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    The History of Shelters and Rescues

    The History of Shelters and Rescues

    Prior to the latter half of the nineteenth century, numerous animals, including livestock such as pigs and chickens, as well as dogs and cats, had been allowed to roam the streets of the United States. Often, it was merely an economical way of feeding livestock: Butchers, for example, let their pigs wander and scavenge as a means of fattening themselves up before the kill. The same held true for chickens. Neither animal was dangerous, although their droppings were messy and didn't enhance neighborhoods. Early American towns, though, often had dirt streets, and the main mode of transportation, after all, was horses.

    Dogs, however, whether owned or "tramp" (feral), were another matter. They fought with one another and ran in packs, especially the feral ones. People worried that they could be attacked by these dogs and were concerned about the diseases the animals were purported to carry. Towns employed dogcatchers to round the animals up and cruelly bludgeon them to death or drown them.

    Cats, on the other hand, while ubiquitous in the same towns and cities, were regarded as "free spirits" and allowed to roam, living as ferals in the shadows of urban life. Because cats weren't likely to attack people and shied away from human contact, their uncontrolled populations grew. In fact, many small businesses and even government offices relied on cats to keep rats and mice at bay to prevent them from damaging store merchandise and mail.

    The Animal Welfare Act

    The Animal Welfare Act became law in 1966 and is monitored and enforced by the US Department of Agriculture. It is the only federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, during exhibition, during transport, and by dealers (pet stores).

    It was originally designed to ensure the humane treatment of animals used in scientific studies, such as in the use of drug testing by pharmaceutical companies. Over the years, it has evolved to include the terms and conditions under which a dog or cat should be housed and protected when found stray. Under Chapter 54 of the Animal Welfare Act, Section 2158, a cat, when found stray, must be cared for and protected by the entity for no fewer than five days so as to allow for the original owner to recover the lost pet or allow for the pet to be adopted by a new owner. Beyond this five-day period, the cat may be sold to a licensed dealer and, in turn, purchased by a scientific research center for study in animal behavior, testing in experimental drugs, or even purchased for use in government services. The Act requires dealers to provide to the recipient written certification regarding each animal's background. The Act has been amended six times (in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1990, 2002, and 2007) and is enforced by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

    The Act can be read in full at

    The Bide-A-Wee Home was one of the early animal rescue shelters. It opened just after the turn of the twentieth century in New York.

    As the nineteenth century drew to a close, however, public officials began to focus on making cities healthier places to live, and one of the first ways of doing this was by cleaning up the streets and removing scavenging animals, including cats. Some cities established pounds, places where they could temporarily place the stray animals they had rounded up (impounding them), perhaps giving owners a few days to claim them, then disposing of the unclaimed ones efficiently "in bulk."

    However, as people took pets into their homes and gave them "jobs"-dogs to protect their owners and cats to ward off vermin-animal lovers started to recognize the inhumane methods being used to dispose of unwanted canines and felines. In line with this enlightened trend of thought, the Women's Branch of the Pennsylvania American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), founded in 1869, passed a motion to establish a refuge to house homeless animals where they could be kept until they found a home or, when that failed, disposed of more humanely. The group lobbied the mayor of Philadelphia and won control over the city's municipal pound. They also cared for the captured pets, giving them food and water as well as shelter. First, they introduced "painless killing of these animals with chloroform," and then they constructed a special chamber where they could destroy multiple animals simultaneously using carbon monoxide gas. The first "shelter" in America had been created.

    Apart from branches of the ASPCA, other animal rescue and welfare organizations, such as the Animal Rescue League of Boston (1899) and the Bide-A-Wee Home in New York (1902), began to emerge. These groups offered pet owners rudimentary "services" and began to promote the idea that people should relinquish their pets rather than simply turn them loose to fend for themselves. Furthermore, these early animal activists made a concerted effort to try to re-home as may pets as possible.

    Slowly, as more cities began to realize that the responsibility of animal control fell under a municipal umbrella, they established animal control units, usually working in conjunction with their police divisions.

