The Challenges of Caring for Homeless Pets and How You Can Help
Did you know that there are approximately 14,000 animal shelters and rescue groups in the US? That is a lot of people who are dedicated to helping our furry, feathery, and scaly friends find their forever homes. But what does it really take to rescue, care for, and rehome these animals? The challenges for people who work in this important industry may surprise you and encourage you to make a difference in the lives of the pets and the volunteers who support them.
Homes for the Homeless
One of the challenges of rescue organizations is where to house the animals between rescue and adoption. There are generally two ways this temporary housing is done: shelters or foster homes. And there are pros and cons to both of these options. Shelters have the benefit of centralized resources. The animals, volunteers, veterinarian, and potential pet parents are all in one location, which can make care and adoption easier.
The negative of traditional shelters is that being in a kennel, especially for an extended period of time, can have detrimental effects on the animal’s mental wellbeing. Like humans, animals need interaction and will get depressed if they are passed over time and time again. Shelters can also be very dark and depressing places, which can make potential adopters wary of visiting, and thus making the adoption process harder.
One alternative is a dispersed foster system where volunteers take one or multiple animals into their homes, care for them, and then facilitate their transition to their forever homes. “My organization is a 100 percent volunteer- and foster-based program. We do not have a location,” Lisa Jensen, a Board Member of Safe Haven Animal Rescue in Oklahoma City, informed us. “All of our animals are in foster homes with us.”
Foster homes can help troubled animals adjust to home life, which can make their transitions into a family more smooth. Foster’s can also provide potential adopters with detailed information about the pet, their behaviors, and their struggles because they have had the pet in their homes for days, weeks, or even months.
However, many organizations that foster animals struggle to find enough families to house their pets. Unfortunately, this is a struggle for shelters, too. “When you run a rescue, you can actually get full, and you need help,” explained Melanie DeAeth, President and Founder of True Blue Animal Rescue in Texas. “People don’t always realize that when they call us—sometimes, I can’t take them in. Sometimes we don’t have a place to put them.”
How you can help: Consider fostering. Adoption is a lifelong commitment that some people simply aren’t able to make; fostering, however, is a temporary situation that goes a long way in saving lives, and enables rescues to help more animals at once. If you are skilled with social media outlets or have some marketing experience, volunteer to help a shelter promote their animals on social media. These posts can showcase the animal’s personality in ways that help potential pet parents identify the new four-legged family member that is right for them.
People Can Be Judgemental
Shelters often come under attack for their policies and practices. Sometimes, those accusations are well founded and change is warranted. Other times, people jump on a bandwagon without getting all of the facts. K9ofMine identified twelve traits to look for in a shelter to make sure you’re adopting from or donating to an ethical one. Among these qualities are making sure adoptable pets are fixed and that adoptees get proof of vaccinations.
People often tend to balk at adoption fees. “Adopters often come in expecting lower adoption fees or disagreeing with our policies,” said Mari Salls, Shelter Manager of Friends of Strays in Florida. Unfortunately, many would-be adopters don’t realize that adoption fees help cover the cost of care of homeless animals—although they rarely cover them. “We have these policies to ensure there is no more suffering or possible abandonment for the pets we have loved and cared for,” Mari told us.
The biggest criticism of most animal shelters is their policies on euthenasia. This is a complicated and heated argument, and there have been many laws put into place to limit and regulate these practices. Some people will not support shelters that are not labeled as “no kill” because of their euthenasia practices, but this means that more animals are likely put down because they are not being adopted. Some nonprofits dedicate their efforts to rescuing animals from kill shelters in order to get them into safer temporary housing.
How you can help: Do your research before pointing fingers. Most facilities are trying their best, and you may not be aware of the bigger picture. Think before you choose to boycott or support any rescue organization, and try to ask questions before you make judgements. Then, make an effort to support the shelters that you believe in through volunteering, donating, or promoting. You can create an infographic quickly online to catch people’s attention on social media. You can even customize it to stand out and provide compelling information.
The Emotional Toll
As difficult as customer service sometimes is, there is an even bigger challenge when it comes to working with people — and it’s a heartbreaking one. “One of the biggest challenges for me is watching people who have to surrender their pets,” admitted Jessi Burns, Marketing and Communications Director of Foothills Animal Shelter in Colorado.
Jessi told us that while it’s easy to judge someone for giving up a beloved pet, it’s important that rescuers remain compassionate, no matter how tear-jerking the experience is.
“Sometimes it’s hard to understand how someone could give up their pet, but a lot of times, it’s for reasons out of their control,” she continued. “Maybe they are moving to a hospice home and can’t take their pet with them, or maybe they’ve lost their job and no longer have the money to take care of their pet. Whatever the reason, we are here to be understanding of the situation and do whatever we can to find a new home for that animal. It can be easy to demonize someone giving up their pet, but it’s important to understand that it’s just as heartbreaking for them to have to say goodbye to a pet they have loved for years.”
It can also be incredibly difficult to say goodbye to an animal you have come to love, whether they were in the shelter in which you volunteer or your home where they were fostered. As difficult as this process is emotionally, remember that your love, guidance, and acceptance helped to get that animal to its forever home. That knowledge doesn’t help the heartbreak, but it can help bring you some comfort over time.
How you can help: There is not much you can do to prevent the heartbreak that goes with saying goodbye to a beloved pet. But you can refrain from judging people who feel that giving up their pet is their best course of action, and you can provide support to the shelter caretakers who will be that pet’s interim family until they are rehomed.
Despite the challenges, animal rescue volunteers are relentless in their pursuits to find forever families for homeless pets, and there are plenty of ways we can all make their jobs easier! If you’re interested in working with, fostering, or even adopting a homeless pet, consider reaching out to your local rescue.
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photo cred: Photo via PexelsThe Challenges of Caring for Homeless Pets and How You Can Help