Being the “have-to-know” nut that I am, I decided to do a little research into animal shelters for this occasion, and here’s what I found. I’ll try to keep it brief.
Animal shelters evolved from pounds which were used in colonial times to round up wandering livestock that could be redeemed from the “impound” for a fee. It figures if humans have anything to do with it, it’s going to involve money!! Because a monetary value was placed on these animals, they were usually reclaimed. When the system began to impound wandering dogs and cats, these animals were often killed because little or no monetary value was placed on them.
The ASPCA (the outfit with the tear-jerking commercials on TV) was founded in 1866 as the first animal welfare organization in the United States. At the time, the organization focused on the mistreatment of horses. Several other humane organizations were founded soon after that included dogs and cats, but they were not, and still are not, affiliated with each other. The concept of animal control and shelters slowly took hold, and major cities began issuing dog licenses as a source of funding for these shelters. However, the shelter’s primary role was not to provide humane care and treatment of the animals but to provide public safety and to protect private property rights. In 1874, the Women’s Branch of the Pennsylvania SPCA in Philadelphia became the first organization to focus on the humane treatment of shelter animals. Yes girls, it has always been our role to civilize the unruly males of our species! 🙂
Not until the late 1970s did the veterinary community have much input into the management policies of shelters. Instead of focusing on providing humane veterinary care and treatment to the animals, the energies of many shelters revolved around providing a “humane death” for the many animals that were not reclaimed or adopted. The euthanasia methods used were brutal and included clubbing, drowning, electrocution, decompression chambers, and carbon monoxide poisoning, all of which were (believe it or not) considered quick or humane at various points in time.
In the late 1970s enough concern about the quality of life offered to shelter animals was raised that veterinarian input was sought to provide effective programs of preventive care and treatment. In 1989, Current Veterinary Therapy X published one of the first articles in a veterinary publication regarding the care of shelter animals.
I was very distraught to discover that there are only a few more than 4000 no-kill shelters in the US today. We can be thankful for the ones we have, but we need many more.
Here’s hats off and kudos to our beloved Abandoned Pet Rescue and the workers, vets, volunteers, donors and contributors who man the sails. They are truly heroes. Happy Silver Anniversary and bless you one and all!