10-15-20                                              “Inside the Shelters”     

Animal Shelters are packed with wayward and lost pets looking for a home. These animals come far and wide, waiting to be adopted; many coming with sad backstories while others are left unknown how they ended up there.      

Our veterinary technician, Sierra Welter, has worked in various animal hospitals and shelters that she is a 1-woman library of stories worth hearing. Our Ghost Writer had a chance to speak with her about her times in the animal shelters to get a behind the scenes understanding about how these shelters function and what it’s like working at the different shelters.      


GW: How many animal shelters have you worked at?     

SW: I have worked at a total of 3 shelters from various locations in NJ.    


GW: How busy/crowded are the animal shelters you worked in?   


SW: Two of the shelters were small and housed a total of about 100 cats and 50 dogs. The 3rd shelter I worked at was much bigger and housed about 200-300 cats and 100 dogs.    


GW: What types of animals were at these shelters? Would anything exotic come your way?   


SW: The shelters I worked at mainly consisted of cats and dogs, but larger animal shelters housed small animals like guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, rats and mice. Occasionally, they got some birds. One time they even had a turtle!   


GW: Do most shelters handle all types of animals, or do people have to go to specific locations for animals like raccoons, opossums and birds?   


SW: Most shelters only house cats and dogs in the state of NJ, but like I said previously; the larger shelters sometimes have enough space for exotic animals. Raccoons, skunks and opossums are not typically set up to be adopted as they are considered wildlife and are illegal to own as pets. Unless you have a permit.   


GW: Were there more dogs or cats in the shelters? Any specific breed you would see more than others?   


SW: There are always, always, ALWAYS more cats than dogs in animal shelters due to the over population of cats in NJ. Some rescuers participate in TNR (trap neuter release) to decrease the number of cats there are in the wild; which is great, but unfortunately, cats are still over populated.      

The most common breed I came across in the shelter for cats were domestic short haired. For dogs, it was the American Pitbull Terrier. Pitbulls are usually stuck in shelters because there is a low demand for them; being that they have a stigma for being an “aggressive breed” dog. Which is 100% FALSE in my opinion.    


GW: Why would someone bring their pet to a shelter?   


SW: The most common reason for people bringing their pets to shelters is that the family is moving and are unable to bring their pet with them. Another is they bought a breed that they were uneducated in and were unable to properly care for that animal’s specific needs. Aggression. And the animal has aged and is now a senior, and the owners no longer want the animal.     


GW: Did you work at any “kill shelters?” If so, was that experience different from a “non-kill shelter?”   


SW: I’ve worked at both kill and non-kill shelters. The experiences are very different, being that kill shelters are very quick to euthanize an animal that is difficult to adopt out. Non-kill shelters work very hard with their animals to get them where they need to be in order to get adopted.   


GW: How long do shelters keep an animal before they are put down?   


SW: Every shelter is different when it comes to how long they will keep an animal before euthanasia is discussed. Depending on their quality of life, extremely ill animals may either be put in fospice (foster hospice) care or be euthanized if shelter medication has failed. And depending on level of aggression in animals; if they are able to be worked with and rehabilitated behaviorally, shelters will keep them until they feel they are fit for adopt.      

GW: In non-kill shelters, what happens to aggressive animals? Are they trained to get better over time? Or do they just sit in the shelter until old age?   


SW: In non-kill shelters, if the aggressive dogs are unable to be rehabilitated behaviorally, there are various different sanctuaries that the dogs can go to where they live a stress-free life away from humans.    


GW:  Shelters promote pet adoption for rehoming animals, is there any sort of process or background check into the families who are looking to adopt an animal? If so, what is the process like? How extensive are these background checks?   


SW: Shelters will typically do a background check on potential adopters to make sure that their animals are going into a loving home. Every shelter is different when it comes to background checks. Some are pretty easy going and typically require a fenced in yard for a dog and all other pets in the house are required to be up to date on vaccines. Some are extremely thorough and won’t even adopt out a cat that the owner plans to let outdoors. If the adopter already has dogs at home, it is always mandatory to do a “meet and greet” at the shelter to make sure that the dogs get along well before adoption.    


GW: What are key qualities a family needs to prove they will provide a new animal with a loving home?   


