The Challenges Facing Local Animal Shelters and How to Help

Local animal shelters are facing a range of challenges, from overcrowding to limited resources. Open access and accountability to the public, inadequate health programs, mandatory retention periods, and high turnover are just some of the issues that shelters must contend with. The results of a shelter can tell us when the community is underserved and needs our support. In many communities, shelter animals are unvaccinated, sick and in urgent need of basic medical care.

Additionally, many communities lack access to spaying and neutering services, leading to an explosion of puppies and kittens. Shelter pets are suffering and shelter staff are forced to make difficult choices due to lack of space. Across North America, staff shortages and the pandemic make it difficult to help homeless dogs, cats and rabbits. There are many ways that animal shelters can be supported, from giving away needed items to making monetary donations or even volunteering some free time.

Best Friends Animal Society estimates that about 100,000 more dogs and cats in the United States need help. Last summer, Best Friends conducted a survey in more than 150 animal shelters and organizations to assess personnel problems caused by the pandemic. As this report from Shelter Animals Count shows, more animals enter animal shelters than leave, maintaining an imbalance in the system. This means that only a few animals from the shelter will make it through the cut, and those pets are wanted by adopters, rescue groups, non-profit shelters, and receiving transportation agencies.

Running an animal shelter is no easy task; you have to balance the desire to help as many animals as you can with the need to run profitably to keep the doors open. Founded in 1984, Best Friends is a pioneer in the no-kill movement and has helped reduce the number of animals that are killed in shelters from about 17 million a year to about 355,000. One of the most pressing issues for animal shelters is the lack of public awareness about how to treat their pets to avoid overpopulation and about the valuable services that shelters provide to place animals in good homes. In the case of “no-kill” shelters, this means that unless they can consistently find a home for their animals (a difficult task even at the best of times), they may run out of space to take them in.

Even in times of great challenges, animal shelters have a responsibility to engage with the public, communicate why they need help, listen to public feedback, and invite volunteers and animal advocates to be part of the solution. Best Friends Animal Society is leading the way in animal welfare by working towards ending the killing of dogs and cats in shelters in the United States by 2025. According to the ASPCA, 34% of dogs are purchased from breeders while only 23% come from animal shelters. There are several ways that people can help local animal shelters overcome their challenges. Donating items such as food or bedding is one way; donating money is another. Volunteering time is also an excellent way to help out; many shelters need volunteers for tasks such as walking dogs or cleaning cages.

Finally, spreading awareness about animal welfare issues is also important; talking about these issues with friends or family can help raise awareness about how people can help their local animal shelter.