August 10, 2012
Concerned about Your Local Shelter?
You can make positive changes
Shelters serve a vital role in our communities, and they should be an effective, efficient, and caring safe haven for animals. Most sheltering professionals and volunteers are highly committed to the animals they serve; however, when faced with too many animals in need and not enough resources to care for them all, even the most dedicated caretakers can struggle.
To make positive change at your local shelter, you must first know its basic structure and mission, and the basic principles of good sheltering practice. Ideally, then, you can work with the shelter to improve conditions and expand programs. If your shelter still refuses, you’ll be armed with the knowledge and expertise you need to reach beyond the shelter to make change happen.
Important Note: While The HSUS is not directly affiliated with local humane societies, animal shelters, or SPCAs (each is an independent entity, governed by their own board of directors or by local officials), we work diligently to provide information, training, and advice that helps local groups do their work as effectively and humanely as possible.
Step 1: Do your homework
All shelters are not alike: There are important differences that can affect their missions
Understanding the basic structure of your shelter (for instance, is it public or private? is it open access or limited access?) can help you figure out the most effective path to making change.
What is "normal"?: What "good" shelter practice is and isn't
Organizations such as the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and National Federation of Humane Societies have established best practices for sheltering operations. Understanding these can help you determine if your shelter is truly maximizing its lifesaving abilities.
Step 2: Evaluate your shelter and your community
Life-saving programs all shelters should have
While there is no one-size-fits-all model for shelters, every organization should, at a minimum, have these things:
- A comprehensive volunteer program
- An effective foster program
- A network of rescue partners
- Innovative, aggressive adoption programs
- Behavior programs that maximize adoptions
- Medical protocols to reduce disease and keep shelter pets healthy
- A positive approach to engaging the community in solving pet homelessness
Life-saving programs all communities (but not necessarily shelters) should have
Reducing euthanasia means more than just increasing adoptions—it means keeping animals with their families in the first place. Humane communities will have each of these programs in place:
- A comprehensive community assessment, identifying greatest areas of need
- Affordable, accessible spay/neuter services
- Free-roaming and community cat programs
- Surrender-prevention/pet retention programs
- Pet identification/reunification programs
Step 3: Encourage change from within
Positive, productive collaboration is important: In most cases, the easiest way to effect change is to work from within, treating the people involved with as much respect, kindness, and compassion as the animals. Use these tools to encourage and support your local shelter as it moves along the road to better programs and policies.
Step 4: Forcing change
What to do when the shelter is not responsive: You’ve done your homework, evaluated your shelter and community programs, and tried to encourage change from within, but still have not been successful—now what?
- Don’t believe everything you hear (or read). We all know that the internet can be the equivalent of the game "telephone"—a story is posted, then reposted dozens or hundreds of times over, with plenty of embellishment and distortion. Before sharing or acting on such information, take the time to confirm your facts. Spreading negative, false information about an organization not only unfairly damages its reputation but can ultimately impede its ability to save animals by driving potential adopters and donors away.
- People deserve our compassion, too. The very act of working in a shelter environment, exposed on a daily basis to victims of abuse and abandonment, can cause shelter staff members to suffer secondary post-traumatic stress disorder, or "compassion fatigue."
Take the Pledge to treat the people who care or advocate for animals as compassionately as the animals themselves
Learn more about making positive changes at your shelter
Bridging the Communication Gap
All Shelters Are Not Alike
What Is Normal?
Lifesaving Programs All Shelters Should Have
Lifesaving Programs All Communities (Not Necessarily Shelters) Should Have
The Importance of Positive, Productive Collaboration
When a Shelter Is Unresponsive