Life as an Animal Shelter Worker: Knowing You Can’t Take Them All

When I told people I worked at a shelter, they often asked, “How do you not take all those animals home?” My answer was simple: “Because I know better.”

I already had 2 dogs at home. By:
I already had 2 dogs at home. By: ian.m.phillips

His name was Bingo and he was, as my manager described him, a “cute little button.” He was also the first dog to attach himself to me during my career at the animal shelter.

Bingo was some sort of miniature sheepdog/schnauzer mix — the kind of “designer” mix that costs thousands. But here he was, homeless at the shelter, pawing at me instead of participating in a temperament test.

Constantly Tempted to Bring Them Home

When I told people I was an animal shelter worker, they often asked, “How do you not take them all home?” Of course those people were exaggerating, but I’m also restricted to the number of pets in my home by:

  • How many I can properly care for
  • How many I’m comfortable with handling
  • How many I’m legally allowed (many cities have limits)

There is constant temptation to take a pet home when you work with them daily. Regardless of attempts to avoid connecting with the animals, you will form intimate bonds with them. And that temptation will grow stronger. But sentiment and logic have to find a balance when you work with animals.

My response to the inevitable question “How do you not take them all home?” became: “Because I know better.”

Don’t Miss: 7 Benefits of Being a Shelter Volunteer

I Will Never Forget Bingo

What happened to the mop-haired button dog who wanted to spend every second at my side? A few days after he came in, Bingo caught the attention of a visiting family. They met him, fell immediately in love and adopted him that day.

Bingo walked out of the shelter between 2 skipping children and never came back. But to this day, I still remember him.


Bingo may have been the first dog to attach himself to me, but he was hardly the last. Enter Indigo. She was:

  • A stray
  • A wiggly lovebug
  • Great with other pets
  • Well behaved
  • Overlooked in her kennel

To give her more exposure, we kept her at the front desk for months while looking for her forever home. But time passed and Indigo began to deteriorate. When it was time for her to go back to her kennel, she refused to walk. She was depressed.

In light of her anxiety, euthanasia became a real concern. If she wasn’t adopted soon, she would be destroyed. I loved Indigo, but I already had 2 dogs and I just couldn’t imagine taking yet another one.

At the last moment, Indigo was adopted. That day, instead of being dragged back to her kennel, she pranced out of the door as someone’s pet at last!

You get attached to the animals when working at a shelter. By:
You get attached to the animals when working at a shelter. By: Klearchos Kapoutsis

The Importance of Compatibility

When I say I know better than to take home more pets, I mean that I’ve had more experience with companion animals than most other people. And from that experience, I’ve learned the following:

Taking home as many animals as possible is not a good idea and is not a solution.

Pet overpopulation is a serious problem. My role was to find homes for the shelter’s animals. Part of that job involved matching pets to compatible adopters.

The Sad Story of Spike

Not all shelter stories have a happy ending. If ever there was a pet I thought I could save, it was Spike.

Spike was a miniature pinscher with a serious ego problem. He hated almost everyone. Except me, that is. He tolerated a few workers, but for some reason Spike chose me as his person.

We kept Spike isolated to try to work on his behavior, but mostly he just sat in my lap or begged for my attention. For weeks his attitude stayed the same, and it became clear that he wasn’t an adoptable dog.

I could have taken Spike home with me. He adored me, and I could have saved his life. But I didn’t. He ended up biting a couple of employees and was ultimately euthanized.

Personal Choices

I don’t regret my decision not to adopt Bingo, Indigo or Spike because I know I made the right choice in all 3 circumstances.

  1. Bingo was highly adoptable and had no trouble finding a new home.
  2. Indigo was a perfect dog for me, but I didn’t feel financially or emotionally prepared to have another pet.
  3. Spike loved me, but he wasn’t compatible with my family. He didn’t care for other dogs and would have been aggressive toward my husband. I wasn’t prepared for that commitment. I’m sorry that he died, yet I don’t hold myself accountable for his fate.

Sure, the temptation can be overwhelming at times while working at a shelter. But knowing what’s best for the animals usually means knowing what’s best for you as well. And 9 times out of 10, that means not taking them all 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. There are thousands of animal shelters in the United States. Allison’s next article in this series is “The Stray Animal Dilemma.”

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.

Please share this with your friends below:

Also Popular