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Not as Simple as Gandhi

Gandhi once said something to the effect of, “You can judge a society by the way it treats its animals.” Gandhi may not have said that if he worked in an animal shelter. Our society does not, as a whole, treat animals in one way or another. There’s a wide range of treatment. So Gandhi’s statement becomes less precise.

View A—Intake

Thousands of animals are turned into shelters around the country every day. There are good reasons and there are bad reasons. Good reasons include:

  • Stray animals. Folks are just trying to do the right thing and get this homeless pet off the street and out of danger.
  • Financial hardship. Whether Fluffy has a major illness and vet care is out of financial reach, or folks are out of money and it’s a toss-up between food for Fluffy or food for the kids.
  • Aggressive behavior (on the animal’s part). If Fluffy keeps biting everyone, the owner is not only risking the safety of himself and his family, he’s also risking a lawsuit by keeping Fluffy.
  • Aggressive behavior (on the human’s part). Some people suck. A lot of them actually. Fluffy may be turned into a shelter for his own protection against an aggressive human in the household.

Shelters are happy to be there for these animals and their people in situations like this. This is why we exist. To help when no one else can. But we’ve also become a dumping ground for people who just don’t want their pets anymore. Bad reasons include:

  • It doesn’t match the new furniture. You laugh, but we hear this one more than you’d think.
  • It sheds.
  • The new puppy doesn’t like it. (Devoted, steadfast, calm Fluffy gets turned in because the latest model of designer puppy has arrived and is more exciting.)
  • It’s a Pit Bull. Joe Schmoe dropped a bunch of cash to buy a puppy from a guy on a street corner. Once the puppy grew up, Schmoe discovered it is not the purebred Lab that he was promised, but instead a sweet, loving, playful pit bull. Nothing else has changed. The dog is still a wonderful pet and part of the family. But it’s a Pit.

View B—Adoptions

While thousands of animals are being turned into shelters daily, hundreds are being adopted out of shelters. Shelter adoptions staff are faced with a dilemma as old as animal welfare. Is it better to place animals in any home, regardless of how inappropriate it may be? Or is it better to keep the pet in the shelter longer and risk possible euthanasia rather than send a pet home to a terrible match.

Wonderful families come to shelters to find a pet to enrich their lives.

  • Shelters get holiday cards from these families years later that have pictures of everyone surrounding the dog who is wearing a Santa hat. Then we know we’ve done our jobs well.

But people with lesser intentions come to shelters to adopt pets too.

  • Sometimes they want an ornament for the yard.
  • Sometimes they want a bait dog.
  • Sometimes they want a dog that they can breed to make money. (Responsible shelters put the kibosh on that one by spaying and neutering pets before they go home.)
  • Sometimes they just want something cute, but they haven’t followed that thought through to see the nonstop responsibility that comes with pet care.


Animal shelters rarely see simple decisions that are black and white. Whether it’s turning in an animal or adopting one, people have a multitude of reasons behind their decisions. Sometimes they’re logical, sometimes they’re emotional, and sometimes they’re random. So while Gandhi’s statement about judging society by its treatment of animals seems pretty simple, it’s not so easy as black and white. Because American culture is gray. So shelters exist in a world of gray.

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