Animal Shelters
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
By Allen and Linda Anderson



We have been thinking a lot about animal shelters lately because we are researching a new book that deals with rescuing and saving animals. In the past we have volunteered at local shelters and had mixed emotions about what went on in them. Now, after discovering so many possibilities for what primo shelters can do in a community, we are still wondering what is best for the animals. On what programs and facilities are charitable donation dollars best spent?

In a world that hopefully is moving toward more enlightenment and viewing animals as spiritual beings, how do our animal shelters reflect changing attitudes and deeper understandings?

If you took an informal survey around your place of work, you would find that most people have never been to an animal shelter. They know shelters exist and if a person wanted to adopt a mutt, an animal shelter would be a good place to start looking for one. But there’s all those sad eyes peering out of cages, pleading for a stroke of kindness, hoping to be liberated. And how do people feel coming into a place, not finding a pet they want to take home, and leaving, thinking that the ones they didn’t choose might die? It’s just too off-putting.

Fifty years ago, dogcatchers ruled the animals in cities, striking terror in the hearts of pet guardians and animals who roamed much more freely than they do today. If a dogcatcher saw an animal on the streets, he would swoop up the hapless creature, throw him into the caged rear of a truck that looked like a paddy wagon, and take him off to the pound. If the animal’s guardian realized Fido or Felix hadn’t come home, he would call the pound to inquire. If no one claimed an animal within twenty-four hours, the animal would be gassed. It was called catch and kill.

In the bad old days, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Jan Herzog and her friend, both animal lovers in their early 20s, decided to start a humane society in their small rural Texas town. They got a contract with the city to do animal control. Jan told us, “It’s a stressful thing to take a case to court. You testify and have your word questioned. The other side tries to make like you don’t have the facts and aren’t telling the truth. If you lose, an animal’s life is at stake.

“We got a report of a farmer who was letting his cattle starve. The farm was twenty miles from town. My friend and I drove out there to check on the situation. I had my baby daughter with me.

“The owner of the cattle and his friend saw us and figured out what we were probably doing. They got in their vehicles. One was in an 18-wheeler truck; the other was in a semi-truck. They ran us off the road. I thought they would smash and kill us. We were terrified. They intended to intimidate us because we went out to look at their skinny cows.

“For my own emotional and mental health, I had to get out of the shelter business. I even left that town and with my husband, moved away to start a new life doing something else.”

The Getting Better Days
Thanks to the new development of sworn police officers, known as “the animal cops,” city and small-town shelter personnel have fewer of those kinds of experiences today. The bad old days are not behind us, but they are getting better, even in the less affluent areas.

Niki Dawson is shelter manager for the Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City in an inner city area. She has a program in her shelter called “Pet it, don’t sweat it” that does free neutering for dogs and low-cost spay/neuter for cats. The shelter works with human food banks and social service agencies to get pet supplies to people who need them and to counsel those who have problems with their pets. Niki says, “We don’t only help animals. We help people with animals.”

In addition to all that Niki does locally, she spent two and one-half weeks volunteering in New Orleans and bringing back Katrina dogs for fostering and adoption. She also did Internet work to help with reunions. Hers is a shelter that operates on a limited budget and does the best it can to serve the community while striving to change citizens’ attitudes toward animals as disposable.

Shelters of the Future
Animal shelters of the future, and the more progressive (and well-funded) ones today, enhance the life of their communities as well as rescue and save animals from disaster. They are educational hubs offering classes that teach people about animal behavior, show children compassionate animal care, and help bereaved owners through pet loss.

Thriving animal shelters provide positive exposure to animals. Their trained volunteers take the animals to hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and schools.

Their staff and selected volunteers are extensively trained to assist in evacuating animals safely after disasters.

These shelters work together with animal control offering cruelty investigation services and intake. They use innovative programs to reduce animal overpopulation for domestic and feral animals.

Their fundraising activities are stellar, often featuring local or national celebrities who adopt pets from their facilities. They have informative and well-designed websites. The San Diego Humane Society & SPCA ( and the Marin Humane ( websites offer virtual tours. Skilled public relations staff write press releases and forge relationships with local and national media. Shelters that have funds and attract even more donations publish slick, four-color magazines that tout their accomplishments.

Wealthy people make bequests in their wills enabling the high-end facilities to hire architects and feng shui consultants who design people-friendly buildings on acres of property. They have stores that sell used goods, antiques, or animal supplies either at the facility, in wealthy parts of town, or on to benefit the shelter’s many programs and activities.

In state-of-the art shelters, such as San Diego Humane Society & SPCA and San Francisco SPCA, a visitor can view dogs and cats in apartment-type settings. The animals curl up on the furniture and look as cute and sweet as they will be in a new adoptive home. Who wouldn’t enjoy visiting a place like this?

San Diego has a dog sports and training yard with a grassy area for exercising and playing with dogs and offering Puppy Fun Camp, Canine Good Citizen, Head Start and Urban Pup classes, public dog training, and socialization for adoptable animals. Plus it hosts Rocky’s Dog Café, where visitors can enjoy Starbuck’s coffees and sodas outdoors under patio umbrellas with their dog and human companions.

What do you think? What kind of animal shelters do you want for your community? What types of programs and services do you want to see animal shelters providing? Could you get involved as a volunteer or board member? Is a career in animal welfare organizations in your future?

Do the animal shelters in your community reflect your spiritual beliefs about animals as sentient, feeling, aware beings?

Allen and Linda Anderson are founders of the Angel Animals Network and authors of New World Library books, “Angel Dogs: Divine Messengers of Love,” “Angel Cats: Divine Messengers of Comfort,” “God’s Messengers: What Animals Teach Us about the Divine,” and “Rainbows & Bridges: An Animal Companion Memorial Kit” to help people heal after pet loss. Subscribe to the Angel Animals Story of the Week at

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