What is the difference between a Municipal and

a Non-Municipal (Private) Animal Shelter?


I get asked about this a lot. Here's some quick facts:


Municipal Shelters:

  • Municipal shelters used to be called "the pound".
  • Municipal shelters receive taxpayer dollars from the local municipality i.e. the City or County.
  • As a result, Municipal shelters MUST intake ALL animals brought to them, regardless of if they have space, staff, food, medicine, beds or toys for additional animals. 
  • Pet owners surrender their pets to Municipal shelters for 2 reasons: 1) The Municipal shelter is required by law to take the animal even if there is no space for the animal, and 2) Many private shelters do not accept owner surrenders.
  • Municipal shelters depend on the City/County adequately funding it to ensure there is always enough space, staff, food and medicine; they depend on the City/County not cutting their budget; they depend on taxpayers (you) being willing to pay increased property taxes or sales taxes if needed in order to ensure the shelter is sufficiently funded.


​Private Shelters:

  • Private shelters do not receive any taxpayer dollars; they operate off grants and donations.
  • Private shelters close their doors to intake when they are full or short on supplies for additional animals. 
  • Private shelters can refuse intake and owner surrenders.
  • Private shelters can choose to help Municipal shelters when those become full by agreeing to the transfer of animals to them.


A few additional things to note:

Some Municipal shelters, facing under-funding from the municipality and lack of support from taxpayers willing to increase taxes to fund the shelter properly, have still managed to achieve save rates equal to or exceeding no-kill shelters by creating a strong network consisting of rescue partners, private shelters, and foster parents.

Many private shelters are now re-branding as "Adoption Centers" to help avoid confusion with sanctuary organizations and Municipal shelters. 


​Some lucky Municipal shelters are well funded by the taxpayers. This is local taxpayer funding, from your sales tax or property taxes usually. This is not a State nor Federal domain. Many Municipal shelters, sadly, are not adequately funded for the charter they are given by the City or County, immediately forcing them into a no-win situation.


What you can do:

Every time there's a budget meeting at your City or County, they usually decide (like here) on whether to increase or cut funding to the shelter. Here they consistently refuse to increase it despite the fact the shelters  is constantly overcrowded with cats and dogs who literally end up stacked in tiny crates in hallways, with no room to move, turn around or urinate/defecate except on the very blanket they are lying on. This is because the municipal shelter is REQUIRED by law to intake regardless of space.


If you feel your Municipal shelter is underfunded, understaffed, often out of space, you MUST show up at the Council meeting to ask for more funding. Get your friends to come with you. Most Politicians only respond to money (for them) and multiple voters telling them they won't hold office after the next election if they don't increase the funding. Every time there is a local election, there's often a ballot measure on there to spend money - and that money sometimes comes from the shelter budget (that happens here a lot too). READ the measure before you vote to ensure you're not voting out your animal shelter's funding.