In Germany, a country with some of the most progressive animal welfare laws and attitudes, there are private animal shelters called Tierheim, which take care of homeless animals. Tierheim means literally animal (tier) house (heim), and there are around a thousand of these shelters. Tierheim are well staffed with two or three times the number of volunteers as permanent staff looking after the animals, and there are a number of permanent veterinarians and nurses at each shelter.
The shelters take care of a wide variety of common and exotic animals—roughly 10,000 to 15,000 annually. 60% of the animals are taken in because of the loss of their owner or accommodation, while 40% of them are rescued or are strays whose owner can’t be identified.
Though Tierheim shelter over 10,000 animals annually, the adoption rate goes far beyond 90%. However, this doesn’t mean the criteria for adoption are loose.
Lots of people visit Tierheim and consider adoption, but not all of them can; there are stringent qualifications for adoption. Those who want to adopt must answer questions about—and meet specific criteria for—family composition, housing, and working hours, among others
For example, Tierheim don’t allow adoption where the house is empty for more than 8 hours a day. And if there is anyone in the house who doesn’t like the animal, that individual can’t adopt that animal.
Tierheim facilities stand out in providing healthy pleasant spaces for the animals they house. The dog kennels are individual rooms and the dogs are able to move freely about in and out of their rooms and have a stroll outside. The dogs’ rooms are also transparent so they can see each other; important for a social species. Moreover, dogs that need treatment get it from specialized vets in rehabilitation centers.
The rooms for cats provide a great environment, too. There are two or three cats in each of the rooms, which are spacious and bright with natural light from windows. The cats have toys and cat towers. The cat rooms also have doors that allow them to wander around freely.
On the door of each room are introductory cards that have the name, picture, date of birth, medical history, and reason for sheltering. How much more willing would people be to adopt animals after seeing them in a clean environment and reading their stories?
On the cards there is also a name of the sponsor of each animal. This is a special system where the benefactors of Tierheim are paired up with dogs or cats, supporting their care directly with monthly donations. Even after the animal is adopted, the sponsorship donation is sometimes delivered to the adoptive family to lessen their financial burden.
Tierheim also have independent spaces for stray cats. As stray cats are not comfortable with humans, they are not put up for adoption. Instead, these cats are neutered and released; taken back to where they were picked up. If the original environment is too harsh for them, however, the Tierheim provide permanent shelter; the cats live in specially created outdoor areas.
Tierheim also have buildings for animals which are not categorized as companion animals; rabbits, squirrels, birds, reptiles, etc. Different kinds of animals live in spacious areas suited to their environmental needs. Animals that were once raised as livestock such as horses, mini pigs, and sheep also live peacefully in large grassland areas in the Tierheim.
The annual maintenance cost of a Tierheim is raised through funding from the public and corporations, as well as bequests and donations. Because they do not receive any money from the government, they do not have to consult with the government when deciding policies for protecting the animals in their care.
Germany’s Tierheim are an extension of its progressive attitude to animal welfare; it is even included in its constitution. Unfortunately, South Korea is far behind Germany in terms of attitudes, law, and operation of the law. But the German model of animal welfare is an admirable target to aim for. And a wealthy first-world country such as South Korea should do just that. As should all similar countries.
CARE Korea will continue to campaign for South Korea to be such a country.