8 Things You (Probably) Didn't
Know About U. S. Dog Shelters

1. Tax Supported Shelters Usually Can't Reject Dogs

No-kill and private shelters have been criticized for skimming the cream of
abandoned dogs and letting public, tax-supported shelters deal with all the sick, aggressive and elderly dogs.

There is truth to this. If you take Fido to a no-kill shelter, you may be required to have a clean bill of health from a veterinarian before the shelter will accept him. People who won't or can't afford this leave Fido at the county shelter.

2. Owners May Not Have Told the Truth

The most common reasons given for turning in a dog is that the owner is moving or divorcing and can't take Fido with him.

That may be true but begs the question of why didn't the owner try to place the dog himself? If you paid $1000 for a purebred or loved your dog, it's likely you'd try to find a good home for him (if not resell him).

The dogs that wind up at shelters may be dogs that aren't socialized or trained, and owners are too embarrassed to admit their dog is out-of-control.

Some shelters claim they don't take puppy mill dogs, but how could they possibly know the dog's background.

3. Some Adoptions Don't Take

Be sure to ask the shelter if the dog had been placed previously. You may be surprised at how many dogs are re-homed and then sent back to the shelter.

A 2013 study by the American Humane Association revealed that one in every 10 adopted pets is returned to a shelter, given away, lost or dead within six months.

People mean well but if they don't have much experience with dogs, they may be overwhelmed by how much time and effort it takes to care for a normal dog, let alone one with behavior problems.

4. Shelters Serve Their Needs, Not Yours

Financial support for a shelter is often tied to its success in getting dogs adopted.

Some shelter volunteers or employees believe every dog should be adopted (rather than risk euthanasia) and place dogs even when they have shown signs of aggressive behavior such as guarding food or toys.

Some shelters permit adoptions of small dogs with behavior problems that they would never allow in larger dogs.

To their shame, some shelters and rescue groups even rehome dogs that have bitten people.

If your local newspaper has columns on dog placements, note how often the shelter claims all the dog needs is a loving home, but he shouldn't be in homes with small children or other pets.

5. Your Dog May Bark in Chinese

Thanks to the publicity campaigns to get people to spay or neuter dogs, some shelters are running low on popular small dogs and puppies. They ensure a sufficient supply of adoptable dogs by importing them from foreign countries.

Visit the website of the Taipei Abandoned Animal Rescue Foundation to see how happy they are to have placed so many dogs in the United States from the Humane Society of Snohomish County, WA to Pets Alive, a no-kill shelter in Middletown, NY.

Shelters are exempt from many import laws and have no federal requirements to quarantine the dogs or ensure they are free of parasites and diseases before they place them.

Does that sound paranoid? Ask the six Massachusetts residents who had to take rabies shots because a shelter imported a rabid puppy from Puerto Rico. The puppy was too young to have his rabies vaccinations completed, but shelters need puppies to satisfy their clients.

6. Laws Don't Necessarily Apply to Non-Profits

Despite the hysteria you read about buying puppies from pet shops, you should realize that at least pet stores have to obey federal, state and local laws.

Often these laws do not apply to non-profits or community shelters. State puppy lemon laws may not apply either.

The most frequent complaint I get about shelters/rescue groups from would-be adopters is discrimination. One lady was told that at 55-years of age she was too old to adopt a puppy! Good luck finding an agency to investigate a complaint.

Non-profits get away with things that would land Wal-Mart in the headlines.

7. Shelters Are Not Dens

Not all dogs do well at shelters. Some dogs adjust to kennel life but others become fearful, frustrated, and overactive which makes them even less likely to be adopted.

Many shelters simply do not have sufficient staff to exercise and play with each dog to the degree the dog needs to become socialized.

It's also extremely difficult to prevent the spread of diseases when you have so many dogs in one location. There's a reason canine infectious tracheobronchitis is popularly known as "kennel cough."

8. Old Dog, Big Dogs and Pit Bull-mixes Dominate

People often go to a county shelter for a puppy or small dog. What you're most likely to find are old and frail dogs, big dogs and pit pull mixes (assuming your area allows these for adoption).

Many people do not want to be bothered with a dog that requires ongoing medical care or isn't physically able to do the things they used to do.

Before you make a decision based only on sympathy, consider whether you have the financial resources and time to take on special needs dogs.

Look honestly at your lifestyle, environment and social life before you make an emotional choice.

If you're never had a dog before, this is not the time to adopt a fully
grown Pit Bull!

Bottom Line

My goal is not to convince you to avoid shelter dogs but to encourage you to be realistic and put away the rose colored glasses.

The Internet is filled with romantic claptrap that would make you think Lassie is waiting for you at the county shelter.

Happily-ever-after is more likely to happen if you are an experienced dog owner with the time, understanding and patience to work on any problems you encounter.

If you're inexperienced, you may be better off going to a breeder or rescue group that can help match you with a dog suitable to your personality and lifestyle.

They also can be a resource for you for the rest of your dog's life.

Think before you make a decision purely on emotion.

At shelters as in marriage: marry in haste, repent in leisure!