Practical Issues > Pets Index > Shelters
A Letter from a Shelter Manager

I think our society needs a huge "Wake-up" call. As a shelter manager, I am going to share a little insight with you all...a view from the inside if you will. First off, all of you breeders/sellers should be made to work in the "back" of an animal shelter for just one day. Maybe if you saw the life drain from a few sad, lost, confused eyes, you would change your mind about breeding and selling to people you don't even know.

 That puppy you just sold will most likely end up in my shelter when it's not a cute little puppy anymore. So how would you feel if you knew that there's about a 90% chance that dog will never walk out of the shelter it is going to be dumped at? Purebred or not! About 50% of all of the dogs that are "owner surrenders" or "strays" , that come into my shelter are purebred dogs.

 The most common excuses I hear are; "We are moving and we can't take our dog (or cat)." Really? Where are you moving too that doesn't allow pets? Or they say "The dog got bigger than we thought it would" . How big did you think a German Shepherd would get? "We don't have time for her" . Really? I work a 10-12 hour day and still have time for my 6 dogs! "She's tearing up our yard" . How about making her a part of your family?

 They always tell me "We just don't want to have to stress about finding a place for her we know she'll get adopted, she's a good dog" . Odds are your pet won't get adopted & how stressful do you think being in a shelter is? Well, let me tell you, your pet has 72 hours to find a new family from the moment you drop it off.

 Sometimes a little longer if the shelter isn't full and your dog manages to stay completely healthy. If it sniffles, it dies. Your pet will be confined to a small run/kennel in a room with about 25 other barking or crying animals. It will have to relieve itself where it eats and sleeps. It will be depressed and it will cry constantly for the family that abandoned it.

 If your pet is lucky, I will have enough volunteers in that day to take him/her for a walk. If I don't, your pet won't get any attention besides having a bowl of food slid under the kennel door and the waste sprayed out of its pen with a high-powered hose. If your dog is big, black or any of the "Bully" breeds (pit bull, rottie, mastiff, etc) it was pretty much dead when you walked it through the front door.

Those dogs just don't get adopted. It doesn't matter how 'sweet' or 'well behaved' they are.

If your dog doesn't get adopted within its 72 hours and the shelter is full, it will be destroyed. If the shelter isn't full and your dog is good enough, and of a desirable enough breed it may get a stay of execution, but not for long . Most dogs get very kennel protective after about a week and are destroyed for showing aggression. Even the sweetest dogs will turn in this environment. If your pet makes it over all of those hurdles chances are it will get kennel cough or an upper respiratory infection and will be destroyed because shelters just don't have the funds to pay for even a $100 treatment.

Here's a little euthanasia 101 for those of you that have never witnessed a perfectly healthy, scared animal being "put-down" . First, your pet will be taken from its kennel on a leash. They always look like they think they are going for a walk happy, wagging their tails. Until they get to "The Room" , every one of them freaks out and puts on the brakes when we get to the door. It must smell like death or they can feel the sad souls that are left in there, it's strange, but it happens with every one of them.

 Your dog or cat will be restrained, held down by 1 or 2 vet techs depending on the size and how freaked out they are. Then a euthanasia tech or a vet will start the process. They will find a vein in the front leg and inject a lethal dose of the "pink stuff" . Hopefully your pet doesn't panic from being restrained and jerk. I've seen the needles tear out of a leg and been covered with the resulting blood and been deafened by the yelps and screams. They all don't just "go to sleep" , sometimes they spasm for a while, gasp for air and defecate on themselves. \b0\f1

When it all ends, your pets corpse will be stacked like firewood in a large freezer in the back with all of the other animals that were killed waiting to be picked up like garbage. What happens next? Cremated? Taken to the dump? Rendered into pet food? You'll never know and it probably won't even cross your mind. It was just an animal and you can always buy another one, right? I hope that those of you that have read this are bawling your eyes out and can't get the pictures out of your head I deal with everyday on the way home from work. I hate my job, I hate that it exists & I hate that it will always be there unless you people make some changes and realize that the lives you are affecting go much farther than the pets you dump at a shelter. \b0\f1

Between 9 and 11 MILLION animals die every year in shelters and only you can stop it. I do my best to save every life I can but shelters are always full, and there are more animals coming in everyday than there are homes. My point to all of this DON'T BREED OR BUY WHILE SHELTER PETS DIE! Hate me if you want to. The truth hurts and reality is what it is. I just hope I maybe changed one persons mind about breeding their dog, taking their loving pet to a shelter, or buying a dog. I hope that someone will walk into my shelter and say "I saw this and it made me want to adopt" . THAT WOULD MAKE IT WORTH IT.

A sheltered life? Harsh reality at pounds
Workers offer pointers on how animals' tragedy could be averted
Eileen Mitchell

August 20, 2005

It's not for the faint of heart, this book. But "One at a Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter" addresses a subject that people need to know about: the harsh realities of dogs and cats who are surrendered to shelters or wind up there as strays. These are realities that most people either aren't aware of or simply choose to ignore.

