10 Things Animal Shelter Staff Wish You Knew

From pet peeves to uncommon knowledge, the staff at animal shelters deal with misconceptions regularly.

Shelters have rules for many reasons, such as minimizing the spread of disease. By: OlgaKayPix
Shelters have rules for many reasons, such as preventing the spread of disease. By: OlgaKayPix

Shelter workers spend as much of their careers surrounded by misconceptions about shelters as they do surrounded by animals. From pet peeves to uncommon knowledge, the staff at animal shelters have recurring concerns they wish they could share with every visitor who enters their shelters.

1. Shelter Animals Are Not “Broken”

There are a countless number of reasons people need to surrender their pets to shelters:

  • They find they have no time for their dog.
  • A child in the family has allergies to their kitten.
  • The family is moving and can’t take the pet.

Of all the reasons pets wind up homeless, seldom is it the animal’s fault.

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2. Your Pet Is Not a Donation

Shelters rely heavily on the support of their communities. That means that they need your donations — both monetary and material — in order to care for the pets that they house.

Many items can be considered a donation:

  • Blankets
  • Toys
  • Food

Your pet, however, is not a donation. To avoid the ire of the shelter staff, don’t refer to your cat’s seventh litter of kittens as a “donation.”

3. Shelter Staff Love the Animals

Thousands of animals may pass through a shelter’s doors in a single year, but shelter workers love those animals dearly. They form intimate bonds with the pets that people cast aside and work to find these animals the homes they deserve.

4. Shelters Are Not Horrible Places

True love happens in shelters. Really — it does every day:

  • Families are completed.
  • Pets are reunited with their people.
  • Second chances turn into happy endings.

Often animal shelters are unfairly treated like prisons instead of being treated like adoption centers.

5. Obey the Signs

Animal shelters seem to love signs almost as much as visitors like to ignore them. Although we’d all love to assume those pesky signs don’t pertain to us, they do. And they’re important:

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  • Staff Only: Your animal shelter isn’t hiding Narnia. Behind that door you’re only going to find a grooming room or a line of bowls being filled with the day’s kibble rations.
  • Don’t Touch: Shelters are trying to stop the spread of disease or prevent a scratch or bite.
  • Don’t Open the Cages: This one is pretty obvious. And yet, visitors will still insist on opening up cages and letting the pets go. Don’t do it. Ask for assistance if you want to meet someone special.
Shelters have signs for good reasons. By: SpaceAgeSage
Don’t be that guy who ignores the rules. By: SpaceAgeSage

6. Most Shelter Workers Are Not Vets

It’s awesome that you’re actively seeking advice for your pet’s well-being, but if a shelter worker suggests that you seek professional advice from a veterinarian, take their word for it.

Vets have years of medical schooling and experience to apply to your pet’s particular situation. They are your best resource when managing health or behavioral issues.

7. Many Shelters Don’t Have Time Limits

Just because a shelter isn’t no-kill does not necessarily mean it sets a time limit for each animal. You may find adoptable pets who have been in search of their forever home for weeks, months or even years.

8. Adoption Fees Are Not Price Tags

Few things can suck that warm and fuzzy feeling out of an adoption like a completely unexpected 3-digit price tag at the bottom of the contract. Try to remember a few things about adoption fees:

  • Shelters don’t profit financially from adoptions.
  • These expenses rarely cover even a small portion of the resources put into your new pet.

9. Shelter Workers’ Jobs Are Difficult

It’s hardly a secret that working with animals can be emotionally exhausting. The physical intensity of working with shelter pets is often overlooked, though. Spending your days scrubbing cages and lifting bags of litter and food is difficult.

10. Shelters Need Your Support

A little-known fact is that many animal shelters receive no government funding. They are private, nonprofit establishments that are solely dependent on charitable contributions to remain open.

Allison Gray

View posts by Allison Gray
Allison Gray gained a wealth of knowledge about animal welfare issues and responsible pet care during her nearly 5 years of work for an animal shelter. She is a writer, photographer, artist, runner and tattooed remedial knitter. Allison also has been researching, testing out and perfecting nutritious pet treat recipes in her kitchen for Petful since spring 2017.

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34 Comments

  1. Dawn Mello
    May 9, 2015

    I used to volunteer at a shelter. I saw a lot of disturbing behaviour from staff and volunteers. I stopped helping when I saw just how bias and corrupt they were. Hard thing to watch, it really is.

    Reply
    1. Allison Gray
      May 12, 2015

      Hi Dawn,
      I’m sorry you had a lousy experience at that shelter. However, I can assure you that not all shelters experience this type of problem and I hope that you’ll consider pledging your time to another shelter in your area.

      Reply
      1. Dawn Mello
        May 13, 2015

        I plan to once my health is back in shape, just not the same shelter.

