The Shelter Voice: Shelters Go Beyond Adoptions

By Darlene Duggan

These days, most animal shelters do more than just take in homeless animals and find new families for them. After early humane societies had established themselves as trusted sources for relinquishing or adopting a pet, society’s expectations grew, and shelters responded by expanding the services and programs they delivered. Now, many shelters consider themselves “full-service” humane societies, offering services well beyond adoption placements.

Spay Neuter Clinics
The most notable of the extended services offered by many humane societies are spay neuter options for the public. Not only will these shelters spay and neuter the animals in their care, but they will also alter already homed pets, usually for a nominal cost. Public spay neuter programs extend the reach of preventing unwanted litters beyond even those animals originally obtained from a shelter. Offering this service at a low price (usually at or well below cost, and sometimes even FREE!) gives the public access to a service that can be cost prohibitive at a private veterinarian. In communities where people have access to this low-cost service, there is no longer an excuse to have an unaltered pet.

Trap-Neuter-Return Programs
Shelters with a Spay Neuter Clinic will often also offer Trap Neuter Return (TNR) services for the public as well. For communities will high feral cat populations, TNR is the preferred method in managing the population: People from the community will trap the feral cats, bring them to the local humane society to be neutered (and sometimes vaccinated), and will then return the cat back to its original trapping location. Through this method, the reproduction rates of the feral population are significantly diminished. Again, this extends the reach of spay neuter services to animals beyond just those in the shelter, further preventing unwanted litters.

Behavior Evaluations and Training Classes
Regardless of how or where an animal was obtained, many animal shelters also offer behavioral evaluations of homed pets. Is Fluffy scratching on your furniture? Is Rover excessively barking at the neighbors? Call your local humane society and chances are they have behaviorists on staff to help you with your pet issues. In addition, for those pet parents looking for training classes, many humane societies also offer group (or sometimes, individual) classes. As with spay neuter services, evaluations and obedience trainings are usually offered at a significant discount, and sometimes even at a lower discount for pets adopted from animal shelters!

Safe Haven Programs
With the downturn in the economy in recent years, many shelters have started Safe Haven Programs in which they board or foster pets of persons in temporary crisis, so as to spare them from having to relinquish their beloved animals. People who have recently lost their job or home, victims of domestic violence, or even military persons leaving for duty, can usually benefit from these extended services offered by some humane societies.

Pet Food Pantries
Like the Safe Haven Programs, many Pet Food Pantry Programs have been created to help financially struggling families bridge the gap between paychecks thereby enabling them to take care of their pets. Shelters may ask the public to help with donations for the food pantry, and sometimes use overflow of shelter food to give to the public rather than the trash cans.

Humane Education
Many animal shelters also have Humane Education Departments that focus their resources on spreading the humane message to students of all ages. Humane Education programs teach students to live with compassion, integrity, and wisdom, and also give them the tools to put these values into action. For many students, this program might be their only exposure to the humane messages of living harmoniously and respectfully with animals, and is therefore a valuable means for animal shelters to influence the attitudes of the next generation.

Investigations and Field Services
Some large humane societies will also staff an investigative department and use the law to adjudicate in support of abused or neglected animals. This service is common in communities where there is no local animal control organization, as well as in larger jurisdictions.

As evidenced by the above examples, modern humane societies are expanding the services they offer to animals and the community. By doing so, they are playing an active role in the prevention of animals relinquished to shelters, acting as a resource for people with pets, and helping to support the human-animal bond. In progressive animal sheltering practices, it is essential to be proactive about servicing the community, and offering multiple services and programs beyond adoptions is the mark of a well-balanced and well-intentioned organization.


For many years, Darlene worked behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago–overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, will explore the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. She hopes to broaden the understanding and education of shelter supporters so they can act as well-informed advocates for the cause and help spread the adoption and rescue message throughout their community.

To read more from Darlene, check out her Blog–Shelter Report.


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