How Good Pets End Up in Shelters

Shelter pets are scrutinized for the “defects” that landed them there. In reality, most of the animals are homeless through no fault of their own.

By: Neon Tommy
Behavioral problems are rarely a cause for giving up a pet — but even so, it doesn’t necessarily mean the pet is “bad.” By: Neon Tommy

My job as an adoption counselor left me responsible for defending the shelter’s pets — something I’d never anticipated as being a necessity. But so many people assumed that shelter pets were homeless through some fault of their own.

Typically, this isn’t the case.

5 Reasons Pets Are Taken to Shelters

There was a subtle implication hidden under the questions that visitors asked me. Questions such as “What’s Duke’s story?”, “What’s wrong with Tank?” and “Why did Bubbles end up here?” all placed the blame on the pet.

Most of these people were surprised when I gave them the list of top 5 reasons pets came into our custody:

  1. The family was moving to a location that didn’t allow pets.
  2. There was a change in the family (new baby, divorce, death, etc.).
  3. The family didn’t have enough time to spend with the pet.
  4. They were unable to afford the cost of care.
  5. They had too many animals already (usually unexpected litters or stray animals).

The one thing all reasons have in common is that the pets are not at fault.

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Giving up a pet is a common solution to a problem that never had much to do with the animal in the first place.

  • Rarely does a family choose to move because of a pet.
  • Family changes can make it almost impossible to keep an animal, but those changes are out of the pet’s control.
  • Dogs and cats require a certain amount of attention. If someone isn’t able to provide that, it’s hardly the pet’s fault.
  • Always research the average cost of having a pet before getting one.
  • Spaying and neutering is a sure-fire way to avoid unwanted litters. But if someone does have too many pets, that can hardly be the fault of the animals.

Consider Dustin, who was abandoned when his family moved. He refused to leave his home because he was waiting for them to come back. They never did, and he was rescued 2 months later:

What Defines a Pet as “Bad”

Just because the top reasons for relinquishing a pet to a shelter don’t include behavioral problems doesn’t mean that isn’t a cause in some cases. It’s infrequent, but occasionally pets are given up because of temperament issues.

These are the problems that get pets labeled as “bad” in the eyes of shelter visitors:

Even these problems, when addressed responsibly, aren’t necessarily the habits of a “bad” pet. Sometimes these behavioral concerns, such as accidents or spraying in the house, happen because of an illness. Pets who are destructive or noisy when left alone are likely suffering from anxiety or a lack of exercise (or a combination of the two). Possible solutions include more activities and crate training.

A visit to a veterinarian could also solve many of these problems. The behavioral concerns are, by and large, resolvable and certainly shouldn’t result in a lovable pet being labeled as “bad.”

By: trekkyandy
This kitten was abandoned and needed a home. By: trekkyandy

Creating the “Good” Label

My job wasn’t just to defend the adoptable pets and convince adopters that the animals weren’t bad. I also worked with a team to create positive images for the pets so they were immediately recognizable as good.

It’s important to shelters that their visitors understand that pets who find themselves homeless are still good pets. To make that point, we usually tried to include the following when describing our animals:

  • Highlights of the pet’s most charming personality traits
  • Positive facts about health, behavior and training history
  • Facts about the pet’s background and experiences
  • Flattering photos

We used intimate details and stories to highlight the pets’ personalities. Then, Intake Number 15-1864 is no longer just a number. She’s a 9-month-old tabby named Princess with a penchant for drooling when she’s petted and a love for children.

Don’t Miss: 10 Things Animal Shelter Staff Wish You Knew

Most of the animals I’ve met in shelters over the years have been genuinely good pets. The reasons why they found themselves in the market for new homes almost never had anything to do with the pets themselves.

If you ever find yourself thinking that shelter animals aren’t the best, consider virtually visiting some shelters. Take a tour through their websites and read the descriptions of the pets. You won’t have to look very hard to find how good shelter pets really are.

* * *

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series called “Life as an Animal Shelter Worker” — all about what it’s like to work at a shelter. Previous articles in the series include “Getting Started as a Volunteer,” “Knowing You Can’t Take Them All” and “Finding Love in a Shelter Pet.”

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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