Pounds Are Animal Prisons
"They took us to the pound! I told you! This is it, this is the end of the line! WE GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE!"
One trope that's sure to rub animal-shelter volunteers the wrong way is the frequently
antagonistic portrayal of animal shelters in fiction.
This is especially the case with Talking Animal
cartoons, where pounds are depicted as little more than prisons full of animal inmates "serving time" for some alleged misdemeanor offense and hoping to one day see the warm sun and blue skies again. In extreme cases, depictions may even echo Nazi concentration camps
with diabolical dog-catchers deliberately hunting down and impounding household pets by the hundreds (as one New York City pound became infamous for during the 1800's) to be "put to sleep
", never to see their beloved family again unless they immediately stage some kind of daring jailbreak
Now while it is true that animal-control officers may impound problematic or aggressive animals when responding to an emergency call, and that not enough lost pets at animal shelters get reunited with their families, modern (Real Life
) animal-control facilities and shelters are nowhere near the depraved standards that fiction likes to depict them with. Animal shelters know firsthand how deeply pets become family members, and have a vested interest in providing their animals with a regular supply of food, shelter, health care, and companionship — doubly so for "rescue" shelters who specialize in rehabilitating victims of neglect or abuse by previous human owners. Meanwhile, they do their best to get them adopted by loving new guardians or try to find the proper owners of lost animals, while leaving euthanasia as an absolute last resort.
Fortunately becoming a Discredited Trope
with animal welfare groups (not the Animal Wrongs Group
) making the plight of abandoned and abused animals more well-known, though it may have originated from the Forgotten Trope
of the Diabolical Dogcatcher (especially in areas where pet ownership required an official license).
A particularly strange variation can occur with zoos and/or wildlife
rehabilitation centers, who work with non-domestic animals that (for whatever reason) might not survive in the wild; they too have a vested interest in their animals' health and upkeep.
Probably related to the Sadistic Science Lab
and the fear of winding up there
, and the Orphanage of Fear
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Film - Animated
- Lady and the Tramp. "What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?" Lady herself has a license and is quickly returned to her owners, while Tramp is caught by the dog-catchers (but later adopted by Lady's family as well). Interestingly, the dogcatchers aren't really demonized or set up as villains; they're just people doing their jobs. Though the dogs are shown to be absolutely miserable, as they try to dig out and escape. Mostly, it's the nasty Aunt Sarah that tells the dogcatcher to kill the Tramp.
- In Bolt, the titular dog and cat Mittens are captured by an animal-control officer after an argument between them caused a scene. Bolt is rescued by Rhino en route to the shelter, but Mittens is impounded and fears she will never leave (as nobody will want to adopt her, an abandoned, declawed housecat). Bolt then decides to break Mittens out that night with Rhino's help, which they do.
- Bit of a subversion: it's only a prison from Mittens' point of view. The staff aren't malicious by any measure,the shelter itself is quite clean, and a banner in the entryway is briefly seen promoting a "Pet Adoption Week".
- The dog catcher's van, on the other hand, is a clear parallel to a prison paddywagon, but one could chalk this up to Rule of Drama.
- All Dogs Go to Heaven starts with Charlie breaking out of a dog pound, the whole sequence of which is treated like a typical jailbreak scene. In the next scene, another dog comments on Charlie's return with "Ain't you supposed to be on Death Row?"
- Played with in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. The wild horses see stables as a prison, or like them being taken for slaves. The tame horses in the movie are usually treated fairly reasonably for the most part, though it depends on their humans.
- Finding Nemo did this with a fish tank.
- Only from the point of view of the fish, though. The dentist really just wants to have some nice pets, and takes good care of them. The small children ARE bad for the fish, but only because they don't know how to treat them well.
Film - Live Action
- Hotel for Dogs. "At least it's better than the pound." Also presents pound workers gloating about euthanising dogs after a day, just to drive the point home.
- The Shaggy D.A. had a dog pound scene, presented very like a prison, where he escaped with the help of the other dogs.
- In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, the animal shelter is initially portrayed like this — but only from the animals' point of view, as it's revealed that the shelter was trying to contact their owners, and had the animals not escaped they would have been reunited sooner. They also removed the porcupine quills lodged in Chance's face. Chance himself was rescued from a pound by his owner, which probably explains his severe hatred of "that bad place".
