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Humane societies, shelters, rescue organizations, pounds and "no-kill" shelters: similarities and differences

Dhicon_thumb By DogHeirs Team | October 16, 2011 | Comments (0)

Humane societies, shelters, rescue organizations, pounds and "no-kill" shelters are all involved in rescuing animals. They rescue or receive animals that have been abused, abandoned, lost, or given up by their owners (due to hardship or other reasons). Each outfit will have their own way of operating their organizations and caring for the animals they receive. Their educational outreach initiatives, community involvement and adoption policies will also vary from one another. Before you adopt a pet or volunteer from one of these organizations, you may want to understand what these organizations do and how they differ from one another. To get tips on what to ask a shelter or rescue when you are ready to adopt an animal from one, review our article on Finding a Reputable Shelter or Rescue.


Humane society, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (e.g. SPCA) – Humane Societies have as their mandate that they protect animals from acts of cruelty and are dedicated to the betterment of animal welfare. They usually run a shelter and an adoption program to find new homes for abandoned, mistreated and/or surrendered animals. They also conduct education in their community and are often mandated to enforce provincial and federal animal cruelty laws and will liaise with law enforcement agencies.

Shelter – A shelter refers to the physical building where animals are held when they are being put up for adoption. Shelters are usually run by an organization such as a humane society, SPCA or a municipality. Good shelters will do comprehensive physical exams on all the animals that they receive. They will also do temperament testing to ensure that all animals available for adoption will be safe members of the community. Animals that have physical or temperament issues may be euthanized if the shelter does not have the resources to rehabilitate them. That said, if a shelter is overcrowded (and many are) it may be forced to euthanize healthy animals if they are not adopted in timely fashion, in order to free up space in the shelter.

Rescue organization – Rescue organizations usually run out of an individual's home or by a network of individuals that foster animals until they are adopted. Some may concentrate on certain breeds of dogs to rescue. Others may focus taking overlooked animals from shelters that may have medical or behavioral issues or may simply be the wrong color or age to be easily placed. Rescues are usually run by volunteers.

Pound – A pound refers to a municipal animal shelter, usually run by a municipality's Animal Care & Control Services. Lost or stray animals are often turned into, or picked up by, the pound. Pounds generally take in stray animals and keep them temporarily (on average two to three business days) to give owners a chance to claim their lost animals, after which time they are either euthanized or put up for adoption. Some municipalities contract their local humane society or SPCA to provide the pound service and some are run independently from the humane society. Many pounds will offer unclaimed animals up for adoption, listing them on the municipal websites.

"No-kill" shelter  – refers to shelters that will not euthanize any animal that they take in. However, no-kill shelters may have a limited admission, meaning that they will only take animals in when they have the room to care for them.


Facts about shelters and shelter animals:

  • There are over 13,000 shelters and adoption agencies in North America. There is no national organization monitorinig these shelters.
  • Five out of ten dogs in shelters are euthanized because there is no one to adopt them. There are approximately 5 to 7 million cats (40%) and dogs (60%) entering shelters each year; 3-4 million are euthanized.

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