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All About Animal Shelters

Animal Shelter Basics

Approximately 5,000 animal shelters operate in the United States. They are nonprofit agencies. Some of them are run by local governments' animal contro­l services and others act as completely independent entities. There isn't a national agency that oversees animal shelters; however, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and other nonprofit organizations that are devoted to animal welfare provide the funding and guidelines to help animal shelters operate effectively.

What's in a Name
In the past, "strays" were rounded up by "dog catchers" and taken to the "dog pound." Today the language used to describe the process is far gentler. "Animal control officers" find "homeless" animals and take them to "shelters," where they are cared for until they can be "adopted." These new expressions reflect society's changing attitudes about animal welfare.

­Many animal shelters will take just about every type of domesticated animal, including birds, rabbits, and even horses, but by far the main residents are cats and dogs. Between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats are taken to shelters each year, according to the Humane Society. Some are brought in by owners who can no longer keep the animals. Others are found roaming the streets and brought in by animal control officers.

In an ideal situation, an animal will only stay in a shelter until its owner returns or it is adopted. Sadly, shelters don't have enough room to indefinitely house all of the animals they receive. More than half of all cats and dogs that enter shelters are put to sleep because they are too sick or old, or they don't find homes.

How long an animal can remain in a shelter depends only local laws and the individual shelter's rules. Although the Humane Society recommends that shelters hold strays for at least five days, the actual number of days can vary based on the space in the shelter, as well as the health and adoptability of the animals.