A Quality-of-Life Question for Shelters

October 19, 2011  

By Leslie Smith, as first posted on Dogtime on March 18, 2010

Even with his swollen muzzle and mangled ear, he’s a beauty. And as if I wasn’t already completely drawn to him, he’s got the coloring of my Maybe and the demeanor of my Uno. The shelter clinic has him on antibiotics and pain medication. Still, it stings every time I look at his head.

Though he’s wearing a collar, no one has come to claim him, so technically he’s a stray. This means volunteers must wait until he’s officially "ours" (seven days, per municipal mandate) before we can take him out for walks. But during this time we offer as much enrichment as we can. We play "find it," do basic clicker training, leave him food puzzles, and reach to scratch his neck and chest between the bars of the kennel.
The mental and physical stimulation, minimal as it might seem, helps keep him sane during this time.

Beautiful pit mix, recovering from a fight

Though every shelter in the country should have such a program for their stray and protective custody animals, I know of only two that do: San Francisco Animal Care & Control and Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. Imagine being locked in a small cell for a day. Nothing to do, no one to talk to, and no knowledge of what’s to come. Then imagine facing a week of such an existence. Or months (as some protective custody animals do). If the loneliness doesn’t destroy you, the boredom just might drive you insane.

Close-up of his ear as he takes a drink

The vast majority of shelters in this country are understaffed, underfunded, and overpopulated. We can’t blame shelter administrators for the lack of resources, or that the focus must necessarily be on getting animals adopted. The responsibility is ours, as a society, to ensure all of our companion animals a decent standard of living. Even the ones waiting for owners who never come.


For more information on creating a quality-of-life program for stray, surrendered, and protective custody animals at your shelter, visit the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Give a Dog a Bone website.

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