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What constitutes a good animal shelter? There are traditional benchmarks which are commonly used to describe a good shelter, i.e. does it have a high adoption rate and a low euthanasia rate? But these do not begin to answer the question of whether this is a good shelter because there are are so many factors that affect these measures. For example, the shelter may be located in an area with extreme poverty so there will be less money to advertise adoptions or support spay and neuter programs. The shelter may be located in an urban area where there are numerous pit bulls who are usually more difficult to adopt. For these reasons and many others, please do not take euthanasia and adoption rates as the final word about a shelter. You may wish to volunteer or financially support a shelter which is not a wealthy one but where the animals need you the most.

In order to ascertain whether a certain shelter is well operated you need to consider many factors. The best approach is to volunteer there for a few days or weeks. While you are there, ask long-time volunteers or staff about the shelter. Does it have broad community support? Does it promote educational programs in the schools? Does shelter management listen to its staff or volunteers when they have suggestions? If there is a high turnover, either among staff or volunteers, then this is usually not a good sign.

Ask about this shelter's reputation in the community. Go online and see what others have to say about their experiences with the shelter. It does not take a high budget to keep the kennels clean and the dogs groomed, so see if the kennels are kept clean. This is often an indication of morale at the shelter. Look around for yourself and see if the animals are treated lovingly and exercised regularly.

Some shelters are nonprofits and others are branches of local government. This is not the determining factor in whether the shelter is well functioning. Other practices are more important, e.g. whether there is an exercise yard and a place where potential adopters can interact with the animals. Does the shelter do meaningful interviews with people who come in to adopt, or are they just glad to get another animal out the door?

Is spay and neuter a part of every adoption at this shelter? With so many animals needing a home and shelters bursting at the seams it is unconscionable to promote breeding. The "miracle of birth" that some parents want their children to see is instead the "miracle of death" for animals at the shelter who cannot find a home.

Are all animals microchipped prior to being adopted? Microchipping will save thousands of lives because it allows animals to be identified. The process consists of implanting a small microchip slightly larger than a grain of rice into the animal's neck. This chip can then be read by a scanner at any facility where the animal is taken. Veterinarians, shelters, rescue groups and clinics routinely scan all found animals to see if they can be identified and returned.

How long does the shelter hold animals (though this is often controlled by state or local law)? If euthanasia is performed at this shelter, how compassionately is it done? Does the shelter offer a period of health insurance for each animal adopted (30 days is common) and encourage (or even require) a return to the shelter if the adoption does not work out well? Is there any follow-up to adoptions, such as a call to the new home?

Is a veterinarian visiting the shelter on a regular basis? Many vets volunteer to come by shelters and see the animals at little or no charge. Are all the animals receiving their necessary (core) innoculations? The cost of these shots is usually built into the adoption fees. However, the fees should not be so high as to discourage adoptions, so compare the adoption fees at the shelter under consideration to adoption fees at other shelters. Many shelters have a sliding scale for adoptions.

If you have specific abilities, you may want to volunteer these skills. Shelters need painting and maintenance. They also need financial support, so you could organize a fund raiser in town or at the shelter. Perhaps you are able to help build an area where the animals can be exercised and interact with adopters or a petting area for young children. If you have computer skills, you could help with the websites and advertising.

This brings us to the controversial issue of no kill shelters. There are good people on both sides of this question and it would require an entire essay to do justice to each side. Because many websites are passionately devoted to one side or the other, it is challenging to find a balanced analysis. For those interested in researching the no kill issue further, here are two links that honestly present insights into the matter:



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