    Sadly, since these early beginnings, many shelters or pounds that function under municipal control today are still bleak places where animals are caged and given a few days' grace in the hope of being claimed; if not, they are euthanized.

    Nonprofit Rescues and Private Shelters

    In the 1950s, as a sense of normalcy once again began to prevail after the end of the Second World War, both dogs and cats found themselves increasingly accepted by families as pets and not necessarily just required to work in the household by guarding property or killing vermin. Slowly and unobtrusively, they gained the status of companion animals and became an integral part of family life.

    This prompted animal lovers to question the operational procedures of city pounds and address the plight of the unfortunate creatures that ended up in those places. These animal advocates began taking homeless pets in and initiating efforts to re-home them. Where possible, advocates would get together, find someone who had an unused garage or barn, and open a small shelter there. Functioning as nonprofit organizations, they relied solely on the generosity of the public and volunteers for the financial and hands-on support to assist the animals in their care.

    Such groups began applying for tax-exempt status under the terms of Section 501(c), the provision of the United States Internal Revenue code that gives such groups the right to exemption from federal and, in many cases, state taxes. These small groups were the forerunners of the many private shelters and rescue organizations that continue to work tirelessly to rescue pets from municipal pounds where they are usually doomed to die, giving the animals a second chance by finding them forever homes.

    Breed Rescue Organizations

    Mix-breed cats are not the only ones who wind up in shelters. Although you might not think it, given what they often cost, many pedigreed cats suffer a similar fate. Responsible breeders have been known to take back the cats they produce to find them other homes. In fact, most sales contracts include a clause stating that the buyer will return the cat to the breeder if the buyer decides not to keep the cat. Still, pedigreed cats do sometimes end up in shelters.

    Faced with this growing problem, lovers of a particular breed have formed specific breed rescue organizations. Today, breed rescue groups exist for every recognized cat breed from Abyssinians to Sphynx cats, from Persians to Munchkins¡Xand even for designer breeds, such as the Bengal and the Savannah.

    It's a sad reality that there's such a growing need for breed rescue groups to exist in the first place. But thank goodness that they do because people aware of the certain characteristics and traits of a particular breed are dedicated to ensuring that these cats are adopted into the right homes the second time around.

    The establishment of animal shelters and rescues became more common in the United States starting in the 1950s.

    Breed rescue organizations have earned an excellent reputation. At the same time, they are educating the public that anyone wanting to adopt a particular breed of pedigreed cat as a household pet should consider adopting from such an organization.

    Breed rescue organizations are easy to find by simply "googling" them to locate a group in a specific area. Often, cat shows also allow breed rescues to bring cats who are up for adoption to such events. Alternatively, cat breeders themselves are always an excellent source of information.

    Adoption Screenings

    When it came to helping cats, these organizations had their hands full because, in many instances, the feral cats whom they had managed to trap were too wild to settle down to domestic life as a pet. They also had to deal with the growing problem of people adopting cats and then, in the event of a move, abandoning them to fend for themselves. Animal rescuers slowly began educating the public about adopting cats, beginning with the idea that adoption is a long-term responsibility. They also wanted cat lovers to recognize that domestic cats were much safer when allowed to live a strictly indoor existence rather than being allowed outside, where they were not only exposed to diseases but also could be attacked by other animals, killed in traffic, and, if not spayed or neutered, proliferate by the thousands.

    Slowly, forward-thinking cat rescue volunteers started screening potential cat owners, actually visiting their homes to ensure that anyone adopting a cat from a shelter was in fact offering not only love and affection but also a truly secure place to live.

    Simultaneously came the recognition that the only way to curb the numbers of animals consigned to both municipal and private shelters was to embark on a massive sterilization program to ensure that cats, in particular, would be prevented from giving birth to an annual litter of kittens. Consequently, it became common practice to spay or neuter all cats in a shelter prior to their adoption. Many shelters to this day rely on the generosity of veterinarians who donate their time and services to get this mammoth task done.

    The adoption fee paid to the shelter helps to cover these costs. Shelter managers also believe that someone who is prepared to put money on the table to adopt a pet will be more serious in the commitment and responsibility to that animal.

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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