One may think that the world of animal sheltering could be stuffed with individuals who care about animals and wish to save lives – all hearts and flowers, a group united with a standard goal of saving animals and making certain their high quality of life. Would that it have been so. 

In reality, it’s usually the precise reverse, with warring camps of activists holding broadly divergent opinions about how greatest to take care of and rehome the canines, cats, and different species who find yourself in animal shelters. The introduction and promotion of “no-kill shelters” within the early 1990s solely heightened the extent of acrimony amongst animal safety professionals and grassroots rescue teams alike, creating battle and controversy that typically hinders efforts to save lots of homeless animals. 

In 2019, six ladies, a number of of whom have been chief government officers of animal shelters in Colorado, bought collectively to debate their animal welfare beliefs, together with shelter practices. All of them imagine that our society is at a important level in shaping the way forward for animal welfare. They agreed that whereas most individuals imply properly of their makes an attempt to vary public coverage round how we take care of homeless pets, typically good intentions result in unintended struggling for the very pets that individuals are attempting to guard. And so they sought to outline and describe a contemporary mannequin for socially aware animal welfare. 

Out of that dialog got here the Socially Aware Sheltering mannequin, which they then shared with shelter CEOs from throughout the USA for his or her suggestions. They sought enter from shelters in numerous sorts of communities, with various consumption insurance policies and ranges of group engagement. The perception was integrated into the basic targets of Socially Aware Sheltering (SCS), and an internet site ( was created. The SCS web site describes SCS as “a framework that enables every of us to know our position in creating greatest outcomes for pets. This idea relies on respectful therapy of animals. It’s about putting each wholesome and secure animal that leads to a shelter or rescue. It’s about transparency and management. It’s about considerate public coverage. It’s about secure communities.” 

As a long-time shelter supporter and former shelter supervisor myself, I’m excited concerning the SCS mannequin and hopeful that its steerage will enhance outcomes for animal wards of shelters in all places.


I’ve been observing – and taking part in – the ever-evolving world of animal sheltering for the previous 45 years. There are various issues associated to animal welfare which have gotten higher – for each homeless animals and individuals who work in rescue and sheltering – and a few issues which have gotten worse in that point. My super pleasure concerning the promise of the Socially Aware Sheltering mannequin has loads to do with what I’ve witnessed within the current historical past and evolution of the sheltering discipline.

In 1976, I started volunteering on the Marin Humane Society (MHS), a non-public non-profit shelter with a contract to carry out animal management companies for all of Marin County, California. A number of months later, I accepted a place as a customer support consultant – the primary paid place of a number of that I accepted at MHS over the subsequent 20 years. 

For my final decade there, I used to be Director of Operations, liable for retaining our statistics in addition to directing our Discipline Providers, Animal Care, and Buyer Service departments, so I used to be aware of the variety of animals we took in on the shelter, their high quality of life whereas in residence with us, and what finally occurred to them (returned to proprietor, adopted, or euthanized). 

Originally of my tenure at MHS, the shelter took in about 15,000 animals per 12 months – strays, owner-surrender, neglect and abuse instances – none have been ever turned away. Marin was (and is) a rich, well-educated group. We have been properly supported by our group and higher located than many shelters to supply glorious take care of the animals who have been introduced via our doorways. And despite the fact that this quantity was much better than many different shelters at the moment (and is best than some shelters even immediately), we finally euthanized about 40% of them. 

Within the ’80s and ’90s, a lot of societal and public coverage adjustments helped progressively lower the variety of animals that discovered themselves in shelters and the variety of animals who have been euthanized there. Leash legal guidelines and licensing decreased the variety of free-roaming pets. The animal welfare world amped up its spay/neuter training efforts nationwide, and plenty of states handed legal guidelines requiring shelters to surgically neuter all animals earlier than they have been adopted. Microchips elevated the variety of stray pets that may very well be returned to their homeowners. 

By the point I left Marin to launch my Peaceful Paws canine coaching enterprise in 1996, MHS’s consumption numbers had dropped to fewer than 6,000, with a comparable lower in our euthanasia numbers. Nationally, consumption and euthanasia numbers had additionally decreased.

