Life as an Animal Shelter Worker: Naming Homeless Pets

Naming shelter pets may seem like an unimportant job, but a new name could mean the difference between being adopted and spending another night in a cage.

By: BJKelly
A fun name and picture of Scrappy Carroll inspired a rescue to pull him out of the shelter. By: BJKelly

One of the many jobs of an animal shelter worker is creating new names for adoptable pets. Although some pets are surrendered with their own names, plenty arrive nameless or with unsuitable names.

In these situations, the staff members come up with new and unique titles for those dogs and cats looking for their forever homes. Whether the names are temporary or more permanent, staff members try to dub their furry shelter friends with fun and loving names.

Stray Animals

Lost, scared and nameless, stray pets are brought to shelters constantly.

Most strays, apart from feral cats and litters, most certainly have a name. And along with that name, they also have a home and a background. But without someone to supply shelter staff with that information, stray pets enter shelters with a clean slate.

Shelters have the job of renaming these castaways and generating a rich description of their personalities from knowing them for only a few days. It’s a difficult job and unfair to the animals, but also a necessity if they’re ever going to have a chance at adoption.

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Common or Inappropriate Names

Sometimes it’s important for shelters and rescues to rename animals because their existing name is too common among the shelter’s pets or because the old name is inappropriate.

Some of the most frequently used names I noticed while working in shelters were:

  • Buddy
  • Cali
  • Smokey
  • Midnight
  • Momma

When animals came into our shelter with those names, often we’d change them to something similar. Cali became Candy. Buddy became Brodie. Smokey became Loki.

That way, the pets still recognized the sound of their name, and adopters no longer had to clarify which of the 3 dogs named Buddy they wanted more information on. And when the pets were adopted, the families were always told what their pet’s original name had been, even though adopters frequently chose to change those names regardless.

Shelters will almost always intervene if a pet is dropped off with an inappropriate name. Sometimes those names are meant to be funny or cute, but usually they are harmful to the pet’s adoptability. Names like these (which were all actual names of dogs) are not appropriate:

  • Chaos
  • Dummy
  • Psycho

For obvious reasons, shelter and rescue staff would rename any pet with a label such as “Dummy” to something more fitting for a loving and happy pup.

This duo with romantic monikers were adopted from the Animal Rescue League of Southern Rhode Island. By: Clara S.
This duo with romantic monikers was adopted from the Animal Rescue League of Southern Rhode Island. By: Clara S.


Litters of puppies and kittens who are brought to shelters are usually:

  • Strays
  • From an accidental litter
  • The last few babies who didn’t sell

In most cases, the people surrendering litters haven’t named the puppies or kittens. That task is left to the staff members who will be caring for them until they find new homes.

Naming litters is different from naming an adult. Puppies and kittens who are only 8 weeks old are generally adopted before they ever hear their name or have a chance to associate it with anything.

The little ones are almost always renamed once they find a new home. Often they’re given silly temporary names while in the shelter — names that follow a theme or are unlikely to be duplicated with one of the other adult animals available for adoption.

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Some examples of litter names:

  • Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Moe
  • John, Paul, George and Ringo
  • Bebop, Doowop and Rocksteady
  • Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

The goofy names add to the lighthearted appeal of the litters and draw more attention from adopters.

Many responsibilities fall on the caretakers at a shelter. Whether the staff members are dubbing a fluffy gray kitten duo Mike and Ike or switching a shepherd’s name from Fang to Copper, they are just trying to increase the appeal of pets to potential adopters.

The end goal is always the same: Find these pets a new loving home.

* * *

Editor’s Note: “Life as an Animal Shelter Worker” is an occasional series of articles by Allison Gray about what it’s like to work at a shelter. Previous articles in the series include “Knowing You Can’t Take Them All,” “The Stray Animal Dilemma,” “Finding Love in a Shelter Pet” and “Getting Started as an Animal Shelter Volunteer.”

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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