How the Changing Shelter Scene Affects Adopter Strategies

In the last 20 years, many animal pounds and shelters have changed for the better. Many have such good programs that they no longer need to release dogs to breed Rescue groups. Thus adopters who want to maximize their oppertunities need to be as ready to adopt from the shelter as they are to adopt from a Rescue group. For Rescue, it means concentrating our resources on those shelters where dogs still need us to bail them out and on dogs surrendered directly from owners to Rescue.

How the Changing Shelter Scene Affects Adopter Strategies

by Pam Green, © 2005

I want to share with you prospective adopters some thoughts about how the changes in some shelter situtions affect your strategies as adopters.

Twenty years ago when I got into Rescue work, most shelters were having high intake numbers and were only able to keep dogs briefly. Those shelters that were city or county Animal Control (ie the Pound) often saw their primary mission as serving the human community by disposing of unwanted animals, and thus they did not emphasize placing animals. (Some even acted as if they felt that they would rather kill a dog today than have to deal with one or more litters of offspring from that animal in the future.) Someitmes dogs would be offered for adoption for only one or two days before being killed. Kill rates at most shelters were very very high. Thus in those days the rescue mission was to bail the dog out of there, "get him off Death Row" , immediately because otherwise the dog would probably be killed.

Well in the intervening years, the situation has changed for the better. Such changes include :

All these factors have combined to change how many shelters opperate. Today there are many shelters, including some Animal Controls, that have really good adoption programs. In the past few years, the innovative Shelter Medicine Program at the U C Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (see <>) has been encouraging these and other beneficial changes as well as training young vets for the demands and rewards of shelter work. Several of the leading Vet Schools in the US are contemplating adding similar programs to their curriculum.

In short , some shelters are doing what a Rescue program does and doing it very well !

The result is that some shelters now feel, often quite correctly, that they are able to do as good a job as a breed Rescue can do and they feel that they would rather do the placements themselves for those dogs that do not present some kind of difficulty better handled by Rescue. So for those shelters, generally once they have taken a dog and evaluated it as being adoptable, they are not interested in having Rescue take over, though they may be very happy to have Rescue refer adopters to them.

That's OK with me !!! It means that my resources are spared for othr dogs, those who land in less advanced shelters and those who come to me direct from surrendering owners. (I should add that the need for Rescue is not going to dissappear any time soon. That is still a dream.)

But these changes in shelters mean that for the potential adopter there are some changes in strategy for finding your adoptable dog. If you are looking for some particular type of pet, eg a particular breed, it is no longer enough that you contact the relevant Rescue. You also have to keep checking on and on your local shelter web sites.

When checking shelter sites and Petfinder, do remember that it is not a rarity that a shelter will mis-identify the breed or breed mix of a dog. It's not that they are stupid or negligent; it is that correctly identifying many dogs is difficult or impossible. While most short-haired dogs do bear sufficient resemblance to the photos on the wall chart or in the breed ID books, most long haired dogs can look VERY different from the breed illustrations if they have been long neglected in grooming and are very "over-grown" with hair or if contrarywise they have been clipped down. Also natural ears or natural tails in breeds normally cropped or docked can make breed ID more difficult. For all these reasons it's easy for the shelter worker to think that "gee it sort of looks like a XYZ but it also looks diferent, so maybe it is an XYZ mix" or to just plain think it is some other breed or to not be able to start to guess. And some breeds look an awful lot like other breeds : eg Bouvier, Giant Schnauzr, and Black Russian Terrier look extremely alike, especially if not "correctly" groomed (ie groomed in show style). I've also seen Bouvs identified as "sheepdog cross" (Old English Sheepdog), "poodle cross" , and some much stranger mis-identifications. So if you don't want to miss out on a mis-identified dog, it is well to look at all the photos in the overall size range of your desired breed. The photos may or may not be really good photos , but they should be enough to let you know whether to grab your car keys and head over for an up-close-and-personal look. Be prepared for the shelter staff to interview you, perhaps as extensively as a Rescue would.

For example, those of you in Northern California looking for Bouviers, I can tell you that one shelter you would need to check is the Sacramento SPCA   <>. They have had two nice Bouvs in the past month, both mis-identified (one as a GS and the other as OES), and in both cases they placed the dogs through their own progam, declining Bouv Rescue's offer to take the dogs into our program.

Related topics :

site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 8/20/05 revised 8/20/05
return to top of page return to Site Index