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All About Animal Shelters

Types of Animal Shelters

Most shelters will take every stray that arrives, but are forced to euthanize some animals when they become too full. A smaller number of shelters only accept limited numbers of animals but promise to care for them until they are adopted. These are called “no kill” shelters. Despite the name, though, these shelters will euthanize animals that are too old or ill to care for anymore.

Dog Rescuer and Swanky Shelter

Augusta DeLisi rescued her first dogs when she was 12 years old. Soon after, she started Augies Doggies Rescue with the goal of saving as many dogs as possible. Now in high school, she has big dreams for her organization's future.

Read our Do Something Spotlight: Augusta DeLisi and Augies Doggies Rescue

The term “animal shelter” typically brings to mind long rows of metal-barred cages, the pungent smell of urine, and cacophonous barking. But for pets lucky enough to get lost in the San Francisco area, accommodations are available at an animal shelter so luxurious that it would make most humans jealous. In fact, Maddie’s Pet Adoption Center looks more like a five-star hotel than an animal shelter. At the $7 million facility (funded by donations), cats have their own private condos, where they can lounge on cushy sofas, scratch at plush posts, and watch DVDs of frolicking birds and squirrels. In the dog wing, pooches share elegant, furnished Victorian or Spanish-style apartments complete with skylights, human-like beds, and as many toys as they can chew. All of the animals get out of their apartments for regular “play dates,” and none of the residents are ever euthanized.

­Not all homeless cats and dogs end up in shelter­s. Some go to animal rescue groups. Many of these groups specialize in a specific breed. The animals often come from questionable breeding centers that have been shut down, as well as from kennels, veterinarian offices or local animal shelters. Unlike shelters, animal rescue organizations don’t necessarily have facilities in which to house the animals. Often, volunteers care for the animals in their own homes (fostering) until they can be adopted.

There are also animal sanctuaries, which serve as refuges for homeless animals. These are usually large areas of land that house and care for dogs and cats, as well as for goats, cows, donkeys, pigs and other larger farm animals. Some animal sanctuaries even keep wild animals, such as lions and tigers. In many cases, animals will stay at a sanctuary for the rest of their lives without ever being adopted.

The people who work at animal shelters must do the same things most pet owners do to care for their pets. They give the animals food twice a day, make sure they have enough water, clean their cages, walk them, pet them and care for sick animals that need special medical attention.

It’s also mandatory in many shelters to spay or neuter (surgically sterilize by removing the reproductive organs) all pets they accept. Shelters do this to prevent more unwanted animals from being born and ending up in shelters.

A single shelter can house hundreds of animals, and there usually isn’t a lot of money available for hired help. For that reason, volunteers are essential parts of shelter operations. Though they don’t get a paycheck, the tail wags and purrs they get in return are ample rewards for most volunteers.