That is proper across the time that the practices and insurance policies of a high-profile animal shelter within the county subsequent to Marin began a revolution within the animal sheltering discipline – a well-intentioned revolution, to make sure, however one with unlucky antithetical penalties. 


Within the late 1980s, Richard Avanzino, the director of the San Francisco SPCA, started steering that group away from the usual mannequin of offering animal management companies in addition to sheltering and adoption companies. Avanzino had been working to innovate options for bettering the dwell launch charges of the shelter, together with constructing a community of foster suppliers, instituting a pit bull coaching and adoption program, paying homeowners of pit bulls to neuter their canines, paying individuals to neuter stray and feral cats, and extra. However he needed to do much more to get the SF SPCA out of the job of euthanizing any animals, ever. He put town on discover that his group wouldn’t renew its contracts for animal management by 1989, although it supposed to proceed to shelter and discover properties for animals. 

  • Ask your native animal shelter workers if the shelter adheres to Socially Aware Sheltering tips.  If they’re unfamiliar with these tenets, give them a duplicate of this text, and/or direct them to the SCS web site:
  • Discover out which governement company awards the animal-control contract in your geographic space, and strategy that company, advocating for the adoption of the SCS tenets at your native shelter.
  • Present assist and/or fundraising and volunteer time in your native SCS shelter.  Ask them how one can assist!
  • Undertake from SCS shelters each time doable, and encourage family and friends members to take action additionally!

The town of San Francisco needed to construct a brand new metropolis company – the Division of Animal Care and Management – to take over animal management. In 1994, the SF SPCA introduced that the group was going to cease killing any “adoptable animals.” The SF SPCA was dubbed with the instantly common appellation “no-kill shelter” and San Francisco was declared a “no-kill metropolis.” It was a public relations dwelling run close to and much. From the very starting, the general public cherished the thought of no-kill shelters – with out understanding the nuances constructed into the definition. 

Most members of the general public have been not conscious, nonetheless, that not all animals delivered to a no-kill shelter would survive. No-kill was described by Avanzino and the quickly rising variety of no-kill devotees as practices that preserved the lives of all “wholesome and treatable” animals and euthanized solely these whose issues have been deemed “unhealthy and untreatable.” 

An apparent drawback lay within the potential of shelters to interpret “unhealthy and untreatable” fairly variably. Avanzino promoted the usage of the requirements pet homeowners would use if the issues occurred in their very own pets; most of us would think about kennel cough or a damaged leg as “treatable,” as an example. However these phrases have been interpreted in very disparate methods by shelters of various means and ranges of dedication to no-kill rules.

What individuals usually fail to know (and what many shelters fail to speak to their supporters) is that there are two varieties of shelters. “Open admission shelters” absorb each animal delivered to them; some are required to take action by advantage of contracts they’ve signed with an area authorities. In distinction, “restricted admission shelters” could flip away animals that they know they are going to be unable to make out there for adoption or that they don’t have room for. 

Many (maybe most) limited-admission shelters have been in a position to declare that they have been no-kill, since they solely not often took in an animal that proved to be untreatable or unsafe to undertake. Far fewer open-admission shelters have been in a position to make legit no-kill claims – and within the competitors for donation {dollars} from animal lovers who didn’t wish to give cash to so-called “kill shelters,” this actually harm.

Shelters that would not or wouldn’t outline themselves as no-kill have been quickly confronted with hostility and a withdrawal of public assist, inflicting many to attempt to meet the definition and make no-kill claims. Some open admission shelters might accomplish that solely via illegitimate means, akin to warehousing an ever-increasing and untenable variety of animals, wanton placement of animals to another organizations (respected and succesful or not) that might take them, and adopting out animals with unsafe or borderline conduct points.

Quickly, throughout the nation, open-admission shelters started to bear an elevated burden of accepting and caring for animals that no-kill shelters wouldn’t take – a expensive burden, since caring for unhealthy animals requires better sources. Concurrently, these shelters started to really feel the monetary pinch as donation {dollars} have been being diverted to no-kill organizations from former supporters. 


Whereas the intention of the no-kill ethos is admirable, there have been some unlucky penalties of the insurance policies. 

