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May 3, 2013

Common Questions about Animal Shelters

Here are the answers to some common questions about animal shelters.

dog puppy in shelter cage



What is The HSUS's role in relation to local animal shelters?

By long-standing tradition, local humane societies are independent entities. Each shelter has its own policies, governance, and priorities.

In the 1950s, the founders of The HSUS recognized that animal welfare professionals at these organizations were consumed with the day-to-day tasks of community animal care and control. No organization gave a national voice to the fight against cruelty and the celebration of the human-animal bond. The founding mission of The HSUS was to support the work of local societies by speaking with just such a voice.  

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If The HSUS does not oversee my local animal shelter, what does it do for local shelters?

For more than a half-century, The HSUS has stood as the nation's most important advocate for local humane societies. Across the country and around the world, we serve local animal shelters and other groups by offering a wealth of publications, training opportunities (such as our annual Animal Care Expo, a trade show and workshop conference specifically designed for animal care and control professionals), and advice and assistance from our team of expert staff. We also publish recommended guidelines for shelter operations, shelter management, and animal control and cruelty at animalsheltering.org. We also do much more to support local shelters.

Additionally, The HSUS and its partner organization, The Fund for Animals, provide sanctuary and direct care to thousands of creatures, big and small through the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, two Wildlife Centers—one in southern California and one in Cape Cod, Mass.,—and a Rabbit Sanctuary in South Carolina.

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How many animals enter animal shelters each year? And how many are euthanized?

The HSUS estimates that animal shelters care for 6-8 million dogs and cats every year in the United States, of whom approximately 3-4 million are euthanized. At this time, there is no central data reporting agency for animal shelters, so these numbers are estimates; however, the Asilomar Accords method is gaining momentum as a standard for more accurately tracking these numbers. Annual statistics for approximately 150 shelters across the country are posted at asilomaraccords.org. You can help us develop a more accurate picture of the problem by encouraging your local shelters to report their data.

In the 1970s, American shelters euthanized 12-20 million dogs and cats, at a time when there were 67 million pets in homes. Today, shelters euthanize around 2.7 million animals, while there are more than 135 million dogs and cats in homes.  This enormous decline in euthanasia numbers—from around 25 percent of American dogs and cats euthanized every year to about 3 percent—represents substantial progress. We will make still greater progress by working together to strike at the roots of animal overpopulation.

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Why are there so many animals in animal shelters?

Low adoption rates are one factor driving the high number of animals in shelters, but every year, millions of dogs and cats  are relinquished by their owners—or rescued from the streets by animal control officers and private citizens—and brought to animal shelters. These circumstances leave shelters and rescue groups with a large number of animals in need of homes.

To help reduce the number of homeless animals, The HSUS works to promote responsible pet ownership and to reduce pet overpopulation through public education, legislation, and support for sterilization programs. We also help animal shelters directly by providing information and training on topics such as innovative marketing techniques, fundraising, and volunteer programs. Learn more about what The HSUS does for local shelters and rescues. Our website, animalsheltering.org, is the must-read site for professionals and volunteers involved with local animal shelters, rescues, spay/neuter services, and animal control agencies.

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How long are animals held at an animal shelter before being adopted or euthanized? What factors affect those decisions?

Most animal shelters have no set time limit for holding an animal. In the vast majority of shelters, decisions about adoption and euthanasia are based on factors that include the temperament and health of the animal, and the space and resources available to humanely house and properly care for the animal.

Some animal shelters take in strays, and many of those facilities have an established holding period for those animals to allow their owners a chance to find and claim them. This stray holding period is typically set by local or state law, so it will vary from one community to the next. While some variation is understandable, The HSUS recommends that shelters hold stray animals for a minimum of five operating days; that period should include a Saturday to ensure that working owners will have every possible chance to claim their lost pets.
Animal shelters should strive to ensure that their animals remain healthy and are given every opportunity to find new homes. If an animal becomes sick, stressed, or exhibits challenging behavior, the shelter should take steps to treat these conditions, working with available veterinary and behavioral assistance, and using responsible foster homes to get the animal into a less stressful environment.

However, if efforts to treat the illness or behavioral problem fail and the animal is not showing signs of recovery, some shelters may not have the resources to continue treatment and may not have access to a reputable rescue group or foster home. In some of these cases, euthanasia may be warranted.

