There are many types of animal shelters. Some are funded and operated by local government agencies. Others function as charitable organizations relying upon private donations and a largely volunteer workforce. Additionally, their philosophy on intake and euthanasia may vary dependent on their mission statement and the number of animals they see each year.
Municipal Animal Shelters
Municipal animal shelters are usually run by city or county governments. Animal control officers frequently work from or report to someone at the municipal animal shelter. Since they are funded by tax revenue, these facilities legally are required to accept any animal brought to them, and stray animals typically are brought to these shelters.
While municipal animal shelters usually offer animals for adoption, some of the animals are euthanized. The obligation to accept all animals, lack of space and the wide range of health issues seen in the animal population are common causes.
Because municipal animal shelters are government agencies, they also are responsible for enforcing local vaccination, pet waste and restraint laws. Likewise, if looking for a lost pet, the municipal animal shelter is the most likely place to find him.
The Humane Society of the United States is only directly affiliated with five animal shelters or sanctuaries, and many of those are home to long-term wild or exotic animals. However, they do provide education, training and support to many of the local animal welfare and humane organizations.
Local humane societies are privately funded, often working strictly on donated funds and supplies. Their rules and responsibilities vary. They may include "no-kill" clauses in which only seriously ill or unsafe animals are euthanized. As a result, many only accept relinquished pets or healthy animals in transfer from municipal agencies who have too many animals to process.
Local humane societies often provide other community services, as well. These may include humane education programs for schools and the public, low-cost spay and neuter clinics, and temporary housing for emergencies or in response to natural disasters.
The difference between municipal animal shelters and humane societies are often confused. Municipal animal shelters are government funded and accept all animals for intake. Humane societies are privately funded and often only take owner relinquished pets.
Rescue organizations are privately funded groups, often charities funded by donation. In an effort to provide quality, temporary care, they may focus their efforts on specific types or breeds of animals. They also may provide services in breed or species education.
Many rescue organizations do not have brick and mortar locations. Instead, they house animals in a network of volunteer foster homes. Private rescue organizations frequently host adoption events and use the Internet to make animal histories available to potential adopters. In some cases, they will schedule home visits for probable matches. In this way, rescue organizations can offer a more personalized adoption experience.
Animal Sanctuaries and Welfare Organizations
Animal sanctuaries are long-term homes for animals who are not adoptable for any of a number of reasons. Animals are treated for mental and physical health, provided proper nutrition and care and in some cases, given the necessary time and training to be ready for a second chance.
Animal sanctuaries often have minimal paid staff and utilize a large volunteer base. Much like humane societies, they may provide additional services such as low-cost spay and neuter clinics, humane education and animal training. Funds from these services often go directly towards the care of animals residing at the sanctuary.
Large animal welfare organizations work on a national or global scale to advocate for the humane treatment of animals in places such as laboratories, puppy mills or factory farms and provide education and advocacy opportunities.