There are many misconceptions about animal shelters. These organizations exist to save lives, so confusing information can have a serious impact on those animals that are trying to find homes. A common misconception I hear is that people don’t go to shelters because they think they are sad places. I have even heard shelters referred to as “puppy prison”. Misconceptions like this can actually deter people from conducting life-saving adoptions, so it’s very important to share all the great things that shelters do.
Health Care: Separate kennels and sterile materials are probably the biggest factors that lead people to think of shelter spaces as cells—similar to what may be seen in a prison. The fact is that in order to protect the health of pets while in a shelter’s care – surfaces must be able to be easily cleaned and housing must provide enough of a barrier to fight against the spread of germs.
Enrichment: Since the environment has to provide health protection, shelters work very hard to enrich the lives of cats and dogs while they’re waiting for a loving forever home.
- Environmental – the following are things that shelters do to enhance the physical environment:
- Kennel sizes can be enhanced by connecting two adjoining cages. Cats love vertical space, so two stacked cages can even be connected. Larger spaces give pets choices of where to go, work to decrease stress in a shelter environment, and studies show that guests like to see the pets with the extra room to stretch – which can help them get adopted faster!
- In recent years, some shelters have been able to add larger areas that house multiple animals. These are great options to enhance a shelter stay for some animals, but must be used sparingly. While the lack of cages looks great – there is no barrier for disease protection, so animals must be properly medically vetted to ensure they are not masking an illness. It’s also important to note that, just like people, not every pet digs communal living. Some animals would simply be too stressed out or aggressive to be housed in a group setting.
- We’ve all heard of studies that show how classical music can help people study and can soothe babies, but it’s great for pets too! Many shelters use tranquil sounds to help cats and dogs relax.
- Do Not Disturb – For cats and dogs that need less stimuli to relax during their stay, shelters provide “hide spots”. This can be a box for a kitty to hide in or a curtain in front of a dog’s kennel.
- Behavioral – beyond the physical space, shelters work hard to show pets love:
- Staff and volunteer behavior experts will train and play with pets during their stay. Not only does this decrease stress and help keep the pets happy and mentally stimulated – pets that know a few behaviors like “sit” and “stay” are likely to be adopted faster.
- Aside from training sessions, staff, volunteers, and shelter visitors spend lots of time petting and loving the residents. It makes the people feel good, but it also helps the cats and dogs to maintain friendly dispositions. Socialization can even be done with other cats and dogs in the shelter. It can be fun for the pets, but it also helps to place them in the ideal home as it shows Adoption Counselors whether the pets would be okay in a home with other animals or if they’re better off as an “only child”.
- I always like to say that “enrichment” is a fancy word for “fun!” Whether it’s a feather lure for a kitty or a treat-filled Kong® for a dog – shelter pets get fun toys and furniture (such as cat perches and dog beds) to enhance their stay.
To learn more about other shelter myths, check out my recent article in Tails. Remember that every shelter is unique so ask questions to learn more. The important thing is to always make adoption your first option!
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