So—Stress Awareness Day. A day when your Facebook feed fills up with heartfelt statuses, testimonies of conquered and ongoing stress, and memes about life, stress, and coping mechanisms.
In the spirit of this day, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on stress and coping mechanisms in the animal sheltering world. Because you’re going to hear about human stress all day, why don’t we talk about animals instead?
Let’s talk about the furry four-leggeds, because let’s be real, they’re the reason we’re all here, right? The reason we support shelters, read this blog, and sometimes the reason we crawl out of bed in the morning! We don’t want to think of the fact that at some time or another in its life, many animals will be in need of the help that shelters can provide. After all, if an animal needs to be in a shelter, something in its life has gone disastrously wrong, whether that’s that their happy home fell apart, or that they never had one to begin with. The fact remains that every year, 6.5 million animals enter an animal shelter. For some of them, the shelter is better than anything they’ve ever known, and they finally have a full belly and a warm place to sleep for the first time in their life—pretty good stuff, right?
But for a lot of animals, especially those who end up spending extra time in the shelter due to medical issues, behavior problems, or just bad luck, the shelter can look like a very different place. Confinement to a smaller space, unfamiliar noise, exposure to strangers and strange animals, the smell of disinfectants—all of these and more make the shelter environment very unlike home. Stress in the shelter can cause behavior issues to crop up, or the animal might get sick more easily. Coping mechanisms are often a result of this stress, and animals might start to pace back and forth, spin in circles, groom until they pull their hair out, and do other things that aren’t good for them. While ACS and many other shelters prioritize stress-reduction techniques that help make the shelter as nice as possible for the animals, the fact remains that for some, the shelter is a stressful place to be.
Why do I tell you these things? Well, it’s not to add to your stress—I’m sure we all have quite enough of that. It’s for three reasons:
- To share the importance of adoption from shelters, to make sure those animals don’t have to stay in the shelter any longer than necessary.
- To get you thinking about how you can help these furry kiddos to be less stressed in the shelter (spoiler alert—fostering, donating and volunteering should be top of your list!)
- To help you educate others! No matter how nice the shelter, making the call to surrender the animal is almost never the right first move. There are so many other things we can try when we find an animal or have a need to re-home one; ACS and other shelters can give a ton of suggestions depending on the situation, from behavioral advice to helping with marketing the animal for adoption without it leaving its home.
So there you have it, folks. Much as we might hate to admit it, shelters are stressful for our animals. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to do something about it. Whether you can do a lot or a little is up to you; even a little something can make a lot of difference for an animal in need. So will you do something?
Adopt. Foster. Volunteer. Donate.
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