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Pounds Are Animal Prisons
aka: Pounds Are Doggy Prison

"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.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    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.

     Literature  

  • Jennifer Crusie's novella Anyone But You begins with the protagonist, Nina, going to the pound to adopt a dog and ending up rescuing Fred, who was on his last day before euthanization. The pound is not depicted as a horrible place, but it's not very cheerful either - particularly not for aging, depressed Fred.
  • 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.

     Live-Action TV  

  • 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.

     Newspaper Comics  

  • 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".

     Toys  

  • 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.)

     Video Games  

  • The horror game The Cat Lady has a variant of this with the Black Dragon Pest Control company, who are called in to deal with the stray cats Susan feeds. The pets they capture don't make it to any sort of pound; instead, they are locked in cages in the home of the company's sole employee and eventually carved up into meat.

     Web Comics  

     Western Animation  

  • Ren and Stimpy, the pilot episode "Big House Blues".
  • We hate to bring up such a notorious childhood destroying moment, but the first Garfield animated special Here Comes Garfield has him and Odie trapped and alone in such a pound. A bumbling Animal Control officer is a regular antagonist in The Garfield Show.
  • After being falsely accused of attacking Beebee Bluff (when he was just trying to rescue her from falling in thin ice), Porkchop of Doug is confiscated by the pound and sentenced to 'execution'. The entire matter is played out as if he's actually in a maximum security prison.
  • On Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko gets mistaken for a dog and is put on the pound. Appalled by the deplorable conditions, he decides to run for city dog catcher. He loses, but the city simultaneously votes in a more liberal animal control policy, and the role of dogcatcher (won by Mr. Bighead) is reduced to "glorified pooper scooper".
  • Pound Puppies:
    • The pilot had the dogs run a secret adoption network from the pound, a la Hogan's Heroes. Naturally, comparing the pound to a Nazi stalag didn't suit the networks, so for the series proper it became a benevolent animal shelter. The evil Katrina Stoneheart wants nothing more than to see all canines rounded up, but Holly knows better, and helps the resident canines see every lost dog given to a better home.
    • Its second season, The All-New Pound Puppies Show, returned to the original themes with the pound being run strictly by Katrina instead of Holly.
    • Shelter 17 from the new series on The Hub is largely an aversion, since the only reason dogs have to rely on the Pound Puppies to get adopted is because the manager, head dog-catcher Leonard McLeish, is more interested in impressing people and getting promoted than actually doing his job. This is played straight with the Canine Capture and Removal Center in "I Never Barked For My Father" (which McLeish's sidekick Olaf even remarks "looks like a doggy prison"), and with Shelter 17 under the reign of Milton Feltwaddle in "McLeish Unleashed".
  • Since Brian on Family Guy is more human-like than dog, when he winds up in the Pound, this happens. Along with a violent cell mate.
  • Animaniacs:
    • Rita and Runt meet when both are taken to the pound and speak to each other through the walls to plan an escape, and it's portrayed very much like a prison.
    • In "Les Miseranimals", the Animaniacs parody to Les Misérables, Runt escapes from the very prison-like dog pound.
  • Dan has this view of animal shelters in an episode of Dan Vs.
    "I didn't ask you to build an animal jail across the street. Shut your prisoners up, warden!"
  • One episode of Muppet Babies has a part where Baby Rowlf thinks that this trope applies to zoos since they reminded him of dog pounds. Nanny goes on to explain what zoos are all about, and how important they are to the protection of animal life.
  • Some Classic Disney Shorts focusing mainly on Pluto will often have dog pounds being portrayed as prisons.
  • Road Rovers first shows Hunter and Muzzle in a pound. The structure of the building is prison-like, but the two pound workers seen are kind to the dogs, with Hunter clearly expecting to play and getting his ears scratched. Though Hunter and Muzzle are scheduled for euthanasia, it's because Hunter is at the end of the six-week waiting period for that pound (a sad measure some shelters have to take because often there is just not enough space). For Muzzle, one of the workers mentions 'finally getting word to put the crazy [dog] down', indicating there was some sort of evaluation process. note 
  • PBS's Martha Speaks dropped her in a pound once that was portrayed like this. Subverted, however, after she helps the other dogs escape: they all go back willingly, because they have nowhere to go, and the dogcatcher is doing the best he can to feed them and find them homes.
  • Reversed in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Cat Scratch Fever", when Batman catches up to a couple of mooks who were involved in Roland Daggett's scheme to infect animals with a new strain of rabies so he could sell the antitoxin.
    Batman: It's off to the pound for you!


POW CampPrison TropesPrison
Pokémon SpeakAnimal TropesPredators Are Mean
Cats Are SnarkersImageSource/Animated FilmsTights Under Shorts

alternative title(s): Pounds Are Pet Prisons; Pounds Are Doggy Prison
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