Animal sheltering is an extremely rewarding industry with work that fills our hearts and our souls on a daily basis as we help homeless animals find new homes, and as we help animals recover from past abuse, injury, illness or abandonment.
Animal sheltering, too, is also an extremely complex industry, which is often filled with nuances that both our board and executive leadership spend extensive time researching and examining as we develop policy that allows us to save and help the most amount of animals possible with the limited resources we have. While we are under no illusion that our policies are always going to be in complete agreement with all of those in our community, please know that we go to great lengths to make extremely thoughtful and thorough decisions that follow industry best practices based on research and facts.
Here are some of them:
Are you a no-kill shelter?
The ARL considers itself a “no-kill” shelter, yet we really do not like to use the term as we feel it’s a misleading label that gives people the impression that we never euthanize an animal, ever. Unfortunately, that is not our reality. We make extremely thoughtful, difficult, painful and socially-conscious decisions about euthanizing animals who we consider to be too unsafe to place back out into the public, or who are too sick, too injured or too costly for us to treat. Please know that we go to extreme lengths to evaluate and treat each and every animal in our care to give them all a chance, and we only make these decisions when we deem the animal’s behavior or medical care to be so extreme that we have no other choice.
Conversely, we also do not put animals up for adoption who we know have long-term, expensive and unmanageable health conditions or behavior problems just to inflate our live-release or adoption rates. Above all else, we believe in transparency, and we disclose any known health or behavior issues to our clients at the time of adoption.
It’s important to note that since the ARL started following a “no-kill” model in 2018, we have not euthanized a single animal for space, and we have worked tirelessly to find housing for overflow animals during peak times of the year when the shelter is full through our foster and rescue partner programs. For people in the community who are looking to help the ARL succeed in its “no-kill” mission, we encourage you to consider becoming a foster to help us alleviate crowding during peak times of the year when the shelter is bursting beyond capacity or to donate to help us care for the animals in our care.
Why do you not do home, vet or landlord checks? How do you know animals are going to good homes? Do you do any checks at all?
Simply put, research shows that these checks do not work, are not predictive of responsible pet ownership or bonding between people and their pets, and encourage lying by potential adopters. Far too often, people who feel that they will be judged (rightly or wrongly) as “unworthy” of adopting a pet from shelter through a rigorous and invasive process often will bypass shelters all together and go directly to backyard breeders or pet stores where they know it will be an easy process to take home an animal. These checks also bottleneck the adoption process keeping pets in the shelter longer and making them more susceptible to both physical and mental illness.
While we–nor any other shelter or rescue that conducts extensive background checks–can guarantee the success of our methodology and adoption processes, each day, we try our absolute best to make sure that animals are going to good homes and are appropriately placed. We offer extensive and personalized one-on-one adoption counseling with each adopter, which begins with a conversation and a brief questionnaire to help our adopters and our counselors determine the personality traits of a pet that best fit their lifestyle. We ask thoughtful and through questions to help us uncover facets of an adopter’s profile that would likely never be on a simple “yes/no” type of application. It’s our goal not only to find pets homes, but to find lifelong and successful placements.
Our counseling also has a strong emphasis on post-adoption happiness and satisfaction. We offer continued support and guidance to all of our adopters well beyond their “gotcha days” through a series of calls, as well as a “happiness guarantee” where adopters know they can return their animal anytime for any reason if the adoption isn’t working out.
While the ARL does not conduct home, vet or landlord checks, please know that we do maintain and continuously update a “do not adopt” database of known violent or sex offenders, animal abusers or people who have demonstrated irresponsible pet ownership.
Why do you offer free or reduced-priced adoptions? Doesn′t this attract low-income adopters who can′t afford a pet?
While we would love to charge an adoption fee at least equal to the amount of money we’ve invested into each of our pets, the reality is that we’re a non-profit and we are continuously operating from a need to find homes for animals to open space in the shelter so we can help more pets in need. The easiest and most effective way for us to do this is through reduced-price adoptions or free adoption events, like Clear the Shelters. Further, research shows that the price an adopter pays for their pet is in no way linked to their attachment of that pet, their ability to care for their pet, nor the long-term success of their ownership of that pet.
We know of no human-animal bond that is cognizant of income. Low-income people who can afford the basic necessities of pet ownership are just as deserving of the love, companionship and enrichment of a pet as those who face no financial challenges. And, quite frankly, we know that if people want a pet, they will do whatever it takes to acquire one. It is our hope that lower-income individuals would choose to adopt an already-spayed/neutered, vaccinated, healthy and vetted low-cost or free pet from our shelter rather than pluck a free animal off of Craigslist who is not spayed/neutered, vaccinated or vetted. Our mission is not to keep animals out of poor people’s hands, but to help them acquire pets who are in good health and cannot reproduce, and to help them keep their pets in their homes when unexpected and costly expenses would otherwise force them to give up their beloved companions.
Don′t free adoptions attract animal abusers?
Besides research not supporting this myth, most people who are intent on hurting animals will not go through a rigorous adoption counseling process, nor adopt an animal they intend to harm who has a microchip tied to their personal address and phone number. Because researchers have studied this topic so thoroughly and have concluded time after time that people do not value a paid pet any more than one they did not pay for, and because there is no evidence that links animal abuse to free adoption events at shelters, we will continue to use these events sparingly from time to time to help alleviate shelter overcrowding.
I see you offer promotions to adopt animals at the holidays or you allow people to adopt black cats at Halloween. Why do you do that?
