Noise in the Animal Shelter Environment

Coppola CL, Enns RM, Grandin T. (2006) Noise in the Animal Shelter Environment: Building Design and the Effects of Daily Noise Exposure, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 9:1, 1-7, DOI: 10.1207/

Research question: Anyone who has ever stepped foot in an animal shelter knows the sound barrier from barking dogs can be intense, but how loud do noise levels actually get—and in what ways might the intensity of that sound affect the animals, shelter workers/volunteers and potential adopters? Currently, there are no policies that limit noise levels in dog kennels, but should there be? Should shelter design be adjusted using noise-reduction construction techniques and building materials? What changes can be made to do so?

Sample: Study authors measured noise levels at an animal shelter that was constructed in 1999. The shelter was not built using sound-reduction techniques or materials. The sample included noise measurements in five indoor spaces that held dogs: large adoptable, large stray, small adoptable, small stray and front intake. Among those, the largest space was the large adoptable (880 square feet and 34.25 dogs), followed by large stray (485 square feet and 15 dogs), small adoptable (285 square feet and 9.8 dogs), small stray (258 square feet and 9 dogs) and front intake (240 square feet and 4 dogs).

Methodology: Over a continuous 84-hour period (including a full weekend, where sound is likely loudest with adopter foot traffic), the researchers used wall-mounted dosimeters to take measurements in each of the five dog-holding spaces. Authors noted that the dosimeter type (Q-200, Quest Technologies) and weighting (A) used in this report are commonly used to measure sound levels in work environments and to enforce Occupational Safety and Health administration regulations (OSHA).

Findings: On many occasions, the peak noise levels exceeded the measuring capacity of the dosimeter (118.9 dBA), which is nearly comparable with the noise of a propeller aircraft. The loudest measurements were taken in the large adoptable area, which is not surprising given the foot traffic these rooms see and the barking capacity of the dogs within it. Authors noted that the loud noise of the large adoptable room carried over into other spaces of the shelter, affecting sound levels in those as well. And while there were numerical differences between all rooms, those differences were not statistically significant. Among the two loudest rooms (large adoptable and large stray), sound levels exceeded the OSHA regulation for workers (90 dBA, or nearly as loud as a subway train) more than half time. If shelters carried the same standards for human dwellings, for example, they would have a mean sound level of 45 dBA. But without regulations, noise will continue to be an overlooked factor and reduce the animals’ welfare.

This burden is three-fold—affecting the animals, employees and public looking to adopt. Specific to the dogs, who don’t get the ear protection a standard OSHA-protected worker might yet have ears more sensitive than a human’s, the effect can impact the animals’ stress levels, as well as their behavioral, psychological and anatomical responses (impacting their adoptability). And as authors suggest, the noise can be overwhelming for potential adopters, who may cut their search short as a result.

But how can facilities do this? More noise absorption is a start—preferably through self-contained “apartment-style” rooms instead of traditional kennels, which absorb the noise internally and also allow more noise-cutting socialized sleeping. Also, facility planners could add more playgroup areas, as a tired dog is often a quieter one. The SPCA, San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other organizations have embraced these concepts.

Limitations: This study took place in one facility, which limits the representative potential to portray a large sample of shelters nationwide. Also, the shelter was not built using sound-reduction techniques or materials, such as those recommended by study authors, so information is limited regarding those techniques’ success in sound reduction. Future studies could focus on the success of those building adjustments in reducing shelter sound, compare methods in doing so, and/or assess the viability of shelter noise policies on the local, statewide or national levels.

Summary by Bana Jobe

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