For years, American Humane’s Operation Guide series was the “go to place.” Here is a link for publications associated with animal sheltering: https://www.americanhumane.org/publication-type/animal-shelter-operational-guide/.
The most effective way to become no kill is to reduce your shelter intakes. One method is to find a way to get animals back to their owners BEFORE they come into the shelter. Let’s face it, very few animals running loose on our city streets are wearing any form of identification; it is the one thing pet owners fail at. Miserably!
At several locations, I obtained a grant through either the National Animal Control Association or PetSmart Charities to purchase an ID tag machine, tags, and collars. A medium sized operation can ask for $10k to $15k to last your program several years.
It is important that if you engage in an ID program, that you make sure that you place the tag on the animal prior to leaving your shelter. Experience had taught me that you cannot trust the owner to do that; they get home and put the tag on the dresser or the tag may never leave the automobile.
The purpose of the ID tag program is to give finders of lost pets a chance to call the owner prior to making the call to have the animal picked up. By reducing the intakes of owned animals, you can leave more cage space open to allow animals a longer stay for adoptions.
The tag for impounded pets should be provided free upon reclaim; otherwise, you can charge $3 to $5 per tag for additional animals. I allowed each of my staff a free tag to learn how to use the tag machine. This is an effective way to decrease shelter intakes.
Stray holding time is the length of time required by law for an animal shelter to legally hold a stray animal for the animal’s owner. That length of time is usually between 3 to 10 days.
Most believe that a responsible pet owner will discover that their pet is missing and go to the animal shelter within 24 hours. The truth is that even with lengthy hold times, many pet owners do not go to the shelter within the hold period. It is extremely frustrating for staff to deal with people who show up after the hold period; to deal with pet owners whose pet has been adopted or euthanized. The frustration is further exasperated by the owners failing to recognize their role in the incident, blaming shelter staff for the failure of the owner to timely find their lost pet.
With crowded animal shelters, lengthy stray hold times burden the shelter into keeping an animal from adoption. The fact that many people surrender their pets as stray further compounds the overcrowding of the shelter while the animal is needlessly held.
Many shelters offer a two tiered holding period: one for animals with obvious signs of ownership (tag, collar, fresh grooming) and one for animals that have no indication of ownership. The most reoccurring problem that animal shelters face is owners failing to keep identification on their pets.
Many of the animal shelters, in which I worked, provided a free ID tag for animals upon reclaim. But, providing that identification appeared useless for some pet owners; we had to adopt a policy that if animal was impounded three times without identification, we would require the microchipping of the animal. We realized that the faster that we can alert an owner as to the location of their pet would help us reduce the time in which an animal is kept at the shelter and to provide additional time of other strays needing sheltering. It is tragic that even though we provided free identification for a pet, the owner seemed to remove the identification when allowing their pet to run loose.
In one shelter, we had a three prong holding period:
- 3 days for an animal without evidence of ownership.
- 5 days for an animal with evidence of ownership.
- 7 days for an animal wearing a current license (actually we would hold an animal beyond the 7 days until we make contact with the owner). Additionally, an animal with a current license would be guaranteed medical treatment, if hit by a car while running loose. With this three tiered system, we could boast that a current license was an insurance policy for the animal.
In the business of animal welfare, the community will constantly armchair quarterback the policies that you create to care for your animals. It is always a good idea to stick to standards that have been accepted throughout the animal welfare community. It is especially useful to use standards created by the American Veterinary Association.
This document should be the cornerstone of your policies for animal care.
As animal shelter intakes decline and the desire for increased placements, animal are being held for longer periods of time. Some animals adapt to long confinement, others do not; as such, it is necessary to maintain the Five Freedoms for each animal to make sure that our desire for higher release rates do not commit inhumane acts upon the animals in our care.
The Five Freedoms:
Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
In a job interview, one of our applicants said that integrity was doing the right thing when no one is watching. I discovered that it was easy to do the right thing when no one is watching, the challenge is to do the right thing when everyone is watching.
