New Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters

"Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters," researched and written by 14 members of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians over two years, is hot off the press. This is the first document of its kind.

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The timing of the release of the Standards is critical, as government funding for shelters is dwindling, and some shelters depend heavily on such monies.

"People very much care about these facilities, and public opinion does count. Homeless pets are, after all, a societal problem," says Dr. Lila Miller, vice president and Veterinary Adviser for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in New York City.

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"Impassioned people care deeply about animals in their community's shelters. Now they can advocate for change with constructive information based on science," adds Dr. Sandra Newbury, of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program Center for Companion Animal Health, University of California-Davis and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Shelter Animal Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, Madison.

Of course, everyone wants to save animals, but what are the consequences? Some shelters, desperate to save as many as possible, are considered overcrowded by some in their communities. But how do you define overcrowded? How many is too many? (click continue reading)
"We address those issues, though we don't take a position on mission or
philosophy; instead, we looked at science," says Newburry, who chaired
the Task Force that authored the Standards of Care, and served as an


It's no accident that Miller, another editor for the
Standards of Care, refers to shelter animals as pets. After all, she
makes an emotional point of saying, "They are pets. They may be homeless
but they've done nothing wrong, and they've been overlooked. Pets who
have homes have rights. Those in shelters should have basic rights, as
well, based on their needs."

The Standards of Care begins with
the Five Freedoms for Animal Welfare, originally developed as a basic
creed for the care and husbandry of farm animals. The Standards note
that the Five Freedoms have been applied to companion animals in other countries, and have even been used for laboratory animals.

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the very basic needs of shelter animals being met? It's a place to
start with animals who find themselves in shelters," adds Dr. Martha
Smith-Blackmore, director of Veterinary Medical Services at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, MA, and the third editor of the Standards of Care.

The Five Freedoms:
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst: Ready access to fresh water and an appropriate diet.
2. Freedom from Discomfort: Providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease: By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior Providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress: Insuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

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Standards of Care discusses parameters to define physical health and
prevention of disease transmission. Equally important is the mental
well-being of animals in shelters.

"Behavioral distress most
certainly can lead to illness," says Miller. "Certainly, when animals
are under more stress in shelters, they're more susceptible to illness."

course, the point at animal shelters is to find homes for pets as soon
as possible, or to transfer animals to other facilities, which may
foster them or find homes. It's important that some sort of behavioral
assessment be completed shortly after intake.

"There's no doubt
that many shelters are terrific, but others are currently not meeting
the needs of animals," says Smith-Blackmore. "We can do better, and now
there are guidelines to do that for grassroots shelters to fancy,
well-funded shelters, to facilities that are government funded."

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Dr. Lila Miller

a pioneer in shelter medicine says, "Some shelters get themselves into
trouble because they just don't know (what to do); hopefully this
document will help."

Newbury adds, "The process of writing (the
Standards of Care) was arduous," she says. "Every word mattered. We felt
it was time for our field to stand up and say, based on science, this
is what needs to happen -- this needs to be said -- for the sake the of


--Capacity to provide humane care has limits for every organization,
just as it does in private homes. Effective population management
requires a plan for intentionally managing each animal's shelter stay
that takes into consideration the organization's ability to provide
care. Operating beyond an organizations capacity for care is an
unacceptable practice.

--Tethering is an unacceptable method of confinement for any animal and has no place in humane sheltering.

--Cages or crates intended for short-term temporary confinement or
travel are unacceptable as primary enclosures and are cruel if used as

--Spraying down kennels or cages while animals are inside them is an unacceptable practice.

--Allowing animals with severe infections disease to remain in the general population is unacceptable.

--Long-term confinement of any animal, including feral or aggressive
animals who cannot be provided with basic care, daily enrichment and
exercise without inducing stress, is unacceptable.


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  • Thanks for writing about this, Steve! I was not surprised to see that several of the conditions I witnessed at Chicago's Animal Care and Control were listed here as either cruelty, unacceptable, or both. I am so thankful to all the vets that participated in this project and especially so to those who originated this long overdue idea of a set of standards. I will pass this on, with credit to you of course:)

  • In reply to maryhaight:

    Thanks you and, yes.....

