Kenneling Rescue Dogs

Please note that this is an old post and some of my ideas have changed since it was originally published. I leave it up for historical purposes.

Recently, I came across “Minimum Health Requirements for Shelters”. I had the pleasure of working in an animal shelter that did meet most of these standards, and were close to meeting the remaining. This was a big shelter and had many resources, both financially and in terms of staff and volunteers.

However, I believe that my shelter was exception in this regard – many shelters do not provide an enriched and healthy kennel environment. The Animal Welfare Act calls for food, water, and shelter, and all kennels I know meet these standards, but we all know that animal welfare is a lot more than these essentials. Because of the complexity of animal welfare, the practice of kenneling dogs has been brought into dispute.

This post looks to examine how the lack of resources often means that rescues cannot meet these minimum health requirements, and that they ultimately have to make difficult decisions regarding the fate of their animals due to their lack of resources. Additionally, it will look at why many rescues kennel dogs, and the problems associated with long term kenneling. Alternatives to kenneling will also be considered.

Stretched Resources

Many of these minimum health requirements would be great but are in some ways impractical. Mostly, many rescue facilities do not have the resources to respond to all of them. For example, this list calls for a number of unfamiliar people, meaning that a shelter would have to have an extensive array of staff and volunteers to interact with the dogs. These people all have to have specialist training to minimise risk. These people are an expensive investment.

However, many rescues do not have people-power available to them. Lack of resources often occur when rescues attempt to take on too many dogs at one time. This means that the minimum health requirements are not met. Rescues are responsible for determining their individual capabilities – and this means that, inevitably, at some point rescues will have to decide to not rescue a particular animal. Doing so means that rescues can ensure that the dogs they do save have an optimum rescuing experience. Trying to take on too many dogs at once may compromise the well being of the very animals we are trying to save, especially if the resources are not enough to meet the minimum health requirements for shelters.

Choices and Euthanasia

There are too many dogs and not enough homes – there is an oversupply of dogs. There is an oversupply of dogs that are happy, healthy, and sane. There are too many dogs that are in all ways rehomable, and considering there are not enough homes for these dogs, then I do not understand why rescue groups choose to put resources into dogs that are aggressive, unhealthy, or mentally unstable.

Photos © Ruthless Photos

Euthanasia is humane. It is not devilish and is, indeed, a responsible choice for many dogs. It is incredibly tragic when individuals, trying to do ‘the right thing’ adopt animals that are unstable, dangerous, unhealthy, or otherwise unsuitable for adoption in the first place. These new owners then have to suffer the dog, suffer the expense of behaviourist, or suffer the guilt associated with euthanising their adopted dog. No person deserves to have this hardship. Rescues should at the very least have the resources to determine dogs unsuitable for the community, and euthanise them before they do damage to individuals physically or emotionally.

These decisions are necessary because inappropriate dogs that are rehomed hurt all rescue efforts. Word gets around about the horrendous dog adopted from rescue, and a boycot of rescue ensues. (Lessons from Layla articulates this well in her post “Why the “No-Kill” Movement Hurts Dogs”).

Rescues have an obligation to enlist euthanasia as a viable alternative to rehoming unsafe and unstable dogs into a community that suffers from the very nature of these dogs. This includes not committing to rescue dogs that are inappropriate in the first place.

Kenneling Dogs to Save Many

Sometimes, rescues will take dogs out of shelters and kennel them until a new home is found. The conditions are easy to clean, maintain, and otherwise conform to health and safety guidelines. This means more dogs can be saved by the same rescue facility.

However, kennels have several problems:

  1. Regression in toilet training – if kennels are small and/or unclean, dogs can be acclimitised to their excretions and regress in any prior toilet training progress.
  2. Dogs becoming institutionalised – that is, dogs that are in a kennel for a long time become so used to the kennel environment, they struggle to cope in the ‘real world’.
  3. People power is needed – for cleaning and environmental enrichment, and other management issues. There is an expense in hiring staff but, even if the ‘people power’ is voluntary, there is still expensive training required to ensure minimisation of risks for humans, and the prompt identification of issues in dogs so they can be rectified immediately.
  4. The true nature of the dog is sometimes masked – the kennel environment is very different to a home. Sometimes adopters take a dog home to discover a different dog to what they intended.
  5. Behavioural problems are sometimes created – as animals become stressed in these situations, they may develop habitual behaviour problems, such as tail chasing or barking.

These issues are normally minimal when animals are kept in rescue kennels for a short period of time. As such, if rescues choose to use kennels, then keeping an animal in kennels for a short time is the best option.

Long term kenneling of dogs

However, some dogs have to spend a long time in a kennel environment. Debatably, if it’s a kennel environment meeting the minimum health requirements, then this wouldn’t be particularly detrimental.

But many rescues are stretched in resources, minimum health requirements are not met, and dogs suffer deterimentally from long term kenneling. But what is “long”? In my opinion, if a dog is stressed and has been stressed for several days, then it has been in a kennel environment for too long. (I’ve seen dogs spend up to twelve months in kennels with minimal stress, then I’ve seen dogs spend 3 days salivating, trembling, and attempting to escape due to the kennel environment.) Different dogs cope differently in kennel environments, and rescues need to make assessments on an individual basis.

Rescue sometimes has to make tough decisions, and that may include destroying an animal they have invested in for the sake of its psychological well being. There is no blanket number to what is “too long” – every dog is an individual.

Undesirable and Unadvertised

I think a big part of long term kennelling in rescue is that the dogs are undesirable or underadvertised.

It is up to rescue to select dogs that are rehomable. Five fluffy little dogs can probably be rehomed easier than one large, hyperactive working-cross breed. Rescues need to choose dogs which are easy to rehome to ensure animals spend minimal time in kennel facilities.

We also need to advertise to the max! Advertising for rescue is limited, and often isolated to big name organisations such as the RSPCA. Of course, advertising is expensive and, when facilities are stretched to supply minimum health requirements, then they would be equally stretched funding any advertising.

The Fostering Alternative

The alternative to kennelling is getting animals into foster homes. In these homes, dogs get exposed to everyday things, their personality is clearly seen, and training (including toilet training) can begin. But it’s a huge co-ordination effort to organise fosters, dogs, and the transport of these animals to and from suppliers and potential adoptive families. Additionally, many foster carers have their own animals that often suffer from the stress of numerous dogs entering the home.

The Bigger Issue

This post has examined some aspects of rescue and kennelling, but I do not want to lose sight of the fact that these institutes are not the sole problem – indeed, they are more a band aid solution to the dog over supply problem. The problem comes from people who chose to no longer have their dog and surrender them to facilities. The big message is that people need more education before getting a dog, so that rescue and kennelling in rescue can become obsolete.

Photos © Ruthless Photos

Please note that this is an old post and some of my ideas have changed since it was originally published. I leave it up for historical purposes.

2 thoughts on “Kenneling Rescue Dogs

  1. Agreed. It is not the shelter or rescue’s fault, it is not the kennel’s fault. This is a problem that affects everyone in the community and results from lack of education and foresight, pure and simple. Thank you for illuminating some of the consequences. Rescues are doing the best they can with the resources they have but much of the time it is just not enough.

    • Hi Kristine. Thanks for your reply. I think we can talk about rescue until we’re blue in the face, but we need to talk about stopping dog (and cat) oversupply moreso. I guess this entry kind of shows that I can get hung up about rescue, too!

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