        Reply
    2. bear
      May 24, 2015

      We did too. It was too hard to watch that “hand on a stick” tolerance test then find the dog had been put down. That was it for us. I also don’t understand why shelter employees are so stuck up.

      Reply
      1. Jen O
        May 25, 2015

        I think it’s compassion fatigue. Shelter workers see a lot of horrible things and sometimes it comes off in negative attitudes towards people.

        Reply
        1. CB
          May 26, 2015

          Thank you for saying that! My family was treated with such disdain at the humane society because I’m a single mom with four kids. They sent us away because they didn’t think we were capable of caring for their animals. I take care of four kids by myself; I can handle a pet.

          So we went to the city pound, who spent a couple of hours helping us find the right friend, and we have been happily taking care of our beautiful dog for 18 months now. I understand why experience with careless or cruel people embitters pet rescue volunteers, but don’t forget there are a lot of good people out here who are at your rescue because they are compassionate people who want to do something good.

          Reply
        2. Reia Barber
          June 1, 2015

          I would think it would be very difficult not to start to hate people when you see some of the circumstances surrounding the animals who come in. This has to be one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

          Reply
      2. Dawn Mello
        June 11, 2015

        They treated us like crap and we were helping them do their job for free. After seeing so much corruption, I stopped helping them.

        Reply
        1. Aim
          June 16, 2015

          Depends on the place you were working. Don’t hold it against every shelter

          Reply
          1. Dawn Mello
            June 30, 2015

            I don’t, but I’m no longer naive.

            Reply
  2. Amanda
    May 12, 2015

    One thing you wrote here is incorrect. The adoption fee is not tax deductible. Animals are seen as “goods” and your adoption fee is treated as payment according to tax laws. Any donation you make *in addition* to the adoption fee can be considered a donation.

    Great article otherwise, and thank you!

    Reply
    1. Allison Gray
      May 12, 2015

      Hi Amanda,
      You are absolutely correct. We’re going to make sure we correct the error. And thank you for pointing that out.

      Reply
    2. Britannia Leigh
      May 26, 2015

      This is weird to read, when I adopted my dog I was informed by the rescue that we adopted her from that her adoption fee would be tax deductible and when we filed our taxes we did apply the donation as a tax deduction and it went through on the paperwork just fine. Maybe something the IRS just didn’t catch that was an actual error?

      Reply
      1. Dave Baker
        May 26, 2015

        Hmm, I wonder if that’s a rescue vs. shelter difference. That particular rescue may have set up the adoption fee as a donation to the rescue rather than a fee. (Just guessing…) Make sure your receipt or letter from the rescue states that no goods or services were given in exchange for your donation. OR the person’s information was wrong. Straight-out fees in exchange for the pet are not deductible, at least from what I’ve read. I’d discuss w/ a financial adviser.

        Reply
        1. Britannia Leigh
          May 26, 2015

          Well, even most places that define themselves an an “animal shelter” are still in the same tax class as places that are a rescue. I wish I could check the paperwork now because I am curious but this was five years ago so I don’t think I have it anymore.

          I do know that the rescue that I adopted my dog from was somewhat unconventional, they were an all foster-only organization. They did not have any shelter location and were instead an organization made up solely of foster homes working in a network together. Perhaps the way it was organized had something to do with the way the money was classified/distributed? Hard to say. Either way, thanks for the info! Because of my experience I had always believed adoption donations were tax deductible until now. 🙂

          Reply
  3. Koreena Walsh
    May 23, 2015

    As someone who started volunteering in shelters as a teen and has moved on to being a paid rescue coordinator and adoption counselor…everything but especially #7-10 really resonate with me! Our shelter has a 93% live release rate for dogs and around 85% for cats. These are high numbers for a municipal, government shelter. Still we weren’t always that way and trying to reach out to our community has proven to be a major challenge. The first question we always get, even from our rescue partners, is “How much time do they have?” and as much as I would love to say “Forever!” that’s not always the truth. We like to be honest, but at the same time we NEVER set a “time limit” on any dog. We have a 3 day hold period for redeeming animals, as state law dictates we have, but that’s by no means an expiration date. Thank you for summing up why shelters are so important!

    Reply
    1. Allison Gray
      May 23, 2015

      Koreena,
      I’m so glad you liked the article. And it’s heartwarming to hear about other people who dedicate themselves to this cause. We need to support one another because it is a difficult business. But it’s so rewarding as well.
      Thank you for reading!

      Reply
  4. Trudy Bledsoe
    May 25, 2015

    Our animal shelter/animal control/animal services (Whatever name you want to give it.) DOES receive money from our county every single month. Our county has an agreement with a company that provides the services. It is not a county shelter per se.

    Reply
  5. Jen O
    May 25, 2015

    THANK YOU!!!! I work at a shelter and I wish more people knew these things – particularly #1. I’ve heard things like “why is a nice dog like this in a shelter?” – they are all nice! Most of them did nothing wrong. Plus, the sign thing. No one reads anymore. It’s so frustrating.

