our shelter are wonderful family pets. Some dogs, yes, have training and behavioral issues because the first human owner didn’t properly work with them, but it’s rare.” Dunlap adds that - even from a breeder – you aren’t going to get a “perfect” pet and that every pet needs to be trained and properly vetted.

9. You won’t get to know your chosen shelter pet well enough before adopting.

False. Dunlap said that in many cases, the potential adopter is ready to proceed before the animal shelter is! Most rescues will allow home visits and encourage you to interact with the dog in a “Visiting Room” at the actual shelter before you move forward.

10. Animal shelters are sad places.

False. However, this also depends on how you look at the situation. Some go into an animal shelter and see confused faces looking back at them. But imagine if these faces were out on the cold, harsh street with nothing to eat and no friends. With no one to care for them. With no one to talk to them. These animals are being saved, and hence, you should look at the glass as half-full in every animal shelter’s case and in every animal’s case.


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