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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.

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.

“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.

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.

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.”

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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