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I have heard some people imply that pets at shelters are less than perfect. Does the fact that an animal is at a shelter mean there is something wrong with it? Why would an animal be in a shelter if there was nothing wrong with it?

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  • I strongly disagree with the reason chosen by voters for closing. There are research and statistics addressing specifically this question, so how is it "primarily-based opinion" ? Nov 28, 2014 at 9:13
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    I agree with skippy here. Primarily opinion based is for questions that are asking for opinions or guesses. This is asking for an explanation of why someone would say that not if they dogs are actually rejects.
    – Critters
    Nov 29, 2014 at 13:51

5 Answers 5

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Do perfect animals exist ?…

Anyway, there are many reasons an animal may end in a shelter without necessarily having "issues". Here are the top ten reason from some statistics gathered by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy¹, in the US:

Dogs

  1. Moving (7 %);
  2. Euthanasia, illness (7 %);
  3. Landlord not allowing pets (6 %);
  4. Cost (5 %);
  5. Euthanasia, old age (5 %);
  6. No time for pets (4 %);
  7. Inadequate facilities (4 %);
  8. Too many in house (4 %);
  9. Ill (4 %);
  10. Personal problems (4 %).

Cats

  1. Too many in house (11 %);
  2. Allergies (8 %);
  3. Moving (8 %);
  4. Cost (6 %);
  5. Landlord not allowing pets (6 %);
  6. No homes for litter (6 %);
  7. House soiling (5 %);
  8. Euthanasia, illness (5 %);
  9. Personal problems (4 %);
  10. Found animal (4 %).

Actually if you sum up reasons based on the pet itself, beside age and illness, you get about 20 % for dogs and less than 15 % for cats.

¹ Human and Animal Factors Related to the Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats in 12 Selected Animal Shelters in the United States. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 1(3), 207-226. 1998. Mo D. Salman [PDF].

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I volunteer at a shelter, and I see that animals come into the shelter for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the reasons that have nothing to do with the pet:

  1. They are lost. Roughly 60% of the pets that came into our shelter this year were brought in because they were lost and do not have identification tags or registered microchips. After a 72-hour hold, they are eligible to be adopted.

  2. The owner cannot care for them any longer because the owner is deceased, seriously ill, moving, homeless, or out of work and cannot afford the expenses any more.

All pets that come into the shelter are evaluated for temperament: Aggressive or dangerous animals will not be offered for adoption. There are many dogs that come in that lack training. We begin to teach basic obedience while they are in the shelter and find that the vast majority respond to it and begin to improve. You can be guaranteed that any puppy you get from a breeder or other source is going to be untrained, and so you should be prepared to "teach the rules" to any dog you acquire. Sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised that a shelter dog already understands quite a few of them.

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What is an issue for one person/family is common sense for others. For example, some people buy dogs on looks without any intention to exercise them as breeders recommend for the breed. Thus, they get a bored, unhappy dog: a problem dog. Not knowing the breed's temperament is one of the biggest reasons for calling an animal a problem dog. If a breed is known to be a barker, and you live in an apartment, it isn't the best choice for you!

So, many of the dogs you'll get at a pound are good, loving dogs who just want to be true to their natures.

Do perfect animals exist? Absolutely. The definition varies though by person.

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Playing devil's advocate here (to a degree). I've done volunteer work for an animal shelter, so have some indication of what goes on there (albeit limited by time and space, obviously).

Many pets ending up in shelters aren't doing so because they are "bad pets". Sure, some are, some may be aggressive, have serious health problems, or things like that. But that tends to be the minority.

Most end up their because their owners die, can no longer take care of them for financial reasons, or because of unwanted pregnancies and the owners can not find good homes for the offspring. Some even end up in a shelter because the owner is forced to move to a place where he can't take the pet with him (work abroad, nursing home, small apartment where either pets aren't allowed or the pet they have is too large, things like that).

That said however, most "quality" animals tend to disappear from shelters very quickly, often within days of them coming out of mandatory quarantine and health checks. That leaves the "difficult cases" lingering in shelters for months, often years (especially in no-kill shelters, obviously, the shelter I volunteered at was one such as are all shelters in the country I live, by law). Many of these animals are just as loving and cuddly as the nicest pet you'll ever see, but they have their issues. From chronic health problems (requiring often a special, expensive, diet and frequent vet visits, sometimes requiring daily medication just as with humans) to food or toy aggression, severe separation anxiety, and in case of dogs a tendency to bark a LOT.

Shelter I was at had about a dozen such dogs and more cats like that that were effectively impossible to place. We did what we could for them, giving them plenty of space (indoor and outdoor play areas for the cats, regular walks and playtime outdoors for the dogs, things like that) and they'd have special requirements for placing them only with people who had a proven track record of being able to deal with animals like that (so a first time pet owner would never even get to see them for example). Some of these dogs (and a few of the cats) were downright dangerous, to the point even most of the staff were not allowed to try to handle them. I'm talking pitbulls and the like that would randomly lunge out at handlers and try to bite them here. These would spend the rest of their lives in the shelter, being too dangerous to even attempt to place with a foster family, let alone adopt out.

But those were the exception, not the rule. The "bulk" of animals in our care were in and out quickly and quite friendly, made someone a great pet.

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  • A good shelter will give advice on placement, so dogs aren't misplaced. Singling out pitbulls (and the like) as the downright dangerous dogs makes me wonder at your experience. I agree with (and upvote) the bulk of your answer. But I'm just as likely (maybe more) to be bitten by a chihuahua as a pitbull or GSD. That aside, being a dangerous dog in a shelter - without the comfort of a couple of handlers - is very sad, and is no life for an animal. It's a life sentence of fear and loneliness. A peaceful death is a blessing for those animals. And yes, sadly, I know what I'm talking about. Jun 3, 2021 at 11:39
  • @anongoodnurse I am not singling them out. But the most aggressive and hard to handle dogs there were 2 pittbulls. Most of the other trouble dogs weren't aggressive, but had serious health problems. I know it can happen to all breeds, but in this case the stigma matched reality.
    – jwenting
    Jun 3, 2021 at 17:46
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Yes, animals in shelter are rejects. If someone wanted the animal, then they wouldn't be in a shelter. Once an animal is adopted, it is no longer unwanted (aka a reject).

Although animals could be unwanted because they have an ailment, that's not necessarily the case, but the shelter should be able to tell you the medical history of the animal in case that's something you want to take into consideration when adopting.

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