Running an animal shelter is a lot of work.
Most shelters try to keep the public informed about their operations and practices, but there are still some things that shelters don’t always share.
Here are 7 revelations you might not know about these places that care for animals who are seeking their forever homes.
1. The Burnout for Shelter Workers Is Real
Working in a shelter is difficult. It’s physically exhausting, between lifting 40-pound bags of litter, taking 25 dogs for walks and spending hours — hours! — scooping poop.
It’s mentally challenging too, like keeping track of which pets need what medications, who’s on a special diet and which vaccines need reordering.
It’s emotionally tiring, from consoling the families who are giving up their pets to sweet words and soft touches given to dozens of homeless animals.
2. Staff Members Get First Pick
Shelters have a vetting process for their adopters, screening to ensure the best homes and loving families for the animals.
Sometimes, though, a staff member or volunteer wants to take home a pet. In those situations, if the worker has been with the shelter long enough to establish her compassion and responsibility, the worker will get to adopt that pet before the public even knows he’s available.
3. Shelter Work Is Dangerous
It’s easy to envision shelter work as hours of playing with puppies and cuddling with kittens. But photos of shelter workers embracing dogs, petting cats, playing fetch and going for walks can be misleading.
Most workers have experienced at least one of the following:
- Dog bites
- Cat scratches
- Needle injuries
- Flea bites
- Tick bites
And almost all workers have been exposed to these communicable diseases or parasites:
4. Adoptions Are Emotional for Staff
The end goal is adoption. That’s what all shelter workers want, but some adoptions are more complicated than just a happy ending.
Some pets are special to the staff. Sometimes it’s a cat who’s been in the shelter for over a year and has become a semipermanent cuddle bug for everyone. So when she’s packed in her carrier and heading out the door with a nice, new family, that departure is an emotional event.
Shelter workers become attached to their pets, and saying goodbye is hard. Tears can be just as common as smiles during adoptions.
5. Thefts Are a Problem
We’d like to think that every shelter visitor is a morally upstanding citizen. But that’s not the case. Sometimes real jerks visit shelters — and sometimes they’re also criminals.
Shelter theft is a serious problem, and although it may not be a common occurrence, it does happen. Applicants who are denied adoption may end up grabbing a puppy and running out a side exit. Or maybe some kids who aren’t old enough to adopt take a kitten from his cage and stuff him in a jacket pocket before leaving the shelter.
Those situations both occurred at the shelter where I worked. The shelter had limited funds. We didn’t have security cameras, and none of the thieves were ever caught.
Don’t forget the brighter side of animal shelter work, as seen in this video:
6. Shelters Keep Detailed Records
I can’t count how many times visitors came in to adopt an animal only to be utterly shocked when confronted with questions about their history of animal abuse or cruelty.
The truth is, shelters are very protective of their animals and take steps to ensure their pets don’t end up in homes that have demonstrated an inability to responsibly care for animals. Those steps may include maintaining extensive records of ineligible adopters and detailed reports of neglect and cruelty through the years.
7. Staff Turnover Rates Are High
There are 2 main reasons for this:
- Shelters cannot afford to pay very much.
- The job is stressful.
Some people can get along just fine with the lower pay, but the emotional toll that comes with a job in an animal shelter is often impossible to manage. Because of that, many workers stay for only a few months before moving on to calmer fields.
At the end of the day, animal shelters provide a service for the animals they love and the responsible, caring people who want to give those animals a safe, nurturing home. And all the blood, sweat and tears shed by the staff in making this dream come true for both animals and humans is often worth it.