Animal shelters care for animals needing protection, attempt to find homes for homeless animals, and reunite lost pets with their owners. When necessary, animal shelters give homeless or unadoptable animals a humane death. Today’s shelters range from single rooms with multiple cages to state-of-the-art facilities with amenities that may rival some hotels. The “luxury” features, like ambient music and waterfalls, serve to reduce the animals’ stress and to make the shelter more inviting, which increases the chances that the animals at the shelter will find a new home.
Animal shelters can be structured in three ways. First, as municipal animal control agencies, run by city or county governments; second, as non-profit agencies overseen by a board of directors; or third, as private, non-profit agencies with a government contract to provide animal control services.
Private, non-profit organizations rely on donations and grants to fund their programs. Many private agencies are limited-access, sometimes called “no-kill” facilities, because they do not euthanize animals to make room for more animals. At times, they find it necessary to turn animals that are brought to them away if they do not have available space. To solve this problem, municipal and private agencies set up foster-care networks to increase the number of animals they can serve at a given point in time.
Shelters, both municipal and private, may provide other services to the public if they have sufficient resources. These services may include animal health services, such as exams and spay/neuter surgeries, behavioral evaluations and training, humane education, and others.
Any shelter can use the term “Humane Society” or “SPCA” in their name. SPCA stands for Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. These are generic terms that do not imply the shelter is part of a larger organization or has special powers. In fact, most humane societies and SPCA's are independent agencies. National organizations do not have any oversight or governing power over these independent agencies; however, national organizations offer suggested guidelines and recommendations for animal shelters, which are often followed (Fekety 1998).
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“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.” ~ Anatole France