The Myth of Unadoptable Shelter Animals

Puppy #269268 as posted on PetHarbor by the Memphis pound.
Puppy #269268 as posted on PetHarbor by the Memphis pound.

When we talk about shelter animals being adoptable, we are talking about them being able to love and be loved by a family who would give them a home.  By this definition, only those pets who have been deemed medically hopeless and suffering by a veterinarian or in rare cases, dogs who have been deemed behaviorally hopeless by qualified parties after all rehabilitative efforts have failed would qualify as unadoptable.  All other animals in shelters are adoptable.  That is to say, there’s someone for everyone.  And it’s the shelter director’s job to find that someone for every one of the pets in their care.

In the case of feral cats, “someone” is the community – usually volunteer colony caretakers who feed and monitor free living neutered, vaccinated cats.  In other cases, “someone” might be an adopter, rescuer, foster or owner of a pet who’s gotten lost and been picked up by animal control.

Shelter directors encounter a wide array of pets and temperaments – from adorable toy breed dogs to large, strong dogs who don’t play well with others to cats too scared to interact with humans in a shelter environment.  Some pets will appeal to a large swath of the public, others to a narrower market.  It is the shelter director’s job to find that someone.

No pet is unadoptable due to age.  That is simply an excuse for killing, invented by lazy shelter directors who don’t feel like doing their jobs.  No matter how young or old, there is someone out there willing to love and be loved by that animal – in some cases, it’s the owner who has lost their beloved pet  It is ignorant and cruel to deny this.  Imagine if we applied the same standard to babies abandoned at hospitals or elderly people living on the streets.  Would we find such a person in need of care and tell them that due to their age, no one could ever possibly love them?  That there is no possibility anyone is looking for them due to their age and that death is truly the kindest option?  It sounds absurd because it is, no matter what group of sentient beings we are talking about.

Likewise, with the rare exceptions noted in the opening paragraph, no shelter pet is unadoptable due to health or behavior.  Like age, this is another excuse for killing invented by lazy shelter directors who won’t do their jobs.  Pregnant animals are adoptable.  Coughing animals are adoptable.  Pets with broken legs are adoptable.  Cats who hide at the back of the cage are adoptable.  Ninety pound dogs who haven’t yet been trained to walk on a leash are adoptable.  And again, there may be owners looking for any of these animals which is why that possibility can not be ruled out during the holding period and why shelters must make all their animals accessible by posting photos of all animals online immediately upon impound.

Granted, these special needs animals are not going to appeal to that wide swath of adopters and rescuers.  That’s why they call it work.  And why it’s so important that shelter directors have established relationships within the community, so they know how to best market pets with particular needs and who to call when they need help with certain animals.  Simply branding all, or any, of these animals as unadoptable and sending them to the kill room has become the standard protocol in too many so-called shelters in this country.  Shelter directors do it because they can.  And when they do it, they feed into the negative perception held by some that shelters only have broken animals.  That you shouldn’t adopt from a shelter because, as is often heard, there’s a reason those animals are there.  Their lives have no value – even the shelter director agrees because otherwise, why would he spend so much time killing them?  Nobody wants to kill animals, right?

The Companion Animal Protection Act is model legislation which takes away the discretion of shelter directors to kill randomly and in secret.  CAPA requires transparency and accountability from shelter directors.  It forces them to do their jobs by giving every animal in their care a chance to live and love and be loved.  For every animal advocate lamenting the arbitrary killing of pets by their local shelter director whom they believe will never willingly embrace the work of saving lives, getting CAPA passed in your community is an alternative worth exploring.

19 thoughts on “The Myth of Unadoptable Shelter Animals

  1. Recently xojane had an “UNPOPULAR OPINION” post from someone who was against No Kill shelters. Of course as we all know, that’s not an unpopular opinion, and the comments were full of people agreeing that of course nobody WANTS to kill animals but it’s cruel to warehouse all these “unadoptable” animals indefinitely, and of course the “unadoptable” ones need to be killed to make room for incoming animals that have a chance at being adopted, and shelters are forced to kill because blah blah blah irresponsible public.

