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Pounds Are Animal Prisons

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"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 Dogcatchers deliberately hunting down and impounding innocent household pets by the hundreds (as one New York City pound became infamous for during the 1800s) 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 that 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. In addition to finding permanent homes for the animals, shelters often have a set of animal fosterers who look after ill, very young or elderly pets by giving them a more peaceful environment to live in. In most shelters, euthanasia is used as an absolute last resort, while "no-kill" shelters, don't use it at all.

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 Dog Catcher (especially in areas where pet ownership required an official license and not everyone could afford such).

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. Works that give the message that all zoos are unethical ignore that, among other things, in Real Life zoos have saved many species from extinction.

Sister-trope to Menagerie of Misery. Probably related to the Sadistic Science Lab and the fear of winding up there, and the Orphanage of Fear.


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  • There's some people in the PAW Patrol fandom who play with this trope. The pound is treated as a prison...because it is one, specifically for canine and animal criminals, often of the juvenile delinquent variety. Animal shelters on the other hand are treated as basically canine orphanages and as such, can vary from Orphanage of Fear, Orphanage of Love, and somewhere in between. And any stories that feature this idea make a strong distinction between pounds and animal shelters; the latter may be bad but that has nothing to do with being an animal shelter and everything to do with Orphan's Ordeal.

    Film — Animation 
  • 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.
  • In The Secret Life of Pets, though we don't actually see a pound, this is implied, with Duke talking about how he can't go back to the pound because he's on his final strike and this would be it for him. The pound van is also basically treated as a small-cell paddywagon that has to be broken out of.
  • When Shaun is taken to the Animal Containment Centre in Shaun the Sheep: The Movie, within fifteen seconds he passes a dog pumping iron (well, a bone), a Siamese Hannibal Lecter, a tortoise tallying days on the wall and a goldfish playing the harmonica. After the defeat of Diabolical Dogcatcher Trumper, the rest of the staff convert it into a much nicer Animal Protection Centre.

     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. And the little girl that owned the kitty being dragged away, kicking and screaming.
  • 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.
  • In the 1986 Disney film Little Spies, the dog pound that the Kid Hero protagonists have to break into to save their adopted stray dog is a fortress worthy of a Mission: Impossible episode.
  • Robert Downey, Sr's Pound, especially since the animals are played by human actors!
  • White God has a dog pound where stray mixed breed dogs are captured and kept in poor conditions. The manager denies putting dogs down, but we later see her doing so to one dog and scheduling the main dog Hagen for euthanization because of his injured foot. Eventually Hagen leads a prison break.
  • In Dr. Dolittle, after almost running over the dog Lucky (not yet given the name at the time) and hearing him talk, Dr. Dolittle decides to rescue him. He goes to the animal shelter and asks where the stray dogs are. He encounters an animal-prison-like environment, complete with barred cells and despondent dogs, including one who shouts "Dead dog walking!" upon seeing Lucky being led inside.

  • 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 adopted, 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 owner's 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. This is, for the most part, yet another "from the animals' point of view" case, though with the interesting wrinkle of one of the kennel workers actually being dangerous.
  • Felix Salten's The City Jungle is Zoos are Animal Prisons: The Novel to the point of being extremely Anvilicious. To be fair to Mr. Salten, some of his complaints were genuine back when the book was written in the early 20th century, though not so much today, where we have made great advancements in zoo design and animal healthcare.
  • The pound in The Tuesday Dog and the animated special based on it is seen this way by the dogs. The employees, however, are very sympathetic to the animals' situations and are only trying to do their job.
  • Played with the Trap House in Survivor Dogs. It's not a negative place however it is scary for dogs. Lucky describes it as unnaturally clean and that it is an unpleasant place to be. Lucky isn't fond of humans but he notes that the humans at the Trap House were kind people who looked after the dogs.
  • The Denver animal control in A Dog's Way Home has a corrupt officer who takes a bit too much joy in putting down any dog he dubs a "pit bull". He has a very loose interpretation of "pit bull" even by shelter standardsnote . Most of his co-workers are more positive, but Bella still hates the shelter because she's separated from her owner.
  • Dogs in Doglands don't have a good view on shelters. When Furgul becomes a stray, he's deemed a "fugitive" on the run from the Traps (AKA, Diabolical Dog Catchers). It's talked about like prison, except there's a high euthanasia rate:
    Pace: "You'll be eating your dinner in the pokey. The dog pound, the big house, the slammer, the pen—the Needles. In other words, behind iron bars."
  • In the children's book The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins, the protagonist is a dog who spends the first few years of his life in misery in a pet store with a "hard stone floor". In the climax when the dog's new owner threatens to return him to the store, he is noticeably terrified.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Eerie, Indiana: An early episode 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.
  • My Cat from Hell's "A Brave New Cat World": In the final episode of the eighth season, Jackson gives an extreme makeover to a cat shelter that very much gives off this vibe.
  • Probe's "Metamorphic Anthropoidic Prototype Over You": Because Josephine (an ape modified with Super-Intelligence) is accused of murder, she is taken to jail. Er, the animal shelter. (A mistake that a cop makes In-Universe.)
  • Supernatural's "Dog Dean Afternoon": The protagonists 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.
  • Wishbone: In "Rosie, Oh, Rosie, Oh!", Wishbone is placed in the pound after having been found without his collar. He initially views the pound as a prison, preventing him from returning home, but then he falls in love with a female dog there. At this point, his owner shows up and provides an Unwanted Rescue.
  • The Honeymooners had Ralph finding a stray dog and eventually taking it to the pound. However, upon learning that the dog would be "destroyed" if it is unadopted for too long, Ralph not only insists on taking the dog home but a pack of others who are almost out of time themselves.

