WHILE SHELTERS have existed historically dating back at least 100 years, the science supporting animal sheltering has evolved remarkably, especially within the past 15 years. According to the current literature there is a long list of stressors for animals entering shelters. Unfortunately, many shelter faculties – especially those who espouse a “no kill philosophy” – are poorly suited to meet the essential physical and emotional needs of these animals that not only are challenged by length of stay but also by boredom, isolation, confinement, lack of human connection and lack of adequate enrichment.
It is indeed unfortunate
that those individuals or groups overseeing these shelters have
admirable intentions but often lack the appropriate training in animal behavior, animal health and/or veterinary shelter medicine.
The Association of Shelter Veterinarians has called for the integration and promulgation of a set of national standards for all animal shelters. An extensive review and detailed discussion of these standards is provided in its 2010 publication Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters.
It would be advantageous for any nonprofit group of volunteers and/or paid staff currently involved in delivering care to sheltered animals to update their knowledge of the evolving science in sheltering.
SOME OF THE salient recommendations outlined in the above-cited document are: maintaining protocols based on current empirical evidence or best practices; adequate ongoing training of all staff and appropriate volunteers; ensuring structural integrity of kennels (including non-porous surfaces) and cleanliness that prevent disease transmission; adequate heating, lighting and ventilation; appropriate sound control; adequate staffing to ensure care capacity; veterinary examinations twice a year and more if necessary; appropriate grooming; daily exercise; and behavior assessment and training for dogs.
Of course at the heart of any shelter, the nonprofits as well as for-profits, are the volunteers who care about pets and choose to spend their precious time with sheltered animals.
All shelters obviously need more dedicated volunteers not only to provide direct care and/or socialization to these animals but to raise funds. As one can imagine, if shelters do make concerted efforts at implementing best practices based on the evolving animal care science, the costs will increase exponentially.
ANY ANIMAL shelter, particularly those non-profits who receive no county or city funding, should bear this in mind, and if costs become burdensome to ensuring quality, they should seriously consider their organizational objectives and overall mission.
(The writer – a retired associate professor of research in the College of Nursing and Health Professions at the University of Southern Maine – is a shelter volunteer and former docent at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, N.H. She lives in Edgefield County, S.C.)