Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


Pets Large & Small

Shelter dogs are really quite misunderstood

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(1/2013) I think when people come in to look at our dogs available for adoption, they use their own frame of reference with the dogs they've had in their lifetime. This is completely fine -- it's totally normal and human and to be expected.

But shelter dogs aren't like those dogs -- they don't have the stability and security of a home. I worry that a lot of people never take the time to consider what a shelter dog has been through.

Let's look at it from their perspective.

A lot of shelter dogs actually start out in a home, but for whatever reason -- they get away from someone who never bothers to look for them or their owner can no longer care for them -- they find themselves in an animal shelter.

First, the shock of being in a cage must be severe. For us it would be like going from our homes to living in an elevator. Plus, a lot of dogs can sense what a shelter is. Even when they return just for a visit, they'll balk at the door, not wanting to go in -- so what must that first night in a shelter be like for a dog?

We have a lab mix who came in as a stray just today and when I went back to get some water, he was standing up watching me, while all the other dogs were sleeping for the night.

The tension and stress when that cage door first shuts must be immense.

The dog usually stays in the kennel for a few days to a week, while staff gives him time to get adjusted to his new environment. So, he's living in a cage, eating different food, surrounded by people he doesn't recognize.

Then he's given a temperament test. Can you imagine this? You're living in a new environment, one you're completely unfamiliar with, and then you're put through a series of tests to see how you react.

Once that's finished, he's neutered. Yup. Now you have to have major surgery.

Then, if all goes well, he's put up for adoption, and moved from an isolation kennel to one in adoption, where countless people walk through every day to look and maybe talk to him and possibly feed him treats.

If he's lucky -- really lucky -- he'll be a breed that everyone loves -- small, cute, friendly, perhaps a puppy -- and he'll be adopted quite fast.

If he's not so lucky, if it's difficult to tell what he may be mixed with, if he looks even remotely like a pitbull, chances are he'll stay in adoption for a rather lengthy period of time. For purposes of our story, lets say four months.

So, again, imagine you've lost the home you've always known and you're living in an elevator. You've been tested and undergone surgery and now, four months later, you're still in that same space while people walk by looking at you.

Would you be completely perfect? I would be nuttier than I already am -- a concept that frightens both of my parents, I'm sure.

Shelter dogs are not like dogs in a home. They have a massive amount of pent up energy that they aren't always able to unleash. They don't have much of a schedule, like a dog in a home does. They don't have a routine, where mom and dad come home every night and feed them the same food from the same bowl. They don't always have the same bed every night (we change and clean blankets every day, so the chances of them getting the same one are slim). Different people walk them every day.

Shelter dogs are in transition. They're very much in flux. Have you ever found yourself in that station in life? Moving from one job to another or one apartment to another? It's confusing and tiring and difficult.

So if you find yourself looking for a dog at an animal shelter, please understand that what you see in a kennel may not be what you have in your home a month or two down the line.

Know that when you take a shelter dog out on a leash, just because he pulls and yanks and drags you, doesn't mean he's a bad dog. It doesn't mean he doesn’t know how to behave on a leash, it just means he has a lot of energy to burn and is too excited at being free to mind his manners.

Imagine what you would be like after four months in an elevator when someone would open the doors and take you for a walk. If you are anything like me, being "good" would be the farthest thing from your mind.

The most important thing to remember when looking for a shelter dog is that you're saving a life -- two, technically. You're making a life-time commitment to be there for that pup -- to be his stability, his foundation, his safety, his security and his love.

In addition, you're opening a kennel for the next dog who needs a space, who needs somewhere to stay while he transitions into a forever home.

Shelter dogs may be misunderstood, but for those people who take a chance on one, through all the trials and tribulations they may face, they will have discovered a treasure beyond price.

Find your own diamond in the rough; adopt today.

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau