So you’ve decided you can no longer keep your dog or your cat for some reason. You’re moving. You’ve discovered that someone is allergic. You just can’t seem to train your dog to stop destructive behavior while you’re at work. You no longer have the time to spend with your cats and so you think they’ll be better in another home. If your first thought is to surrender your pet to a “shelter” or a “humane society,” you are like many Americans. If the basis for making that decision is your belief that your pet will be adopted into a new home, you are not alone. The reality, however, is that just because a building is called a “shelter” (ordinarily funded through tax dollars) or just because an organization is called a “humane society” (ordinarily funded through donations) does not mean that the life of your pet will be spared. In fact, odds are in favor of your pet being destroyed.
Although there are many “No Kill Communities,” across the country and there are many “No Kill Shelters” in many areas, most shelters and humane societies are “kill” facilities. When most people hear the word “shelter,” they presume that the name means what the word implies: a safe place for animals to be housed until they can either be reunited with their families or until they can be placed in homes. The sad truth is that many shelters and humane societies are primarily animal holding centers in which more than 50% (and often as many as 90%) of the animals who enter the building do not leave it alive. Some shelters have policies in place which provide for the immediate destruction of animals which are "owner surrendered."
Experts disagree on the reason for so many animals are destroyed in our shelters. Some in sheltering put the blame on what they call “pet overpopulation” and they claim that they are doing the public’s dirty work by disposing of unwanted, surplus animals. Some in animal welfare circles (including myself) put the blame on the shelter system itself, arguing that there is no pet overpopulation problem and that there are more than enough homes for the millions of animals who end up in shelters and humane societies each year. It is our position that there are enough homes for the animals which have traditionally been destroyed using our tax dollars and that shelter and rescue animals simply need to be better introduced to potential adopters who would otherwise buy a pet from a store or a breeder.
Before you surrender your pet to a shelter for whatever reason, take the time to consider what that animal has meant to you and your family and what is best for him or her. If you tell people, “I love my dog” or “but my cat has been precious to me,” please take the time to educate yourself on alternatives to surrendering your pet. You may be able to 1) rehome your pet yourself using email or a social networking web site; 2) place your pet with a friend or family member temporarily until a housing or financial situation is resolved; 3) get free dog or cat food from a local pet food bank; 4) or determine that there is some underlying medical or psychological condition which is contributing to what you consider to be your pet’s undesirable behavior. Please do not make the decision to surrender your pet in haste.