It’s been famous that extra animals (particularly canines), beforehand acknowledged as behaviorally unsuitable for adoption, are being positioned within the properties of adopters who should not adequately knowledgeable, skilled, or geared up to deal with them safely. I’ve a thick file of reports tales about canines with chew histories who have been adopted into properties the place they later induced accidents and even fatalities. 

Canine coaching and conduct professionals are in widespread and ever-growing settlement that we’re seeing an rising variety of shoppers who’re bringing us canines who ought to by no means have been adopted to them within the first place. These are caring canine homeowners who had no concept what they have been getting themselves into, typically as a result of the shelter merely didn’t make a cautious match of their eagerness to put the canine in a house, and typically as a result of the shelter intentionally withheld info that might have helped the adopter understand this wasn’t the canine for them. 

Twenty years in the past, after I would specific my opposition to the no-kill motion at seminars whereas talking in assist of accountable sheltering, I used to be usually met with puzzled stares and typically open argument. As we speak I see a crowd filled with nodding heads and infrequently obtain resounding rounds of applause from different coaching and conduct professionals who’re encountering vital and harmful challenges from shopper canines adopted from organizations which might be extra involved with their dwell launch charge than with good, secure adoptions.

Moreover, a phenomenon that has required the creation of a brand new label – “rescue hoarding” – has risen to epidemic ranges previously decade. It’s an issue that may’t be traced exactly to no-kill’s door, however the perpetrators are usually acquainted. 

As soon as upon a time, if you happen to heard about an animal hoarder, the particular person was often a bit previous woman who lived in an house with 30-plus cats. As we speak, the overwhelming majority of animal hoarding tales within the information contain rescue hoarders – individuals or teams who could have began out as legit rescuers, however who ended up fully overwhelmed with too many animals to take care of and never sufficient sources to take action. 

These are typically 501(c)Three non-profit rescue teams and shelters, typically people pretending to be 501(c)Three teams or shelters, and typically simply people who maintain strongly to the conviction that any life is best than no life. The widespread denominator is that many, and even most, have gotten their animals from shelters which might be handing off animals willy-nilly to virtually anybody, of their efforts to name themselves no-kill. Canine in these rescue hoarder conditions are sometimes badly malnourished, sick and dying, or already useless.


The unique architects of the SCS mannequin have been six ladies, all of whom have been Presidents and CEOs of shelters or veterinary organizations in Colorado. They began a dialog concerning the want for a brand new steerage doc for sheltering in January 2018, once they have been all in attendance at a sheltering-related convention. 

In March 2019, nonetheless, all of them had a front-row seat to an occasion that supplied the impetus to formalize their shared opinions and values concerning animal sheltering into what have turn into eight tenets of SCS. 

It began with an inspection by the Division of Agriculture of an open-admission shelter in Pueblo, Colorado, which led to the resignation of the shelter director and finally, closure of the shelter. The primary and subsequent inspections of the power discovered quite a few animals struggling with untreated accidents and sicknesses, well being data for the animals nonexistent or in disarray, insufficient sanitation, therapy cupboards stocked with critically out-of-date and unlabeled drugs, intact animals of the other intercourse housed collectively, canines who have been being quarantined in chew instances having alternatives to return into contact with entrance desk workers, and extra. 

Simply a part of a bunch of greater than 100 canines seized following an investigation of a “small canine rescue” in Northern California. Most of the canines have been sick or had pores and skin issues, all had inner and exterior parasites, and most have been extraordinarily skinny. All had been obtained by the “rescue” from shelters and have been marketed for “adoption” for charges of a number of hundred {dollars} or extra.

All the surviving animals on the shelter needed to be transferred to different space shelters, together with these run by the founders of SCS. When the Pueblo shelter closed, the group that had been working the shelter, PAWS for Life, issued an announcement that learn partly, “There have been vital hurdles in fulfilling the mission to be a no-kill, full-access public shelter to save lots of lives that in any other case may need been misplaced below prior administration.” (The irony of the struggling skilled by the animals who didn’t have well timed entry to veterinary care appeared to have been misplaced on the managers accountable.) 