The greatest challenge facing animal shelters is the balance that must be made to protect people and to protect pets. Animal shelters must face the decision to put people first or to put pets first. In 95 percent of the time, it isn’t an issue. But in those remaining 5 percent, it becomes the battleground that creates the most media carnage for animal shelter personnel.
Should animal shelters release potentially dangerous dogs back into their community? On the surface this seems pretty simple, until you begin to fight the battle as to what determines a dangerous our an aggressive dog. Dog held for long periods of time can become aggressive as a result of their long confinement. Where along that process does a dog move from being adoptable to being unadoptable?
Is it worth euthanizing one “potentially” aggressive dog to prevent a future worry of the dog injuring a child? This is the constant worry that all animal shelters face. Many shelter personnel take the easy road and don’t question the adoptability of an animal: if the animal has a potential home, then let it leave the shelter. Many shelters that have taken this road become faced with the lawsuits of their careless actions.
Many dogs that have displayed aggression in the shelter eventually reassimulate into society to become perfect pets. We cannot look into the eyes of these animals and determine their behavior in the environment that we are sending them. Every adoption is based on a gradient from low risk to high risk.
The community that we serve seems to see only in black or white. Many people claim that we should give EVERY animal a chance and many believe that NONE of the high risk breeds should ever be released to the public. Although animal shelters conduct behavior tests, the tests run the failure of the bias of the evaluator. But the biggest hazard is the adopter.
No matter how much adoption staff empathizes the need for responsible pet ownership, the greatest failing point is the pet’s owner. It is amazing the number of new pet owners who call to report that their new pet ran away during the period of the car and the house because the owner didn’t think the dog should be on leash. One of the most common phases from dog owners prior to a dog bite is, “Don’t worry he won’t bite.”
When pet owners fail to act responsibly, it furthers the risk of a failed adoption. When an animal gets into trouble as the result of a bad pet owner, it is usually the animal shelter that gets into trouble for failing to have the foresight in seeing a bad combination of a questionable dog and a bad adopter.
Many shelters have taken a beating in the media as a result of not being physic. Every adoption presents a risk. The shelter is forced to decide if they will weigh the balance toward protecting people or saving a pet. Wherever you find that balance, you can be sure that someone will be under constant pressure to move that line one way or the other.
The first pitbull arrived in my city in the mid 1980’s. The owner wanted to have a breed with a reputation; this dog did not live up to that reputation. The original desire to own a pitbull was for owners to claim that their dog was the meanest on the block. For that reason, breeders began breeding dangerous characteristics into the breed. Clearly, the breed was attracted to the worst pet owners.
Since bad pet owners do not believe in sterilizing their pets, pitbulls have become the most dominant breed in animal shelters. This has created a difficult time for shelters trying to become no-kill to maintain their adoption numbers with their shelter intakes being 50% pitbulls.
Pitbulls are not necessarily a bad breed, they just require an unusually responsible pet owner. As pet owners have become increasingly lazy, finding a good owner for a pitbull is problematic. It is not a breed that you can just take to the dog park and turn loose; as with any powerful breed they require constant oversight.
Incidents of dog bites is proof of poor pet ownership. Foolish pet owners fail to realize the bite potential of their pet.
I am so grateful that most of my career was prior to social media. Social media has created such a mean spirited group of people online. It is most frequently used to bully others. In the animal welfare arena, social media is used to bully shelter staff into making questionable animals available for adoption. The no-kill movement used this bullying tactic to facilitate high adoption numbers.
In recently years, I discovered that shelter staff was more concerned about having a positive social media presence, than to do their job to protect the community. The constant pressure that is placed on shelter staff is forcing extremely foolish decisions.
Adoption councilors are becoming more and more like used car salesman, asking potential pet owners to purchase an animal without looking under the hood. We are entering an era in which shelters are being sued for misrepresenting the aggressive backgrounds of dogs in their care.