Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Thoughts on Visiting the Animal Shelter

I was at a professional dog training conference last week, and I had the chance to view video of shelter dogs. Some of the footage made my heart melt with happiness, and some of it was deeply disturbing. It got me thinking about National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month and the fact that many people have never visited their local shelter.

If you have avoided visiting an animal shelter up to now, you are not alone. Perhaps you worry you’ll want to adopt them all, or that the scene will be too overwhelming for you.

Know that shelters come in all sizes and have a wide range of adoption policies. You are likely to see dogs in a clean setting and whose basic needs are being met. Nowadays many shelters provide the dogs with environmental and mental enrichment, get to know them as individuals, and have knowledgeable staff members to help you learn more. Some facilities look very old and some look brand new, but appearance is not an indication of how caring the staff is or how adoptable the dogs are.

If you think it might be emotionally difficult to visit (after all, the dogs are homeless and not all will be adopted, even in a no-kill shelter), consider using one or more of these ideas:

Go with a friend

Decide ahead of time how long you will stay

Make a donation of money or supplies while you’re there (most shelters have a wish list at their website)

Ask yourself what positive things or interactions you notice while you’re there

Whether you go or not, try to stay with your feelings of compassion for just a moment. Granted, it is uncomfortable and much easier to turn away. But if you let the sight or the thought of the shelter dogs linger for just a moment, you honor both your humane impulse and everyone, two or four-legged, who is inside the shelter. You may even feel moved to help. Perhaps you won’t help at a shelter per se, but maybe you will lend a hand further up the chain of events before dogs are found or surrendered. Or maybe you’ll even adopt a shelter dog one day.

What can you do in your life to model compassion? How can you share it with another adult, a child, or a non-human animal? What act of kindness can you offer? These are the very questions I am asking myself after having attended the conference. I am going to try and stay with them, even if for just a moment.


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