The founders of SCS launched a bunch assertion following the Pueblo shelter closure. It learn, partly, “The struggling that occurred at Neighborhood Animal Providers of Pueblo, operated by PAWS for Life, is unacceptable. In an effort to stick to a dangerous native ordinance, it seems animals have been allowed to endure and die from their sicknesses and accidents somewhat than being humanely euthanized. The animal welfare group’s precedence is to make sure these animals are correctly cared for and that they’re protected against conditions like this sooner or later….

“It is a regretful instance of how the no-kill motion, when taken to the intense, preys upon compassionate individuals’s need to guard animals. Animals deserve respect, nurturing, assist, and it’s by no means acceptable to permit them to endure. Our total group is deeply saddened by this example.”

On the SCS web site, its founders admit that, usually, homeless animals in Colorado already take pleasure in “unbelievable” outcomes; all the state enjoys a mean 90% dwell launch charge. However the founders needed to handle the truth that makes an attempt to achieve and preserve a zero kill standing usually result in conditions just like the one in Pueblo, with under-funded shelters manned by over-burdened workers, resulting in elevated animal struggling. 

The SCS founders launched their tenets and revealed an explanatory web site ( in March 2019. By following their prompt tips, the SCS founders say, shelters can obtain excessive live-release charges whereas additionally making certain that no animal is allowed to endure and the communities are saved secure from harmful animals.


Every of those tenets addresses widespread breakdowns the place implementation of the no-kill mannequin fails to adequately handle the wants and welfare of all the animals in a given group or think about the security of human caretakers, foster properties, and adopters. I applaud the outstanding steps this doc takes towards repairing the numerous flaws of no-kill. My feedback comply with every tenet and seem in italics.

1. Place each wholesome and secure animal. Each single one. Wholesome is outlined as both having no indicators of medical illness or proof of illness {that a} veterinarian determines has a great or glorious prognosis for a snug life. Secure signifies that the animal has not exhibited conduct that’s prone to end in extreme damage or demise to a different animal or particular person.

This tenet maintains the unique acknowledged objective of no-kill to put all wholesome, adoptable animals, however provides critically vital definitions of the phrases “wholesome” and “secure” and emphasizes the significance of “secure.”

2. Guarantee each undesirable or homeless pet has a secure place to go for shelter and care. An animal’s alternative to be nurtured, healed, and rehomed shouldn’t rely on their age or situation – each group should have a shelter that accepts all animals delivered to it. It’s unacceptable to show animals away as a result of they’re too previous, sick, or damaged. 

Shelter managers ought to preserve canines like this in thoughts once they preserve a ready listing to ensure that individuals to give up their pets. This canine was surrendered too late; she died of an an infection earlier than therapy might take impact.

This addresses a component completely missed by the no-kill mannequin – and is certainly one of my favorites. Communities should present a secure place for all of the homeless animals of their jurisdiction. In an try to stop overcrowding, some shelters have begun to take care of ready lists, some months-long, for individuals who need or must give up their animals. This typically leads to animals being dumped and left to starve or be hit by automobiles as they try to fend for themselves – and that is merely unacceptable. 

3. Assess the medical and behavioral wants of homeless animals and guarantee these wants are thoughtfully addressed. Animals housed in shelters and rescues have to be assessed for illness and damage and should have all medical situations addressed so the animal doesn’t endure. These animals should even have their behavioral wants assessed and met, together with enrichment ample to make them snug and to stop self-destructive, obsessive-compulsive coping behaviors.

Addressing medical and behavioral wants of shelter animals in a well timed method ought to go with out saying, however sadly, it doesn’t – as evidenced by the Pueblo expertise. I want that instance was a uncommon anomaly, however sadly it’s all too widespread.

4. Align shelter coverage with the wants of the group. Does the group permit trap-neuter-return applications? In that case, supply them. Will members of your group undertake animals with continual illness, and are they keen to imagine the time and expense of managing that illness? In that case, with full disclosure, place them in these properties. Socially Aware Shelters hearken to their communities.

Each group is totally different. It’s a problem for shelters to have the ability to meet the needs of the group and make moral and humane decisions for, and meet the wants of, the animals of their care.