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Why aren't all animal shelters no-kill shelters?

Some shelters are mandated to accept all animals brought to them, and The HSUS believes there must be at least one animal shelter in every community that operates under this philosophy. Ending the euthanasia of homeless animals is a goal that all animal welfare organizations share.

But the reality is that shelters, with their limited space and finite resources, cannot achieve this goal without high levels of community support. For more information about our position, please read our President's statement.

The HSUS focuses on the root of the homeless animal problem by educating pet owners, helping them deal with behavior problems and other issues so that they can keep their pets for life. We encourage spaying and neutering to reduce animal overpopulation, promote adoption from shelters and rescues, and seek to end the mass breeding of dogs in puppy mills and their sale in pet stores and on the Internet. 

The HSUS supports all of our nation's animal shelters in their efforts to save lives through good matchmaking and proactive adoption programs and to eliminate the euthanasia of homeless animals. It is the responsibility of every shelter, regardless of its euthanasia position and operating philosophy, to maintain the highest standards of animal care and to ensure that all adopted animals are spayed and neutered.

You can make a difference! Support community-wide efforts to prevent overpopulation. Encourage your local shelter to work as diligently as possible to find loving homes for the animals in their care. You can even volunteer! Adopt your next companion animal from a shelter, have all your pets spayed or neutered, and be a responsible pet owner—protect your pets with current identification tags and don't let them roam.

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I am concerned that my local animal shelter is in poor condition or that animals are being neglected. What can I do?

Always discuss questions or concerns about the operations at your local animal shelter with the shelter management first. Caring for animals in a shelter setting is different from caring for animals in a home environment and managing large numbers of animals requires many special considerations that may not be obvious. The HSUS recommends that all animal shelters provide at least the minimum quality of life standards for the animals in their care.

Learn more about what you can do if you have concerns about your local animal shelter »

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How do I notify the correct authorities about animal abuse or neglect that I have witnessed?

If you witness animal abuse or neglect, please contact your local humane society, animal shelter, or animal control agency immediately. In most areas, those agencies have the jurisdiction and capability to investigate and resolve these situations. They rely on concerned citizens to be their eyes and ears in the community and to report animal suffering. If you are not sure where to call or if there is no animal welfare agency of that sort in your community, call your local police department or sheriff's office.

I need to give up my pet. What do I do?

If you cannot keep your pet, check out our guidelines for finding a responsible home for a pet, which includes information designed to help you responsibly re-home your animal into a safe environment.

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My animal shelter won't accept the animal I brought to them. What do I do?

First and foremost, it's extremely important to try to keep the animal in your custody until you can find a responsible place to take the animal. Try to locate other animal shelters in your area online or by looking in the phone directory under "animal shelters," "animal control," or "animal care and control." If those methods don't work, try contacting  a veterinarian in your area. They may have a better idea of what resources are available to you.

The HSUS strongly advocates for an animal shelter in each community whose doors are open to all homeless and unwanted animals. However, animal shelters, as independent agencies, are under no obligation to follow these recommendations.

There isn't an animal shelter in my community: What do I do? Can I start my own shelter?

Traditionally, animal care and control services are a function of the local government. For the sake of public health and safety and the quality of life in a community, all governments must  provide these services.

Creating a private shelter can be an extremely challenging endeavor requiring ample resources. If no animal care and control agency covers your area, we urge you to speak to your local officials about the need for adequate animal control services. The report "Animal Control Management: A Guide for Local Governments" may be helpful to you and your local government in deciding how your community's animal control agency should be set up and operated.

Starting and maintaining a responsible shelter requires a great deal of expertise, labor, and resources. There may be more effective ways you can help. Local animal organizations and citizens can help animals through many different methods. While some concentrate on sheltering and adoptions, others focus on services like lobbying for effective animal protection laws and services, educating the public about responsible pet ownership, establishing subsidized spay and neuter services, helping feral cats in their community, setting up pet-behavior hotlines or classes to help more people keep their animals instead of relinquishing or abandoning them, or bringing humane education into area classrooms. The HSUS encourages you to investigate your community's animal problems to determine how your resources may best be employed.

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