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Welcome to Diana Guerrero's Ark Animals Training & Therapy. This section is dedicated to pets, companion animals, and topics related to their care and training. This article discusses the different animal welfare agencies. These agencies are called animal shelters, humane societies, and animal control agencies. Knowing the difference between them is something you should know, but it can get very confusing as they often overlap in their roles. To confuse matters more, some agencies are now calling themselves animal services!

Animal Control Agencies

These are groups responsible for animal regulation and control. They are usually county or city municipal agencies and can also be found under the name of "Animal Services" Many will have Animal Control Officers and patrols who are responsible for enforcing local ordinances, humane treatment of animals, and the pick up and housing of stray animals. Animals wandering around town are considered strays whether they have a collar on or not. In most areas, by law (or local ordinances), the animals that are found by the public have to be relinquished to these agencies.

Animal Shelters

These agencies often overlap with the others. Animal shelters are most commonly thought of as those agencies giving shelter to animals from a variety of situations. These could be: abused animals, rescued animals, strays, or owner relinquished animals. Sometimes they will be privately run, or perhaps contracted by the municipality to house animals in an animal control capacity. They can also be local veterinarians in small towns that do not support having a full-time agency of this sort. Humane Officers usually perform the same or similar types of functions as Animal Control Officers.

Humane Societies

These groups vary. There are some national agencies and thousands of smaller ones across the United States. Standard guidelines are suggested by the American Humane Association (AHA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), but each is a private organization and not related to the others. AHA & HSUS do not house animals but work for the national (and sometimes international) welfare of animals. Many of these types of agencies are nonprofit groups.

Each humane society (large or small) is a separate business responsible for their own rules and operations. Many facilities or organizations will provide sheltering for owner relinquished animals only and will not take strays; others will contract with local cities and provide animal control and sheltering functions also. Some will not have facilities but will provide foster homes for animals in their area or raise funds for animal related projects.

Other Tidbits

Animal control and municipal agencies will have large numbers of animals moving through their facilities. Each year close to 20 million animals end up in shelters. Statistics and numbers vary, but close to 65% of those animals do not find homes. Animal control has to deal with unwanted animals, abuse cases, and stray animals of all kinds.

Adopting an animal from one of these facilities is a kind thing to do however, as a general rule, not much is known about the critter's habits or health conditions. When looking for a pet that is lost, you will usually have to go directly to the agency that handles the animal control services for the area. This is an important thing to know if you ever lose an animal!

If you go into a humane society or private shelter to look for a lost animal, they might have referrals and contacts for you, but usually will not have your animal. Many people get confused and angry at humane society staff since they cannot provide assistance with this. Please understand that it is usually against the law for a private agency to take in strays. Also, the people working there are dedicated people who do the best that they can, unfortunately most are always shorthanded or under severe financial constraints.

If you are looking to adopt, these private humane societies will often know quite a bit of history on the animals. Many will also screen them for basic health or medical status. Some of these shelters will keep the animals for long periods of time and can give you some idea of what the animal is really like. "No Kill" shelters (facilities that do not euthanize animals) seem like a good idea, but there are complications.

One of the hardest things for staff, volunteers, and regular visitors to witness is the mental and emotional deterioration of animals housed at a facility for too long. This appears as depression, aggression, or other symptoms of mental stress. It is a sad fact that most of the animals that are placed tend to be the younger or smaller critters. If you are looking for a good pet don't discount an animal if they are a bit older. Often, they will make the best pets.

Older animals come with a variety of charms and usually are calmer, but they are not as appealing or as active as the younger counterparts to most of the public. People also do not want to take on an animal that they might lose in a short amount of time, and some do not want to deal with the possibility of increased veterinary care. It is heartbreaking to see those wonderful animals overlooked and ignored for placement.

At any rate, take your time looking for the right pet. Visit those agencies you feel comfortable with often and stay for a while. Finding the right pet takes work and actually means that you are acquiring a member of the family that should be with you for the rest of their life!

About the columnist: Since 1978 Diana L. Guerrero has worked professionally with both wild and domestic animals. Guerrero has been affiliated with, and certified by, a variety of animal programs in the USA and Europe. Based in California, she writes, consults, and speaks. Information on her animal career programs, training courses, and her books {What Animals Can Teach Us about Spirituality (SkyLight Paths, 2003), Blessing of the Animals (Sterling, 2007), Help! My Pet is Driving Me Crazy (Guerrero Ink, 2007), Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals (Guerrero Ink, 2007)} can be found in this web site and in the shop. Questions for Guerrero should be submitted via the blog comments or membership forum.


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