I love a really good animal shelter. A really good one is clean, safe, and linked into a network of caring people. Volunteers who are adept at handling dogs and cats work with them to make life less frightening for them in the shelter environment and try to make them more adoptable.
Karen Pryor's shelter pets program is a particularly good one that I'd like to see in use in shelters around the world. Volunteers are taught to clicker train the dogs, cats, puppies and kittens. They not only find life more interesting but are more adoptable when they can go to their new homes having learned a thing or two.
The one area in which shelters fall down, in my opinion, is in their misunderstanding and underuse of dog and cat Breed Rescue volunteers. The problem seems to be endemic in U.S. shelters. I don't understand why so many either don't know or are unwilling to learn how to use these people most effectively, to take advantage of their expertise in their breed.
For the purpose of brevity and I hope, clarity, I will talk about dogs but this also applies to cats.
When a purebred dog or cat is turned into a shelter, they go into the system. In a kill shelter there are only a few precious days in which to get them out before they're put down. (The euphemism for killing, "put down," doesn't please me since I prefer to be crystal clear about the act.) Most shelters put the animals up for adoption by the public once they have been deemed adoptable. This includes health exam, possibly spay or neuter and some sort of temperament test that, frankly, isn't consistently good or useful. Before shelter people start screaming at me, I know that you're doing the best that you can and listening to a bunch of "experts" who are often just people who are exceptionally good at self-promotion and earning money through these "lectures." The public has the first crack at adopting these purebreds. Throughout this process of intake, evaluation and adoption is where I think the shelters are not on track with breed rescue and are not properly utilizing this invaluable resource.
Each breed has its own characteristics, health and temperament issues, etc. These are best known to people who have been in the breed for awhile and are experienced in evaluating, training and placing members of their breed. The ideal situation is for the shelter workers to learn to identify the breed, refer to their list of breed rescue contacts (and every shelter should have a such a list clearly available in their office) and call the appropriate person.
The breed rescue person will have a volunteer go to the shelter, "pull" the dog (take him out of the shelter) and will take the dog home for evaluation, medical care, training, and if the dog is a good candidate, placement in a "forever home" that has been carefully screened by someone who knows that breed and is uniquely qualified to make that decision.
Small dogs in shelters, for example, do quite poorly since they're frightened, cold (they lose body heat more quickly than larger dogs), and deprived of the human interaction that is essential for them to do well. They can exhibit fear biting in a shelter setting that would never otherwise happen in a home. It's their only defense when they're terrified. All dogs and cats lose heart and begin to withdraw when placed in a cage with no real love and human contact, without a home of their own. Even a temporary home with a breed rescue foster volunteer is a home where the companion animal will do far better than in the shelter setting.
By getting these dogs into Breed Rescue, the shelter will then have room for more of the mixed breed dogs who also need a home. There will be more space for them when the purebreds are in Foster Care.
Why don't most shelter people understand this and see the value in it? I honestly don't know. Years ago, the head of a large shelter asked, plaintively, why I couldn't get the Toy Dog Rescue people to take the larger purebred dogs since she could place the small dogs. Wow! I was stunned by her lack of understanding of the concept of Breed Rescue. It still makes me shake my head in wonder, even today.
Shelters should not be a cheap pet shop for the public who want a Purebred. Those people who want to adopt a purebred can go to Breed Rescue. The Purebred Rescue groups can be found at the American Kennel Club's website: www.akc.org.
I would love to see the day when there is no further need for shelters, when every dog and cat will be in his or her "forever home." But until resources are properly used that day keeps getting pushed further and further away.