Closing stray kennels to the general public reduces adoptions, increases killing
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2007:
Closing stray kennels to the general public
reduces adoptions, increases killing
by Bill Meade, founder, Shelter Planners of America
It is common for some shelters to maintain stray kennels
which the public are not allowed to enter, unless they say they have
lost a specific type of animal.
This is done because of concern that people may claim animals
who are not theirs; because the staff may be burdened with having to
explain that certain animals are not ready for adoption; because
explaining why an animal must be euthanized may be awkward; to
protect the public from bites; and to reduce the spread of disease
by keeping people from touching animals.
However, when an animal shelter prevents stray animals from
being seen–and touched–by the public, the shelter reduces the
number of interactions that may lead to the animals being adopted.
Failing to give each animal maximum exposure to the adopting public
can lead to avoidable killing.
Often, when members of the public look at stray animals,
they identify the missing pets of neighbors or friends, and are able
to effect a reunion. Eliminating that possibility also may lead to
Sometimes a person seeking a lost animal will enter a shelter
and, without stopping at the front desk, walk through the
accessible kennels, unaware that the strays are isolated out of
view. These people leave, mistakenly thinking their animals are not
in the shelter. Again, animals may be killed as a result.
What shelter animals need most, and the public wants most,
is the opportunity to interact, so that visitors can fall in love
with a new pet. The animals benefit from receiving attention, kind
words, and a caring touch.
Pet stores that isolate dogs and cats behind glass often have
depressed animals who lie in a cage corner, not even responding to
taps on the glass. Shelters that isolate animals behind glass may
see the same response, or worse, the animals may become aggressive
and bark viciously at those walking by.
Of course no animal should be returned to a claimant without
proof of possession being provided in the form of a license,
veterinary confirmation or treatment records, photographs, or a
bill of sale. In addition, shelter staff can observe how the animal
responds to the claimant. Usually a dog will go ballistic upon
finally seeing the dog’s family. Cats will purr.
If necessary, a shelter can require a claimant to obtain a
notarized statement, signed by two witnesses, stating that they
have knowledge that the animal belongs to the claimant.
If an animal must be euthanized for health or behavioral
reasons, instead of being made available for adoption, the public
should be told the truth.
Animals who are frightened or aggressive should be placed in
isolation kennels, where the public can see and identify them
through windows, but where the animals cannot harm anyone. Friendly
animals rarely bite shelter visitors. Competent staff can usually
tell as soon as an animal arrives if the animal is friendly,
frightened, or aggressive. This does not require immediate
temperament testing to assess.
The major causes of disease in shelters are poor air quality,
lack of daily sanitation, and poor animal health care, including
lack of daily observation. Keeping the public from touching an
animal does not solve the problem of disease transfer, because the
staff is constantly handling animals during cleaning and feeding.
Dogs housed behind glass usually bark and lunge at visitors
far less than those who are conventionally caged. Glass kennel
fronts are rapidly supplanting conventional caging largely because
they help to reduce noise, helping to lower stress for dogs,
visitors, and shelter staff. However, no form of housing
substitutes for proper socialization and exercise. Bored and
isolated dogs tend to be unhappy dogs, in any environment.