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The Truth about BC Shelters

“I found a stray dog, but I can’t take her to the shelter – she won’t make it out alive!” “Dogs in the US need our help more. They still have KILL shelters there.”

“I’d rather re-home my dog online than take her to a shelter – you know they don’t adopt out pit bulls.”

We receive a lot of emails about shelters and euthanasia, and hear a lot of misconceptions about what happens in BC. It’s a strange phenomenon. Some people believe that BC is “no-kill”, where animals are safe in shelters as long as they need to be there. Others believe that shelters are still medieval places, where unadoptable dogs (particularly bully breeds) aren’t given a chance. The truth – as with most things in life – lies somewhere in the middle.

The good news is that many shelters (both municipal shelters and SPCAs) follow progressive animal welfare practices and are certainly not in a rush to euthanize dogs. Most of the Metro Vancouver shelters we work with try very hard to provide dogs with a fair and accurate assessment, and as well as vet care, training, and enrichment.

If you find a dog running at large in a BC community, we would always recommend contacting your local pound or animal control. They have the most resources available to house the animal and take steps to find the owner. Most important, ONLY a shelter has the legal right to take custody of the dog after the impound period has passed. Some rescues choose to accept stray or privately surrendered dogs, but they assume a degree of legal risk in doing so.

If you are in the position of having to re-home your dog we recommend contacting your local shelter or SPCA. Most SPCAs and some municipal animal shelters will take a privately surrendered dog if they have space and if it is adoptable (whatever they define that to be). For more information about re-homing, visit the Rehoming a Dog page on our website.

Now for the part no one wants to think about – euthanasia. While it isn’t an epidemic in BC, and most shelters try to avoid it, it happens. It happens every day, and to call BC a no-kill province is absolutely incorrect. Euthanasia happens because dogs come into shelters, either as strays, surrenders, or cruelty seizures, and present with one or more of the following:

  1. Severe medical problems. Many shelters, particularly smaller or remote ones, have limited budgets for veterinary care, and they have to spend carefully. Do they pay for a $3000 surgery for an 8-year-old shepherd mix? Or spend the same amount to treat a litter of 8 Lab puppies for mange? Shelter managers have to make tough decisions, particularly in smaller communities where they may not be able to fundraise or seek vet discounts.

  2. Severe behavioural problems. While training and management can help a troubled dog immensely, the reality is that “rehabilitation” or “sanctuary” opportunities are so rare as to be virtually non-existent. There are not many adopters looking for a dog with serious behaviour challenges, and far fewer with the skills to rehabilitate serious issues and/or provide appropriate management for the rest of the dog’s life.

  3. Space. Many shelters in Southern BC will call themselves “low kill” or “no kill” meaning they do not euthanize for space. If kennels are full they may pay for boarding, appeal to the community, or work with rescues – which is fantastic. But small community shelters, once again, don't have these options at their disposal.

  4. Deterioration. This is probably the most common and most heartbreaking scenario that we see. A dog may enter the shelter relatively adoptable, but perhaps he is young and untrained with a high energy level. In a shelter with lower adoption rates, he may be kennelled for months. Stress behaviours develop, along with hyperactivity, leash pulling, and general bad manners. This makes the dog a pain to handle – volunteers stop walking him and potential adopters are turned off by the jumpy, mouthy, obnoxious dog in the kennel. It’s a cycle where these behaviours only get worse and caretakers have to ask questions about quality of life.

While bully breeds have gained a lot public acceptance and, to our knowledge, do not face automatic euthanasia in BC, they are overrepresented in all of the above scenerios. The breed does make them “less adoptable” and is a strike against them when people need to balance the life of one dog against another.

What can we do about this? Please don’t blame the shelters. For the most part, shelters do the best they can with the resources available – and until there are empty kennels everywhere and a windfall of experienced “rehabilitation” homes, the situation isn’t going to change soon. Support your local shelter, whether by helping to fundraising for vet bills, volunteering to walk the large and high energy dogs, or learning about their challenges so you can educate the community and/or appeal to your city council for change.

Support efforts to help BC’s most vulnerable dogs. There are some great organizations working in the North and on reserves. Groups like Spirit’s Mission, Big Heart Rescue, Crooked Leg Ranch, and Victoria Humane Society actively work to bring northern a dogs to larger centres with higher adoption rates, while also working in the community to provide spay/neuter and vet care. (And of course, HugABull works to support shelters with the pit bull type dogs in their care).

But if you do nothing else, please stop and think before making global statements about shelters and euthanasia. Being realistic about our local problems is the best way to help dogs in our province.

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