  • In reply to maryhaight:

    Interesting Chris - but I know shelters, and have visited some....and the authors know many shelters....where they do require these sorts of guidelines. As Mary points out, right in our backyard.

  • In reply to SteveDale:

    I don't pretend to be even in the ballpark of expertise that the authors possess so sorry if it came across like that. What I can tell you is in some of the facilities that I visited probably had some guidelines in place but they didn't seem to be enforced or had been compromised throughout the years. I'm a little more than halfway through the guidelines myself and it is a great resource. I'll try to teserve more in depth comments until later.

  • In reply to maryhaight:

    Hi Steve

  • In reply to IanDunbar:

    Hi Dr. Dunbar. I'm a fan. I do like the mental health guidelines but have always had a bit of an issue with the "minimum" requirement. I appreciate why it is in place but doesn't that set the bar a bit low? Since Open Paws recommends hand feeding...couldn't they also recommend some basic training. It only takes a bit more effort and the benefits would be noticeable. thanks

  • In reply to CDignan:

    Hi Chris,
    I absolutely agree, training is one of the most important aspects of care for shelter animals. Open Paw does recommend basic training and mental stimulation daily as part of the MMHRs and our Four Level Training Program for People and Animals goes into great detail about how to successfully and yet easily do so in a kennel environment. ~ Cheers!

  • In reply to KellyGDunbar:

    PS - I don't know why there is a traffic cone as my pic and can't see where to change it! ;-)

  • In reply to KellyGDunbar:

    Hey Kelly,

    Looks like I have some more reading to do:) Heard a lot about you too (all good) and thanks for the response.

    Everybody gets the traffic cone if they don't upload a picture:)

  • In reply to IanDunbar:

    I am always amazed...and fall off my chair when I see the people who post here....and who read my stories in general. If folks don't know, this is our dog Ethel's lover....oh, and among the most influential dog trainer of all time. We need to talk in '11 about combining some efforts....I am glad you posted...By the way, Chris (below) is someone you can meet next time you are here. He trains dolphins and other marine mammals at the Shedd Aquarium, and dogs. He's a star of the future - I can assure you.

  • Great post Steve. I am a bit torn over the 5 freedoms not because they are not absolutely correct, but because it was necessary to include them in this document. That segment as well as the excerpt you listed later are common sense animal care requirements that any professional should be following. I have been shelters, kennels and even day care facilities that would not meet the standards set forth by this document. Please don't get me wrong, from what I read of it it is a much needed, informative set of guidelines. IMO, the way that many shelters are set up are suspect in that they are designed to fail. There is absolutely a need for shelter and rescue organizations in our country but a more successful shelter model would be based on quality animal care, behavior and management and not the traditional warehousing mentality we seem to want to make work. I'll read the document in full and come back to comment later. Thanks

  • Merry Christmas, Chris and Mary! Saw your names and thought I'd jump in with my 2

  • In reply to ThomasCole:

    Tom - interesting....
    I know what you mean, about doing this earlier - but there was no veterinary group existing to do that...but, yes, overdo. I don't understand all the request. Shelters and all of us need to do it better....if you can contribute to that, wonderful. What one is doing now in Chicago though is making it much worse for animals and the people who volunteer and work there.

  • In reply to ThomasCole:

    Hey Tom,

    Merry Christmas to you too. I can appreciate your frustration with the shelter system...I have them too. Much of what needs to be done is in between the ears of all the people involved or wishing to be involved.
    IMO(not a real rocket science one because I think the worls knows this), all parties involved are going to have to work together to come up with solutions. Change is slow and can never be has to be allowed to happen and that means creating an environment for change that goes beyond right and wrong actions or point of view.

    You're ideas are solid and who knows, it could be the model of the future. What I would hate to see happen is that the people you need to connect with are not as welcoming with your ideas. Keep the doors open and they'll invite you in one day(hopefully soon)and you can help make this a better place for critters. Even pigs:)

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