Curious Kids is a series for children. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.
Is it true that dogs at the pound get killed if nobody adopts them? - Abhilasa, age 10, Melbourne.
First of all, animal shelters and pounds don’t always use the same rules. In Australia, most animal shelters are run by local councils, but some are run by animal rescue organisations. Different councils and different rescue organisations can have different rules about how long they can keep animals.
Those rules are in place because of resources - that means how many people and how much money and how many kennels the shelter or pound can use to look after unwanted animals. If they only have a few kennels or a few people to look after the animals or a little bit of money to pay for food and for someone to care for the animals, then they can only have a few animals at a time.
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If the shelter or pound is not full and they have enough money to hire enough people and buy enough food to look after all the unwanted animals they have, they can choose to keep looking after those animals until they find a home. Many shelters and pounds do just that. The unwanted animals might stay there for months looking for a new home.
Pounds and shelters are not happy places for dogs to stay in for a long time, though. So everyone tries to find an unwanted dog a new home as quickly as possible.Flickr/Terrah, CC BY-ND
If the dog needs a little extra training or a quieter home, or the pound is getting full, the people that run the pound or shelter might agree to give the dog to a rescue organisation that will put the dog in a foster home.
That’s a temporary home where the dog will live with a human family that has volunteered to care for them. The rescue organisation puts ads on the internet telling everyone they have this dog in foster care who is looking for a new home. In this way, many unlucky dogs who had owners that didn’t want them can have all the time they need to find a new home.
As a last resort
However, occasionally it’s not possible to find a dog a new home. The pound might run out of room and dogs that have been there longest have to either be taken in by another rescue, or they will be put to sleep to make room for more unwanted dogs. Many of these dogs are saved by rescues and get the time they need, but not all of them. Some of them might have health or behaviour problems that make them difficult to live with, or they might be old.
With so many dogs that need homes, the dogs that are hard to look after are the ones that it’s hardest to find a new home for. Some dogs have had a difficult life and are not safe to be around. For these dogs, life might be very hard for them still. They don’t understand how to make friends and the world is full of things that frighten them, or perhaps they are in pain a lot of the time. For these dogs, it may be a kindness to put them to sleep so they don’t have to suffer anymore. That means they are given an injection that makes them feel calm, fall asleep and then die painlessly in their sleep.
There are lots of things we can do to help reduce the number of unwanted dogs. You could consider adopting a rescue dog, or volunteering to be a foster home for unwanted dogs, or donate to rescue organisations. We can make sure our own dogs are de-sexed so they can’t have puppies. We can keep them in a fenced yard so they can’t get out and get lost or in trouble, and make sure they are microchipped so they can be returned if they do get lost.Flickr/小亨利Little Henry, CC BY-ND
When choosing a dog for your family, make sure you get a dog that will suit your family so that you won’t find yourself with a dog that is causing you and your neighbours a lot of trouble. Dogs that are too noisy or big or active for their families are sometimes the ones that end up unwanted.
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Authors: Melissa Starling, Postdoctoral researcher, University of Sydney