- The 1995 movie Fluke not only has a Prison Pound, it also has an Evil Research Lab. And did we mention that the titular dog is a reincarnated human?
- MouseHunt had the doggy concentration camp variety. And yes, we see a kitten getting gassed for absolutely no reason.
- Best exemplified in the home movie, Karate Dog, where the martial arts canine finds himself wrestled into the pound by a gratuitous animal control officer, complete with singing and Captivity Harmonica (never answering HOW the dogs manage to procure or even play an instrument requiring human manual dexterity).
- In 1935, Life Returns starred real-life Dr. Robert Cornish, a self-promoting researcher into artificial resuscitation. In the film, a boy's dog is nabbed by the dogcatcher and immediately put down, forcing the heartbroken boy to plead for Cornish to use his (real-life) experimental techniques to bring his beloved pet back to life.
- Jennifer Crusie's novella Anyone But You begins with the protagonist, Nina, going to the pound to adopt a dog and ending up rescuing a dog who was on his last day before euthanization.
- In the book Dog, the titular dog leaves the dumpster he grew up in and ends up captured by the dogcatcher and thrown into a van with other dogs. He befriends Shep, a big, white, shaggy dog, learns that after only three days where strays are not picked up by their owners or adoped, they are put down. His group of dogs are put into cages and spend two days there. The other dogs shout, some claiming to be pets and wanting to know what they did to deserve their fates. Dog is adopted. Cruelly, other dogs are not as lucky.
- In the same vein as this trope, one of the books by Kenneth and Adrian Bird about the talking dog called Himself had his owner leave him at a dog hostel while he went on holiday. The dogs there are cruelly treated by the couple running the business, so Himself ends up leading a revolt.
- Parodied in the children's book Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, by Mark Teague. A dog who pulls on his owners leash too much gets sent to obedience school. He writes letters to her about how much of a prison it was, when in reality it was a luxury. He made it seem like he ran away from it too, while he actually was just released and everyone in town was overjoyed to see him when he came back.
- The kennels in Howliday Inn are portrayed this way.
- An early episode of Eerie Indiana involved a dog pound, and a boy whose dental bracers could detect (and translate) the dogs' language. It was implied that an ominous room at the end of the hall was where they put dogs to sleep, and the dogs were organizing some kind of rebellion.
- In Married... with Children, when Buck runs away and ends up in the pound, it's very prison-ish, complete with harmonica-playing pooch and a "religious" pup ready to administer the last rites.
- In an episode of Wishbone, Wishbone is placed in the pound after having been found without his collar. He initially views it like this, but then he falls in love with a female dog there. At this point, his owner shows up and provides an Unwanted Rescue.
- In the Supernatural episode "Dog Dean Afternoon", the boys visit a pound while Dean can speak fluent animal due to a spell. The dogs talk about the place like it's a prison, one of them making a Shout-Out to The Shawshank Redemption. Dean ends up empathizing enough to let them all go.
- Averted in a Scamp comic where after spending an entire day trying to find a place to cool off on a hot summer day, Scamp gets sent to the pound, where the dogs there have built an escape tunnel (which appears to be the same one they were working on in the movie), but stay anyways because it is nice and cool inside.
- In the Dilbert comic strip, Dogbert was once sent to the pound and used his One Phone Call to call a wrecking company to destroy it.
- Dogs Of C Kennel by Mick and and Mason Mastroianni is pretty much this.
- The title character of Opus was imprisoned in the local dog pound at one point. It was Played for Laughs, with the storyline spoofing various Prison Tropes (and the inmates' reaction to a penguin in their midst). He was released after a short time, once his owner paid his fine. See Bloom County.
- A zoo variation occurs in Calvin and Hobbes.
Calvin: Mom was wondering if we'd like to go to the zoo today.
Hobbes: Can we tour a prison afterwards?
Calvin: (talking with his mom) No thanks.
- Garfield got into this once, spoofing some prison tropes when Garfield got picked up accidentally.
- Mutts averts this. The writer is quite into animal welfare and is constantly having strips about shelter animals. They even had a sub-series called "Mutts Shelter Stories".
- Along the same lines is Pick-A-Dilly Pet Shop for the Purr-Tenders. The cats there aren't being sold, so they wind up disguising themselves as other animals just to get out, and they're all terrified of being taken back... even though there's no evidence that they're being ignored or mistreated by the owner. (His dog, on the other hand, is a dick.)