Ask Joyce: Improving Conditions at Your Local Animal Shelter

Posted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on January 7, 2009

ALDF’s "Ask Joyce" column appears in each issue of The Animals’ Advocate, ALDF’s quarterly publication.

Dear Joyce,
My local animal shelter has some serious problems and I want to help the animals get better treatment. What do you recommend?

Dear Reader,
Animal shelters are intended to provide a safe haven for animals who have gotten lost, abandoned, or have been surrendered by their guardian, and I’m a big fan of theirs. Sadly, there are some animal shelters and animal control facilities that do not provide proper treatment to the animals entrusted to them. The first step to a solution is to clearly identify the problem. It could be a lack of funding, poor management, untrained staff, inadequate disease control, a physical facility that is too old, too small or in need of major repair, lack of veterinary care, lack of a volunteer program, or any number of other reasons. Gather the facts: keep careful notes on each perceived problem, including the date, time, location and animal(s) involved and take photos and videos, if you are able.

Try to work cooperatively with shelter staff and administrators to develop creative solutions. For example, two friends of mine discovered that their local shelter had very little money and the staff had low morale. They held fundraisers to raise the money needed to buy a washer and dryer, so that there was always clean bedding for the animals, and to purchase new cage doors that were safer for the animals. They volunteered to groom the animals, walk dogs and build a group of volunteers to assist the small staff at the shelter. It took time, but eventually, the shelter’s care of the animals and its adoption program improved markedly.

If shelter staff will not agree to hear your concerns, or work cooperatively, the next step is to contact their bosses and request an investigation of the shelter. If the shelter is run by a city or county, contact the City Council, County Board of Supervisors, sheriff, or other agency that oversees it. In the case of a private, nonprofit shelter, the oversight may come from a board of directors. Organize a committee of concerned citizens. Find out what minimum standards of care are mandated by state and local laws. You can obtain local laws from your City Council or local library. Once you have done all of your homework, prepare to make your case in a businesslike manner. Creating positive change will take time and effort, and the animals in your community will benefit greatly.

Let’s all pitch in!

Joyce