Animal Shelters | Making a Difference in the Lives of Animals

With millions of stray dogs and cats in America, animal shelters are very important. They provide ways to rehabilitate and find forever homes for animals that are lost, unwanted, forgotten, and in desperate need of love, care, and companionship. Let’s explore how they accomplish this, their challenges, their resources, and how you can help.

There are three types of adoption organizations: Municipal Animal Control Agencies, Private Non-Profit Shelters, and Rescue Groups. All three types rescue animals and work hard to return them or rehome them.

Municipal Animal Control Agencies

These agencies are funded and run by city or county governments. They are generally underfunded and often rely on non-profit arms to help close the gap between their expenses and their funds. Even so, the adoption fees are generally less than their private counterparts. In some cases, they have staff available to assist visitors who wish to adopt a pet, but often they are understaffed and cannot provide the same help a private shelter could. Most importantly, these agencies are open-access, which means they take in any and all animals that are brought to them by citizens or seized by their animal control agents that are out on patrol. No matter the condition of the animal, these agencies will bring them in and provide them with the care they need. This can vary from food, shelter, and exercise to treatment for illness or injury to a peaceful, painless end to their suffering if the case necessitates it.

Private Non-Profit Shelters

Private shelters receive their funding from donations and grants, though they sometimes have government contracts to perform animal control services. They are overseen by a board of directors. They can be open-access or limited-access. Open-access shelters accept all animals brought to them, which means they must euthanize some of their animals if they are unadopted or unadoptable because they do not have enough space or resources to care for all of them. Limited-access shelters do not practice euthanasia and, as a result, must turn animals away. We will discuss the ramifications of this later in the article, but for now, we will focus on open-access shelters.

Open-access shelters are wonderful places with professional, caring staff who work hard to not only care for the animals that come in, but also to give them their best chance at finding a loving forever home. They provide clean, dry facilities for the animals to live and welcome human visitors who are thinking of adding a pet to their family. Sometimes they have on site veterinary care and sometimes their animals are transported to a vet if they need medical care. These shelters often set up foster family networks where volunteers care for animals in their own homes until they are adopted, allowing the shelters to increase the number of animals they serve. It’s also not uncommon for them to set up services to the public such as animal health exams, low-cost spay/neuter services, behavioral evaluation, training classes, and education classes.

What can You Expect?

If you are looking to adopt a pet into your family, visiting your local animal shelter is a great place to start. Their knowledgeable staff will help you with everything you need. Remember, they don’t just want to get rid of their animals, but rather their goal is to place their animals in safe, loving homes with families that suit their personalities and needs. All shelters will have you fill out a form with basic questions like what kind of residence you live in, who else lives there, if pets are allowed, what is your experience with pets, and if you have any references. Some will have more in-depth questionnaires that are designed to steer you toward the pet that best fits with your lifestyle. Be honest and you will get the best results.

Then you will be able to see the animals. Often times, they are kept in large rooms in private kennels. They will have small biographies that include information provided by the previous owners (if the animal was surrendered) or by the shelter staff that interact with the animals. Read about them, look at them, and find one that touches your heart. The next step will be the meet. Shelters normally have designated rooms where they will bring the dog or cat and you can meet them for the first time without a kennel door between you. If it’s a match, you may be asked to bring the rest of your family (pets included) to make sure everyone gets along.

Then comes more paperwork. This is the time to ask all the questions you can. Ask about behavior, habits, medical history, care, etc. There are no stupid questions so if you don’t know, ask. At the end of this, you will have a new furry family member who will provide love and companionship. Who could ask for anything more?

Rescue Groups

Rescue groups are usually private and non-profit with their funding also coming from donations and grants. They usually specialize in a specific animal or breed. Often times they do not have a physical location, but their animals are fostered in the homes of their members. This offers many benefits and some challenges.

