Health and Fitness

Animal Doctor: Animal shelter volunteer addresses issues | Health, Medicine & Fitness


Dear Dr. Fox: I am a regular reader of your column. Because I have worked for a veterinarian for 13 years, I find your ideas interesting and useful in our clinic.

I have been a volunteer at my local animal shelter — a county-operated one in a small state — for 25 years. We must accept all strays, turn-ins, ferals, etc., from anyone who lives in our county. We are open seven days a week, and while we do have bona fide “hours of operation,” those go by the wayside daily because there is so much that doesn’t get done by the end of the workday.

We never have enough money, personnel, volunteers, foster families or fundraisers. Although this shelter is county-operated, the budget for animal welfare is very small. Usually, the money allotted for medical care has run out by February or March, so we try to raise funds any way we can. Then the county residents get resentful because they think their taxes should already pay for everything.

When you write that most animals entering a shelter need quiet quarantine rooms and should not be confined to a small cage, I am not sure you know the nature of a crowded animal shelter. How can we provide any more than we already do? There is never enough of anything, and we don’t have enough people to help us. The turnover of paid help and volunteers is enormous because of the stress and sheer volume of the daily work. I have spent an entire day just doing laundry. It never ends.

What I would like you to know is that shelters all over the country are having the same issues. It usually boils down to lack of money. What I would like you to do is to give some solutions to these problems, instead of drawing attention to problems that will keep people from checking out shelters for adoptable animals because they are afraid of what they might see.

We are doing a marvelous job with what we have; our animals are safe, warm, fed, watered and exercised as much as possible. But it is not easy; I hope you will bring that out in a future column. — J.O., Stevensville, Maryland

Dear Dr. Fox: Thank you for writing about what a shelter should do to enhance the adoptability of its animals.

It would be even better if shelters could find a way to minimize disease; newly adopted dogs frequently have “kennel cough” or worse, and cannot show their true personalities because they are sick.

You are so right about TNR, which turns its back on cats so that TNR advocates can feel good about themselves. They won’t acknowledge pictures of starved, maimed, diseased, injured and dead cats that are victims of the concept. As for no-kill shelters, they often flaunt the term, and some of them warehouse animals, but many also ship animals they don’t adopt to another facility that euthanizes them.

The other flaw of the no-kill movement is that it endorses adoptions to practically anyone who knows how to fill out an adoption application, often with omissions and falsehoods. People then surrender these pets back to the shelter because “he didn’t know how to behave” or “he got sick,” and then ask to see other ones. Home visits are not conducted to educate pending adopters on successful transitional techniques and how to work through inevitable problems. Most public and private shelters/rescues do not choose to meaningfully screen and educate adopters, because their marching orders are to get these hapless animals “adopted.” Even some private rescue organizations have succumbed to handing out animals. Thus, these animals are really “sold” for fee generation, and often pay a terrible price.

Rehabilitating and nurturing shelter animals would save more of them, but why bother if the animals are being shoveled out the door or handed over to someone who has an irresponsible attitude toward defenseless pets? In my mind, euthanasia is a better alternative to a life of hell. I believe there are far more adoptable pets than responsible pet owners.

Please do not use my name, as I have been in the rescue business for 15 years and have been attacked by people who don’t like it when I stand up for animals and tell the truth.

Thank you for your relentless efforts on the behalf of animals. — [Name withheld], Rockville, Maryland

Dear J.O. and [name]: I am glad that some of my column advice is helpful to the veterinary hospital where you work, J.O., because the column gives me a “wide angle” view of the major health and behavioral issues affecting dogs and cats.

And “name withheld,” thank you for sharing your experience from working in the trenches of animal rescue and sheltering.

I do hope readers will appreciate your observations from working in your local animal shelters; blessings to you both for doing so. I wish more people — especially active, healthy retirees (to hell with the next cruise vacation! Think of the animals!) — would volunteer. Come and socialize the resident animals. Raise funds to pay for more trained staff. Get old blankets, towels and other supplies for local shelters.

Now is the season of giving, and I urge all people to consider donating first to their local animal shelters, which should have nonprofit 501(c)(3) status with the IRS — so donations are tax-deductible — as well as an open-door policy for visitors to come and see everything. Better to start locally rather than donating to the well-heeled national organizations, whose big money doesn’t always get down to the local communities. This may actually turn off potential donors to local shelters, thinking that the problems are being cared for by the larger organizations who have the money to buy TV advertising time. We need both — national appeals and grassroots activism and involvement — plus more dollars coming from the municipal coffers.

Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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