With the recent popularity of pandemic puppies adopted from shelters and the increasing number of foreign dog adoptions, there has never been a better time to consider the rescue industry and the impact shelters have on dogs. This extract from my book discusses this in more detail:
The Rescue Industry
This is probably an area that borders on the controversial as nobody wants to think of their financial donations being used for anything but good. Sadly though, this is not always the case. Most shelters rely on donations to fund their organisations. They rely on volunteers or staff on low wages to care for the animals. Most rescues ask for donations when a dog is adopted, so to keep the flow of funding coming in, they have to have plenty of adoptions.
This is a multi-layered issue, though. To have a high turnover of adoptions means that sometimes dogs may end up in a home that is not right for them, and ultimately get returned to the shelter. The shelter industry props up other pet-related businesses such as pet stores and veterinary clinics, too. For these businesses, it is a bonus to have a steady supply of rescue dogs and their new owners spending money on pet care products and services. If you consider the new bowls, collars, harnesses, leads, beds and toys you may buy for your new arrival, you can see how you contribute to the pet industry, and that’s before you’ve even started with the vet fees.
Animals form the main component of the pet industry and as rescued animals are now considered the ethical choice over breeder sales, rescue dogs contribute a fair share to the industry.
Life inside a Shelter
What will your dog have experienced inside a shelter? Well, that very much depends on his previous experiences before finding himself there and the conditions and treatment within that particular shelter.
Jessica Pierce writes: ‘Diane Leigh and Merilee Geyer spent years volunteering or working in shelters and beautifully capture the essence of the tragedy in their book One at a Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter. They write:“There is a moment when the paperwork has been completed, and the animal is being handed over to shelter staff . . . if you watch carefully, you can sometimes see the exact moment when the animal comprehends what is happening when he finally realises that his guardian is leaving and he is staying; the exact moment when the confusion in his eyes is replaced by understanding, and then turns to panic, desperation. Sadness that will turn to grief as the days unwind, while he waits for another chance that may or may not come.”’ (Pierce, 2016, pp. 169–170).
We know that dogs experience feelings and emotions, so to them, this moment must be very frightening. Finding themselves in an environment that is new, strange, full of smells and sights they have never experienced before must be overwhelming. They have to be handled by strange people, meet new dogs and adapt to this new lifestyle fairly rapidly. Some dogs do and enjoy the company of other dogs, the routine of feed times, exercise times and attention from staff. Others withdraw, unable to cope and hide in their kennels, too afraid to connect with staff, they may not eat, play or even sleep. Those that adapt quickly and appear socially comfortable are the ones who are more likely to find homes. The shy, defensive dog will often be overlooked and suffer for longer in an environment where he cannot thrive. It isn’t just a personality that dictates a dog’s fate.
Breed types have a major role to play. Breeds that have featured in a popular film or TV roles become popular pets until owners discover that maybe they aren’t the breed for them. Huskies, Malamutes and Malinois are all examples of popular breeds that can be difficult dogs. They need time and effort to keep them happy and occupied. You can tell what the breed trends have been by looking at the recent influx of a particular breed in a shelter. These high drive breeds can suffer in shelter environments because although their basic needs such as food, water and a roof are met, their psychological needs are more difficult to deal with when time and resources are scarce. Shelter dogs are normally confined in small spaces for long periods of time. Good social interactions with humans and other dogs are limited. Bad interactions with strange humans and hostile dogs may occur too.
The noise in a shelter environment can be extraordinary and a major cause of stress for dogs. Research shows that the stress hormone cortisol increases to three times that of a normal dog during the first three days of being within a shelter. These should, of course, decrease over time as the dog adapts and acclimatises to the environment. With all this said, if the dog does eventually become adopted, then the stress will have been worthwhile, and the dog can expect to have a reasonable quality of life.
To summarise then, shelter environments and the dogs’ experiences within them will vary enormously from country to country. Some may be reasonable and some very traumatic. The overriding facts are that nearly all dogs find the shelter experience stressful, and there is a high likelihood of euthanasia or warehousing (where a dog may spend months or years in a shelter). Whichever way you consider shelter and rescue, there will always be ethical issues and challenging decisions to be made. There are never enough resources to meet demand, and until the supply of dogs to shelters reduces, things cannot change.