This novel was written at a time when interest in child welfare and adoption agencies was at a peak. Published in 1985, it appeared in stores a decade after the first federal child law went into affect and 5 years after the Adoption Assistance law was passed. The television and print media were beginning to depict stories that gave some truth to the old, gothic tales - showing orphanages and foster homes to be dangerous places for the youngest members of our society. Just three years before the book was published, the movie Annie had shown the "hard knock life" many wards of the state have. Was it true, or was it just gossip and exaggeration?
"They Cage the Animals at Night" helped to answer these questions. By exploring an issue that was of national interest at the time, Burch quickly found a willing audience. By narrating the story as his child self, and not his adult self, Burch was able to touch into the empathy of his readers, helping to keep their interest. Add to these details the writing itself, and it is no wonder that the book became and remains popular. Written for adults, it is nonetheless accessible enough for adolescents to read and learn from. A review by Booklist upon publication said the book "has the power of a Dickens novel." High praise. Good writing and a compelling topic secured Burch's audience.