    Reply
  6. Kat
    May 25, 2015

    11. Nobody wants to see the animals get put down, especially the staff.

    There are a lot of factors that play in to whether or not an animal passes and becomes available. The harsh reality is that shelters can only adopt out adoptable animals. If you see an animal that you care about and are concerned that it will be put down because of a behavioral issue, please consider one of two things: 1. Would you want said behavior in your household? 2. If it’s something you don’t mind in your household, talk to your local shelter about Fostering.

    Reply
  7. emmalee72
    May 25, 2015

    Good lord – this is the best thing I ever read. You hit every nail on the head.

    A woman last week asked if she could pay in installments for a pedigree dog who’d still go for a lot of money in the real world; I said no and she hit the roof. I had to remain dignified and polite when I wanted to say ‘this is a dog, not a washing machine.’

    I also wish people knew that I do it because they won’t. I hate it when people say ‘I don’t know how you can do it.’

    Thanks for this.

    Reply
    1. Karen Bonner
      May 31, 2015

      “I also wish people knew that I do it because they won’t.” – Not always true. A lot of shelter workers work there because its a city job with good pay. They may be laid off from one position within the city and have the choice to go work at the shelter when an opening comes up. It doesn’t always mean they care about animals, sometimes they’re doing it just for a pay cheque.

      Reply
  8. Fred_the_Dog
    May 26, 2015

    Even if conditions at the shelter are lousy, please volunteer. Our shelter takes in 300 dogs EVERY DAY. They don’t have enough funding, but they are doing their best. Dogs can be fostered long term, for a weekend, or you can just go and walk them or play with them to keep them socialized. If you don’t like to play with dogs, there is laundry to be done, cages to be cleaned, and so much else you can do to help.

    Reply
    1. Dave Baker
      May 26, 2015

      300 dogs a day — that’s bonkers. Thanks for sharing that startling number. For those readers interested in volunteering, here again are some of the things you’ll take away from the experience: http://www.petsadviser.com/animal-welfare/benefits-animal-shelter-volunteer/

      Reply
    2. Felicia Crabb
      June 4, 2015

      The volunteers that helped with laundry were my favorite. When you see 10+ baskets of dog pee soaked blankets, you start trying to divide baskets into number of machines into how long a load takes… just the ones that fold the laundry were so helpful.

      Reply
  9. Darrell Caldwell
    May 30, 2015

    I need a point of contact with the NC Humane Society to donate large amounts of Pet Food from major manufacturer. I tried their website but no luck.

    Reply
  10. crazycatlad
    June 2, 2015

    Don’t Open the Cages

    FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE! Don’t open the cages! There are scared and territorial cats on the adoption floor. Your friendly hand could be perceived as a threat – they bite you and boom they’re on bite quarantine for 10 days because of you.

    I’ve seen friendly cats that have cuddled on my shoulder be put down because of freaking idiots causing multiple bites.

    (I’m a cat volunteer but the same applies to other animals obviously.)

    Reply
  11. Dawn Mello
    September 17, 2015

    I have to disagree with this. I volunteered at a shelter. The staff wasn’t that great with a lot of dogs nor compassionate, they were corrupt and dogs had feces in their cages. So it’s not always that great. There are a lot of corrupt shelters that don’t care.

    Reply
    1. Melissa Smith
      September 18, 2015

      That’s so sad, Dawn! I would hope that shelter workers who are feeling the burnout too intensely will take some time off, if they can. All animals deserve as much compassion as possible. If anyone stumbles across a shelter where the animals are not being adequately cared for, they should definitely let someone know.

      Reply
    2. MaryMargaret
      March 9, 2017

      Quote- There are a lot of corrupt shelters that don’t care.-Unquote
      You say you volunteered at 1 shelter yet you are proclaiming that lots of shelters are “corrupt”. I volunteer at a shelter and yes, sometimes there is dog poop in the kennel with the dog. It can’t be helped, but it is cleaned up ASAP. Don’t crucify multiple shelters because you had a bad experience at one.

      Reply
      1. Dawn Mello
        March 18, 2017

        Yeah ok. Well I have spoken with other volunteers who volunteered at other shelters and they said they same thing. Don’t tell me what the hell I know, and it had NOTHING to do with picking up crap. How ignorant you are to run your mouth to a stranger not knowing the things they DO know, obviously more than you. Smdh. Fool

        Reply
      2. Dawn Mello
        March 18, 2017

        If you’re gonna run your mouth, why not show your face you coward?

        Reply
      3. Dawn Mello
        November 15, 2017

        You’re right.

        Reply
  12. KatWrangler
    December 18, 2016

    I volunteered at shelters until I just couldn’t do it anymore. Shelter burnout is terrible.
    So, money is always needed, but so is your time, and LOVE. Priceless

    Reply

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