     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 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.note 
    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".
  • In an early Peanuts strip Snoopy is hiding from what he thinks is a Diabolical Dogcatcher (it's really just Charlie Brown with a butterfly net) and imagines himself working on a rockpile and then getting the electric chair.

  • Purr-Tenders: The cats at the Pick-A-Dilly Pet Shop 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.
  • Played for laughs in Octodad: World's Dadliest Catch. Octodad thinks aquariums are festering prisons of iniquity, and the one that his wife is writing a paper on really does have lax standards—which makes his trip there all the more nerve-wracking.

     Web Comics 

     Web Original 

     Western Animation 
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series: The pound that Cadpig gets sent to in "Cadpig Behind Bars" is situated on an island and actually does have cages with bars, a security card system to raise & lower the drawbridge, and a prison yard.
  • Some Classic Disney Shorts focusing mainly on Pluto will often have dog pounds being portrayed as prisons.
  • 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.
  • The zoo variation is played with in "Zooing Time" from The Angry Beavers. Norbert gets sent to a zoo after being framed for a crime Daggett committed, basically treated as being arrested and incarcerated, but then he sees that the zoo is actually in fact a luxurious resort for animals (more like modern zoos in real life). Unfortunately, a guilt-ridden Dag is under the impression that the zoo is an actual prison and tries to break his brother out, ultimately destroying paradise.
  • In "Dog's Best Friend" from Arthur, Pal imagines Amigo in a pound that is essentially an animal prison.
    Amigo: All we eat are vegetables and there are baths three times a day. I don't know how much more I can take. I'm innocent, Pal.
    Nemo: Time's up, liver lips. Move along or it's the cone for you.
  • 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!
  • 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!"
  • An inverted example occurs in the Dennis the Menace episode, "Gone to the Dogs". In it, Dennis, Joey, and Ruff use a magical booth to travel to a dimension where dogs act like humans. In this dimension, Ruff gains the abilities to stand upright and speak English. Unfortunately for Dennis and Joey, the dogs in this dimension hate humans and have them imprisoned in pounds. It's up to Ruff to break Dennis and Joey out so they can return to their home dimension.
  • The dog pound in the Van Beuren Studios cartoon "Dinnertime" Is presented like this. The animals end up quickly escaping once the guard unwittingly opens the pound door.
  • Inverted in Dog City, where Doggy Prison is the Pound, with a warden who's a pastiche of dog-trainer Barbara Woodhouse (while still being herself a Funny Animal dog).
  • 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.
  • An episode of Eek! The Cat has an episode where Eek and Sharky are thrown into the pound. They even wear striped jail clothes and their cages are like traditional jail cells. They also smash rocks in the yard.
  • Since Brian on Family Guy is more human-like than dog, when he winds up in the Pound, this happens. Along with a violent cellmate.
  • 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.
  • Looney Tunes: In "A Waggily Tale", a boy called Junior dreams about being a dog and getting taken to the pound, which is portrayed as a jail, with bars across the door of the room he’s locked in. In the room with him is another dog, sadly playing the harmonica.
  • 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.
  • One episode of Muppet Babies (1984) has a part where Baby Rowlf thinks that this trope applies to zoos since they reminded him of dog pounds by keeping animals in cages. Nanny goes on to explain what zoos are all about, how many of them don't use cages anymore, and how important they are to the protection of animal life. By the end, Rowlf changes his view and is now anxious to visit the zoo.
  • 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 that 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".
  • The Pet Buster's cage room of his home from Puppy in My Pocket: Adventures in Pocketville seen from Ava and the other animals' points of view looks a lot like a prison. Especially all the shelved cages, which resemble jail cells with those vertical bars.
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show, with the pilot episode "Big House Blues".
  • 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 
  • On Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko gets mistaken for a dog and is put in the pound after going to retrieve Spunky from there. Appalled by the deplorable conditions, he decides to run for city dog catcher. He loses, but the city simultaneously votes for a more liberal animal control policy, and the role of dogcatcher (won by Mr. Bighead) is reduced to "glorified pooper scooper".
  • Used in Sheep in the Big City in the episode "Wish You Were Shear", which begins with Sheep mistaken for a dog and sent to a pound that resembles a prison. He's even held in a cell with bars before Lisa Rental adopts him as a pet.
  • The Tom and Jerry cartoon "Puttin' on the Dog" averts this by showing the dog pound as less like a prison and more like how it would be depicted in real life; the dogs don't seem to be suffering too much there.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pounds Are Pet Prisons, Pounds Are Doggy Prison


Wishbone in the Pound

Wishbone is brought to the pound, which he perceives as a prison.

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Main / PoundsAreAnimalPrisons

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