SW: In order for a family to prove to a shelter that they are fit enough to care for their animals, they may ask for personal references from a friend, family member, veterinarians or groomers. Adoption specialists are also interviewing potential adopters while they are showing shelter pets, getting to know the potential owners on a personal level.    



GW: You foster a lot of animals, what is the process for that like? How long are you allowed to foster an animal? What is the purpose of fostering an animal if one does not intend to adopt them?   


SW: In order to foster an animal, you need to sign a foster agreement form which is unique to each shelter. It basically states that you will give the best care possible for your foster. Depending on what animal you are fostering, there are different time periods to foster. Kittens and puppies are usually fostered until they are ready for spay/neuter. Sick animals can be fostered until they recover, same goes for animals that need socialization. Anyone can foster from a shelter. There never has to be intent to adopt the animal for fostering.      

My favorite quote is “fostering saves lives” because it’s true. Sick animals will recover faster in a foster home than in a shelter. Pregnant or nursing animals will feel safer and happier in a foster home than in a shelter. Puppies and kittens will learn and grow better in a foster home than in a shelter.     

Fostering is extremely important and makes a huge different in not only the animal’s lives, but sometimes also the people’s lives. I have learned so much from all of the various foster animals I’ve had over the years.    


GW: Is working at an animal shelter similar to working at an animal hospital?   


SW: Working at an animal shelter is very different from working at an animal hospital. Animal hospitals are more structured and there is more direction on what to do and how to do it. Shelter medicine can be a bit chaotic at times because you truly never know what’s going to walk through the doors at any point in the day.    


GW: What were some general tasks/responsibilities you had to do while working in the shelters?   


SW: Shelter workers pretty much do everything. Their main job is to make sure that the animals are receiving proper care. This includes feeding, cleaning, medicating, socializing, grooming and educating.   


GW: Do you have any advice or preference for someone to foster an animal, adopt one, or taking care of strays?   


SW: I will always advocate for everyone to foster if they can because like I said, it makes a huge difference in the animal’s lives. It also makes you feel good, knowing that you’re making a difference in the world. And I will always tell people to “adopt, don’t shop.” Animal shelters are usually not supported by the government and rely mostly on donations to take care of their animals (this includes adoption fees). And I always tell people that even if they are looking for a specific breed of cat or dog, there is a 60% chance that you can find it in a shelter.      

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen purebred young dogs or cats being dropped off at a shelter. And if you’re going to take care of strays; MAKE SURE THEY ARE SPAYED AND NEUTERED! If possible, make sure they are vaccinated and protected from fleas and ticks; and have a warm, safe place to lie their head at night and during the winter season.      

If you find a stray; if it’s a baby, take it to your local vet immediately to make sure it’s healthy. If it’s an adult, also take it to the vet to see if they can scan for a microchip to find its owners if they have one.    


GW: Where does all the supplies and food come from in animal shelters? Are they state/government funded? Do they accept donations? Are they private/local businesses?   


SW: Animal shelter supplies typically come from donations and sometimes they have a small budget where they can order supplies. They usually aren’t government funded so animal shelters rely heavily on-board members, food drives and of course donations.      

GW: What made you leave the shelter and work in an animal hospital?   


SW: I left the animal shelters mainly because it’s an extremely hard job emotionally. Animal hospital medicine is much less chaotic and easier to handle emotionally for me personally.    


GW: What’s a strong memory you have working at an animal shelter? Like, when thinking about your times there, what memory really summarizes how you felt working there?   


SW: I have a mixture of very positive experiences and very negative experiences working at animal shelters. It was always a good day when I got to see the birth of puppies and kittens, and it was always a bad day when someone had to be euthanized. But one of my 2 favorite memories I carry with me every day; my 2 foster fails. And by failure, I mean I ended up adopting them.   

 Magnolia, whom is a feral cat, the day I was working with her socialization she crawled up on my lap and fell asleep purring was on of my favorites. Also, Bodhi, whom is my second foster fail. He is a special needs dog who was diagnosed with a cleft palate at only 24 hours old. I was told he wasn’t expected to survive and he has been with me for about 2 years now and is healthier than my other 2 dogs in the house. When he turned 1, I took him to the dog park and played with his friends all day, then came home to a puppy cake that I baked for him.