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Before You Complain About Your Local Animal Shelter

ASPCA, National Shelter Outreach

It is very easy to misinterpret animal shelters from the outside. It is equally possible to misunderstand what is observed happening on the inside. The following are some common complaints that can be easily misinterpreted by volunteers and visitors. On the other hand, these can also be valid complaints. In either case, before you complain take a moment to talk with the shelter management and find about more about the daily operations.


Please Don’t Misconstrue:

No Water: Many dogs and cats tip over their water bowls on a regular basis and if their water was continuously filled they would be soaking wet. Therefore, some animals are watered on a regular basis and not provided with water ’round-the clock.

No Food: Animals fed on a free feed basis often overeat and get diarrhea. Shelter animals are generally fed twice a day (more for sick, younger or special needs animals) so you won’t necessarily see food in their cages.

Euthanasia: Yes, animal shelters need to euthanize animals. It is not possible to build a shelter large enough to house all animals in need. Most shelters have formulated guidelines on euthanasia decision-making.

Dirty Cages: No matter how often or how well a shelter cleans there will be some dirty cages at any one time. Cages are often at their worst first thing in the morning before the shelter staff has had a chance to throughly clean and disinfect all the animal runs and cages.

Sick Animals: No matter how comprehensive the health program a shelter conducts there will always be some sick animals. Most animals arrive unvaccinated and many harbor contagious diseases. A good shelter isolates and treats sick animals as soon as possible.

Adoption Refusals: No shelter has a crystal ball, they will sometimes refuse adopting to a potentially good owner or worse, adopt animals to an unsatisfactory owner. Good shelters try hard to match the right pet with the right owner and give the new owner realistic expectations about their new companion.

Cruelty to Animal ComplaintsShelters with cruelty investigation programs can only enforce existing laws (as well as lobby for new stronger legislation). Shelters do not condone irresponsible marginal pet owners but often cannot “correct” the situation without owner cooperation. Investigators can only enforce existing (and often insufficient) laws. All too often, they witness poor conditions, but if no law is violated, agents must limit their actions to educating the owner about improving his animal’s care.

So before you complain, take a moment to talk to the shelter management and find out if your complaint is indeed valid. Give the shelter the benefit of the doubt. Is there something you can do to help with the situation?

Take it to the Top
If a complaint is valid and you don’t think you can make a difference by working from within the organization, then you should communicate your displeasure directly with the executive director and the board of directors of the shelter. Additionally, if they have a service contract with the local municipality contact the city council as well. Finally, you may wish to contact your local Better Business Bureau and/or write a letter to the editor of your local paper.

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