After recently moving to Connecticut, I decided to fill out a volunteer application at a nearby private shelter. While I was there, a woman approached a volunteer at the front desk, saying that she had to rehome her dog because of his energy level.
The volunteer said the shelter was full and couldn’t take her dog. The woman began crying, asking what she should do. The volunteer didn’t have any solutions, but she did warn the woman not to take her dog to the Connecticut Humane Society — or he would be killed.
The woman left in tears, and I followed shortly thereafter, frustrated that she received no support, no solution and only a warning to stay away from the other shelter.
Sadly, this type of exchange happens in many shelters across the country. Even though all shelters have the same basic goal, some of them behave competitively and critically toward other shelters.
Why Shelters Disagree
The general goal of all shelters is to rehome the animals in their care. So you may wonder why they attack instead of support one another.
Typically, shelters criticize other shelters for having different policies such as:
This is a big one. The shelter I visited recently is a no-kill organization. It wasn’t surprising to me, then, when they decided to use that against the other shelter.
As it turns out, the Connecticut Humane Society publishes its statistics. In 2015, its total euthanasia rate was under 10% — the threshold necessary to claim a shelter as no-kill. And the rate of euthanasia for behavioral problems was just 2%. So the chances that this woman’s high-energy dog would be euthanized at the Connecticut Humane Society were extremely low.
But because this humane society doesn’t claim a no-kill status, the other shelter chose to attack it with false claims.
Every shelter has its own rules for adoption. Some require home visits, proof of income and personal references. Some require little more than an eagerness to provide a homeless pet a new life.
But the adoption process is another policy that shelters use to judge one another. Whether an application is too complicated for the average adopter to complete or so easy that unqualified adopters are taking pets home, shelters will find some fault in their competitors’ processes.
If you’ve ever walked through a state-of-the-art, well-funded shelter, you’ve probably been impressed. From heated floors to automatic feeders, big pet suites, cat jungle gyms and more, fancy shelters are…well…fancy.
But not every shelter has access to Scrooge McDuck’s money vault. Animal care is an expensive business, and the smaller shelters do as much as they can with their resources.
A lack of high-tech gadgets is hardly an indication of poor management or subpar pet care, yet the smaller shelters are targets for critics.
The Animals Pay the Price
Why do shelters compete with one another? Here are a few reasons:
- Donations: Convincing the public that your shelter is better than another might get your shelter more donations, although at the expense of the other shelter’s fundraising.
- Adoptions: Scaring the public away from another shelter means your pets might get adopted instead of the other shelter’s.
- Publicity: If a community has a “good” shelter and a “bad” shelter, the “good” shelter will get more positive exposure through the media and word-of-mouth. That’s motivation for some shelters to put down others.
No matter what the reason for smearing another shelter, the animals end up paying for it.
When one shelter receives less funding, fewer adoptions and less positive publicity, the animals in its care suffer. In turn, the communities suffer: Pets go unadopted and members of the public — like the woman I saw — are left without options for rehoming their animals.
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How Shelters Can Cooperate
For the sake of the communities and the animals they serve, shelters must cooperate to succeed. To do this, they should consider:
- Keeping an open line of communication with other shelters. This is especially important to anticipate adoption or intake trends, watch for the spread of illnesses, and locate strays.
- Co-sponsoring events. Pooling resources with other shelters could make your fundraiser bigger and more successful, with larger crowds, better media coverage and more donations.
- Recommending other shelters to the community. If someone is looking for a type of pet that you don’t have, is trying to locate a lost pet or wants to surrender an animal that you can’t take, suggesting that she visit another shelter is a great idea, especially for the benefit of the animals.
All shelters need to remember: We’re in it together.