5. Alleviate struggling and make applicable euthanasia choices. Compassionate euthanasia is a present. It’s not acceptable to let a terminally ailing, struggling animal languish in a cage till it dies naturally when compassionate euthanasia can ease that limitless ache. It’s not acceptable to accommodate a identified harmful animal who can’t be safely positioned in the neighborhood for years till it goes loopy in a cage. Every euthanasia choice is troublesome, and each choice should think about the welfare of the person animal.

This tenet articulates what appears so apparent to many animal lovers: It’s our responsibility to alleviate animal struggling when and the place we are able to. Compassionate euthanasia choices are far too usually blocked by those that imagine that any life is best than no life. Generally, these standing in the best way of those choices are shelter volunteers and even Board members.

6. Improve the human-animal bond via secure placements and post-adoption assist. Integrating a residing being into a brand new dwelling may be troublesome. As adoption companies, Socially Aware Shelters have a accountability to assist the brand new household. This will imply post-adoption conduct recommendation, lessons for brand new pet caregivers, addressing shelter-related medical wants and being keen to simply accept the animal again if the pet and the household should not a great match. 

This additionally means not putting animals into properties that disrupt the human-animal bond by injuring youngsters, different pets, and different individuals. There are various conduct points that may be addressed via conduct modification and constructive experiences. There are different behaviors which might be harmful and that can’t be mitigated.

That is one other vital level – one that’s usually missed by shelters which might be targeted solely on their dwell launch charge. A few of the sources directed towards bringing in animals from different jurisdictions (and different nations) could be higher spent offering assist for the animals already within the shelter’s personal group. 

7. Take into account the well being and wellness of every animal and every group when transferring animals. Shifting canines and cats from communities that would not have properties out there for them to communities the place individuals are actively searching for pets saves lives. 

Nonetheless, bringing pets right into a group is a accountability. It’s a accountability to the animals already residing in that group to not usher in infectious illnesses that might make them sick. It’s a accountability to these residing inside the group to usher in animals that can dwell in concord. And there’s a accountability to the group from which animals are being moved to impression that group’s animal welfare struggles via humane training and spay and neuter applications.

There are documented instances of great canine illnesses being moved north from southern shelters and into the U.S. from different nations, in addition to canines from unsocialized or rural backgrounds struggling immense stress and by no means habituating to metropolis life. Some transports are in violation of interstate legal guidelines that require veterinary checks and well being certificates. 

8. Foster a tradition of transparency, moral decision-making, mutual respect, continuous studying, and collaboration. Socially Aware Shelters are dedicated to full transparency. This will embrace reporting correct statistics, sharing insurance policies, and absolutely and shortly admitting when errors are made. Integrity have to be the muse of all choices. Each shelter can be taught one thing from each different shelter – you will need to be curious and to share revolutionary options to widespread issues. Solely by working collectively can we guarantee the perfect outcomes for all animals.

That is important. How can we’ve a prayer of an opportunity of understanding how shelter applications are working and the way the animals are faring if we aren’t clear?


Because of the leaders who innovated SCS, the animal sheltering group now has a mannequin to look to that helps the position of each adoptable animal, whereas on the identical time recognizing that not each animal is adoptable. 

The accountability for shelters to do the whole lot of their energy to make applicable adoptions is nice. The security of the canines, the adopting households, and even their neighbors is at stake.

The Eight Tenets of Socially Aware Sheltering was launched in March 2019, and the mannequin was swiftly embraced by many different shelters in Colorado, in addition to the Colorado Veterinary Medical Affiliation. By August, shelters all around the nation had additionally adopted Socially Aware Sheltering, together with shelters in Los Angeles, Davis County (UT), Santa Cruz County (CA), St. Louis (MO), Ventura County (CA), Berks County (PA), Nebraska, Cleveland (OH), Michigan, Jessamine County (KY), Loudon County (VA), and dozens of different organizations. 

Are the animal safety, sheltering, and rescue organizations in your space on board with Socially Aware Sheltering? In case you don’t know, contact them and discover out. If they don’t seem to be, you may assist them find out about it and assist them perceive why they need to be. Encourage your animal loving mates to do the identical. Educate and strain your native authorities officers and organizational board members to get on board. All of us need a greater life for the animals in our world. You possibly can assist make it occur. 

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