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Who is a Shelter Dog?

Millie’s guardian died this week. A 7-year old lab mix, Millie had lived with this man her entire life, and was by his side the day he died. Josie’s family had to move suddenly to Texas. With no housing secured, they didn’t dare bring a dog along, in case that hurt their chances. Both Millie and Josie were brought to a shelter, to ensure they were safe until they could find new families. These stories unfold all over the country, including here on Nantucket, every day.

Like Millie and Josie, dogs arrive in shelters for many, many reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the dog. Yet the myth persists that dogs who end up in a shelter do so because of their own behavior or issue, leading to the top reason people give for not wanting to adopt a dog from a shelter: people believe shelter dogs are “problem” dogs. However, the truth is that most dogs end up at the shelter due to the issues and behaviors of the humans in their lives.

To be fair, there are dogs in shelters at any given time who do have a serious issue: maybe they have an expensive medical need or they exhibit concerning guarding behavior. However, not only is that dog the exception, but that can also be true of any dog at a pet store or a breeder. 

For the rest of the dogs surrendered to the Nantucket shelter, here are the most common reasons given: 

    •    family can’t find pet-friendly housing

   •    family is moving

    •    family can’t afford the dog any longer

    •    family is divorcing

    •    family has no time for the dog

    •    a death in the family

These reasons align closely with what national studies show, as well. (See more here:

We hear heartbreaking stories of people who did everything they could to find housing/make time/make money in order to keep their dog. Those families deserve a new chance to rebuild their lives—and so do the dogs they had to leave behind. 

The joy in all this is that at the shelter, we get to create this second chance for dogs: a chance for pet-friendly housing, ample food, gobs of attention, and a new home home full of committed love. 

Now that you know that it’s not the shelter dog’s fault, couldn’t that home be yours?

A Dog’s Life, Nantucket, explores the many dog (and other animal)-related issues on Nantucket. Stephanie Henke co-founded Nantucket Safe Harbor for Animals and created and manages Nantucket Dog Walk(link is external), a website dedicated to the many glorious dog walks on Nantucket.