Animal shelters are found in every major city and now even in many rural counties. They house the homeless creatures that have either been abandoned by their owners or have been subjected to some other unpleasant experience. They are growing in numbers, but are becoming increasingly overcrowded, under-funded and under-staffed. Also, what should be done with injured or elderly animals that no one wants? These are just some of the complications are starting to create ethical issues for animal shelters.
First there are the ethical issues caused by overcrowding. The animals are getting packed and put in smaller pens than they should. Does this mean that the animal shelter should set a limit of how many animals they will help? Maybe there should be a size restriction, get rid of anything too big. Should sick, elderly or aggressive animals not be accepted? All these solutions would decrease the crowding problem, but are they ethical if the stated goal is to help the animals?
Finding homes would be an excellent alternative, but that raises more ethical issues and is not often as simple as it seems. How does one choose a good home? Several wealthy people have recently been charged with buying or adopting animals from shelters only to be found using them for sport. Those person's ethics are obviously non-existent, but how can the shelters screen owners and prevent this? An ethical dilemma!
Another ethical issue that faces animal shelters is what to do with adult animals that no one wants?
Everyone prefers the young that can adapt and be trained, but that is only a small percentage of the stray animals found in most places. In some situations, the animals are grown, in good health, but have been mistreated and become aggressive and antisocial. Is it ethical to have them "put down"? Killing seems contrary to saving, yet that is the fate of almost 50% of the rescued animals.
For those that are euthanized, what should be done with the remains? Should they be incinerated or sold to a rendering plant? Maybe a a veterinary school would be able to use them and vet schools are for training people to help animals. The problem with both rendering and veterinary schools is that the shelter can then be accused of killing animals and selling for a profit. It may be practical and with the best of intentions, but some would claim not very ethical.
Funding could help with the crowding problems. More money could be spent building larger pens and creating larger facilities. But where is the money to come from, other services will need to be discontinued or restricted. Neutering will cut down on the surplus population, but it uses up the resources. Charging new owners for the animals is one answer, but then the shelters shift to a business aspect and no longer become strictly welfare.
Laboratories and research facilities may want to buy animals and they will accept the aggressive ones that are "unwanted". These animals are often provided the best of care: excellent balanced meals, large pens and frequent check ups. But, is it ethical for a shelter to sell animals for research, knowing what may happen to them? These are a few of the problems facing animal shelter. Luckily, there are many committed people who devote a lot of time trying to work with organizations and find answers.