Until I read this book, I was among those who had no idea of the shocking statistics: 6 million to 8 million animals enter shelters each year. Nationally, only 20 percent of dogs and cats in homes are adopted from animal shelters. Only 1 animal in 3 has a home that lasts their entire lifetime. Less than 2 percent of stray cats are reunited with their guardians. Every 9 seconds one animal is euthanized.

Count to nine. There, an animal is dead. Count again. There, another dead. And it's all the more heartbreaking because it's so preventable, say co- authors and former shelter workers Marilee Geyer and Diane Leigh. They spent one week in a typical shelter in Northern California and randomly selected 75 animals to photograph and profile. They also documented each animal's final destiny. In a phone interview, I asked why they had left their shelter jobs to write such a difficult book.

"We wanted to put faces on these statistics so people understand that these aren't just numbers, but beautiful, precious, unique beings," Leigh said. "Each animal has a life, a history. If we can make it more personal, it has more power and more impact."

"I worked in shelters for nearly a decade and was almost destroyed when I left," Geyer revealed. "For me, this book was born out of the incredible grief and sadness that shelter workers go through. I channeled that sadness into something educational and to pay tribute to the millions of animals that we'll never see."

Both Geyer and Leigh believe that change begins with facing the truth, no matter how hard that may be. Indeed, this book induced a plethora of emotion in me, ranging from amazement to tenderness to tears. But mostly, I felt anger. Anger at the indifference, selfishness and lackadaisical attitudes of people who invite animals into their homes, then relinquish them with nary a thought.

Like the woman who refused to pay a $20 reclaim fee when Kelly, her older golden husky mix, slipped out of the yard. She figured Kelly, whom she claimed was "a great dog," would get out again, so she surrendered her for adoption. Was safeguarding the yard ever a consideration? Kelly wasn't adopted, a dilemma often faced by older pets, and was euthanized.

Then there was the person who surrendered Pearl and her newborn kittens, citing on the release form, "unable to care for them." Why wasn't Pearl spayed to begin with? Pearl was euthanized.

Someone else dumped Kelli, a terrified little terrier mix, on a busy highway. Another dog euthanized.

Then there were Duke and Lady, active blue tick coon hounds who had been tethered to their doghouses for their entire lives. A concerned neighbor finally called the shelter, and the dogs were confiscated after the guardian refused to correct their inadequate conditions.

Some people give more thought to their pizza-topping selections than they do in deciding to get a pet. Are they prepared for the changes that will take place when they invite a pet into their lives, such as vet bills and new feeding and exercise schedules? Have they considered potential allergy problems? Will other household pets be compatible with this new addition? If the prospective guardians are renters, how stable are their living arrangements?

"Each (shelter) animal's situation could have been prevented," Leigh said. "It's hard for people to wrap their minds around. They understand how adopting saves lives, but it's a little more indirect to see how prevention helps as well." She's referring to constant themes in the book, which address the need for spaying, neutering and pet identification. Also cited is the sorry fact that 96 percent of dogs surrendered to shelters were given no training by their guardians.

"These are lifesaving acts, but it's hard for people to understand because prevention is more intangible and indirect," she said. "We want to help people realize that it's not just about saving animals once they get into the shelter, but saving them from entering the shelter in the first place."

It was difficult to read about something I'd never heard of: "kennel stress," a condition to which even the most loving animals often succumb. Caused by noise, unfamiliar smells, fear, continual confinement and lack of human contact, kennel stress eventually results in irreversible emotional trauma. Some animals become depressed, lethargic and lose weight. Others become hyperactive and start exhibiting extreme behavior problems.

As Leigh and Geyer write, "Finding a new home for an animal is always a race against time: Shelter workers know they must get an animal out before kennel stress sets in. At the least, a depressed, withdrawn animal is less likely to be chosen by adopters. At worst, an animal that has become aggressive cannot be placed at all."

Even happy endings, which the book includes, involve "an invisible victim. " This is because a crowded shelter might have to euthanize one animal to save another.

"When I worked in the shelter I always wanted to show people how things play out," Leigh said.

That can be what eventually happens when they an animal they are wholly unprepared for. Or when they let their cat have a litter so their kids can witness "the miracle of life" while kittens are dying in shelters. Good people don't think they're contributing to this tragedy, but they don't understand how their actions affect their community shelter.

So "One at a Time" may not be a favorite among book clubs, and it's unlikely that the film rights will be purchased, with Meg Ryan starring as the bighearted shelter director who manages to save every Lassie and Winn-Dixie. Still, it's a book that animal lovers should read.

Because awareness creates change. And change might mean fewer dogs and cats dying.

No Voice Unheard is a nonprofit organization. Its Every Nine Seconds campaign asks people to log on to and submit a photo of an animal that has touched their lives. In honor of that animal, the authors will donate a copy of their book, "One at a Time," to a designated shelter for use as an educational resource.

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