5 Red Flags of A Bad Animal Shelter
Wed, April 14, 2021

5 Red Flags of A Bad Animal Shelter


Animal shelters are a lot more diverse than you think, noted PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), an American animal rights organization. For example, homeless and unwanted animals may end up in open-admission animal shelters that are managed by professional and caring staff.

Animals in these facilities are reassured and those that are sick and injured receive treatment or put into eternal rest peacefully. The interiors of these establishments are clean and dry. Professionals working in animal shelters never shun needy animals and give careful to each animal’s needs, be it physical or emotional.

But for these shelters to accommodate every animal, open-admission shelters must euthanize unadopted and unadaptable pets. Turning them away is cruel and makes the animals more vulnerable to danger.  

Euthanasia In Canadian Animal Shelters (2011)

Niamh Caffrey and colleagues of biomedical and life sciences journal portal PMC sent questionnaires on methods of euthanasia used in Canadian animal shelters to 196 Canadian animal shelters. The researchers received 67 responses, having a response rate of 34%. The questionnaire was completed by respondents with the following occupations: manager (39%), president (20%), director (15%), animal health/care worker (11%), animal control officer (9%), veterinary technician (5%), and veterinarian (1%).

Of the 67 establishments, only seven did not euthanize animals at all, 20 performed euthanasia at the premises, and 16 establishments euthanize animals at their own premises and at a veterinary practice. Of the 60 establishments that performed euthanasia, two did not euthanize dogs, 4 did not euthanize cats, 19 did not euthanize species other than dogs and cats.

39,740 dogs were taken in the establishments every year and 7,644 of them euthanized each year, showing a 19% annual intake euthanized. Each year, 101,479 cats were taken in the establishments, with 40,790 of them euthanized, demonstrating an annual intake euthanized percentage of 40%.

The reasons why an establishment would consider euthanasia were non-treatable life-threatening illness (97% of establishments) and safety issues such as aggression (95%). The reason “an animal that develops a disease while in the establishment” was cited by 57% of establishments. Lack of space (48%), treatable illness present on arrival (22% of establishments) and following an owner’s request for euthanasia of a healthy animal (9%) were also reasons for considering euthanasia.

Meanwhile, 35% of establishments would not euthanize pregnant animals while 39% would not perform it on newborn animals. 62% of dogs and 53% of cats were euthanized by sodium pentobarbital. The animals were also either euthanized by T-61 (23% of dogs versus 35% of cats).

None of the cats were euthanized by gunshot while one dog (2%) was euthanized with this method. When determining the deaths of euthanized animals, 66% of establishments checked the absence of breathing, absence of heartbeat (94%), absence of corneal reflex (70%), absence of retinal reflex (55%), and absence of response to external stimuli (38%). Examination of mucous membranes and rigor mortis was done by 6% and 19% of establishments, respectively.  



5 Tell-Tale Signs of A Bad Animal Shelter/Rescue Shelter

1.  The Establishment Does Not Adhere to Standards of Care

In the US, the federal government does not regulate animal rescues, according to Dr. Emily Dudley, a veterinarian with Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, cited Paula Fitzsimmons of PetMD, an information website on pets. She noted, “The Animal Welfare Act is a federal law that regulates certain animals used for breeding, research and exhibition, but rescues and shelters are not regulated by this law.” In fact, rescues and shelters may be regulated under state-specific laws.

Rescues have to voluntarily follow standards enforced by organizations. For instance, the Arizona Humane Society uses the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters created by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians to ensure continuous care of animals, stated Dr. Steve Hansen, president and CEO of Arizona Humane Society in Phoenix. Hence, it is recommended to find a shelter that follows similar standards of care.

2. Poor Health

Don’t surrender your pet if the shelter is not providing optimal care for their animals. Pets in these shelters appear emaciated, tick-infested, covered in waste, have open wounds or untreated medical complications, explained Dr. Hansen, who is also a veterinarian and board-certified toxicologist.

The animals may also be fearful or shy or exhibit shutdown or aggressive behavior due to a history of abuse and neglect or lack of socialization, he added. Further, animals that do not receive proper enrichment and who are placed in over-crowded facilities may exhibit symptoms of kennel stress.

Dr. Hansen stated, “It can lead to fence fighting and increased reactivity in which animals redirect their anxiety on one another.” Other signs of kennel stress include excessive barking, panting, red mucous membranes, spinning or jumping in the kennel, and inability to settle. He said co-housing the right animal pairs will help reduce stress if done correctly.

3. Inadequate Space

Watch out for shelters that are known to stack kennels on top of one another or that have several animals in one enclosure. Kennels should have appropriate flooring and you should not animals walking on wired crating.

Preferably, the animals should be placed in double-sided cages or there should be enough volunteers or staff to take them out for exercise or a restroom break two or three times a day, stated Dr. Hansen explained. Animals should also have enough space to move and have access to outdoor space.



4. The Shelter’s Official Website Lacks Pertinent Information

The website should list the shelter’s address, hours of operation, and contact details, Dr. Hansen said. If the website says “operating by appointment-day,” that’s one big red flag of a bad animal shelter. Request for a tour of the shelter or facility if you are invited.

Dr. Jeannine Berger, vice president of rescue and welfare at San Francisco SPCA, said to check the establishment’s mission statement. Do they follow? “Do they have any information on welfare for the animals in their care?” You can also check the shelter’s adoption statistics and transparency of operations and procedures.

5. The Staff Refuses to Collaborate

The staff should work with you to determine what you want and you should not be rushed when choosing the right animal. Dr. Berger reminded, “A good shelter allows the potential adopter to take his or her time to meet and observe the animal and their environment.”

Staff should also be prepared to offer services such as a follow up to ensure successful adoption or access to training classes. They should also be willing to work with you if you are concerned about your pet’s behavior or take it back if you and the animal are not a match.

Surrendering your pet is indeed a difficult decision to make. But you have to make sure that the shelter is humane and adheres to care standards, though this depends on where you live. There’s also the possibility of your pet being euthanized in animal shelters if it’s not adopted by other carers. Weigh the pros and cons or if possible, have a loved one or a colleague adopt your pet.