While research does not support the notion that animals given as gifts are returned or valued any less than animals chosen by families during other times of the year, we adhere to a common-sense approach and do not adopt animals to people who are looking to surprise someone else who does not live in their home. Instead, our holiday promotions are geared towards in-family adoptions, such as parents giving their children a pet as a gift. In these cases, we know the person choosing the pet is ultimately responsible for his/her care and is aware of the responsibilities and costs associated with choosing to bring an animal home.
For many years, some shelters yanked their black animals off the adoption floor near Halloween for fear that people would adopt black animals with the intent to sacrifice or torture them. Simply put, this is a myth. There is no evidence to suggest that black cats (or dogs) are tortured or sacrificed during Halloween, and we do not believe in limiting any animal’s chance to find a responsible and loving home simply because myths are perpetuated about the dangers of adopting animals during certain holidays.
Do you adopt cats who have FeLV/FIV?
A diagnosis of feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) (which are feline-only viruses and cannot be transmitted to humans) used to be an automatic death sentence for cats or kittens in the shelter environment. Today, more is known about these viruses, including the low incidence of these viruses in the Berks County area and the low transmission rates from cat to cat. More importantly, we know now that many asymptomatic cats who are infected with FeLV or FIV can lead as healthy and normal of a life as non-infected cats. Due to these reasons, at present, the ARL follows the advice of the updated 2020 guidelines issued by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, which was compiled by an international panel of experts, and no longer tests all cats who come into our care for FeLV/FIV since testing is very expensive, a poor use of our resources, and often inaccurate. Today, we test cats whom we suspect may be infected with FeLV or FIV, and offer adopters the chance to have an untested cat tested before they adopt it for a $15 fee. All adopters are made aware of whether their cat was tested and is positive for FeLV/FIV so that they can make an informed decision at the time of adoption.
Do you ever care for dogs or cats who come from outside of Berks County?
Our commitment to Berks County’s animals always comes first, and it always will. By far, the vast majority of animals we care for are from Berks County. However, sometimes we do find ourselves with a lower population of shelter animals typically during the colder, winter months when animals are more likely to stay safely indoors, or following a successful adoption event. On the rare occasion when we do have space, rather than keep a room full of kennels empty, we feel an obligation to see how we can help other Pennsylvania-based rescue partners with whom we have a “Pawsitive Partner” agreement. These rescues often help us during our “busy” times of year by pulling animals when we’re overcrowded. To us, it seems only fair to repay the favor when we have the ability to shelter and find homes for these animals. Mostly, these rescues deal with Pennsylvania-based animals, but sometimes these rescues may pull animals from other states in the south, which is a region that continues to struggle with massive shelter intake and high euthanasia rates. We feel that this help is in accordance with our mission and allows us to save even more animals from needless euthanasia. After all, we believe that saving animals takes more than a village–it takes a network.
Why are there so many pitbulls at the shelter? Are they a ″mean″ breed?
Once known for their friendly, protective and loyal temperament, Pitbulls were so embraced by families that they were called “nanny” dogs in 19th century England–where they are now banned from being owned or bred today. Even though these dogs are so beloved by those who own them and those who work with them, they face a multitude of misconceptions, causing them to be overlooked by potential adopters and surrendered to our shelter more than any other breed often due to a lack of socialization and prevalence of poor backyard breeding practices. Underneath their muscular builds and intimidating looks, Pitbulls are often goofy pups who enjoy both active and lazy lifestyles and the companionship of humans. Here are the most common myths we hear about this breed:
- Pitbulls are inherently mean dogs. By people forcing Pitbulls to fight one another, they’ve gained the reputation as being a mean breed. But, in fact, Pitbulls are naturally very easy-going dogs with a pleasant disposition and temperament. In fact, the American Temperament Test Society, which uses a uniform, scientific scale to rank the temperament of dog breeds, scores the American Pitbull’s temperament the same as a Golden Retriever, and ranked their temperament higher than commonly-loved dogs like Corgis or Beagles.
- Pitbulls have locking jaws, which makes their bite more dangerous than any other breed. No dog–including the Pitbull–has a locking jaw. Pitbulls are inherently determined and strong dogs, and they naturally bite and shake, which, coupled with their strength can cause their bite to do more damage than other breeds. However, they do not have the strongest bite of all dogs, they are not the only dog that bites and shakes, and they have jaws that exert about the same amount of pressure during a bite as a Labrador Retriever.
- Pitbulls at the shelter once had horrible and neglectful owners, and years of abuse and neglect cannot be undone. These dogs can never be trusted. Yes, dogs of all breeds do arrive to us in very sad condition after years of abuse and neglect. But the majority of the dogs we care for come from families who took great care of them and loved them, but could not continue to keep them–oftentimes, due to housing restrictions. Forgiveness is not breed specific. Dogs are individuals, and they are also very forgiving creatures who are naturally wired to please people. In case you don’t believe us, we offer this as proof.
Read more about what makes this breed so great:
Why are you always asking for money? Don′t my tax dollars go to the ARL?
Like most charities, the ARL does not receive funding from federal, state or county tax dollars. At present, we receive some municipal support from a handful of municipalities in Berks County who can choose to contract with the ARL for animal control. Because citizens from these municipalities support the ARL through their tax dollars, they receive benefits that non-contracted residents do not, such as the ability to drop off stray animals they find for no fee.
Since we receive no federal, state or county funding and so little municipal support, we rely on grants and donors to fund nearly 90% of our budget, which is why we continuously need to fundraise. Additionally, our adoption fees only cover a fraction of an animal’s care, often leaving us with a budget gap that we must fill through donor dollars.
While we hate to continuously have our hand outstretched asking for your support, it’s a necessary and vital part of our need to stay open, keep our lights on and to continue to serve both the animals and our community.