This week's Sunday Scoop is about shelters. There are good and bad shelters, but how do you tell the difference? It's not about who has the nicest building or the most funding. Those things can help make it a better place for the animals, but the people who run the shelter are much more important than the facility.
Let's say you've just won the lottery, and you decide to spend that money on building a new animal shelter for your town. First, let me thank you for your generosity! Now, since you've chosen to not only donate the funding, but to actually run the shelter yourself, you have some decisions to make. The big decision - are you going to be a no-kill shelter? If you live in the north-eastern United States, this will be much easier than if you live in one of the southern states. There are so many more homeless dogs in the South that they are constantly being transported to shelters and rescues in the North where there is a lower supply and higher demand. Let's say you live in a rural area of the Midwest. Now you know that if you choose to be no-kill, you're going to have to be limited admission. This means that you will only take in dogs and cats until you run out of room or resources. Then you'll turn animals away until you get enough pets adopted and have room to take in more. Before you say "yes, I want to be no-kill", consider this. The county where you live has no animal control facility at all. If you turn away a dog or cat, they're going to be dumped on the side of the road. They'll probably be hit by a car or shot by a rancher or just slowly starve to death. Before that happens, they'll spread disease and they'll procreate, creating more unwanted dogs and cats who will also suffer because they don't have homes. Then again, if you are open admission and take in every animal that someone wants to turn in, you'll quickly run out of space and money, and either you'll have to euthanize dogs and cats or you'll find the animals you are supposed to be saving are actually suffering in your care because there are too many animals and not enough resources.
Okay, have you made your decision? It doesn't even matter which one you've decided, because whether you're an open admission or a "no-kill" limited admission shelter, you can still be a very good or very bad shelter. Now let's talk about resources. You've purchased the land and building for a shelter, but that took all of your lottery winnings. Dog food is expensive, and so is the basic vet care. If you put your extra money toward special vet care like heartworm treatment and fixing broken bones, you will not have enough to pay any salaries for people to care for the dogs and cats. You also have to worry about paying for insurance and all the expenses that go into running a shelter. You'd like to stay open on weekends and evenings, in addition to your regular hours during the workday, because you know that will help increase adoptions. But what do you give up in order to have the money to stay open the extra hours? You also have a volunteer program but not many volunteers. More volunteers will give the dogs more time out of their kennels, and more volunteers, if they're trained, will help the dogs with basic training and teaching them to be more adoptable. So find some time to improve your volunteer program, okay? Also while you're at it, there have been some people protesting lately because they don't understand much about animal sheltering and they'd rather complain than learn, or help. They're hurting your reputation which will cost you in donations, so make sure you deal with them. And don't forget to work with all the rescue groups who are willing to pull dogs from your group. But make sure they're reputable groups first, because otherwise you'll be sending the dogs and cats to an even worse situation. Oh, and if you'll have a few fundraisers, you can increase your funds to help animals... but good luck finding someone to actually lead a fundraiser. You'll probably have to do it yourself. In your free time.
It's not easy to be in charge of a shelter. Good shelters are made up of people who really care - especially when those people are at the top of the organization and have the influence to really make a difference. Good shelters are open to the public during evenings and weekends in order to increase adoptions. They have a strong volunteer program where the dogs and cats are provided enrichment (walks, petting, grooming, toys, play time, basic training, etc), in addition to the volunteers or employees who spend their days just cleaning kennels, scooping litter boxes, and feeding and watering the animals. They have separate quarantine areas and are clean and sanitary. All pets are provided with at least the basic needed veterinary care. Good shelters are willing to work with reputable rescues to get animals into foster care, and/or they have a foster care program of their own. They aren't overcrowded, but they don't euthanize animals just for the sake of getting rid of them (yes, this happens). They do their best for every animal that comes in the door, all for low wages (or for no wages at all). They are friendly and easily accessible to the public, in order to reach potential adopters or supporters. They have an online presence and take advantage of the largest online adoption websites like Petfinder.com and Adoptapet.com to help share the word of their available pets. No shelter is perfect, but the good shelters are the ones who are constantly trying to improve. And the best thing we can do as members of our community is to support those shelters.