Because their members are volunteers more often than not, it may take longer to receive a response once you contact them. In fact, the entire process will probably take longer than at a shelter. Sometimes you have to wait for an adoption event at a pet supply store to meet the animals. Rescue groups often scrutinize the potential adopters a little more. Their questionnaires will be longer; they may require a home visit so they can ensure your home is suitable; they may ask for references and for the contact information of your veterinarian.

On the plus side, because the animals are living in their homes with their families, they know the animals much better. They will be able to provide you detailed information about how the pets interact in their home, out on walks, etc. It will be easier to tell if your home and your family are the right fit for your new furry friend. Because of this process, it is much more likely that the match will be successful!

Let’s Talk Numbers

According to the ASPCA, every year in the United States, 7.6 million companion animals enter shelters. These animals are either strays, lost pets, or pets surrendered by their owners.

2.7 million dogs and cats are successfully adopted from shelters each year.

649,000 dogs and cats are returned to their homes from shelters each year.

2.7 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year. Though the reasons for euthanasia include diseases and injuries from which the animal cannot recover, many times animals are euthanized because they remain unadopted for a long time or are simply behaviorally unadoptable and the shelters do not have the space or resources to care for these animals indefinitely.


1.2 million dogs enter shelters each year

35% are adopted

26% are returned to their homes

31% are euthanized


1.4 million cats enter shelters each year

37% are adopted

5% are returned to their homes

41% are euthanized


Animal euthanasia is the act of putting an animal to death or allowing it to die by withholding extreme medical measures. Because of the overwhelming population of stray dogs and cats in the United States, euthanasia is part of the shelter system, though it is never taken lightly. There are shelters that do not practice euthanasia. These are the limited-access shelters we talked about a little bit before.

Limited-access shelters are also known as “No Kill” shelters as they do not practice euthanasia. This may sound kind, but in reality, it means that these shelters have to turn animals away because they do not have the capacity. These shelters will also turn away animals simply because they think their chances of adoption are low. What happens when an animal is turned away? For the lucky ones, they will be taken to an open-access shelter that will provide care for them. For the unfortunate ones, they will either be kept in a place that doesn’t want them and provides substandard care; or they will be abandoned to fend for themselves as strays, likely dying due to exposure, disease, or by another animal; or they will be killed in inhumane ways by the people who didn’t want them. For the animals that are not turned away, the best hope they have is of adoption. If they are not adopted, it is not uncommon for these shelters to pack away those animals in warehouses in cages without proper care. They are left alone, neglected, and they develop depression and anxiety, making it even more difficult for them to be adopted.

Let's Lower that Stat

So rather than turning animals away, let's talk about ways we can help reduce the rate of animal euthanasia.

Spay and neuter your pets!

Shelters now often require that animals be spayed or neutered before adoption.

There are low-cost spay/neuter clinics to make it easier on the pocketbook. It is actually less expensive to spay/neuter your pet than it costs to raise the litter of puppies or kittens.

Make sure your pet wears proper identification that is up to date.

ID tag, including the owner’s name, address, and phone number, as well as the pet’s name

Rabies license

If you are moving, put on a temporary tag with the contact information of a friend or family number who knows how to contact you

This means indoor pets too! They often escape and end up in shelters

Microchip your pet

    How You can Help


    At the shelter

    Clean the facilities, care for the animals, general office work

    Promote the shelter

    Share stories and information on social media, use your photography and web design skills to tell the animals’ stories and get their furry faces out there


    Open your home to the animals of the shelter


    Drive animals to and from veterinary appointments or to a neighboring shelter with more availability


    Food and Treats



    Grooming Supplies


    Ask your local shelter what they need!

    If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. At ReadySetDogs, we are happy to help in any way we can.

    About the Author Anna

    Anna is a canine enthusiast. She loves everything about dogs from their loyalty to their energetic spirits to their stubborn moments. She has a passion to learn everything she can to become a better "dog-mom" to her Toller, Penny, and to share her knowledge of dogs with all who are interested in the hopes of educating people on the best canine care.

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