    I asked for specifics about what “unadoptable” is supposed to mean, other than intractable aggression or severe untreatable medical issues, and never got an answer. Apparently it has no fixed definition, it just means whatever people want it to mean, whatever suits their purposes at the time they’re saying it. “‘When *I* use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'”

  2. And therein lies the danger for these animals. Facilities choose their own definition of “adoptable” and then use that to justify the killing. It’s happening everywhere, giant “animal welfare organizations” (we all know who they are) down to the smallest anima control. And animals pay with their lives by the millions in this country. We desperately need CAPA. The animals desperately need CAPA. We have to do this for them.

    1. Right, and it’s not just that different facilities have different definitions, as in Shelter A has one definition and Shelter B has another. It’s that Shelter A might use one definition in January and then another in May when those kittens start pouring in and they run out of room. The same criteria need to be applied at all shelters at all times.

  3. I was speaking to a County Commissioner about cats – I told him about my ugly, black, tattered and scarred cat that I had adopted. He said, “Well, not everyone WANTS a cat like that.” I said, “No, but you only need one person to adopt that cat.”

  4. Yet another reminder of why we need to be suspicious of shelters who claim to save all of the “adoptable” animals.

  5. That picture is so sad. You know that whoever took it looked right at that poor puppy, rolling in submission, begging for some understanding, and then dragged it off to a kennel to be ignored for 3 days. And either that same person, or some other uncaring freak at MAS will drag that frightened, innocent puppy to the kill room. The absolute mental sickness of the humans in the building is terrifying to me. I never want to meet any of those people face-to-face – the aura of ‘creepy soulless heartless ick’ that surrounds them would just be too horrendous to experience. I am impressed by anyone who can go into that hellhole and deal with the inhuman (I mean inhuman – it’s a given that they’re inhumane) two-legged creatures in there – you’re made of stronger stuff than I.

  6. people who work at places like this & collect a paycheck for it are souless! and a POS the lowest form of a human being to me! I pray they go before HIM soon & explain why they murdered HIS creation for a paycheck! may they suffer for what they have done

  7. Another tactic that could be used to scrutinize animal control workers would be mandatory drug testing…just a hunch and not sure how to implement it…but seems many animal control workers may just be altered to do what they do.

    Of course my apologies to all drug abusers who are not animal control workers.

  8. As usual, great article Shirley! Can’t wait for the Redemption movie showing here in Charlotte on August 22. Then it will be on to battling city council and the police dept that runs Animal Control.

  9. We rescue, rehab & rehome beautiful, smart domestic (unreleasable) pigeons & doves and we need more adopters & supporters to help us keep up with all the incoming! We’ve got more than 100 great birds in foster care & a waiting list of more that need our help. Birds need rescue too! Please help us to help these birds GO HOME!

  10. I’m going to present this (CAPA) to a few select members of the Nebraska Legislature for possible introduction in the next session. As my husband serves in that body, I hope to, at the very least, get it read and pondered. There are a couple of serious animal advocates that I think might give it consideration. I downloaded all the files in the No-Kill Toolkit. Nobody is going to have to reinvent the wheel with this much material having already been put together. I have to admit that, since I signed up on this blog, there are many days when I simply cannot bring myself to read the articles. I get filled—like everyone else —with so much rage and frustration that I just try to shut it all off sometimes. I don’t know what made me go back and read this specific blog post, but I like to think it might be an omen then I could actually have some success making changes here in my state…or at least getting some light bulbs to go on in a few people’s heads as a starter.
    By coincidence, I’m touring Lincoln, Nebraska’s only no kill cat shelter today with a board member. I’m going to ask if they might get behind this kind of legislation. I don’t think they’ve been too active in policy change so far. We shall see. Thanks so much for the blog entry. You do great work for critters everywhere.

    1. My niece has been trying to adopt him. The link said animal no longer in the system. I called The Memphis Animal Services and (hopefully was told the truth) learned that animal #269268 was adopted this morning. I purposefully tried to sound non-threatening or like a crazed animal lover (both of which I actually am), just dispassionately asked itf this animal had been adopted or euthanized She said as I report. Of course I am suspicious because of the next post on this blog about that facility, but I choose to believe this little guy has a home (on Earth!!) Thanks!!

  11. Click the little dog’s picture. There will be an option to share on your Facebook page. I’m doing so now. You never know…the right somebody might see it.

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