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The Changing Face of Animal Shelters

By Linda Cole

For many years, animal shelters have been a place where pet owners could take their dog or cat when they could no longer care for them. That's still the case, but today's shelters have expanded to become more than just a shelter by providing other pet related services in addition to finding new homes for pets.

Animal Education 

Shelters are developing humane education programs to help teach kids how to respect animals and have compassion for all life. Children are taught how to handle a pet, the proper way to pet them, and when they may need to give a pet their space. Responsible pet ownership is the focus in each program, and some shelters include responsible stewardship for all animals, domesticated and wild. These programs help teach kids empathy and why it's important to have compassion for the animals we share our environment with. Programs vary from shelter to shelter, with some offering classes on pet first aid and disaster preparedness for pets.

Safe Haven

Since the downturn in the economy, some shelters have come up with a way to help struggling owners keep their pets. Instead of surrendering a pet to a shelter and adding to their population, safe haven programs are giving pet owners a better option and hope by boarding or fostering pets for people who are in a temporary situation. Home foreclosures or a loss of a job is already a stressful situation. Surrendering a pet to a shelter only adds to a family's devastating economic loss. Safe haven programs also give military personnel preparing to deploy overseas a way to keep their pets while they're away. Instead of worrying if a pet they had to surrender to a shelter has found a good home, soldiers can concentrate on their job knowing their pet is safe and waiting for them to return.

Training Classes and Behavior Evaluations

One reason many pets are surrendered to shelters is because their owner doesn't know how to correct a behavior problem. However, most behavior issues can be easily resolved once you know how to help a pet. Even aggression can be corrected. Some bad behavior is due to medical reasons and some is simply a matter of the owner taking the lead role with a pet. Many shelters now have an animal behaviorist on staff to help with pet behavior issues. Training classes give pet owners the tools they need to teach basic commands and learn how to control their dog.

Spay/Neuter Clinics

Low cost spay/neuter clinics help lower income pet owners afford the cost of having their pet altered. Some shelters offer programs that are free for pet owners who qualify.

Trap, Neuter and Return

Feral cat populations are found across the country. TNR is one of the best ways to help deal with millions a homeless cats living on the streets. Shelters that offer low cost spay/neuter programs usually also provide the same service to people caring for feral cats. These aren't bad cats, just unfortunate ones trying to survive in the shadows. They are captured, spayed/neutered, vaccinated and returned to their original location. TNR helps reduce unwanted litters that add to a feral population and helps protect the public by making sure the cats are vaccinated.

Pet Food Pantries/Charities

Many shelters now have programs to help pet owners feed their pets and keep them in the home where they belong. A pet should never be surrendered to a shelter because a pet owner is having a hard time juggling a shrinking budget. The Pongo Fund in Portland, Oregon is a charity that was started when its founder, Larry Chusid, saw a need to help homeless, transitional, and underprivileged pet owners with food for their pets. The Pongo Fund Pet Food Bank now helps keep many beloved pets in the arms of the people they love. CANIDAE has been a supporter and sponsor of The Pongo Fund from day one, and continues to provide pet food donations to assist Larry with his mission. The Pongo Fund has helped feed over 50,000 pets throughout Portland and Southwest Washington.

Investigation Services

This is a service offered by some of the larger humane societies. They have their own department that investigates allegations of animal abuse and animal neglect, and is more likely to be found in areas where there's an absence of any local animal control personnel and in larger communities.

Pets belong in a home, and animal shelters that offer extra services to help people keep their pets are also helping to reduce the number of animals in shelters. If you have some extra time, consider volunteering as one way you can help your local animal shelter, because they too are feeling the pinch due to a downturn in donations.

To find out more, read Volunteer Opportunities at Animal Shelters, What Does an Animal Shelter Volunteer Do, and Ways to Help Your Local Animal Shelter.

Top photo: phphoto2010
Bottom photo: Steven L. Johnson

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